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Book review: 'FaceOff' anthology (edited by David Baldacci)

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'FaceOff' anthology (edited by David Baldacci)

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Today, Hartford Books Examiner reviews FaceOff (Simon & Schuster, $26.99), edited by David Baldacci.

Out tomorrow (6/3/14) in print and digital editions, FaceOff is the newest anthology from the International Thriller Writers (ITW)—an honorary society of authors who write books that are broadly classified as “thrillers” that serves to help debut and midlist writers advance their careers. Because ITW does not charge membership fees, its anthologies were first conceptualized as a primary source of operating capital, and continue to generate funds that support the abovementioned mission as well as promoting literacy, advancing worthy organizations, supporting libraries, and advocating the genre.

FaceOff is a unique offering in that it teams up some of the genre’s most esteemed authors in stories that allow their beloved protagonists to combine forces in combatting crime—a conceit that would have been otherwise impossible had it not been for the fact that ITW’s model requires that all submissions be donated with proceeds benefitting the organization. The full list of pairings: Dennis Lehane vs. Michael Connelly, Ian Rankin vs. Peter James, R.L. Stine vs. Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child, M.J. Rose vs. Lisa Gardner, Steve Martini vs. Linda Fairstein, Jeffery Deaver vs. John Sanford, Heather Graham vs. F. Paul Wilson, Raymond Khoury vs. Linwood Barclay, John Lescroart vs. T. Jefferson Parker, Steve Berry vs. James Rollins, Lee Child vs. Joseph Finder …

An inspired concept, no doubt—but does it live up to potential or fall victim to its own grandiosity? I am happy to report that, in large part, FaceOff is a resounding success. The eleven stories written by twenty-three authors—an odd number, given that longtime collaborators Preston and Child pit their formidable FBI agent Aloysius Pendergast against Stine’s … are you ready for this? … Ventriloquist Dummy, Slappy—are bookended by powerhouse Boston-centered entries from Dennis Lehane/Michael Connelly and Lee Child/Joseph Finder. Neither disappoint, with the former finding Patrick Kenzie and Harry Bosch in an unlikely alliance against a kidnapper/sexual predator and the latter bringing Jack Reacher and Nick Heller together in a city bar, where intuition tells them that there’s more at stake than the result of the Red Sox/Yankees game that they’ve come to watch. (A faceoff within a faceoff, if ever there was one!)

But it’s some of the stories that fall between these two that provide the most pleasant surprises. For instance, Heather Graham and F. Paul Wilson team up on “Infernal Night,” which features Graham’s relative newcomer, Michael Quinn, and Wilson’s enduring Repairman Jack, neither of whom are bound by the conventional rules of law enforcement; they find themselves duking it out in a mausoleum-based battle that spans centuries (and spiritual realms). Another standout is “Pit Stop,” which brings Linwood Barclay’s Glen Garber, home renovator and single-father, and Raymond Khoury’s FBI agent, Sean Reilly, together in pursuit of a domestic terrorist who has hijacked Garber’s truck—along with his daughter. A few of the entries fall short of the mark in that they feel lengthy and over-contrived, but these represent the minority.

Each story is prefaced with remarks that introduce both the authors and their characters (for the benefit of uninitiated readers) and provide insights into the inspiration for, and development of, each collaboration. Surpassing customary “filler,” these short segments are often nearly as compelling as the narratives themselves. Further, the project boasts an introduction from Baldacci, who seems every bit as awe-inspired by the all-star assemblage as any common thriller enthusiast would be, and biographies of the participants. (An added bonus is that several of the contributors are able to indulge their own interests, whether it be baseball or fishing, in ways that further distinguish this collection as unique.)

FaceOff is an impressive accomplishment that celebrates the genre in both style and substance. Enthusiasts will dig it for what it is—an abundance of chills and thrills delivered by an inspired lineup of literary heavyweights—while casual readers just might be tempted to pick it up for the shear novelty of it all. Regardless of motivation, they will find themselves turning pages late into the night. This just may be the optimal summer read—though it’s packing heat all on its own …

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