Click here to read reviewer Carey Anderson's take on Face of Betrayal (Triple Threat Series #1).
One of the hazards of reading a continuing series out of order (not a trilogy that tells one story, but a series that involves the same characters in different stories) is that you may misinterpret what an author is trying to accomplish with the series. I discovered this after reading Face of Betrayal, the first "Triple Threat" novel by Lis Wiehl. The second book, Hand of Fate, employed tons of character development that had nothing to do with the main plot of the novel. After reading the first book, it's obvious that Wiehl is using this series both to present thrillers to the reader as well as exploring the characters she has created (it says "with April Henry," but it seems that Wiehl has done most of the plot and character work). Thankfully, Wiehl did a much better job of integrating everything thematically in Face of Betrayal, leaving the reader with a great book.
Katie Converse is a Senate page home in Portland for Christmas break. Everything seems perfect for the
young woman, at least publicly. When she disappears, though, seedy details of her life beyond the public image start to surface. A domineering mother, an anonymous blog of her time as a page that seems to indicate a relationship with a certain senator, an unhappy life - all provide conflicting signals as to who may have abducted her. Or killed her. FBI agent Nicole Hedges, federal prosecutor Allison Pearce and reporter Cassiday Shaw (the "Triple Threat" of the series) combine resources to figure out not only what happened but who did it as well.
The basic plot echoes the Chandra Levy/Gary Condit scandal when she initially disappeared, though there are big differences, too (Katie is underage, for one thing). However, Wiehl does a great job using it as a starting point and laying out a twisty tale with plenty of red herrings. The story is gripping enough that it's hard to put down. Just as you think the story's cruising along and it's safe to set aside and go to sleep, Wiehl throws another left turn in your path.
In addition to the intricate plot, Wiehl provides a great deal of insight into how the legal and journalistic systems work. She knows what she's talking about, having been a prosecutor and now teaching law and appearing on Fox News. She's able to give the reader a behind-the-scenes look at it all and makes it interesting: the "HD coaching" that Cassidy and the others reporters at the station must go through regarding make-up as high-definition televisions become more prominent, or the details of how the grand jury system works. Knowing Weihl's background, I really felt I had learned something after reading this novel, in addition to being entertained.
The character work really makes Face of Betrayal a great read. Events are going on in all three characters' personal lives even as they are embroiled in this investigation. Allison, who is volunteering at a battered women’s shelter, has just discovered that she's pregnant - and somebody is threatening to kill her. Cassidy faces boyfriend issues of her own, and unlike in Hand of Fate, these are tied at least thematically to the main plot. Everything Allison is going through brings her back to the family life that Katie has apparently had ripped away from her.
Not much detracts from this quality read. Occasionally the background detail goes over the top to sound clunky and expositional. Cassidy doesn't do anything truly stupid like she does in the second book, but she is not as well-rounded as the other two main characters. This is in addition to the fact that the climactic incident in her personal story occurs but its resolution is only referred to rather than being shown.
Overall, though, Face of Betrayal is a wonderful read and a great first book by Wiehl. I look forward to the third one and hope it will be more like this and less like the lackluster second novel.