The Man of Maybe Half-A-Dozen Faces

Ray Vukcevich, Author Thomas Dunne Books $22.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-312-24652-5
For his debut, Vukcevich employs a clever gimmick: Skylight Howells, a private investigator based in Eugene, Ore., is either a master of disguise or a sufferer of multiple personality. While investigating local police chief Frank Wallace on suspicion of cheating on his wife, Howells is hired by the alluring Prudence Deerfield to search for her missing brother, Pablo. Pablo's partner in the computer-manual business, Gerald Moffitt, has been found murdered, strangled with ""a standard IEEE-1284 compliant parallel interface cable,"" and Prudence fears her brother may be the next victim. Howells enters the world of cyberspace in quest of a killer whose victims are all authors of frustratingly difficult computer manuals. Whether this is intended as satire, only Vukcevich knows. In any case, his uneven tale is at its best when it leaves technotalk behind and focuses on detection. Howells, meanwhile, is an odd lead character who will appeal to some readers but alienate others, a loner who consults an Internet therapist, tap-dances in local bars for fun, and has a kit full of disguises, including Lulu, a gal with a diet problem, and Dieter, a Mexican-food chef. A few red herrings, such as a Russian connection, don't amount to much. In the end the murderer, whom Howells unmasks through the use of tap-dancing therapy, proves an unimaginative choice. Despite some entertaining bits, this is, overall, a less than scintillating first novel. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 01/31/2000
Release date: 02/01/2000
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