What happens when you get 23 of the world’s best-known crime authors and their series characters in one room and let them fight it out? The “fighting it out” in this sense is a purely literary one, with the new story collection Face Off being an imaginary stage for these authors to pit their characters against each other. The result is this collection of eleven short stories, each written by two of the authors, and each featuring two of their usual main characters.
Edited by best-selling author David Baldacci, and featuring writers such as Lee Child, R.L. Stine, Lisa Gardner, Jeffrey Deaver and Michael Conelly, Face Off is the result of a very extensive and organised “fundraiser” for the International Thriller Writers association, an organisation founded by crime writers Gayle Lynds and David Morell. With the help of writers who volunteer their time, the International Thriller Writers create their own books in order to generate their operating capital, ensuring that membership to the organisation is free for any writer who is published by an International Thriller Writers’ publisher. This innovative endeavour has created previous publications (and audio books) involving some of the world’s best crime writers, and has now orchestrated an unprecedented meeting of thriller writers within this one volume.
The intriguing thing about this collection is not just the practical difficulties of joining writers from different publishing houses – considering the rigidity of authors’ exclusivity to their publishers – but the way that each of the paired writers found ways to combine their individual characters and their individual styles, while at the same time coming up with an engaging plot line that marries all of those aspects. The introductions to each of the stories by David Baldacci are at times almost more interesting than the stories themselves, as he manages to explain all these complex elements, and often gives insight into some very interesting and innovative writing processes used by the authors.
Keeping in mind those complexities, there is a range of difference among the short stories, and not all of them have combined as successfully as others. One of the more interesting fusions include the union of legendary author R.L. Stine with Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child in the story Gaslighted, featuring their respective characters “Slappy the Ventriloquist Dummy,” and “Aloysius Pendergast” – the pairing of an evil dummy and a macho FBI agent, which is described by Baldacci as so incongruous that the authors were “immediately captivated by the challenge.”
The two stories that stood out most among this collection in terms of plot and character cohesion are Rhymes with Prey and The Laughing Buddha. The Laughing Buddha by M.J. Rose and Lisa Gardener features their protagonists, Jungian therapist and past-life regression expert Malachai Samuels alongside street-smart Detective D.D. Warren, in a story that spans from nineteenth century New York and back, and which captures the “actual versus the surely impossible.”
The pairing of Jeffrey Deavers and John Sandford in Rhymes with Prey sees their characters – quadriplegic forensic expert Lincoln Rhyme, and ace investigator for the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension Lucas Davenport – team up in a most unlikely, yet compelling plot involving a chilling psychopath with an unhealthy interest in sculpture.
The concept for Face Off is a great idea – the format of the short story means that each narrative presents a small world of intrigue, crime and iconic serial characters in a way that is a novelty for both the writers and the readers. The bottom line of Face Off is that it has something for everyone, and should be on the “to be checked out” lists of all crime writing fans.