The Face Stealer by Robert Scott-Norton

The Face Stealer by Robert Scott-NortonPartway between police procedural and conspiracy horror, this novel provides plenty of unknown to fear without sacrificing a solid basis of reality.

When Max Harding’s wife, Cindy, finds out he is having an affair and attacks him, he thinks his day can’t get any worse; until the police arrive to question him about the death of his mistress, found beneath Southport Pier without a face. The evidence seems damning, but as more faceless figures, these very much alive, attempt to kill anyone connected to the investigation, Max, Cindy, and Detective Inspector Payne, the lead officer, find themselves both hunted and hunter.

Scott-Norton skilfully balances the overlapping narratives, providing both the sense of wide-scale official interest that hordes of blank-faced assassins would bring with the visceral immersion of an ordinary citizen fleeing incomprehensible events.

The incomprehensibility is similarly well-handled. As the novel proceeds, the reader is given enough information to progress towards understanding whilst never having the whole picture placed in front of them.

Scott-Norton’s third thread is technology somewhere between an article from a bleeding-edge magazine and the scientific end of the Mythos. Combining connections to existing technology with the aims of an inhuman mind, he creates a powerful agent of conflict that doesn’t surrender plausibility.

Where this book might stretch some reader’s credulity is in the overall scale of the conspiracy. While there could be explanations for how the conspiracy set up certain wide-scale situations, they are not provided. Depending on the reader’s feelings, this will either strengthen the mystery or weaken the chain of revelations that have led from the mundane world to faceless assassins.

Max is a solid protagonist. Intelligent but possessing neither specialist skills nor uncommon knowledge, he forms a good balance between not breezing past revelations and not causing the reader to curse his lack of reasoning.

Despite serving the role of social order, DI Payne is not relegated to it. Neither a jobsworth nor a maverick, he struggles with both personal issues and choosing when to make a stand without enough information.

However, unlike the other two viewpoints, Cindy is less accessible. Physically abusive and clearly involved in something unpleasant – yet lacking a strong inner monologue – her attempts to resolve the problems she faces provide the reader with more evidence of what might be going on but less reason to care if she succeeds. While some insight does come later in the novel, it might be too late.

Overall, I enjoyed this novel greatly. I recommend it to readers who enjoy conspiracy theories or modern-day thrillers.

I received a free copy from the author with no obligation to review.

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