Review

Faces of Fear

by John Saul

John Saul’s career began with the publication of his first
bestseller, SUFFER THE CHILDREN, released in 1977. Now, 31 years
later, he has written his 35th novel, FACES OF FEAR. The setting is
primarily the Los Angeles area, and the plot involves the age-old
debate about beauty either being in the eye of the beholder or skin
deep --- or both.

Fifteen-year-old Alison relocates from Santa Monica to Bel Air
with her mother, realtor Risa Shaw. The reason for the move is the
marriage of Risa to Dr. Conrad Dunn, one of the more famous and
prominent plastic surgeons in this wealthy area of California.
Although Alison is reluctant to leave behind her friends and life
in Santa Monica, she recognizes that she must be supportive of her
mother, who was devastated by the fact that her husband, Michael,
left her to be with another man. Conrad is also marrying on the
rebound of his own personal tragedy --- the suicide death of his
last wife, Margot, who was unable to live with the facial
disfigurement caused by a horrific boating accident the previous
year.

While this story is playing out, another far more sinister
development is raising the fear of the surrounding community. A
savage serial killer, dubbed the Frankenstein Killer, has been
brutally murdering random women. What is most alarming is the fact
that the culprit’s modus operandi is strikingly
similar to a series of murders that took place 15 years prior in
the same area. During both murder sprees, body parts as well as the
victims’ adrenal and thymus glands were taken. The entire Los
Angeles area is on alert, and no one knows where, why or how this
monster will strike next.

Michael, having reconciled with Risa and settled as being
lifelong friends, is living with his new partner Scott and working
as a news editor for a local television station. One of his more
aggressive reporters, Tina Wong, has firmly ensconced herself
amidst the Frankenstein Killer case, and her pursuit of this story
continues to put her in the way of the local police force and
potentially in the path of a killer. As Tina gets closer to the
truth, she begins to uncover patterns in the recent series of
killings and is able to resurface the similarities to the
15-year-old murders.

Meanwhile, Alison is acclimating to the markedly different world
her high school in Bel Air poses. She realizes that the students
are living lives of endless privilege and seem to be addicted to
plastic surgery enhancements. Not surprisingly, the bulk of these
procedures have been conducted by her new stepfather. Risa, upon
exploration of her new Bel Air mansion, discovers a hidden basement
room that appears to be a shrine to Conrad’s previous wife.
What is most alarming to her is the realization that the recent
surgical alterations Conrad has planned for Alison bear an eerie
resemblance to the images of Margot that are being kept in the
basement shrine. Risa and Alison both begin to suspect that things
might not be as they appear, and this discovery means that their
worst fears might quickly become their reality.

Throughout his successful career as a novelist, John Saul has
stuck to a formula that works consistently, and none of his novels
are disappointing. Where many of his contemporaries have changed or
altered their styles from time to time, Saul has continued his
craftsmen-like skill of knowing what will scare his readers, and he
hits this mark every time. Another theme that encompasses much of
the book and runs through many of his previous works is the use of
teenagers as central characters. He states that “Teens are
not much different over the years. They all have the same dreams,
aspirations and fears.” With FACES OF FEAR, Saul keeps these
fears alive, which makes for another entertaining read.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on January 21, 2011

Faces of Fear
by John Saul

  • Publication Date: August 12, 2008
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books
  • ISBN-10: 0345487052
  • ISBN-13: 9780739476918