The Face of the Assassin



“…intricate and dangerous deception.”
The faceless are Paul Bern’s business. As a forensic artist in Austin, Texas, Paul painstakingly reconstructs the likenesses of unfortunate souls whose features have been obliterated by crime or accident. As macabre as his vocation may be, it has become a comfortable and lucrative routine–until the day a mysterious woman arrives at his studio. The visitor brings two gifts. The first is a human skull she has smuggled out of Mexico. The second is a staggering secret that brings him eyeball to eyeball with a past he never knew he had. Suddenly, Paul’s own government blackmails him into cooperating in a clandestine mission against a Middle Eastern terrorist group that has made the drug jungles of South America its staging ground. By using his own face as bait to lure the enemy, he will become all too intimate with the underworld of violence that he seeks to destroy, while thousands of lives hang in the balance of his intricate and dangerous deception.

Paul’s only guide will be a beautiful young girl with a strange and miraculous talent for seeing the unseeable. His chief nemesis will be an ingenious terrorist so brazen that he refuses to mask his real identity from his pursuers. And his most stunning discovery will be the dark impulses that had always waited dormant in his own unwitting heart.

Ultimately, the master of faces will never look at a face, his or others’, the same way again–if he survives.


“…a breeding ground for terrorists.”

THE FACE OF THE ASSASSIN is one of those novels that changed unexpectedly from its originating idea while I was in the process of writing. When something like that happens a writer is immediately faced with a choice: do you redirect the characters and make them conform to your original idea? Or do you let them have their way for a while and see where it leads? In this case, I chose the latter course. Some readers will think that was the right choice. Others will disagree.

The original impetus for the story was double-seeded. Years ago while reading a book on forensic pathology, I came across the photograph of a man who had survived the same experience that I have described Vicente Mondragón having survived in this novel. In the case of the man in the medical text, however, the disfigurement was self-inflicted. It was an extraordinary case, and I had often wondered what the man’s life was like after this event. There’s a bit of that wondering in the character of Vicente Mondragón.

The other seed lay in the events that occurred on the first few days following September 11, 2001, when the CIA rushed a number of operatives down to the notorious Triple Border region of South America, that area around Iguaçu Falls, Brazil where Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina come together. It had been known for a long time that this lawless area was a breeding ground for terrorists of many different nationalities and persuasions (including the Lebanese Hezbollah), and the CIA had kept its fingers on the pulse of the activities there for good while. After September 11, the pulse changed, and the possibilities of what could be born out of the Triple Border region became an urgent concern for our intelligence agencies. The role that Mexico might play as a staging ground and/or a transit route for terrorist from the Triple Border region also became of grave concern. Most Americans don’t realize that Mexico City is the location of one of the CIA’s largest stations. There are good reasons for that.