Reading and editing for a living, I’ve waded through a lot of books. It’s been a long time since a book grabbed me, drew me into the story, and kept me turning pages. The Face of Death, by Cody McFadyen not only grabbed me, but it took me by the collar and dragged me across the pages, while keeping me on the edge of my seat.
Written in first person, from the point of view of our protagonist, Smoky Barret, a battered and beaten but not broken FBI special agent, the reader gets a glimpse inside Smoky’s head, listening in on her thoughts. There is a very intimate feeling to the relationship between reader and Smoky.
This book stumbles into Smoky’s life about a year after she lost her husband, daughter and good friend at the hands of a serial killer, and nearly lost her own life too. Left with the emotional and physical scars–ones on her face for all to see–Smoky is trying to pick up the pieces of her life while moving forward in her job and becoming mom to her dead friend’s now mute daughter, Bonnie.
Once the reader has a handle on Smoky’s world, Smoky is called to the scene of a crime, where a sixteen-year-old, blood-covered Sarah asks for her by name. Soon, the reader is pulled into a new story, third person from Sarah’s point of view, written by Sarah. The reader is exposed to it while Smoky reads it.
This back and forth between Smoky’s thoughts and Sarah’s story is skillfully woven through the pages of the book. Sarah has been targeted by a serial killer, who considers himself an ‘artist’ who is shaping and molding Sarah’s life as a work of art–A Ruined Life–by killing most everyone Sarah could possible love, and hurting or damaging those in her life he does not kill. For ten years, Sarah lives with the horror alone.
Smoky’s job is to outwit the ‘The Stranger’ in Sarah’s life, unveil the corruption and reasons ‘The Stranger’ is doing what he considers justice, and keep everyone Sarah knows and loves alive, and with any luck, sane too.
Packed with action, a bit of blood and gore, and plenty of suspense, there were only two things that bothered me about this book that will prevent it from getting a five star rating: 1) McFadyen has Smoky revealing in dialogue to other officers things even a rookie should know (likely for the sake of the reader). It interfered with my ability to suspend disbelief. Fortunately, this doesn’t happen often. 2) The scene in which The Stranger killed Sarah’s parents, and the manner in which The Stranger creates that scene, in my opinion, loses integrity. I simply cannot bring myself to believe Sarah’s mother would respond the way McFadyen, through Sarah, says she did.
The story ends with a small twist, ties up all loose ends skillfully, answers any questions the reader might have had while reading, and brings some humor and happiness back to story. No, it’s not a perfect happily-ever-after ending, but it’s real, honest… life.
The Face of Death, by Cody McFadyen left me wanting more, and I have already decided I will be reading and reviewing the next Smoky Barret book, The Darker Side. The Face of Death receives a 4 1/2 out of a possible five-star rating from this reviewer. Good book, highly recommended.