Goldberg/Rabkin’s “The Dead Man: Face of Evil”
In the realm of publishing, if literary efforts by the likes of Irving and Franzen
are what would be considered fine champagne, the “men’s adventure” novel is pop-tab beer, what you drink after you finish mowing the lawn and are looking for pure enjoyment. This said, there’s something wonderful in a nice, cold beer.
In all of the best ways, “The Dead Man: Face of Evil” by Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin is a good, refreshing beer, solid and unpretentious and enjoyable in every way, a call back to Pendleton and Murphy/Sapir but with a distinctly modern feel.
Matthew Cahill is your archetypal wounded protagonist, dealing with the emotional scars of losing his wife to cancer. Just as he is begins to rebuild his life and find love again, Cahill is caught in a freak skiing avalanche and assumed to be dead. When he is found and revived three months later, this working class Joe finds himself able to actually see evil.
Goldberg and Rabkin, both novelists primarily known for their work in television dating back to the 1980s, have crafted a fast-paced piece of pop fiction, closer in length to novella than actual novel (though if you check back on those old “Executioner” novels you’d find they didn’t exactly clock in at strictly novel length either) that still manages to stuff more than its fair share of plot into roughly 80 pages, told with a minimum of concision and a maximum of efficiency
“Face of Evil,” the first in a planned series of novels, has set up an intriguing character in Cahill, a smart, self-aware man who becomes painfully aware of the “gift” he has. In fact, Goldberg and Rabkin’s treatment of Cahill is one of the book’s strongest suits, making him a far deeper and interesting individual than is typical in the genre. Not a trained killer, far from a superman, either blessed or cursed with a supernatural ability, Cahill feels like the guy who know who’s there to jump your dead battery and has your back in a bar fight, and he’s far the more interesting for it. By the end of the story, you’re rooting for Cahill and eager for more.
Goldberg and Rabkin are playful with the genre, throwing in generous doses of gore (a murder set piece is gloriously drippy and oozy) and smart, sly humor (a nod to the Murphy/Sapir “Destroyer” novels). The supernatural twists are unexpected but far from unwelcome and keep both Cahill and the reader off-balance.
All in all, “Face of Evil” shows two craftsmen working at the top of their game, away from the restrictions of network censors and obviously having the time of their lives. The book’s website promises a variety of writers to pick up future chapters of Cahill’s journey.