‘Tomas Byrne’s first novel is an ingenious and seamless blend of fast-paced, page-turning, mainstream, at times almost Bondian fiction and something rather more mysterious, even weird and highly literary. This is an outstanding, richly entertaining, effortlessly smart and very promising debut. Skin in the Game is a book that deserves to be widely read and Byrne, already an assured talent, is an author to watch.’
— Karl French, book and film critic, author and editor
‘One of the most impressive things about Tomas Byrne’s debut novel is that it achieves a winning balance, presenting a conspiracy thriller big enough to impress but also building an intimate and emotionally charged empathy between his characters and his readers. That Byrne writes in the present tense perhaps assists this fluidity of movement from the macro to the micro and back again, an all important-trick in a complex and intelligent novel like Skin in the Game that seeks to explore the individual’s perilous if not powerless position in relation to the capabilities of the New World Disorder’s real ruling class.
We first enter what quickly becomes a geographically wide-ranging narrative by way of British Intelligence psychiatrist Kate Farrow, the new girl on the team “tasked” (as they say in these kinds of stories) with the responsibility of extracting the truth from the wonderfully named “Subject 13”. 13 is mysterious, handsome (of course), and knows something crucial that Kate’s bosses are desperate to find out. Understanding like most torturers that the infliction of physical pain can be counter-productive when it comes to extracting the truth (the victim of the violence will simply say anything to make the experience stop and is often rendered incapable of reliably surrendering what information he or she possesses), they are relying on Kate’s skills of manipulation to penetrate the mystery. And so the ride begins.
Before long, we’re zooming around the planet, piecing together an all-encompassing web of corrupted manipulation that ties together high-level finance and government ruthlessness. One is reminded of Orwell’s dystopian nightmare Nineteen Eighty-Four and torturer O’Brien’s promise to Winston Smith, the novel’s doomed protagonist: “We control life, Winston, at all its levels. You are imagining that there is something called human nature which will be outraged by what we do and will turn against us. But we create human nature.”
Byrne’s vision is of such a world. He warns us not to fear the enemy “within” so much as the horrifying truth that the enemy is actually all around us, governs us, knows and controls everything we do and is prepared to do anything to preserve its power. One immediately recoils at such a thought, and attempts to deny the implications, but the insistency of the writing and the thrust of the unfolding plot make it impossible but to draw the same stark conclusions.’
— Jeremy Sheldon, screenwriter and author
‘A breathtakingly intense conspiracy thriller ripped straight from the headlines. Brilliant characterization and a riveting global puzzle will have Jason Bourne fans clamouring for Byrne’s next installment in the series.
“Do you believe in conspiracies?” That’s the telling question MI6 psychiatrist Kate Farrow asks her patient, Subject 13, in Tomas Byrne’s excellent new thriller.
Lucky for us, Subject 13 does believe in conspiracies. The patient, whose real name we learn over time, has come to Kate courtesy of her boss, Dr Krug. A widely respected psychologist and neurologist, Krug introduces Subject 13 as an imminent threat with links to fundamentalist terror groups operating in Central Asia.
But the much younger and less experienced Farrow soon begins to suspect all isn’t what it seems. Her patient has amnesia and suffers from frequent outbursts. After witnessing Subject 13 rattling off an incredibly vivid set of landscape descriptions that would be the envy of any poet, she discovers that Dr Krug has been giving him a pharma cocktail consisting of methamphetamine, benzodiazepines, and phencyclidine – truth serum. “Truth Serum?” Kate protests. “They’re not only ineffective, they’re medieval.”
If you read the news, this story is starting to sound incredibly familiar and relevant right now. Skin in the Game is a great ride on its own merits, but the recent investigation into the psychologists that alledgedly masterminded the CIA’s torture program during the Bush administration gives the book a timely, ripped-from-the-headlines factor that makes it all the more fascinating.
The ensuing plot globetrots from London to Zurich, Dubai and elsewhere, working at the intersection of government intelligence and finance. Unlike most of the work in the genre, Byrne writes in the present tense, giving the story an added sense of urgency.
Skin in the Game is the first in a series, so fans can look forward to more of Kate Farrow. But should Eric Van Lustbader ever get tired of writing Robert Ludlum’s Bourne franchise, Tomas Byrne would make a very capable replacement.’
‘A very superior thriller … Byrne adroitly manages the tension and confusion … entertaining and informed.’
— The Morning Star