A New Face in Suspense
Iris Johansen has grown up. This is not to say that her previous novels were immature, but something has changed for the better with this novelist, and it shows in her new romantic thriller, The Face of Deception. This is one of the most riveting reads of the year brutal and shocking at times, but compelling enough to be accessible for the faint of heart. This novel is right up there with The Day After Tomorrow and Patricia Cornwell as a major-league thriller, but it has a slightly gentle touch. And, yes, romance plays a big part in the story, but it feels like a perfectly natural progression as Johansen's heroine finds herself going deeper and deeper into the dark twists and turns of this story's plot.
Eve Duncan is a forensic sculptor who loves her work and at times, the work is gruesome. Her job is to take a skull and artistically re-create the face around it to identify the dead person. Eve grows attached to the personalities that come through the faces she sculpts, and in general, she has been involved in fighting the problem of missing children ever since her own daughter, Bonnie, was kidnapped and murdered several years prior to the beginning of the novel. Eve's compassion even extends to the man who murdered her daughter for she wants to know where her daughter is buried in order to find some closure to that terrible event. But her daughter's killer is put to death before he can tell her anything, and Eve feels like she's floundering. Then a stranger comes to her studio door, and her lifechangesdramatically.
John Logan is no ordinary man. He's a Bill Gates wannabe with the billions of dollars and the computer chips to prove it and he wants something desperately from Eve. He makes her a proposition: If she will work for him for two weeks, in an isolated laboratory/studio, he will pay her half a million dollars. But wait the offer gets better. He will also donate the same amount or more to her favorite charity, a fund that goes toward searching for lost or missing children. Logan knows what Eve's soft spot is, and he hits it hard. Eve lives very much by her principles and her sense of right and wrong, and this deal with the devil feels very much like the wrong side of things...but her commitment to the children's charity goes deeper than usual. The kind of money Logan is talking about would virtually rescue dozens of children from horrendous situations; coming from a poverty-level childhood, with a formerly crack-addicted mother, Eve is all for getting help to children. Plus, in her dreams, her dead daughter's ghost encourages her to accept the job.
But there are problems with the dashing and enchanting Logan: He's too good to be true. And worse (to Eve, anyway), he's a Republican who wants to get the current Democratic administration out of power. So exactly what is it he's after?
What finally sends her into Logan's camp is the blood she finds splattered everywhere in her studio one morning. Someone has killed a neighbor's cat and has ruined all her work in the process. This vague threat to keep Eve from working for Logan has the opposite effect that its perpetrators intended. She decides to take the money and job, and hops into Logan's limo.
In her new digs, she's given carte blanche and can come and go from the security-encrusted property at will. But when Logan finally levels with her about what kind of skull she'll be working on, both terror and disbelief make her want to get as far from Logan as possible. The secret of who the skull belongs to, and the political ramifications it holds for the nation, all make for fascinating fiction; and as Eve discovers that there's no way out from the Logan compound, and that hired assassins are after anyone who knows the secret, she is thrown headlong into a world of love, lies, and suspense.
If you are a romantic thriller fan, and if you've never read Johansen before, start with this one. The Face of Deception is a fast-moving, heart-stopping read.
Douglas Clegg, barnesandnoble.com