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Gone for a BurtonThe Faceby Phil Whitaker246pp Atlantic BooksThe Face is Phil Whitakers third novel When hes not writing he works as a GP and forensic medical examiner It shows The book is appalling in its detail steady in its gaze and deeply penetrating in its insight into flesh and bloodWhitakers first novel Eclipse of the Sun 1997 was well crafted and intriguing His second Triangulation 1999 was well crafted and charming The Face is a major advance on these two its well-crafted and utterly sickening This is a recommendationRay Arthur is a retired police detective Hes dead killed in a car crash involving no other vehicles that may have been accidental or may have been suicide But what reason would someone like Ray a good cop and a loving father and grandfather have to do himself inThe book is narrated alternately by Zo Rays daughter and Declan a former police artist and friend of Rays who worked with him in Nottingham back in the early 1970s on a particularly horrific case of sexual assault on a young girl The narrative is interspersed with transcripts from the inquest into Rays deathThese three accounts of Rays life and death represent a considerable technical accomplishment Whitaker achieved a similar narrative complexity in Triangulation Sometimes one wonders if the necessary consecutive thinking the logic and the relentless pursuit of truth that characterise the scientific mindset are better suited to the composition of fiction than the tiresome self-obsessions of the literaryDuring the course of the novel Declans addresses to the reader become increasingly disturbing and poetic - Out of my ambit your body has no mass you are free of gravity at the mercy of the wind Gusts blow you this way and that You become disorientated lose your sense of time and place Zo meanwhile is at first merely inquisitive and then concerned and alarmed as she discovers strange truths about her father and her own marriage
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