Faceless by Vanda Symon

Today I’m delighted to share my thoughts on Faceless, the latest novel from Vanda Symon. I really love the authors Sam Shepherd series and was really looking forward to tucking into this standalone thriller. My thanks to publisher Orenda Books who provided an early copy for review and Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for the tour invite. Here’s what the book is about:

Source: Advance Reader Copy
Release Date: 17 January 2022
Publisher: Orenda Books

About the Book

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…

Hard-hitting, fast-paced and immensely thought-provoking, Faceless – the startling new standalone thriller from New Zealand’s ‘Queen of Crime’ – will leave you breathless.

My Thoughts

This is a book that really hit the spot. Triggering a whole gamut of emotions, anger, fear, compassion and empathy, feelings that at time are almost visceral, this book in not only thought provoking, but it is laden with almost unrelenting tension and is so perfectly paced that I just ate it up. This is a far cry from the world of Vanda Symon’s series hero, Sam Shephard, but its impact is no less powerful, in fact arguably more so, and its characters equally memorable as any we have met before.

The book is the tale of three very different, equally troubled characters, all trying to survive the day to day in their own unique ways. Billy is an artist, a homeless teenager whose backstory is as heart wrenching as the terrible situation she finds herself forced into. Selling her body, and her soul, to obtain the paints she needs to finish her latest work of art, it proves to be a case of one trick too many for this particular stray. Bradley Fordyce is your archetypal city worker. Sort of. Ground down personally and professionally he makes one ill fated decision, but one that unleashes a dark side in his psyche that struggles to be controlled. If he even wants to, that is. And then there is Max. Homeless, forgotten, he is Billy’s friend and someone whose determination to find her could be his undoing. His back story is tragic but authentic, all too common amongst the homeless community. Whilst there are others who inform the story – the formidable and unstoppable Meredith, Max’s estranged son, and even Bradley’s wife – but the story really does belong to these three.

This is a story of obsession, anger and depression. Of family estrangement, of mental health crises, and of unforgiving standards of morality. It is a story that speaks to the seemingly invisible nature of the homeless community, of the police’s unwillingness to listen to them, much less care if one should go missing. Seeing the difference in the way Max is treated when he is viewed as ‘just another bum’, compared to when he makes the effort to show the person beneath the crime is so reminiscent of society’s attitude toward people on the streets that it provokes a strange mixture of emotions – anger at the injustice of the dismissiveness he experiences, and shame that this is typical behaviour for many of those in society who are are in a much more fortunate personal position.

There are scenes in the book which really do cut right to the bone, left me feeling rightfully uncomfortable. There is a constant sense of threat, anger and violence, even if the majority of if it kept off the page. The circumstances in which Billy is kept creates an almost visceral response in me as a reader. She is never subjected to sexual violence, but still there is an intensity to the indignities and pain she endures that still creates that sense of violation, that attempt to slowly break her spirit. Contrast this slow breakdown in Bradley’s personality, his decline towards a kind of madness, and Max’s reconnection with faces from his past and there is a none stop wave of emotion that floods through the entire narrative.

Intense, dark, and twisted, this is a fast and pulse-raising read that absolutely gripped me as a reader. It is more about reaction to, than engagement in, the violence, but it is no less powerful for our being kept that one step removed. It is a story about strength of spirit, and the ability to overcome a crushing darkness, whether literal or psychological. The ending is fast paced, an edge of the seat, nail biting burst of action, enforced by skilful, understated and yet undeniably powerful and unforgettable writing. If this is your first taste of Vanda Symon’s writing, the buckle up. You are in for one heck of a ride. Definitely recommended.

Definitely worth one of these:

About the Author

Vanda Symon lives in Dunedin, New Zealand. As well as being a crime writer, she has a PhD in science communication and is a researcher at the Centre for Pacific Health at the University of Otago. Overkill was shortlisted for the 2019 CWA John Creasey Debut Dagger Award and she is a three-time finalist for the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel for her critically acclaimed Sam Shephard series. Vanda produces and hosts ‘Write On’, a monthly radio show focusing on the world of books at Otago Access Radio. When she isn’t working or writing, Vanda can be found in the garden, or on the business end of a fencing foil.

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