The Faceless (2012) is a confronting stand-alone thriller set on the ‘mean streets’ of Auckland that takes a decidedly darker turn than Vanda Symon’s previous four novels, which feature the popular female detective constable Sam Shepard. 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, a 2013 Ngaio Marsh Award finalist is a terrific, well-paced, well-plotted, dark thriller. Tense and thought-provoking; highly recommended. (Adapted from a review by Craig Sisterson on Crime Watch).