‘Who Killed Martha Mansfield?’ is a short story collection comprising seven urban fiction tales whose common theme is petty, and not so petty, crime. One way or another, an element of criminality affects all the characters’ emotions and their actions. Fans of urban fiction, with a petty criminal twist, will love this collection. See descriptions of the stories below.
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‘Who Killed Martha Mansfield?’ is the opener and the title of the book. It is also the only story in the collection that is loosely based on real people and events. Martha Mansfield is a twenty-three-year-old actress in the early days of the film industry. She is a rising young star of the fledgling Hollywood studio system. Martha’s life is cut tragically short in November 1923 when she is burned to death on the set of the motion picture The Warrens of Virginia. ‘Who Killed Martha Mansfield?’ is based on this terrifying tragedy and casts a suspicious eye on her death and those closest to her at the time.
Fourteen is a story of two bored and mischievous but otherwise harmless teenagers who decide to burglarise a house. Robbie and Ian aren’t bad kids but they’re not particularly good at interacting with others and often find themselves isolated and yearning for something to do; anything to break the monotony of their young lives. Robbie is fascinated with crime and is very keen on the idea of breaking and entering. He harasses the weaker Ian and eventually convinces his friend to participate in a burglary just for the thrill of it, a decision they both live to regret.
Small Timers is set in Dublin’s inner city and involves the plans of three criminals, two of whom are small timers with ambitions to become much greater criminals. Bookie and Terry plan to rob a security van at a Tesco supermarket and this time, they will be armed with loaded shotguns. Their getaway driver is Mick and he is close to having a nervous breakdown, only Bookie and Terry don’t realise just how close. Bookie is an unrepentant psycho, Terry is his ambitious sidekick and Mick is the emotional oddball whose heart just isn’t in the job anymore. With these three witless miscreants, it’s inevitable the robbery won’t go according to plan.
Behind the Wheel follows Ernie on his way home from work on an ordinary work day, a day filled with acrimony between him and the boss he has come to despise. Ernie leaves the job and heads home in foul humour. At first, the drive home seemed no different than any other day but then the journey takes an unexpected turn for the worse when he has a disagreement with another driver. What follows is not so much a road rage incident but a prolonged psychological battle between a very stressed out Ernie and a psychopath he has never seen before.
A Rare Day in Dillon tells the story of an armed robbery on a post office in a small rural Irish town. The robbers are cold, ruthless and remorseless. They get their way, then they’re gone and if people get hurt in the process, that’s their problem. The town is woefully unprepared for such people and immediately after the thieves make their escape, a local policeman has the task of questioning the traumatised locals, a task that tries his patience. His name is Birdy, a good cop who serves his community as best he can.
‘Who Made God?’ is the tale of Father Briggs, a local parish priest who finds himself unable to sleep one cold winter night. In the early hours of the morning, he gets up to make himself a hot drink and discovers his church has been broken into. He also discovers that the intruder is still inside. Against his better judgement, Father Briggs does not call the police but instead goes to investigate, armed only with his faith and a can of mace. What follows is a frightening encounter with the stranger who does not recognise or appreciate the kindness or compassion Father Briggs shows him. The intruder repeatedly asks Father Briggs a question: who made God? The question at first mildly amuses the priest but when the stranger asks it again and again, the mood turns sour. Eventually, Father Briggs decides to leave as it becomes obvious he cannot communicate with the intruder but the intruder has no intention of letting the priest go. Father Briggs now has to fight for his life.
The Chemist is the last story in the collection and concerns Oliver Watson, a chemist who runs the local pharmacy in Stoneybatter in Dublin. Oliver has a sound business, dependable colleagues, and a good wife. All in all, he is content with his lot in life. That is until one day Dean Cassedy, a notorious bully from his school days arrives back in Stoneybatter and walks into Oliver’s pharmacy. Cassedy is now a seasoned but failed criminal with a sinister streak in him that Oliver is all too familiar with. The two men haven’t seen each other in twenty years and Cassedy assumes time has healed all the wounds he ever inflicted on Oliver and so many others. What he doesn’t know is that those wounds are as fresh as ever for Oliver who exacts revenge on his childhood tormentor....with mixed results.