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 lament.
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 changes lives.
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 November 13, 2011