Monday, July 2, 2012

Review: THE FACELESS by Vanda Symon

The Faceless by Vanda Symon (Penguin, 2012)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Eagle-eyed fans of both crime fiction and Shortland Street might have noticed that last week a new local novel featured in an episode, with now-incarcerated Dr Chris Warner engrossed in Dunedin author Vanda Symon’s latest thriller, The Faceless. It’s nice to see even fictional characters have great taste in books, because, to put it bluntly, The Faceless is an absolute cracker.

Symon has already established herself as one of the premier crime writers in this part of the world, with a series of four good to great novels starring stroppy Southern policewoman Sam Shephard, laced with humour, personality, and personal life amongst the crime. Now, she mixes things up a little (and kicks them up a notch) with The Faceless, a confronting stand-alone thriller set on the ‘mean streets’ of Auckland that takes a decidedly darker turn.

And plenty of turns there are. Told from multiple perspectives, The Faceless follows the story of three troubled people thrown together due to a moment of madness. Bradley is an overworked, under-appreciated office worker operating on autopilot through his high-pressure but habitual, mundane life. A spontaneous tryst with Billy, a young K Road hooker, turns ugly when she laughs at him and, embarrassed, Bradley lashes out. Panicked, he imprisons her in an abandoned warehouse while he tries to work out what to do. Max is homeless, a dishevelled shell of who he once was. When his only friend Billy goes missing, he’s forced to reopen past wounds in an effort to save her. Meanwhile, Billy lies shackled, wondering what fate, and a nice-looking, buttoned-down man capable of explosive rage, has in store for her.

The Faceless takes readers to some pretty uncomfortable places, both in terms of story and character, and deals with some very interesting, even fairly confronting, issues: homelessness, domestic drudgery, shrivelled dreams, family violence, loyalty, grief and loss, and how we can move through life not really ‘seeing’ so many of the people that surround us. Bradley, Billy, and Max all have broken relationships with their families, feel disconnected, from the people they love, their former lives, and wider society. In their own ways (and at their own speeds) they are each searching for something, for meaning. While some readers might miss the lighter touches of the Sam Shephard books, The Faceless is a terrific, well-paced, well-plotted, dark thriller. Tense and thought-provoking; highly recommended.

This review was first published in NZLawyer, issue 187, 29 June 2012, and is reprinted here with permission.

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