“God loves you” she said after me.
“God loves a trier.”
Traditionally, short stories are quite often the arena where writers learn their trade, cut their teeth and introduce audiences to both themselves and a number of characters who may or may not go on to feature in later works. Crime writers are particularly noted for establishing their careers in this way, and much of this is true for Irish author Simon Maltman, author of 2016’s A Chaser on the Rocks (reviewed here), which served up an entertaining slice of modern crime fiction. Set across the Emerald Isle that is Ireland, the novel presented readers with two interlinked stories involved two private detectives, Billy Chapman and Bran Caskey, each working across two different periods of Irish history, from the mid-war years of the 1940s, to the more contemporary settings of post-Troubles Belfast.
Prior to releasing this, Maltman produced a number of short stories, some featuring these two characters, some featuring others, which have now been compiled into this one set, under the title More Faces (named after Belfast’s Albert Clock and the saying of someone having “more faces than the Albert Clock”). This collection features a total of twelve short stories, mostly pulled from past publications, with some new ones added in for good measure. What follows is a fun set of crime tales, exploring various different characters, plots and locations. The stories are concise, fast-paced, and pack in a solid amount of action. The setting of Ireland itself is a key aspect to some of these works – from the eerie scenes A Chaser on the Rocks (the story which provided the foundations for the novel of the same name), with its vast cliff drops and isolated hotels, to the more urban settings and the inner-city violence of Riot Score, the locations are all presented well and give some of the stories a greater edge.
As is the custom with short stories, each is designed to deliver a short, sharp thrill rather than focus on complex plot details or development. There are plenty of gangsters, political dissidents, corrupt police officers and manipulative females scattered across the pages, with no shortage of fist fights, bullet-dodging, set-ups and double-crosses. But even so there are some interesting plots going on, with Teenage Wristband probably standing out as one of the highlights – a plausible and well-constructed tale revolving around a drug gang operating behind the guise of a teen charity.
The stories are split up into four different sets – the first bunch of stories featuring 1940s private detective Billy Chapman, with the second involving the troubled detective Brian Caskey investigating crimes around more contemporary times. Whilst the A Chaser on the Rocks novel establishes a clear link between these two characters, which is more or less disregarded in this set – perhaps wisely so, since the isolated and separate nature of the characters is more suited to the short story format, and allows for readers to dip in and out of stories with ease.
Many of the stories making up these two sets went on to form the basis for A Chaser on the Rocks, but individually they all stand up well, and it’s interesting to see how the original short stories compare against how they later become meshed into a wider, single tale.
The third set of stories feature the character ‘Blake’ – a professional heist man and general fixer, who often seems to be on the wrong end of a set-up. The stories here are a change of pace from the more detective stories of the previous sets, with Return Run sitting as the best story in the entire collection. Following on from the aftermath of a successful heist is carried out, Blake finds himself trying to clear the name of an old flame suspected of having murdered her alleged rapist, before delving further into the seedy realms of backstreet gambling rackets and other colourful sorts. It’s a thoroughly entertaining story which results in a satisfying payoff. Blake gets three stories to himself, and he stands out as being perhaps the most interesting character of all the ones featured here.
The final set of stories are stand-alone tales involving various sequences stick ups and political violence, and also a bit of botany for good measure (with some inventive uses of a chainsaw…). They continue the spirit of the groups of stories which come before, but the stand-alone nature of them means they take a on more varied style, and the choice to leave these stories until last seems a good way to end a collection of this sort.
Overall there’s a fair bit to enjoy from the collection – expect the usual mix of gangsters and detectives, as well as some satisfying plots and a consistent amount of action and snappy dialogue. For those who enjoyed A Chaser on the Rocks, More Faces will serve to keep readers entertained while waiting for Maltman’s next full-length work. For those just looking for a new set of crime tales, this collection serves up a solid batch.
More Faces is available for sale on Amazon here.