Review: Michael Marshall – We Are Here

we-are-here-by-michael-marshallMichael Marshall is a favourite writer of mine. I’ve been reading him for years, both under this name and the sci-fi novels written as Michael Marshall Smith. His books have become increasingly popular and his latest one, We Are Here, was published in March in the UK. Marshall’s books are difficult to slot neatly into a genre. I suppose that they’re a mixture of thriller and supernatural malignity, but what makes them so enjoyable is that they’re fast paced reads that engage the reader’s imagination.

David is an author who is about to publish his first book. On a trip to see his publisher with his wife Dawn, a man bumps into him and tells him to ‘Remember me’. In a parallel narrative ex-lawyer John, who is now working in a restaurant, agrees to help a friend of his girlfriend Kristina who thinks she is being stalked. But his attempts to discover what is wrong leads him to disappearing stalkers, strange messages that appear in their apartment and the discovery of a world that remains hidden from ordinary people.

This is a difficult book to sum up without giving away too much of the plot. There is a strong sense of menace throughout the book as David and John separately attempt to discover what is behind the strange happenings. Their partners play a less proactive role in the action but the women are the target for malevolence which can make it quite a scary read. It can, occasionally, be difficult to distinguish between the two couples because, although they are at different stages of their life, the male characters in particular have similar personalities.

The pace, as I would expect from a Marshall book, is excellent with heart stopping chapter endings which makes it difficult to put down. The sense of ‘otherness’ that the author does so well is given a twist in this book, mainly I suppose to distinguish it from The Straw Men trilogy. There’s an interesting character in the priest, Father Jeffers, who brings a realism to what could be an overly fantastical concept. I know religion in crime fiction isn’t to everyone’s taste but I liked it here.

We Are Here is book that will satisfy all  Michael Marshall’s fans and hopefully appeal to those new to his books. They are always a good read and this one engages you to the typically catastrophic conclusion.

Thanks to Midas for my copy of the book. The author’s website is here.

Review: Tom Grieves – Sleepwalkers

Sometimes it’s useful to be reminded why I started reading crime fiction in the first place. Over the years, as I’ve read more books and discovered new writers and sub-genres, I’ve come to appreciate the subtleties of crime novels. Characterisation and location play an important role in what I choose to read, as does plot which I’ve noticed has become more and more complex, away from the traditional whodunnits of the classic crime era. However, what I once loved about crime novels when I started reading them as a teenager, was their sheer readability. I used to pick up a book and read it all the way through and look up and a couple of hours had gone by. Now that is no longer possible with the demands of home and work, and also, I thought, because books have increased in length so significantly. However, last week I read three books in a row that had that ‘unputdownable’ factor and one book, in particular, I read straight through (with a couple of tea stops). This was Tom Grieves excellent début novel Sleepwalkers.

Ben is an ordinary family man who keep experiencing violent dreams and has unexplained gaps in his childhood and more recent memories. His wife, Carrie, is supportive and reassuring but he is plagued by the conviction that something is wrong in his psyche. As his paranoia increases he is forced to confront the veracity of his own identity. Toby is a schoolboy also experiencing violent dreams and missing pieces of his memory. His parents repeatedly change his school rather than confront his problems. However in his latest school, his teacher, Anna, decides to take an interest in his case and the complicated lives of Ben and Toby suddenly converge.

The book starts out in traditional thriller mode, with a strong sense of the sinister and the dream and memory elements of Ben and Toby possibly having a supernatural cause. Happily (without giving too much of the plot away) this doesn’t turn out to be the case and the book explores instead the idea of a society within a society where a mixture of Orwellian forces and medical advances make it possible for a smoke and mirrors deception on a grand scale. It’s a very difficult book to review in detail without giving essentials of the plot away. However, I can say that although I’m not up on scientific processes I thought the whole concept fascinating and compelling.

The book is predicated on the idea that no-one is really who they seem. The writing and narrative style reminded me of the books of Michael Marshall (Smith) and I think this novel would appeal to his fans. Grieves, according to his biography, has worked in television as a script editor and producer and this novel started out as a script for TV that he couldn’t sell. A quick scan through Goodreads and Amazon reviews reveal that many people, as I did, picked up the book and couldn’t put it down which gives an idea of the compelling nature of the story. I hope that  this will be the start of a successful novel writing career for Grieves.

I received a copy of the book from the publisher, Quercus. The book has also been reviewed at Bookbag and Book Geeks.

Michael Marshall – Killer Move

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.