What I gleaned about the story: Paul Mulchrone is just doing his part, helping out at in the senility ward, when a mysterious new patient leaps out of bed with a knife. And then dies. Now Paul is suspected of killing the old coot, and worse, somebody seems bent on avenging the old man’s murder. Proof positive that no good turn goes unpunished.
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Details: The opening scenario took me off guard. A young man is visiting with his addled mother in a care home. But after he leaves, we discover that he’s not really her son. He just visits confused old folks in these facilities and allows them to see him as whoever they want to think he is. It doesn’t appear to be some perverse pleasure, or some identity theft scheme. He’s just helping. Of course, it’s also a great way to get across the narrative point that he just has one of those familiar-seeming faces mentioned in the title.
Details: The “visiting old folks” thing seems to be a bit less innocent than it first appeared, but only a bit. Paul is definitely doing his visitation thing as some kind of formal obligation, but even though we still don’t know the details, it’s still a genuinely nice way to fulfil that obligation.
In terms of story construction, however, this is a very clever device. This kind of story works best when you drag a nice guy protagonist into a bewildering world of violence and deceit. But therein lies the basic dilemma for the writer: how do you get a nice guy into that world in the first place? After all, nice people are pretty much defined to be those who avoid deceitful and violent situations in the first place. So the author has to find some way to bring those two worlds together, and I found the solution here to be charming, believable and effective. A guy touring an old-folks home, visiting elderly dementia patients? That’s a perfect recipe for thrusting your protagonist into the lives of a dozen strangers, each of whom might have some kind of baggage. And guess what? It turns out one of those patients has serious baggage. And now Paul has a knife in his shoulder and a corpse sprawled across him. Talk about throwing a likeable protagonist into an unexpected pickle.
Note: There were one or two very minor editorial quibbles, but none that pulled me out of the story.
Later Note: As you would expect from a mystery, we don’t have much idea what’s going on yet, and the answers are doled out in a deliciously slow and stingy fashion. On several occasions I found myself pausing in a moment of irritation over some piece of withheld information, wondering whether I should throw a flag, only to find an answer in the very next sentence. It was almost uncanny. To me, this is the very core of mystery and suspense tales: taking us to the very breaking point of curiosity, and then satsifying it, just before the not knowing metastasizes into something ugly.
Final Note: Just finished the end-to-end read and I loved it. A strong story with plenty of twists, fronted by a pair of likeable characters with a quirky but engaging dynamic. And one of the most enjoyable parts for me was the very Irish setting. Almost as enchanting as a visit to the place, but without the hassle of having to deal with, you know, Irish people. :-) If that sounds like your cuppa, then I encourage you to check it out.
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