Reviewed by Scott A. Johnson
Written by Graham Masterton
Published by Leisure Books
How interesting would the world be if you, as an artist, could bring things to life? Whatever you paint fades from the canvas and comes to breathing, vivid color right in front of you. Such an awesome power would allow you to create all sorts of wonderful, and terrible, things. Now imagine for a moment that you didn’t even know you had this strange ability, and you were a police sketch artists. You’d have dropped yourself right into Graham Masterton’s Death Mask.
The story revolves primarily around two women, artist Molly Sawyer and her psychic, card-reading mother-in-law, Sissy. When a killer strikes in an office-building elevator, Molly interviews the surviving victim, revealing the killer to be a red-faced monstrosity of a person. More killings occur, and it becomes apparent to the police that not only is there more than one killer, they haven’t clue one about how to catch them.
This book starts off at a slow burn, making the reader wonder just when the action will pick up and what the purpose to some of the early ramblings is. But within a few chapters, Masterton kicks the story into high gear, giving the reader enough suspense and twists to keep him guessing. Through intricate weaving of the plot, Masterton is able to create the fear and tension inherent in the situation without hitting the reader over the head with it. We know (we think) what’s going on, and we’re content to be dragged through glass to get to the end. But when the reader thinks he’s got it figured out, Masterton rips the carpet from under us. But it isn’t with the ever popular “twist” that makes no sense. What happens makes perfect sense, even if the reader has to go back through and re-find the clues the author dropped.
Masterton’s strengths lie in his smoothly twisting plot and his development of his main characters. Sissy, for example, is written vividly, with her own mannerisms and flavor. Her interpretations of her strange cards (think Tarot cards, but much bloodier) and communications with the dead make her more than the garden-variety “psychic on the scene.” She comes across as more a real person than a stereotype. Similarly, Molly is a well-written, strong female character. Whether dealing with her husband’s insecurities over the supernatural or calming a victim to get the right image on paper, she brings a quiet strength to the story.
If there are any complaints about the story, it’s that it takes it a chapter or two to really get moving, and that many of the secondary characters seem to be little more than place-holders. Many of the police in the story are interchangeable, to the point that one has a tendency to lose track of which one just got hacked to bits. Also Molly’s daughter is sorely underutilized, and is reduced to a mere plot device (albeit a good one). There is also a place where a character (I can’t say which without giving away the plot) is forgotten until she has to step forward in the group.
What shortcoming the book has are more than made up for by the story as a whole. Very tight, winding, and well-written, Death Mask is well worth a read.
4 out of 5
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