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By Iris Johansen

Bantam Books, 1998 $23.95
ISBN 0-553-10623-6

Reviewed by S. E. Warwick

Calling all conspiracy theorists, serious skeptics and the mildly paranoid. The Face of Deception is your kind of story.

When her only daughter was abducted and murdered by a viscous child killer, welfare mother Eve Duncanís pain and sorrow pulled her through college. Her despair that her dead child would never be found led her into a career as a forensic sculptor. Eveís talent for reconstructing faces from the skulls of long dead people combines skill, talent, and forces drawn from deep in her own sorrow. Her excellence brings her to the attention John Logan, one of those ultra wealthy men who exist in great numbers in the pages of fiction. Eve is interested only in helping to bring home missing children and give their families closure and peace and rebuffs Loganís offer until he makes her an offer she canít refuse.

A million dollar contribution to an organization that traces missing children finally gets past all of Eveís carefully constructed defenses. When Logan tells her that he knows that JFK died before Dallas and that his skull was stolen from a crematorium by a funeral director with mob connections, Eve decides Logan is mad. His money, though, is real so she agrees to take a week from her usual work to set him straight once and for all.

After an obligatory car chase in the moonlight and a version of the old shell game played with skulls, Eve gets down to work. If possible, the owner of the skull is even more sensational than a long gone president.

Johansen builds her tale slowly, just as Eve discovers the identities of the bones by carefully layering details, deeply in some places, with bare allusion in others until the gestalt of the situation emerges. Citing relatively common medical procedures, Johansen proposes a transformation that seems plausible and quite possible.

The only weakness of The Face of Deception is the motives of those involved. One character, used mostly as a dispassionate assassin, is killed when his character gets too cumbersome. The denouement was a little weak but still believable. Johansen does tie up most of the loose ends, but leaves a few hanging just in case she wants to write a sequel.

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