‘A Man With One of Those Faces,” by Caimh McDonnell

A Man With One of Those Faces

She was not a bad looking woman, truth be told; a couple of years older than himself, short brown bobbed hair, decent figure – she wouldn’t be launching a thousand ships any time soon but she’d undoubtedly create a fair bit of interest in a chip shop queue.

Paul Mulchrone is “A Man With One of Those Faces” – a face so ordinary that people frequently mistake him for other people. This comes in handy when he helps out in a Dublin hospice, sitting with dying old people, holding their hands, letting them imagine he’s a family member or a friend. He does this to fulfill the terms of his aunt’s will, which allows him to live in her house on a small stipend so long as he puts in a certain number of public service hours every month. It’s all fine until one night when Nurse Brigid Conroy persuades him to stay a little beyond his time with a particular old man, in return for a drive home. In the event, the old man tries to murder Paul with a knife he’s somehow acquired, and then drops dead.

Turns out the old man is a gangster whom everyone thought dead years ago, one who was involved in a legendary unsolved kidnapping. And his old partners in crime don’t know what he might have told Paul in those last moments. Best to kill him, just to be on the safe side. And Nurse Brigid too.

Not trusting the police (with good reason), and having no resources except Brigid’s passion for mystery novels and the help (which Paul tries to reject) of a drunken old renegade cop, they go on the run, trying to untangle the mystery of the “Rapunzel Kidnapping Case” before a very polite hit man can neutralize them.

It took me a while to acclimate myself to A Man With One of Those Faces. I’ve always been ambivalent about comic crime novels – some work for me, some don’t. Murder isn’t funny, especially when innocent bystanders get caught in the crossfire (as happens here, but never on stage). But author Caimh McDonnell is an extremely funny writer, and he won me over. You never know when the next grin-worthy line will appear, and sometimes I laughed out loud: “For the second time in 24 hours, Paul looked down the barrel of a gun. His growing familiarity with the sensation wasn’t breeding contempt just yet.”

Paul Mulchrone is a “hero” who wouldn’t work in a serious novel. To put it plainly, he’s a slacker, a loser with a lifelong grudge against the world who’s given up on success and resigned himself to getting passive-aggressive revenge on everybody who’s disappointed him. This permits the author to heap repeated comic indignities on him with the reader’s approval. And we are still gratified as he gradually realizes he’s been living like a fool, and resolves to make changes.

Overall I got a big kick out of A Man With One of Those Faces. Cautions for lots of bad language and adult situations. Recommended.

11 thoughts on “‘A Man With One of Those Faces,” by Caimh McDonnell”

      1. You might like his Dortmunder novels. Anyone who wrote as much as Westlake is bound to have some duds, but I found that particular series to be both slapstick funny and oddly affectionate toward its bumbling protagonist. Your milage may vart, of course.

      2. Having read this one of McDonnell’s (working on the next one now), I find it hard to believe he hasn’t read quite a fair bit of Westlake, though it could just be that they’re both Irish (most of Westlake’s ancestors hailed from there).

        It’s what some of us Westlake fans call a Nephew Book (Paul is literally a nephew). A whole lot of (legally non-actionable) coincidences going on here. Maybe just like minds moving along parallel tracks. Different gauges, though.

        Westlake was one of the most versatile writers who ever pounded a typewriter. He wrote under multiple names in multiple modes. Some of what he wrote was very hardboiled, and you don’t fault crime fiction for that.

        He’s not sentimental, if that’s what you mean by cold-blooded. As Yeats said “Cast a cold eye…..”

        Frankly, I loved this book to start with, then soured on it a bit as it went on (and on and on and on, too long for a comedy), precisely because it would pander too much to sentimentality, to mainstream tastes (he is self-publishing, so he may feel he’s got to do that). Huge talent there, but his style is all over the place, and his plotting is sloppy. Hoping he’s going to get more control as he goes.

        But Westlake will always be the king of comic crime.

      1. Thank you, Elaine. I’ve never studied pronunciation rules for Irish, which is also Celtic Gaelic, isn’t it? I’m totally willing to believe what Lars said about making them up.

        1. It gets worse Phil as it’s actually a shortened version of Caoimhghin which is Gaelic for Kevin. Thank goodness it’s shortened or else it would never fit on the book cover! 😂 You’ve got to love Gaelic names. Aoife, Eabha, Grainne and Tadgh are amongst my favourites.

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