Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Face of a Killer - Robin Burcell

Sydney Fitzpatrick is a forensic artist for the FBI. On the twentieth anniversary of her father's death, she's called in to do a sketch of a rapist. When her suspect starts baring resemblance to a suspect in another rape case, Sydney is partnered up with Tony Carillo to investigate.

Meanwhile, Sydney decides it's time to confront her father's murderer who is awaiting execution at San Quentin. She simply wants to know why he killed her father, but instead she ends up having doubts that the man DID kill her father. Then when her father's old army buddy sends her an envelope before he commits suicide, things looks even more suspicious. Everything seems to be tied to a picture in the envelope. A picture of her father with several other men; a picture of a group of men who look sort of like...special forces.

I'm not sure I know exactly where to start with this review because I loved every aspect of this book. The characters were wonderfully developed. Their interactions together were absolutely smooth and completely believable at every level.

Sydney's ex comes in to town because he's on surveillance. He's surveying Sydney due to a hit the FBI believes has been put out on her. This obviously causes internal conflict for Sydney and tension between the two of them.

Sydney and Carillo cracked me up as partners. Imagine the most fun pairing of law enforcement officers from television or the movies; Sydney and Carillo match if not surpass any great combo! Their banter was so realistic and their personalities fit like Yin and Yang. One of my favorite scenes with them is when they head out to follow up on a lead (that they really aren't supposed to be following) and Sydney's surveillance team is with them. They pull into a methadone clinic and the surveillance guys want to know WHY they are there:

"Just need to stop by and have a chat with someone about renewing a prescription," Sydney said.

"Birth control pills," Carillo added.

Jared looked up at the sign. "It's a methadone clinic."

"Damn, Carillo. We are so not sleeping together tonight."

"Way to go," Carillo told Dunning as they walked past him, toward the door. "I was this close."

And the best part about Sydney and Carillo? They DON'T jump in the sack together; don't even hint at doing anything like that. It is so refreshing to have a male/female team that doesn't end up in bed together!

Another refreshing element of this book - the law enforcement characters aren't swearing every other word. They are intelligent enough to carry on a conversation in which they can express themselves without excessive profanity. It's a beautiful thing.

The plot kept me glued to the pages in this book. I was in the dark about the outcome until the very end. And Burcell does an outstanding job of throwing in twists each time the reader thinks they have the mystery nailed. It is also a plot that keeps you guessing without throwing in some unknown factors right at the end. In addition the two subplots kind of weave in and out of each other leaving the reader wondering if they're connected or if it's just all a strange coincidence. The reader is challenged at every page turn in this book.

While the plot was very well constructed, I have to admit that the element of the book that hooked me right away was the authenticity. Or at least in my limited knowledge what I perceived to be authenticity. And, it's very subtle which makes it that much more powerful. When Sydney goes in to the hospital room with Tara, the rape victim, she has to convince Tara to help her draw the sketch. Understandably, Tara doesn't want to relive her nightmare by picturing her attacker again:

"Tara. I know this is hard for you."

"How can you know?"

She blazed right past that question with, "Trust me when I say that you have it in your power to help us catch this person and stop him from hurting anyone else. But we can't do it without your help."

"I can't -- "

"How old was he?" Sydney cut in, not giving her a chance to think about what she was doing.

"Um, late twenties, early thirties."

"What race?"

"He was white."

"You're doing good, Tara. How tall?"

And Sydney goes on like this until Tara is able to help her start sketching. This section just struck me as I read it. How it completely made sense but wouldn't have ever been what I expected. Sydney didn't coddle and coo; instead, she forced Tara to focus on fact and detail and put emotion to the side long enough to create a sketch. Sydney modeled that. She wasn't cold so much as she put the emotion aside to get the job done. But just that simple exchange of dialogue made a powerful impact on me as a reader. That realism carries through the entire book even with the conspiracy notion looming throughout. An authentic conspiracy; what a novel idea!

A couple other odds and end about this novel that I really enjoyed. First is Topper. Topper is a poodle that Carillo calls a sheep:

"Didn't know you had a sheep," Carillo said.

"Topper is not a sheep. He's a poodle."

"A poodle, huh? That's why they give them the foo-foo haircuts? So you can tell they're dogs and not livestock?"
The endearing thing about Topper is not that he's a poodle; it's that his personality reminds me of my own dog. Very happy-go-lucky, likes to be around people, but if someone is not the "right people" Topper lets you know. If my dog growls about a person, I know something isn't right. I'm sure a lot of people who aren't "dog people" would find Topper unbelievable, but having experienced such a dog myself, I know Topper is realistic, and for me he added a lot to the dimension of the book.

Of course, I mentioned the other day in a special post about the sketches at the beginning of each chapter. I just find that so unique and fun.

And the final item I'm going to mention is kudos to whoever the proofreader was for Face of a Killer. Lately I've noticed a lot of basic proofing errors in books I've been reading. They are essentially typos that were somehow overlooked. I don't think I recalled one single typo in this book. Since it has been so prevalent lately in my reading, a clean read is noteworthy! ;)

Yes, I'm finally going to wrap up this review! I loved Face of a Killer. The humor, the three-dimensional characters, the authentic plot all make this an outstanding crime fiction novel. I'm looking forward to the next one!


Joy December 9, 2008 at 10:31 PM  

Woo Hoo! I put it on my TBR list. Thanks, Jen.

trish December 23, 2008 at 3:34 PM  

Oh my goodness, this book sounds GREAT! I just requested it from my library, so hopefully I'll get it soon.

Great review, btw. You totally hooked me.

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