I hadn't read a McFadyen book before but was intrigued by the title and the blurb so decided to give it a go. I'm glad I did because as a crime thriller fan, I wasn't disappointed.
The Face Of Death introduces us Smoky Barrett, working in America, who's assigned to investigate all sorts of brutality. A call comes in from a scene of death and a little girl is asking to speak to Smoky, and only Smoky. Upon arrival, Smoky finds the young teen in her parents' bedroom staring out of the window, her parents both naked on the bed and dead, one gutted, blood everywhere. The tag line on the front reads 'his real victim is the one he left alive', so this gave some sort of indication of what to expect.
The girl, Sarah Kingsley, is obviously shell-shocked, but this isn't the first time this has happened. The parents dead on the bed are foster parents, and she has many a story to tell. No one seems to have taken her claims seriously before, but she thinks Smoky might just listen to her. Why? Because Smoky has had the things she's loved ripped away from her before too. Her husband and child were killed and was left mutilated, the scar on her face evidence of the violent past she's endured. She has also adopted Bonnie, the child of friends who were also killed at the hands of a murderer; Bonnie proves to be a survivor and a shining light for Smoky, but her muteness after the violence is evidence of what she's endured.
The layout of the novel is interesting and a bit different. Rather than telling the story as it happens and is seen, we're told Sarah's history through a journal she's written to Smoky, before the recent event of the murder of her foster parents. She tells her all about the 'Stranger', the man who makes her suffer by taking away all that she loves.
So, with no real evidence to go on, this elusive killer is at loose and Sarah's claims only serve to complicate matters. Enter Smoky and her team, including Alan, James and the wonderful Callie. Together they piece together the fragments they have and make a picture of the evil they're hunting.
I won't say any more about the plot but what I really liked about this was the way in which the detail unfolds. We learn about each character, their history and their relationships to each other bit by bit; it's accumulative and rich detail and it makes empathising and visualising the events easier. I found myself wanting to know more and identifying with the people involved. As such, the details of Sarah's journey - the foster homes and mean Karen Watson, her losses, the violence - all are very vivid and emotive, and I found myself feeling sad for this girl, who was having her life and innocence ripped out from underneath her. The detail helps the reader to understand motivations and reasons, and I really liked this aspect of it.
As for the investigation itself, this again was vivid and whilst fairly complex, it wasn't overly so. McFadyen has a way of keeping the reader up to date without losing or confusing along the way, and his writing style was a pleasure to read. What I also found quite interesting was the way in which the investigation was propelled by Smoky; her analytical, psychological approach looked underneath the scenes and into the head of the killer, and this is the kind of thing I enjoy as I love psychology. Getting into the nitty gritty, getting underneath your skin and that of evil, and finding yourself lost in the book, wanting to keep reading.
All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by this book; it was intelligently written, emotive and rich, so I would recommend it, especially for crime thriller and psychologically-minded readers.
551 pages over 64 chapters