Cover image for The man of maybe half-a-dozen faces
The man of maybe half-a-dozen faces
Vukcevich, Ray.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : St. Martin's Minotaur, 2000.
Physical Description:
245 pages ; 22 cm
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With two men already dead, strangled by printer cables, and a beautiful woman begging him for help, Skylight Howells is drawn into a dangerous, bizarre mystery. Original.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

To begin to understand this wacky genre bender, imagine a Kinky Friedman mystery written by cyberpunk star William Gibson. Vukcevich's wildly inventive first novel is a cyberdetective story that includes forays into conspiracy theory, higher mathematics, Mexican cookery, virtual reality, the business ethics of the Russian Mafia, and the visceral pleasure of murdering the incompetents who write bad computer manuals. The detective hero, Brian Dobson, is hired to track down Pablo Deerfield, a programmer who has apparently strangled his business partner with a printer cable. His client is Pablo's indescribably gorgeous but slightly skewed twin sister, Prudence, who may or may not actually be Pablo. Brian is one of the few victims of multiple-personality disorder who puts his illness to work; in fact, he uses Scarface, Dieter, computer genius Dennis, Skylight Howells, Tag the Everyman, and Lulu as fellow operatives and holds meeting with them in computer chat rooms. Brian also suffers from an embarrassing addiction to tap dancing that he's trying to overcome through a 12-step (right, left, slide . . .) program. A strangely funny, mind-bending experience. --George Needham

Publisher's Weekly Review

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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Brian Dobson, the multiple-personality gent of the title, uses his plural personae and a closetful of disguises to advance his private investigations: Skylight (detective), Dieter (Mexican chef), Dennis (computer nerd), Lulu (female operative), and others. The cases at hand concern the "off-stage" serial murders of bad computer documentation writers and whether a certain police detective is cheating on his wife. Brian's personalities usually work solo, but they are wont to have dead-pan brainstorming sessions to develop theories. Can a certified member of society's lunatic fringe become some kind of hero, comic or otherwise? Not here. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One Because she looked like something I'd make up myself, it took me a couple of blinks to convince myself she was real. Low-slung faded blue jeans and a lime-green sawed-off T-shirt. Bare midriff and (gulp) a ruby in her navel. Her eyes were brown or green or both or maybe they just handled the light well, and her reddish brown hair was stylishly windblown. Maybe early thirties--make that thirty-three for symmetry. Ice-country skin. She held a couple of trained seals on leashes. The seals balanced red-and-yellow beach balls on their noses.     No, wait a moment. I really did make up that bit about the ruby. And the seals. Kill the seals. I mean forget the seals. What was I thinking? There were no seals.     I quickly deduced that the feet leaning like drunks in their scuffed black PI shoes, alongside the remains of what may once have been tacos atop the old wooden desk, must be mine. Off to one side dragons, one right after another, were shot out of canons to fly with silent screams from one end of the computer screen to the other where they splattered and oozed down to gather at the bottom as Technicolor goo. I don't want to tell you how long it took me to jungle chop my way through the instruction manual to get the dragons shooting just the way I wanted them to shoot and splat.     I cringed at a sudden irritated honk from the street three floors below. Honking in Eugene, Oregon, is so rare that I'll bet there were people hanging out of windows all up and down the block to see what the hubbub was about.     I discovered a cigarette between the first two fingers of my right hand and sucked in a little smoke and then let it run out of my mouth and up my face to pool under the brim of my hat. Coughed.     Hey, hold the phone. Didn't I quit smoking? Yes, I definitely did quit smoking. So that was phantom smoke under my hat. I'd been sucking on a yellow number-two pencil, but the cough was real.     "So who am I?" I demanded. "And what do I want with you?"     "Skylight Howells--Private Investigator." She hooked a thumb over her shoulder at the backwards letters on the cloudy glass of the door. "You want to help me with my brother."     "Your brother?"     "Pablo."     She walked in, and as she moved, little zips and zaps of electricity fired all up and down my body. She pulled up a chair in front of my desk. I moved my feet and sat up. There was a can of Tecate next to the remains of my lunch and I picked it up and sipped. The beer was warm, but at least there weren't any soggy phantom cigarette butts floating in it.     "Look into my eyes and read my lips," she said. "You're a private investigator. You are, in fact, a world famous private investigator. You come highly recommended."     "World famous?"     "Well, okay, you're in the yellow pages."     "You found me in the yellow pages?"     "I said you came highly recommended," she said. "A foreign gentleman in whom I have the utmost trust said I should talk to you. I just looked up your address in the yellow pages."     "And you are?"     "Prudence Deerfield," she said and leaned over the desk and put her hand out for me to shake.     "Call me Sky," I said, getting into the spirit of things. When Sky comes on the scene, I have to hit the ground running. I took her hand in both of mine and separated her fingers and examined each neat bloodred nail and shivered at the cool loveliness of her skin, then turned her hand over again and gently traced the lines in her palm.     "Hey!" She snatched her hand back. "Don't get fresh, gumchew."     Had I heard her right? I waited her out with a straight face, but she gave not the slightest indication that the crack had been a joke. A slip of the tongue? Maybe English wasn't her first language, or maybe American wasn't her first culture.     "You're not from around here, are you?" I said.     "Er ... What makes you say that?"     I decided to let it go for now. "So, what's the deal with Pablo?"     "First things first." She leaned down to dig in her bag. I could feel my neck growing up and up and as it did I could see more and more of her, but then she sat back up, and I turtled down and polished off the rest of the warm Mexican beer.     She flipped open a steno pad, slapped it down on the desk, and pushed it in my direction. There, in painfully neat handwriting, was some math. f(y) = (y² + 1)² [(y - 1).sup.5] y³     "What's this?"     "Calculus," she said.     "And?"     "I want you to calculate the derivative," she said. "Use logarithmic differentiation."     "You want me to use logarithmic differentiation?"     "I want to be sure you've got the right stuff to help Pablo," she said.     "But detective work is nothing like calculus."     "So you say." She picked up the stingy yellow stub of a pencil I'd earlier been smoking and tossed it to me.     "I don't suppose you'll let me use the computer?"     "Use your noodle," she said.     "You want me to cook?"     "What?"     "My noodle?" I said.     I watched her eyes dart left and right like she was scanning her database of idioms. A few seconds later, she said, "The one on your shoulders."     I wasn't ready to give in yet, so I gave her a puzzled look.     "Your head," she said, "use your head."     She was the real puzzle. I couldn't get a handle on her. I looked long and hard into her eyes, calculating if this would even be worth the trouble. I did, after all, have a couple of other cases--a dangerous one and a ridiculously easy one. I might not have taken the dangerous one in the first place if Prudence Deerfield had showed up last week, but now that I had taken it, could I afford to be distracted? I looked so long and hard that she squirmed a little in her chair. Then she sighed and slumped back and suddenly looked so helpless and alone that I knew I was hooked. How could I not help?     Okay, it's true I didn't have to do it right in front of her face, but I did want to see her reaction, so I ripped off my mustache.     "Ouch!" she said.     I turned my back, ran a comb through my hair, put on a new nose, and Dennis, "the Math Guy," poofed into existence, but couldn't really see diddly without my glasses, so I pawed around in the top left desk drawer until I found them and put them on and took a look at a moderately interesting equation. I glanced up at the pretty woman on the other side of the desk, and she smiled at me. Nice teeth.     "Piece of cake," I said. "You want it simplified or not?"     "Your choice," she said.     I wrestled the equation to the ground and twisted its ears until it coughed up the derivative, which I then copied directly under the equation itself. No stinking scribbling around the edges.     "Here you go," I said and pushed the pad back across the desk.     She looked it over. "Not bad," she said, "not bad. Now, suppose a train leaves ..."     So, we did a few word problems.     Then she made me straighten out a Rubik's Cube which was nooo problem.     "Next," I said.     "That's enough," she said. "Let me tell you about the case."     "Wait," I said and turned my back. I pulled off my nose and put on my mustache again. Dropped the bottle-bottom glasses back into the desk drawer. Put my hat back on. "Okay. Tell me."     She dug in her bag again and then put a thin volume on the desk and turned it so I could read the title. ASP* + Version 1.0 by Gerald Moffitt and Pablo Deerfield     "Your brother?"     "We're twins."     "Is that relevant?"     She put her finger on the byline. "Gerald is dead," she said. "Murdered. Strangled with a printer cable."     "A which?"     "You know," she said, "a standard IEEE-1284 compliant parallel interface cable."     I glanced over at my own printer. "You mean the one with the little 1284-A connector on one end and a big 1284-B connector on the other end?"     "Exactly," she said. "Then the killer wrote all over the body."     "Wrote?"     "The police didn't give me the details," she said. "I don't know if it was Magic Marker or what, but there was just one word over and over again on every conceivable patch of skin."     "And the word?"     "Exceptions," she said.     "Exceptions?"     "Yes."     "So what does it mean?"     "It's a computer term," she said. "It has something to do with when things go wrong."     "Hmm," I said.     "What?"     "Just hmm," I said. "That's detective talk for the wheels are turning. Go on."     "I'm sure the police think Pablo did it."     "Oh?"     "Pablo's well ... missing." She looked away quickly, and I decided to watch closely in the days ahead to see if she always looked away when she lied. Sure, I had no reason to believe Pablo wasn't really missing, but I had the gut feeling there was more to it.     I watched her lower lip quiver, and I thought she might cry, but she pulled herself together. "Actually," she said, "he's probably in hiding. He and Gerald were partners in GP Ink, a company that produces these manuals. If Gerald was killed because of the business, Pablo could be next!"     "And what do you want me to do about it?"     "Prove Pablo didn't kill Gerald," she said. "And find out who did!"     "Have we talked about money?"     "Money's no problem," she said.     "It's always been a problem for me."     "I can pay your fee," she said. "Whatever it is."     "I may be too busy for this," I said.     She looked around the room. The shabby couch. The dusty shelves with my collection of phone books from other cities, the bound volumes of American PI magazine, the silver tap trophy I'd won more years ago than I'm willing to say, the three big wall maps--Oregon state, Portland city map, and Eugene city map--the latter so covered with colored push pins you'd think I was having trouble keeping it nailed to the wall. At least the bare bulb above us wasn't swinging in a wind from nowhere.     "I can see you're up to your ears," she said.     I could understand how she might not be overwhelmed by feelings of frantic activity.     But everything depends on how you look at it.     "As it happens," I said, "I'm right in the middle of a very juicy divorce investigation. I can't wait to nail this one. You wouldn't want me to lose my focus."     "You can do this, too."     "Maybe," I said. "Why don't you get out your checkbook?"     So she got out her checkbook. I mentioned a figure and she didn't even haggle, which made me kick myself for not mentioning a higher figure.     "You know," I said, "I'll probably have to run Pablo down in the course of this investigation." I noticed the address on her check was a post office box, and she hadn't included a phone number.     "Just be careful," she said. "If he's hiding I don't want you finding him for the police."     "You know where he is," I said, and looked her right in the eye. What the hell, it was worth a shot.     "I do not!"     "Okay, but there is the possibility that he did kill Gerald Moffitt."     "He didn't."     "I have to consider it," I said.     I turned my eyes down before she could crisp my face with the glare she was beaming at me across the desk. I pulled the ASP*+ book across the desk and opened it.     "What's Asp ... this?" I asked without looking up. "A book about snakes?"     "A computer language," she said. "A net navigation language actually. You say each letter: A and then S and then P and then Star and then Plus--ASP*+. Stands for `A Special Protocol.' Geeks tell me it makes it a breeze to wiggle around on the Internet."     "Geeks?"     "I say that affectionately and with respect."     "I can hear the affection and respect in your voice," I said.     "So, when can I expect you to actually do something?"     I put my finger on my place in the book and looked up at her. "Why don't you go somewhere where I can get ahold of you," I had to take a couple of deep breaths to get past the thought of getting ahold of her, "and cool your heels until you hear from me? You got a phone?"     "I'll call you," she said.     "Or you'll just drop back in?" I said maybe with too much naked hope in my voice.     "One more thing," she said. "The police have locked everyone out of the GP Ink office. Is that going to be a problem for you?"     "You figure the place is full of clues?"     "Wouldn't you think?"     "I'll check it out," I told her.     She got to her feet and I watched her leave. After she'd shut the door, I sighed and bent back to the book. I turned to the index to see where I might find some talk about "exceptions," but the word didn't appear in the index. Nothing is ever straightforward.