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Martina Cole
Grand Central Publishing 2009
512 pages

Faces, the latest novel by best selling author Martina Cole, is an epic. Spanning some 30 years, it details the life and family of Danny Boy Cadogan, a staunch Irish Catholic of unfortunate yet humble beginnings who was forced as a young teenager to assume the role and responsibilities of breadwinner and protector of his mother and siblings.

Initially cast as brave and hardworking, Danny Boy’s taste for money, power, and the respect his father never received lures him into the dark London underworld of drug dealing and organized crime. As he moves up the ranks he transforms into a ruthless and dangerous man with a hair-trigger temper and the ability to order the disappearance of anyone who rivals or crosses him, even relishing his victim’s terror when he executes the job himself.

Recognizing that stereotypes can emerge from exaggerated reality, Faces by Martina Cole is replete with raging alcoholics; fathers, mothers, and even parish priests are far from immune from the bottle.

Violence and intimidation are the norm where a man’s respect and value arise from not only his material means but whether friends or foe, who he can control, outdo, profit from, or destroy.

Appearance is everything and household affairs, no matter how intolerable, are borne privately.

Martina Cole’s Faces is a far from easy read. At times intense and disturbingly brutal, it is not a pretty book. Rather it evolves as events and rites of passage with sinister twists form a collage of the perverse world of Danny Boy Codogan and the lives of those he touches. In so doing, Faces provides the reader with stark yet deep insight into the rationale behind the characters’ behavior and the often unbearable situations to which they subject themselves.

As a character study with good metaphors and descriptions, this Martina Cole novel gets an A+. However, topping off at over 500 pages and with repetitive themes it is way too long. Likewise, its harsh language reminiscent of The Sopranos although fitting to the story may be offensive to some.

Despite its generally good writing and rare poignant moments, unless one is truly interested in the evolution of mobster mentality and its raw requisite violence, emotion, and abusive family dynamics, Faces is a difficult book to recommend.