By Cody McFayden
I've never read the first Smoky Barrett novel, titled SHADOW MAN. I suspect it deals even more with Smoky's tragic past. Since I was a first time reader, the beginning moved quickly. I'm not sure it would do so for a returning reader. Cody McFayden spends nearly fifty pages explaining Smoky's past and who the various characters are. It takes that long to reach the main mystery.
In addition to returning readers, newcomers may be put off by the beginning. Smoky's past is grisly. She seems to be coping well, and begins to clean out her dead husband and daughter's things from her home with the help of friends as the novel begins. Then she's suddenly called into work, to view a terrible crime scene where the only survivor asks for her specifically.
THE FACE OF DEATH lies on the darker side of thrillers. If you don't like descriptions of bodies and violent crime, this is not the story for you. Sarah's diary is also disturbing.
Serial killer novels aren't for everyone. I enjoy them when in some moods, but not in all. They examine the darker side of life, what events must occur to twist a normal, or even a good, person into an insatiable killer. THE FACE OF DEATH makes not only lead detective Smoky Barrett into a foil for the killer, but most of the other characters as well. These good guys have horrible pasts, but they manage to keep survive on the side of the law.
While this creates interesting parallels, it leads to some narrative problems. The characters have too much baggage for the book to properly address everyone's issues. As this novel is part of a series, that gives McFadyen the opportunity to address the problems over a number of books, but it still feels like some problems were only brought up when dramatic effect was needed. Either a tighter cast or the same number of characters with less damaged pasts would have given the narrative tighter focus.
Despite being a downer, THE FACE OF DEATH is a fascinating novel that unfolds in an interesting manner. Some of the killer's ultimate plan doesn't make much sense, but I'll give him a pass since he's insane. Perhaps the best part of the novel is the voice McFadyen gave Sarah. Horrors fill her life, but she still possesses an inner lyricism. It makes the brutality more evident, but does the same for the hope.
THE FACE OF DEATH probably isn't for those who dislike violence or the serial killer theme. For those who do enjoy (or not mind) the presence of those things, this is a good book to pick out. I might start with the first, but don't know how essential it is as I haven't read it myself. THE FACE OF DEATH is the sequel to SHADOW MAN. The third book, THE DARKER SIDE, hits shelves September 30th. More details are available on Cody McFadyen's website.
My review copy courtesy of Pump Up Your Book Promotion.