I’ve had the new Michael Marshall on my book pile for a while but as I have a habit of reading this writer in one sitting, I was waiting for an opportunity when I had a few hours stretching ahead of me. I loved the early Michael Marshall Smith books which were absorbing, thought-provoking reads and I liked the fact that although set in the future they were more thriller than sci-fi. The influence of these early books can be seen in his novels set in the present day which he writes under the name of Michael Marshall. He achieved considerable commercial success with The Straw Men in 2002 and this book is very much in the same vein. The book opens with a prisoner named Hunter who is about to be released after sixteen years for a murder he didn’t commit. The narrative then switches to the ambitious Florida realtor, Bill Moore who receives a series of unsigned cards with the word ‘modified’ written on them. As Bill’s life slowly implodes he becomes implicated the disappearance of businessman David Warner. The book flits between the two narratives until the action collides and mayhem ensues.
As I had suspected the book was impossible to put down. This is Marshall’s greatest strength. He paces his books so well that you can’t finish a chapter without then moving onto the next. He is also very good at giving his books an otherworldly air. There is an underlying creepiness and paranoia that drives his narrative that borders, I suppose, on horror although this isn’t a genre I know much about. I also liked (and I know it’s a controversial subject) the passages written in the present tense as they gave the action an immediacy that increased the tension of the writing.
On the downside, the writer does like to dispense with his characters as quickly as he introduces them. This book has a murder count to rival Hamlet and it’s a shame, as I no sooner empathised with a character before they were killed. I’m not giving anything away that readers of Marshall’s previous books don’t already know but I suspect this habit isn’t to everyone’s taste. I also found bits of the book similar to The Straw Men but that’s not surprising as it is effectively part of the same series.
So an excellent book but not without its flaws. Marshall is one of my ‘must read’ authors and will continue to be so but perhaps if he could recapture the originality of his early books he could write something really special.