Somewhere underneath the lives of the ordinary are the
“bottom feeders,” those who blend in with everyone else
but have something to hide or to run from. FACES IN THE FIRE enters
the realm of the noir, telling a story of lost souls who have
become trapped by their choices and whose experiences seem to be
linked by one bizarre number.
FACES IN THE FIRE is written in four stanzas, telling the
stories of four different people, beginning at chapter 34. Stanza
one is devoted to Kurt, an artist and truck driver by occupation.
Kurt's sculptures are curious works of art: simple objects such as
a tree or a fish but with a haunted face somehow perceptible in
each and every one. Kurt is preoccupied by his own amnesia as well
as a mystical ability that he possesses but can’t explain. A
recent fire is the only thing he remembers of his life, and he
hears things --- unusual things. Kurt frequents estate sales in
search of some distinctive item of clothing to add to his
collection. These items of the deceased call out to him in some
way, perhaps retaining an essence or last wish of their owner. At a
time when Kurt is alone, he can hear voices emanating from a shirt
or a pair of shoes, moaning a cry for help or a lingering
Stanza two is for Corrine, a self-proclaimed bottom feeder of
society. Corrine is an email spammer who seemingly exists solely to
complicate the lives of average people. She is quite skilled on the
computer and spends her free time at the hospital. She has a rare
form of cancer that is highly curable in many cases but in hers has
proven refractory to treatment. It seems that Corrine has always
led a difficult life compared to most, initially supporting herself
by selling magazines door-to-door and then moving on to an
illustrious criminal career on the Net. The fact that she has sunk
so far doesn't surprise her, but cancer has changed Corrine's
outlook, giving her some impulse to really live and take chances.
She has even decided to go ahead and get a tattoo.
Stanza three is for Grace, a tattoo artist with a gift. Grace is
not her real name --- she left her old identity as wife and mother
long ago. Heroin took away her name and her family, and shooting up
was something she called “chasing the dragon.” Now she
runs Graceland, her own little bit of space where she makes the
miraculous happen. Needles have become the great irony of her life
as Grace now works with needles to create art. And she's the kind
of artist who can make a tattoo into a mystical creation that
The fourth stanza is for Stan, a killer with some supernatural
ability to make things happen to people. Stan is quite a mystery.
His story begins in his childhood when a family tragedy rocked his
life to pieces. I enjoyed Stan's story most of all, and by the
fourth stanza, the meaning of the book really takes shape.
Interestingly, the use of stanzas is traditionally a style
significant in poetry, and stanzas considered together often
determine the clarity of the poem. So it's an intriguing way to
write a noir story as the clarity of this story also comes only
after reading the last stanza.
In FACES IN THE FIRE, Kurt, Corrine, Grace and Stan are all
affected by a single number they encounter, which changes the turn
of events. That number is a long one, 1595544534, and inexplicably
it has the power to change lives. So there is a sort of lore about
the number as well as some implied significance of certain objects
in the story such as a catfish, a bottle of tattoo ink and a
company name. The idea of this kind of interconnectedness is an
interesting one, and I had to laugh when I discovered that very
number to be the same as the book’s ISBN-10 (the
International Standard Book Number that identifies it). I also
found it interesting that the term “faces in the fire”
has both a figurative and literal meaning to the story, with fire
being something that all the characters encounter at some point.
Clearly, author T. L. Hines has a great sense of humor as well as a
real talent for interconnected stories and ideas.
Whether or not readers take the supernatural happenings
literally or figuratively as a part of the noir style, FACES IN THE
FIRE is one tale of redemption that is worth the experience.
Reviewed by Melanie Smith on January 21, 2011