Wednesday, October 17, 2012

V is for Vanda Symon's THE FACELESS

Mea culpa: I have been flat-out atrocious at participating in Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise's excellent Crime Fiction Alphabet meme this year. It's been a strange old year, on a number of fronts, and I just haven't been doing quite as much online crime fiction stuff as in the past, at least in any regular manner. However, it is a great thing that Kerrie has established and run the past few years, and so I'm going to try to rectify my tardiness (and fill in a few letter gaps) in the coming few weeks. 

This week is the letter 'V', so I'm going to feature one of the best books I've read this year, Vanda Symon's standalone thriller, THE FACELESS, a cracker of a crime novel.

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 feisty female copper Sam Shephard, laced with humour, personality, and personal life amongst the crime. Now, she has mixed 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.


  1. Craig - Wonderful choice! So glad you're highlighting Vanda's work :-)

  2. I met Vanda at the SheKilda crime writing convention in Australia in 2011 and I became a big fan of her work. I am delighted to say that she enjoys my thrillers too. She deserves every success!

  3. I've just ordered this from my library on your recommendation - and because I liked the Sam Shephard books very much. Indeed I'm waiting for the next episode in her working and personal life, but expect to enjoy this non-series one just as much.

  4. This novel sounds interesting. I like stories told from multiple perspectives. I read your author profile on her also, and the series she writes also sounds good. Thanks for introducing this author to me. (Now I just have to locate one of her books and find time to fit her into my TBR stacks.)

  5. I've just read The Faceless and it is an excellent book. Technically it's more complex than the Sam Shepherd novels and Vanda Symon handles the multiple voices and the interweaving of action and back stories, Max's in particular, without missing a beat. There is one loose end that's rather noticeable and may cloud the generally upbeat conclusion, but I only mention this because Billy and Max are people one wants nothing but the best for. Highly recommended!