Peter May- The Man With No Face

Jaded Edinburgh journalist Neil Bannerman is sent to Brussels, intent on digging up dirt. Yet it is danger he discovers, when two British men are found murdered. One victim is a journalist, the other a Cabinet Minister: the double-assassination witnessed by the former’s autistic daughter. This girl recalls every detail about her father’s killer – except for one. With the city rocked by the tragedy, Bannerman is compelled to follow his instincts. He is now fighting to expose a murderous conspiracy, protect a helpless child, and unmask a remorseless killer…

Originally published in 1981 as Hidden Faces, and with a little polish here and there, but remaining by and large faithful to the original text, has reissued it for a new generation of readers as The Man With No Face. Written in the 1970s when May himself was a journalist reporting on the upheaval and consternation of Britain aligning itself with the EU, (oh happy days in the light of the current political debacle) the book is based on real life events, amid the corridors of power in Brussels…

Rich with political intrigue, as a slippery politician and a scheming journalist meet their respective murderous ends, I was fascinated by how little politics and political power changes over the course of decades, and responds significantly little to shifts in society. May conveys this world of corruption and power perfectly throughout as jaded, but tenacious Neil Bannerman starts to dig deeper into the outwardly appearing case of murder-suicide that sends shockwaves through the political community in Brussels and London. Of course, there are darker forces at work and with it a deepening sense of danger as Bannerman launches his own investigation, and forms deep attachments to the nearest and dearest of one of the victims.

I think what struck me most about this book is the sense of resistance to change in political circles, and that the story that May constructed over four decades ago is so easily interchangeable with the current political climate, and the groundless fears that being aligned with Europe had then as well as now. Equally, and sadly, that political corruption is something that never goes away, where the self inflating egos of men (predominantly) become even more avaricious with the heightened status and power they attain, and their increasing distance from those they are meant to represent the best interests of. In addition to this May also shines a rather unflattering light on those members of the fourth estate in this wilfully backstabbing and competitive atmosphere, where the copy is all, and professional allegiances are manipulated to get the column inches. It’s an altogether scurrilous world, and May imbues it with colour, tension and a dry wit that resounds with the reader. It’s a real world of dog eat dog, and a lot of them with their eyes on the juiciest bone…

Neil Bannerman is a wonderfully rounded character, beset as he is with the cynicism inherent in his profession as a journalist, but also the way that he reveals another side to his character in his interactions with the daughter, Tania, of his murdered friend. May builds up a superbly empathetic connection between the two of them, particularly in his sensitive portrayal of Tania cast adrift in a world that her autism complicates further, and this is a real standout feature of the book. Refreshingly, May casts an almost empathetic light on the perpetrator of the crimes, and reserves a good degree of bile for some of the less than savoury characters that inhabit the world of journalism and politics so there’s a great mix of heroes and villains.

I am seldom disappointed with Peter May and The Man With No Face proves once again May’s versatility as a writer whichever world his characters are inhabiting. A strangely prescient read with a good dollop of dramatic tension, and yet underpinned by some real heart-warming interludes. Recommended.

 

(With thanks to Quercus for the ARC)

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