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Review by
Christopher Treagus
by Steve Vance
Five Star Press / Tekno-Books / Ed Gorman
ISBN: 0-7862-3008-8

An Old Friend Returns From The Grave

For many of us who grew up with horror in the eighties and early nineties, Steve Vance was one of the greats. Though he never attained the mainstream status of King, Straub, Barker, or Koontz, one could always count on a thrilling read when you picked up one of his books. For me, it was like returning to a comfortable place, and a friend that I had perhaps not visited often enough, but remained just as close as he had ever been.

In this way, Steve Vance's new novel, IDENTITY does not disappoint. Though he has been active throughout the nineties, writing several non-fiction books, including working on a number of Simpson's material, and even producing a mystery or two along the way, none of his novels have been widely available since the publication of SPOOK in 1991 by Soho Press, and the subsequent Berkley mass market edition. With the release of IDENTITY and the re-issue by iUniverse of most of his backlist (including favorites such as THE HYDE EFFECT, SHAPES, THE ABYSS, and ASGAARD RUN) marks Vance's return to the field.

IDENTITY though not horror, is a mystery/thriller with horrific elements. The action centers around the lives of several people living and working at The Madison Facial and Cranial Surgery Center which specializes in reconstructive surgery for those who suffered from major catastrophic injuries of birth defects. A lesser known operation of the facility, however, has been an advanced "criminal relocation program" in which prisoners are not only surgically altered in appearance, but in identity as well. Some have even been programed to perform government "wet work" and assassinations. A vicious serial killer dubbed by the media as "The Prince Of Darkness" is among these.

The conflict comes in when the mastermind behind this program, Dr. Heywood, is mysteriously killed. He is the only one who knows the true identity of this Prince Of Darkness. When the programming begins to fail, and the killer strikes again, he could be anyone at the facility. In fact, Vance deliberately provides clues, hints, and false leads that point the finger at any and all of the principle characters.

Vance's heroine, Tracey Lund, who works as a secretary at the center, becomes the focal point of the killers mad obsession. She must work with the FBI to uncover who among her the Prince Of Darkness, once thought dead, could have been re-incarnated as.

I enjoyed this novel very much. It took me back to the time when I was first beginning to read horror, sci-fi, and fantasy. Vance, who has written in a variety of these fields, always combines elements of each in his fiction. Though the story is technically a mystery, elements of science fiction abound as to supply the necessary ingredients for the reconstruction procedures, and the acts of the serial killer are reminiscent of the horror he unveiled to us in books like THE HYDE EFFECT and SHAPES. Reading IDENTITY indeed was like returning to an old friend.

However, that does not mean the book is not without its flaws. One of the things I had always admired about Vance was his "thumb-nail" characterization. In his earlier books, he had a knack of being able to take a few paragraphs and describe in a very convincing manner what each of his characters was like, even the minor ones - which made the entire cast seem to come more alive. I found this to be somewhat missing in this novel. Perhaps it was deliberate in order to try to keep us guessing about the peculiarities of the true identity of the killer, though I fear not. For it Sabo seems to be part of the symptom of the few other matters that troubled me about the book. Though it was a good, fast paced and thrilling read, I found it to be lacking in some of the details I was used to seeing from Vance. At 300 pages, it seems to be a very scaled down tale, as though everything that was not essential to the plot had been stripped away. Though it adds to the pace, I never thought Vance had difficulty with pacing. Each of his novels were swift, action packed and held interest until the very end. It is therefore a bit of a regret to me that this first widely available novel in nearly ten years seems to have fallen short of what Vance was best at. For the uniqueness of his style was always in the details.

That is not to say that the novel is bad. IDENTITY is still a good story. Scribed by any other name, it was be great. As Steve Vance, it does not quite live up to my expectations. For those like me who have been waiting a decade to read something new by Vance, I would nevertheless recommend it, for an old friend, is still a friend. To those who have not read Vance yet, IDENTITY could serve as a good introduction, though I would also recommend that you fin a re-issue of THE HYDE EFFECT which is most certainly his crowning achievement to this date.

It is nevertheless a pleasure to find that Steve Vance has at last returned to the fold. I look forward yet to his next endeavor. It is a good novel, though not great. As that it does not quite live up to my expectations of the author, I give it three BookWyrms.


This review copyright 2001 E.C.McMullen Jr.

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