Remember the rock supergroups of the 1970s? Blind Faith; Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young; Derek and the Dominoes; Emerson, Lake and Palmer? Did the whole ever equal the sum of its parts? That’s an argument for another day, but what if a similar collaborative concept was applied to fictional detectives? It’s just what’s happened with Face Off, in which a range of crime fiction authors have teamed up to write short stories starring their main characters. While it’s an interesting idea, the dangers are obvious. How will styles match? How to believably find geographical and literal common ground? So many questions, but we hope that this review may provide some answers.
For UK readers, the biggest celebrity match-up has to be the meeting of Edinburgh’s John Rebus (Ian Rankin) and Brighton’s Roy Grace (Peter James) in In the Nick of Time. The backdrop is neatly put together. A man dying of cancer in an Edinburgh hospital makes his final confession. Cue John Rebus. Half a century ago, the dying man was involved in the tribal warfare between Mods and Rockers on the seafront of the English south coast resort of Brighton. He says that he stabbed a man to death in a hotel kitchen. Cue Roy Grace, who senses that one of his cold cases might be solved. The meeting of minds between the saturnine Scot and the earnest Englishman is curiously brief and low-key, and despite the appearance of series regulars Norman Potting and Siobhan Clarke, I felt that neither Rebus nor Grace had their usual sense of identity. In the story itself, justice is served after a fashion, but in an unexpected way.
Two men walk into a bar… The beginning of a bad joke? No. Particularly not when the two men are Nick Heller (Joseph Finder) and Jack Reacher (Lee Child) joining forces in Good and Valuable Consideration. The title, by the way, is a form of words used in legal contracts, and implying a basic fair exchange. Though the most preposterous of pairings, in some ways it’s the most enjoyable. Hitherto unknown to each other, the deadly duo sit at a bar, either side of a fat man. They’re there to watch a ball game on the television, but not so the portly gent. In the space of two or three pages Heller and Reacher have identified each other’s calling, sussed out that the fat man is a bent accountant, and identified the Albanian hitman sitting at the back of the bar. After the huge success of the Taken films, and their less than flattering portrayal of Albanians, there will probably be an organisation out there that will be offended by the summary justice meted out to the Balkan Baddie, but such is life. This story is – it must be said – fairly ridiculous. But it’s great fun.
Perhaps the most successful of the collaborations is between Lucas Davenport (John Sandford) and Lincoln Rhyme (Jeffery Deaver). In the punningly titled Rhymes With Prey, the millionaire investigator from Saint Paul, Minnesota fetches up in New York and meets the tetchy wheelchair-bound detective Lincoln Rhyme. Their shared interest is a serial killer who targets young and attractive women. Both Rhyme and Davenport have improbably gorgeous female assistants who have minds like calculators, and can also shoot straight. This harmless fantasy aside, the story is well-worked and manages to engineer a surprise ending. A serial killer is brought to book with some regrettable but inevitable collateral damage. This tale is probably the one where two different talents combine to produce the most plausible and satisfactory outcome, mainly because the two very recognisable voices of the authors are not diminished by the collaboration. The eccentric Rhyme is very much his acerbic self and Davenport, as usual, keeps the chatter to a minimum and the action full on. It’s also the longest of the stories by far, allowing for a more complex plot to develop at leisure.
Face Off proves to be a brave attempt to put into print what might have been dreamed up late one night after a few strong drinks, when random brainwaves present themselves as rock solid opportunities. The cast of writers is very strong, including Dennis Lehane, Michael Connelly and Linwood Barclay, and in total the book offers 11 stories. The profits are going to the group International Thriller Writers, and a link to their webpage is here. The book is a diverting enough collection, perfectly readable, but not memorable in any way. The stronger characters in the stories will survive to investigate another day on their own turf, and so no reputations were harmed during the making of this collection, but for this reviewer it was a case of read, smile, and forget.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars