Source: Review copy
Publication: 17 March 2022 from Orenda Books
My thanks to Orenda Books for an advance copy for review
Worn down by a job he hates, and a stressful family life, middle-aged, middle-class Bradley picks up a teenage escort and commits an unspeakable crime. Now she’s tied up in his warehouse, and he doesn’t know what to do.
Max is homeless, eating from rubbish bins, sleeping rough and barely existing – known for cadging a cigarette from anyone passing, and occasionally even the footpath. Nobody really sees Max, but he has one friend, and she’s gone missing.
In order to find her, Max is going to have to call on some people from his past, and reopen wounds that have remained unhealed for a very long time, and the clock is ticking…
Goodness me but Vanda Symon has taken a darker turn. After her fantastic Sam Shephard police procedural series with the effervescent Sam whose personal life is at least as bumpy as her police officer existence, Symon has turned to an altogether more sombre place.
Faceless is a taut, suspenseful thriller. Beautifully written in short, punchy paragraphs, it is a story about toxic masculinity meeting strong empathic characters and the explosion that occurs as a result.
Billy is a teenage Polynesian woman living on the streets and creating imaginative art that goes well beyond tagging. Max is also living on the streets, a down and out whose mental health has brought him down and kept him there, but whose wits are intact.
Vanda Symon tells her story from their perspectives as well as from the perspective of Bradley, the perpetrator and Meredith Peters, a local Police Detective. These differing perspectives help to keep pushing the plot forward as well as delivering inner voice information about the struggles that each character is experiencing. In Max and Billy’s cases this makes them incredibly compelling characters. The more so as their backstory emerges and we understand what has brought this pair to an unlikely friendship and how their backstories have led them to live on the streets.
Vanda Symon shines a light on the terrible scourge of homelessness and the way that society chooses not to ‘see’ the people who have fallen into the cracks. This is doubly so if that person is indigenous; as if that somehow makes them lesser beings.
It is a constant battle to stay alive, to try to keep warm, to have to forage in bins for food and to be ready to fight for your life, or to huddle tortoise like into a ball if those assaulting you are bigger and you are outnumbered. Everyone on the streets has a story, but how many of us ever stop to ask what that story is and how we can help?
Bradley is a middle aged, middle ranking office worker. He’s over-worked, bullied by his manager and feeling the stress. He works really hard to provide for his wife and two daughters, but feels under-appreciated at home as well as at work. Seeking relief, he decides one evening to pay for some appreciation but when things don’t play out the way his imagination suggested it should, he turns ugly and lands himself with a bigger problem than he could have anticipated.
Bradley is a monster in a suit. A man whose ego has been dented so considerably that he yearns for the supremacy that comes from the total submission of others to his will. He finds that once exercised – once his rage has been expunged, his whole sense of self is reinvigorated and his power flows through his body and sharpens his mind. A man who yesterday felt in control of nothing in his life is now the master of his universe and that toxic mentality is what drives Bradley to take the wrong decisions over and over again while blaming others for his choices.
Symon paints a compelling picture of how a situation can quickly get out of hand and her tense, riveting thriller is a fast paced, dark and violent read that feels genuine. She exposes the hypocrisy of Billy’s parents. Churchgoers whose life is spent in service to the church, they were more concerned for how Billy’s actions would reflect on them than they were in caring for their daughter. That hypocrisy also shows its face in how DS Meredith Peters is treated as a woman in the workplace, yet it is her compassion that will ultimately lead to the police deciding to take an interest in the case of Billy’s disappearance.
I absolutely loved this novel which shows what a great writer Vanda Symon is. She handles darkness just as well as she mixes light and shade in her Shephard books. Her characterisation is spot on and she has created a layered, rich reading experience that delivers not only a riveting crime thriller, but also a thought provoking look at those less fortunate and how we treat them. There but for the grace of God, this reader thought while reading.
Though it is dark, Faceless is ultimately a story about loyalty and friendship, tested in adversity. It is a beautiful exposition of grief, of feeling lost and alone and ultimately of the fear of hope and in overcoming that, finding self-belief and rediscovering self-respect and a sense of self that makes you feel better about yourself.
Verdict: A brilliantly written, thought-provoking dark thriller that is propulsive and compelling and which stays in the mind. Faceless is a real winner from a hugely talented writer.
Vanda Symon is a crime writer, health researcher and radio host from Dunedin, New Zealand, and the chair of the Otago Southland branch of the New Zealand Society of Authors. The Sam Shephard series, which includes Overkill, The Ringmaster, Containment and Bound, hit number one on the New Zealand bestseller list, and has also been shortlisted for the Ngaio Marsh Award. Overkill was shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger. All four books have been ebook bestsellers. Vanda currently lives in Dunedin, with her husband and a very demanding cat.