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Skins of Dead Men
Dean Ing
Forge Books, 352 pages

Skins of Dead Men
Dean Ing
Dean Charles Ing, born in 1931, is the author of a number of bestselling, fast-paced, high-tech, espionage-suspense novels. Ing holds a doctorate in communications theory from University of Oregon (1974) for his Proxemics Simulation: A Validation Study of Observer Error, and has taught at the university level. He has also been involved in building and driving sports-racing cars. He and his wife live in Ashland, in the Rogue Valley of southern Oregon. His career as an interceptor chief in the US Air Force and senior research engineer in the aerospace industry are the source of the meticulous detail in his novels The Ransom for Black Stealth One, The Nemesis Mission, and Butcher Bird, which deal with ultra-sophisticated stealth-plane technology. His Flying to Pieces, about some WW2 US Air Force veterans returning to a secret cache in the South Pacific to retrieve a number of now vintage bombers, also draws on these sources. His Systemic Shock, and its sequels Single Combat and Wild Country, are set in the US after the devastation of a full nuclear attack from an Indian-Chinese coalition. Similarly, his Chernobyl Syndrome is another post-nuclear disaster novel, with excellent detailing of home-made radiation counters and associated survival techniques. Ing has also re-written and completed some of the work by the late Mack Reynolds including the novel Deathwish World, and has contributed to the The Man-Kzin Wars series, edited by Larry Niven.

ISFDB Bibliography
Dean Ing Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Georges T. Dodds

T.C., a young Hispanic-American schoolteacher on holiday in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, stumbles into the abduction of a young boy. Saving him, she takes the boy's critically injured mother to the local hospital. Given the mother's hopeless condition and the presence of the kidnappers accompanied by the local police, T.C. flees with the child. They escape cross-country and manage to reach T.C.'s home-town, Tucson, Arizona. After a close shave with a new set of operatives out to get the boy, she makes her way to the remote New Mexico home of Ross Downing, a man severely burned several years before while unsuccessfully attempting to save her son from a burning pickup truck.

The burned Ross Downing, an ex-government forensic auditor with some espionage experience, has been receiving skin grafts from cadavre-donors at a government-run plastic surgery unit. Nightmares based on traumatic events and memories from the skin donors' lives are an apparent side effect of the anti-rejection drug. Taking a skin peel from a captured kidnapper, he applies it to himself and takes the drug, thus obtaining the location where the child is held. Along with T.C., the boy's maternal grandfather, a pilot, and an older local miner-technophile, they impersonate local law enforcement officials, enter the holding site, cause the kidnapper's Lear jet to crash on landing, and rescue the boy.

If you are expecting lots of high-tech science fiction elements like stealth planes and laser weaponry, which appear in Ing's other novels, you'll be disappointed because there are none. If from the title, Skins of Dead Men, you are expecting a horror novel with the hero's body taken over by the evil personality of the skin-graft donor (such as the pianist whose crushed hands are replaced by those of an assassin in the original classic Les Mains d'Orlac, 1919, by Maurice Renard), well this is not it either. It is a high-paced thriller with interesting and believable characters, and, refreshingly, intelligent heroes who do not have to blow away all the nasty characters with big guns, or blow up everything à la James Bond.

As to whether this particular work is in the top of its class is hard for me to say, since the last new action-thriller I read was Clive Cussler's Raise the Titanic, and before that, Peter Benchley's Jaws. Nonetheless, the early chapters have a breakneck pace and lots of narrow escapes. The young woman saving the child from the kidnappers is intelligent, athletic, resourceful and has a sense of humour, which makes her far more interesting than the usual bevy of men's bedmates in this sort of literature. The male hero is also not a one-dimensional Martini-sipping priss with a big gun (literally or figuratively), but a man whose disfigurement has made him a complex and interesting individual. The pacing in the middle of the book slows a bit to explore the relationship between the man and woman, without turning into a romance novel. This relationship and the events going on around Downing bring the scarred hero out of his shell, and make a new man out of him.

One weak point in the story is the period after the child has been successfully taken by the kidnappers and hauled off to a secret landing strip. T.C., Ross, and the boy's grandfather seem to take an interminable amount of time to spring into action. While one might argue that the rescue effort should be planned to the least detail, none of the characters, particularly the grandfather, seem to have the slightest bit of anxiety about getting to the boy in time. Another is that, particularly at the beginning of the book, the boy's Kurdish father is portrayed as just another fundamentalist Muslim fanatic, though revelations at the end of the book lend him a more heroic image. Admittedly, one must find one's villains somewhere and fundamentalist Muslim fanatics play well in the US, but surely they have become a bit cliché by now.

Thus, The Skins of Dead Men is, overall, a well done, straight-forward thriller with interesting characters and good action sequences. Science-fiction and horror aficionados, and Ing's techno-thriller fans looking for high-tech gadgetry or horror elements, will not find them here. However, they will find a novel by an author with an excellent sense of authentic detail and pacing, and whose characters are multi-dimensional and intelligent.

Copyright © 1998 Georges T. Dodds

Georges Dodds is a research scientist in vegetable crop physiology, who for close to 25 years has read and collected close to 2000 titles of predominantly pre-1950 science-fiction and fantasy, both in English and French. He writes columns on early imaginative literature for WARP, the newsletter/fanzine of the Montreal Science Fiction and Fantasy Association.

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