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The Face of Fear

Author: Dean Koontz
(Originally published under the pseudonym Brian Coffey)
Published: 1977
Review by: CL5 Sorsha

ver the course of a weekend, psychologist Graham Harris and antique shop owner Connie Davis experience unadulterated terror as they are stalked by The Butcher. Nothing about this situation is normal. While being interviewed for a local talk show (shades of "Larry King Live") on his psychic abilities, Harris "witnesses" the demise of The Butchers last victim. In the past, he has aided the police in the capture of other killers, but The Butcher is proving to be unique to Harris in that he can't get a "face" on the elusive murderer. And now The Butcher has changed his tactics and is coming after Harris himself.

Harris used to be a semi-professional mountain climber until a 300-foot fall from Mount Everest gave him a fear of high places. Now he's cornered on the 40th floor of his office building by a psychotic rapist/killer and the only way out of this alive is to rappel down the outside of the building. "The Face of Fear" becomes a double entendre - not only has he been unable to see the face of the killer in his visions, but he must face up to his paranoia of high places and failure.

The Face of Fear is a quick and easy read. It has none of the philosophical meanderings of Stephen King to slog through, nor the gothic morality of Anne Rice, nor the spiritual bent of Clive Barker. Like most authors of this genre, sex is a focal point. The Butcher is a rapist and murderer who enjoys not so much the acts themselves, but the outcome which he believes he is birthing. (In this case, The Butcher is a follower of Nietchze with a misinterpretation of the idea "Superman") It is not graphically gruesome to the point of having to close the book and take a breather. At no point did the book make me uncomfortable, which is where I think it fails in some regards as a horror novel.

Deep down inside a lot of us read horror because that sick, twisted part of us WANTS to be scared out of our wits. Authors of horror cater to that secret door inside our heads we never open - the unnatural fantasies we won't admit even to ourselves. If you read the contemporary masters - King, Rice, Barker - their work is centered on sex and all its variations. Even Poe and Stoker fixated on the uncanny combination of sex and terror. It's obvious to see that these authors are up on their psychology of what makes humans tick. But what Koontz creates here is more of the Alfred Hitchcock suspense story than a true horror novel.

For those who like simple, easy reading with a bit of suspense, this is an admirable beginning to an author's career worth investigating. The villian is easy to spot, the writing is at a fairly low reading level, and the pace almost too quick to even build up any suspense. If you prefer the hardcore blood/guts/gore/sex/violence the genre has to provide, "The Face of Fear" is bound to leave you as cold as the winter storm that rages during this story.