The Man With No Face

Written by Peter May

Review written by Ali Karim

Ali Karim was a Board Member of Bouchercon [The World Crime & Mystery Convention] and co-chaired programming for Bouchercon Raleigh, North Carolina in 2015. He is Assistant Editor of Shots eZine, British correspondent for The Rap Sheet and writes and reviews for many US magazines & Ezines.

The Man With No Face
Quercus Publishing
RRP: £20
Released: January 10 2019

Many in the literary community have become accustomed to a new Peter May thriller to kick start the year. His latest is one that not only entertains, but stimulates the mind with a curiously prescient narrative that navigates European politics - and the dark-side of human nature.  It makes the reader think hard about life, death and what can hide in the shadows of our reality.

May’s latest thriller is extraordinary, and very different. Originally penned in the late 1970s, and published in 1981 as Hidden Faces – it was the former journalists' third published novel.  It has not been re-worked, just ‘lightly retouched’ because it is curiously relevant, forty years on.

May prefaces the work with a short introduction that explains how The Man With No Face found itself appearing in 2019, crediting his editor and also mentioning the young man who wrote it – his younger self. The key however is the relevancy of the story, when contrasted against the geopolitical situation in the World. The sad aspect is that despite all the technological change that has occurred around us, when the novel first appeared – the reality is that little has altered in the nature of humans.

The 1970s are nearly over. Investigative journalist, Edinburgh’s Neil Bannerman is sent to Brussels to cover a conference in the newly formed European Economic Community [EEC], which today is the European Union [EU]. Bannerman’s editor, Wilson Tait is not a nice person. There is pressure placed upon the Edinburgh Post to change to a lower-brow tabloid, replacing in-depth analysis with low-brow comment. The thought of the newspaper going down-market concerns Neil Bannerman, as his face may no longer fit the future direction that journalism is headed.

In Brussels, Bannerman meets up with fellow journalist, the widowed Tim Slater. He befriends Slater’s autistic daughter Tania, as well as Sally Robertson [who cares for Tania Slater].

Running in-concert, we are introduced to Kale, a troubled soldier who has used his military training to become a gunman, an assassin-for-hire, and who also finds himself in Belgium.

These two narrative threads converge when British Politician Robert Gryffe and Bannerman’s journalist colleague Tim Slater are found dead; the victims of a violent shootout.

Neil Bannerman’s journalistic skills come into action as he investigates this curious incident; especially as the Belgian and British authorities appear to wish the case brushed under the carpet. There are electoral fears underpinning the incident as well as possible conspiracy and duplicity. Bannerman is at the epicentre and so comes within the cross-hairs of forces he does not understand, as does little Tania Slater.

It seems when Robert Gryffe and Tim Slater were gunned down, little Tania was hiding, but from her vantage point, she saw someone else at that deadly altercation.

Tania draws a picture of what she witnessed, with something missing, a detail that gives this extraordinary thriller its title, and so hangs the tale.

The Man With No Face is an extremely fast read, Despite its dark story, there is compassion, there is insight. May’s characters that pepper Neil Bannerman’s investigation pulse with life, making the reader care deeply as to what caused two British men to pull guns at each other, in the city that has become the political centre for Europe. As a metaphor of our times; the so-called ‘days of Brexit’, it is delicious, but also very sad because in an exchange of bullets, it was all over – but someone has to pickup the pieces.

I would urge you to seek this work out, for it shows extraordinary story-telling ability in a young Scottish Journalist, who now sits at the top table of global thriller writing.

Peter May’s work provokes thought as to what can be hidden by a media, politicians and the machinery that links them to the darkest edges of human nature.

With the current complicated and confusing issues facing Great Britain and the European Mainland, I am unable to think of a more prescient and thought-provoking read than Peter May’s latest work. The perplexing aspect is that this novel was written over forty years ago, but the issues it addresses are as fresh today, as they were back in those days now passed.

Miss this at your peril because unlike our current newsprint, The Man With No Face entertains as it informs and as a metaphor, it is troubling.

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