Any author whose latest book is loosely inspired by The Divine Comedy's A Lady of a Certain Age has chosen from the best of soundtracks. For much of Skin Deep, Liz Nugent does that rare thing: she enhances the reputation of an already-perfect song.

This story of a woman with the Medusa touch chronicles the emotional (and, indeed, physical) destruction which ensues whenever Cordelia Russell is around. Put bluntly, she leaves people in a worse state than which she found them. 

From suffocating smalltown Ireland to coke cliques of 1980s London and on to crime and art in Nice and Monaco, Cordelia has lived many lives. To borrow from that Cary Grant chestnut, she played the part of the woman she wanted to be, until she became that woman, or that woman became her. 

Beauty was bestowed in abundance, but empathy was left on the shelf. Scarily so.

Nugent's writing for over half this book is faultless, and a masterclass in how to glide from one set-up to another. At page 220, however, something big happens, and what follows is a case of Skin Deep 'jumping the shark'.

The event itself is perfectly acceptable within the world that Nugent has created; what she decides to do to two of the characters in the aftermath doesn't work. Misery triumphs over mystery with everything tied up in an ending that is too far-fetched for a character of Cordelia's 'class'.

Even with those disappointments, Skin Deep is still an ignore-the-outside world page-turner. In Cordelia, Nugent has given us a chilling reminder that there are only two great tragedies in this life: not getting what you want, and getting what you want.