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The Face of Death by Cody McFadyen
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's review
Aug 23, 2007

really liked it
Recommended for: Suspense fiction fans
Read in August, 2007

Sixteen year old Sarah Langstrom’s life shatters once again in the pre-dawn hours of a typical Saturday morning. The man she calls “The Stranger” has returned, slaying her latest foster family with a horrifying, grisly brutality that is all too familiar for Sarah.
Pushed beyond her ability to cope, Sarah puts a gun to her head and demands to see Special Agent Smokey Barrett, head of the FBI’s violent crimes unit in Los Angeles.
Barrett is no stranger to violence. She and her team rub shoulders with the worst of L.A.’s dark underbelly daily. They are the best at what they do. But Barrett’s understanding of the darkness goes much deeper than anything she learned at the FBI academy. For Smoky, it’s personal.
It’s been a little more than a year since her own husband and daughter were taken from her by a violent serial killer. The same man brutally injured Smoky, leaving her face and body scarred and her spirit broken. Smoky understands Sarah on a gut level. But more importantly, Smoky believes her.
Sarah gives Smoky her diary, which chronicles her lifelong encounters with The Stranger, beginning with her parents’ murder.
The Stranger killed Sarah’s parents in front of her when she was only six, meticulously staging the killing to look like a domestic murder-suicide. Police investigating the tragedy dismissed the little girl’s description of a bad man who made mommy hurt daddy, because there was no forensic evidence pointing to an intruder.
Over the next few years, tragedy dogs Sarah’s footsteps. She bounces from uncaring and sometimes abusive foster homes to an awful group home. As long as she’s placed in miserable surroundings, The Stranger is nothing more than a shadow in her background. When she finds comfort and security with a loving foster family, he strikes again, ripping away her happiness like an old band aid and leaving behind thick, tough scar tissue of hopelessness, isolation and mistrust.
The Stranger thinks of himself as an artist. Sarah is to be his greatest work of art, a sort of living sculpture he calls, “A Ruined Life.” Each new death is designed to teach her a lesson. Her spirit dies a little more with each hardship she encounters.
For Smoky and her team, the chase is on. They backtrack through the cases described in Sarah’s diary, picking up The Stranger’s scent from the tiniest of leads. With each new discovery, the case becomes more convoluted. With each dead end, the stakes grow higher. The Stranger is moving them all toward an endgame that could spell disaster for Sarah and everyone around her.
In The Face of Death, author Cody McFayden takes a tried-and-true formula – the tough-as-nails female agent and her wisecracking team who hunt the monsters that live on the edges of our nightmares – and gives it a fresh spin.
McFayden has created a fascinating heroine in Smoky Barrett. Barrett is a fighter – tough, smart, caring, and fearless. She is also broken, struggling daily to carry on beneath the weight of her losses.

The Face of Death is great suspense fiction. This book demands to be consumed. The pages all but turn themselves. But the beauty is in the details. McFayden pens descriptions of terrible events with delicate grace and a keen understanding of human nature. The story is by turns horrifying and heartbreaking, often in the same paragraph.
The Face of Death is Smoky’s sophomore outing – be sure to read Shadow Man first. I am on the edge of my seat hoping there will be more!
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