Faceless by Vanda Symon
A thriller told from up to four points of view, this is an intense and powerful story of determination in the face of impossible odds. Featuring homeless characters in a city in New Zealand, it is written with a sparse prose that does not waste time on descriptions, feelings and emotions which will emerge from the characters’ actions and reactions. This is a book which shows how desperate people can react when circumstances demand – and a little of how past hurts can power the present. Each switch of character is clear, though they pick up the story at slightly different times, as the desperation rises for more than one person. It is a mystery that works out brilliantly as various people know only a little of what is going on – and only the author and reader can put it together as time carries on and tension rises. In a way it is a masterclass in contemporary writing, a well balanced story of crime and investigation starting from very different places than normal. I found it an enthralling novel, and I am pleased to have had the opportunity to read and review it.
Bradley is an ordinary man with family pressures and a job which demands more than he can possibly manage. A sudden impulse sends him into a nightmare that changes lives. Not that it is solely his nightmare by any stretch of imagination – his descent is a painful revelation in every way. Billy is a young woman who is trying to surmount her situation with art, who descends into a danger that she could never have imagined. Her torment is messy and painful, and calls on all her inner resources. Her previous experience as a homeless woman has not always been pleasant, yet there was light and in Max a friend and companion who cared. Max has descended about as low as it is possible to go, barely surviving as a wreck of the man he once was, shocking in his physical state and attitude to himself. Only his friendship with Billy has kept him going, and when she suddenly disappears he cannot rest, cannot cope without discovering what has happened to her. Even though it costs him everything, even when he realises it will be physically risky, he still makes every effort, uses every contact, however tenuous, to discover what has happened to her. He knows that he is stirring up memories and situations that he has made every effort to suppress, but he is desperate.
With her usual flair for creating characters and situations that may slowly develop but twist and turn in their revelation, Symon has so much control of the plot that it truly absorbed me. She does not spend time setting the scene and explaining everything, but layers up the suspense brilliantly. There are some dark elements of this story, but they are well handled and necessary to the story. I was so impressed by the character of Max, for whom so much of this book is a revelation of how far he has descended, and the beginning of realising what he must do to change his life in every respect. This is an amazing story, and a well written thriller with real suspense.