Faces of Fear by John Saul follows a teenage girl named Allison Shaw who shows some insecurity about her plain appearance. Her parents eventually get divorced due to her father turning out to be gay. Which leads to her mother, Risa Shaw, eventually marrying famed plastic surgeon Conrad Dunn whose wife had committed suicide. Conrad considered his former wife to have been his greatest work and he’s unable to get over her death. Soon, it becomes apparent his goal is to transform the young Allison into his dead wife. In the mix of all this, a serial killer is going around collecting body parts whilst being investigated by an ambitious reporter.
This book has quite an unsettling premise – a stepfather trying to change his stepdaughter into his dead former wife via plastic surgery. Overall, the story is a fast-paced and entertaining read. It was also funny to see the references to MySpace and paranoia about the internet (published in 2008). However, there are some aspects of the book that kind of annoyed me.
Firstly, there’s a very cartoonish view of teenagers presented. Most of the other teens Allison interacts with are shallow and stupid. I find this trope annoying, and it always rubs me the wrong way. The second thing that annoyed me is when the book begins focusing on Allison deciding whether or not she wants breasts implants. Her making the decision is dragged out, and it was irritating.
There’s also some stuff that doesn’t make much sense. Conrad’s former wife, Margot, was this great beauty thanks to his plastic surgery skills. However, she got into some accident that scarred up her face. Conrad says he could have easily fixed this, but for some reason, he has her wait and insists she attends a party. Attending this event is what drove her to suicide after overhearing some cruel remarks from the guests. Her method of suicide was jumping off a cliff into some rocks. Conrad is angry when he looks at her corpse and sees how destroyed her face is. He even goes out of his way to reconstruct it for the funeral.
It doesn’t make sense to me that he wouldn’t immediately fix her face after the accident if he gets so angry about her face not being perfect in death. Also, the reveal of the serial killer was a bit dumb.
Despite the flaws, Faces of Fear is still a fairly entertaining thriller that doesn’t quite live up to the creepy premise. John Saul is a good writer, though my personal favorites from his catalog are Second Child and Black Creek Crossing. I’d recommend those over this one but “Faces” is an okay read.