The motivation behind the creation of FACEOFF alone makes it worth adding to your library. This is the latest in a series of collections of original short stories published for the purpose of supporting the International Thriller Writers (ITW), whose members (of which I am one) in turn work to support the thriller genre and, most importantly, new and aspiring authors. All of the contributors to these volumes devote their limited time and considerable talents to pushing these projects forward without monetary reward. As a result, readers get new stories from their favorite authors and have the opportunity to discover others who are new to them. Everybody wins.
That brings us to FACEOFF, which is brilliant in concept and startling in its execution. The idea behind it is to pair up 22 popular characters --- and, of course, their creators --- in 11 different stories. David Baldacci, one of the world’s most popular thriller authors, accepted the duty of guiding this project from conception to birth, thus becoming one of the world’s bravest authors. Think about taking 23 writers who are accustomed to working solo and pairing them up, very carefully, to create a new work --- a new short story, no less. This could not have been easy. A novel is like a mansion; there are lots of rooms to wander through, and you can go for hours without running into anyone. Not so with a short story. Think of two people in a closet. In some circumstances, that can be fun; in others, not so much.
"It is a testament to Baldacci, who was mightily assisted by Steve Berry...and the authors who collaborated on the stories, that the volume succeeds so well on every level, in every story."
It is a testament to Baldacci, who was mightily assisted by Steve Berry (one of the book’s stalwart contributors) and the authors who collaborated on the stories, that the volume succeeds so well on every level, in every story. When you have a collection that begins with a story written by Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly, you know that you at least have the promise of something very special. “Red Eye” is set in 2005 and brings Connelly’s Harry Bosch to the Boston of Lehane’s Patrick Kenzie. Bosch, seeking to close a cold case involving a very bad guy, crosses paths --- and, briefly, swords --- with Kenzie, who is after the same doer for a similar but different reason. As with practically all of the stories in here, “Red Eye” flows wonderfully, as if both authors were in the same room, somehow working the same keyboard at once.
Similarly, “In the Nick of Time” brings Ian Rankin and Peter James together in a case some five decades old that has been all but forgotten. A deathbed confession brings Rankin’s John Rebus to Brighton to meet up with James’s Roy Grace in order to see that a life lost but not taken obtains a sort of justice, delayed but not denied. Pairing Rebus and Grace seems almost a natural inclusion for a volume such as this.
Another, however, comes totally out of left field. Picture R. L. Stine with the writing team of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child (a threesome, no less). Preston and Child’s Aloysius Pendergast meets Stine’s Slappy the Ventriloquist Dummy in “Gaslighted.” Pendergast finds himself in dire straits, hospitalized for treatment of delusions that he considers to be very real. Slappy plays a chilling part in the proceedings --- that’s all I’m going to say about that --- but the result is a quietly hair-raising conclusion that will leave you puzzled and chilled to the bone.
Oh, and did I mention “Good and Valuable Consideration”? This little tale closes FACEOFF. It’s written by a couple of fellows named Lee Child and Joseph Finder. Picture Child’s Jack Reacher and Finder’s Nick Heller separately walking into a Boston neighborhood tavern and taking seats on either side of a heavyset gentleman, who is in some very large trouble. Reacher and Heller do what they do best: try to help --- and, if the opportunity presents itself, help themselves.
My favorites? As always, with a collection this good, that’s a tough question. I narrowed it down to two. One would be “Rhymes with Prey” by Jeffery Deaver and John Sandford. The title alone should cause you to want to read it, but the story is pitch-perfect, bringing Sandford’s Lucas Davenport to New York to work with Deaver’s iconic Lincoln Rhyme to apprehend a serial murderer. Do Rhyme and Davenport get along? About as well as can be expected, but they do work fine together and gradually develop a mutual respect for each other. The other story would be “Silent Hunt” (another terrific title), in which John Lescroart’s Wyatt Hunt and T. Jefferson Parker’s “Silent Joe” Trona find themselves on a fishing expedition south of the U.S.-Mexican border that turns into a dangerous treasure hunt with the lives of the innocent in the balance. It’s one of the more suspenseful tales here and will remind many of how much they miss Trona, one of Parker’s most interesting characters.
What more could one ask for? How about equally great stories by M.J. Rose and Lisa Gardner? Steve Martini and Linda Fairstein? Heather Graham and F. Paul Wilson? Raymond Khoury and Linwood Barclay? Or, perhaps, Steve Berry and James Rollins? It simply does not get any better than FACEOFF for so many reasons.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on June 6, 2014