The City Under the Skin Book Summary and Study Guide

Detailed plot synopsis reviews of The City Under the Skin

Zak, a brilliant but underemployed clerk in a map shop, becomes involved in a complicated mystery involving mysterious maps that are tattooed onto the backs of women for an unknown reason. Zak is a clerk in a map store who is passionate about the science of cartography. He works for a wealthy and obnoxious man named Ray, who is also a real estate developer. Zak gets drawn into a mystery when he witnesses a homeless woman with a strange tattoo on her back being abducted by a thug in a Cadillac. The thug is actually an ex-con named Billy who is trying to go straight by running a parking lot and raising his young daughter. Billy, however, has been drawn into the employ of a ruthless hit man named Wrobleski. Wrobleski has found out that woman throughout the city have strange tattoos on their back. He has ordered Billy to abduct these woman and take them to his compound, a large, industrial complex.
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Billy meets a determined woman named Marilyn who has also witnessed the abduction of the homeless woman. Billy returns to the map shop and beats up both Zak and Marilyn in an attempt to frighten them off. This does not work, as Marilyn convinces Zak to find out what is going on. She tracks down Billy and attaches a GPS device to his car. Marilyn also consults with a tattoo expert named Rose, who may have information about who is doing these mysterious tattoos. We also find out that Wrobleski is connected to Zak's boss Ray. Ray wants Wrobleski to kill the city's mayor so he can make money by developing on the site of an old hotel. Wrobleski, although not above killing for money, does not want to do this job as it is very risky.

Zak and Marilyn follow Billy as he abducts another woman from a strip club. They follow him to his compound, where Zak spies on Wrobleski, his assistant Akim and several tattooed women who have been abducted. Zak, however, has been discovered, and he is once again assaulted by Billy, this time by having his face smashed into a cactus.

Billy is increasingly uncomfortable with his role of kidnapping women. He tells Wrobleski that he is quitting, but his employer compels him to take one more job. This job turns out to be abducting Marilyn, who also has one of these tattoos on her back. Yet after Marilyn is captured, Wrobleski still wants more from Billy. He wants him to kill all of the women. Wrobleski only wants to kill people himself when he is being paid for it. When Billy refuses, Wrobleski kidnaps Billy's 12 year old daughter Carla. Billy now enlists Zak's help, as they both have someone they care about being held by Wrobleski.

Billy and Zak get a stick of dynamite and enter Wrobleski's compound. The captive women, meanwhile, are helped by Akim, who is also ready to rebel against his employer. Akim leaves the women keys to escape the room where they are being held. When Billy and Zak blow up Wrobleski's SUV, the tattooed women begin ransacking the house and destroying Wrobleski's maps. Wrobleski, hearing police sirens, grabs Carla and retreats into a cellar that connects with an underground tunnel where old subway stations lie. This is where he has been stashing the bodies of his victims.

Billy, Zak and Marilyn follow Wrobleski into the tunnel. Wrobleski decides that he has no chance of escaping so he commits suicide by shooting himself and leaping into the same pit where his victims' bodies lie. Before he does this, however, he writes Akim's name on Carla's back. It turns out that the maps on the women's backs were depictions of Wrobleski's murders and indicated the place where the bodies were left. Wrobleski assumed that Akim must have done the tattooing, as he was the only witness to the murders.

Zak, Marilyn and Billy figure out that the actual culprit is Zak's employer Ray. Ray has ordered many of the killings committed by Wrobleski. Akim has told Ray the details and Ray, an amateur tattoo artist, decided to tattoo these women as a way to harass Wrobleski as revenge for not killing the mayor. Ray personally tattooed the women in the basement of his own map shop. When Wrobleski realized that these tattoos were maps of his crimes, he desperately needed to figure out who was responsible. At the end of the novel, Zak, Marilyn, Billy and the women with the tattoos all force Ray into the same basement where he tattooed the women and prepare to do the same to him.
Best part of story, including ending: I really enjoyed the way the novel took an original subject like maps and made it the basis for a suspenseful crime story.

Best scene in story: My favorite scene was the final scene in the map shop when the heroes of the story confront Ray about his crimes and eventually subject him to the same treatment he has subjected so many others to.

Opinion about the main character: I like that Zak was both scholarly about maps and resourceful about figuring things out. Although he needed some encouragement from Marilyn at the beginning, he was also willing to take risks to find out what was going on and, later, to save Marilyn from Wrobleski.

The review of this Book prepared by Larry Christopher a Level 1 Blue Jay scholar

Chapter Analysis of The City Under the Skin

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Plot & Themes

Composition of Book descript. of violence and chases 30%Planning/preparing, gather info, debate puzzles/motives 40%Feelings, relationships, character bio/development 20%How society works & physical descript. (people, objects, places) 10% Tone of story    -   suspenseful (sophisticated fear) Time/era of story:    -   2000+ (Present) Kid or adult book?    -   Adult or Young Adult Book Crime Thriller    -   Yes Crime plotlets:    -   escape/rescue from kidnappers General Crime (including known murderer)    -   Yes Who's the criminal enemy here?    -   evil corporation/rich guy

Main Character

Gender    -   Male Profession/status:    -   scholar Age:    -   20's-30's Ethnicity/Race    -   White/American


Europe    -   Yes European country:    -   England/UK City?    -   Yes City:    -   Dirty, dangerous (like New York) Misc setting    -   sewers/subways

Writing Style

Accounts of torture and death?    -   generic/vague references to death/punishment Explicit sex in book?    -   Yes What kind of sex:    -   vague references    -   descript of kissing    -   touching of anatomy Amount of dialog    -   roughly even amounts of descript and dialog

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Geoff Nicholson Books Note: the views expressed here are only those of the reviewer(s).
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