Book Club Associates, 2002 (third printing, trade paperback)
The Straw Men was the first of this author's novels to be written under the shortened name "Michael Marshall". The change of name was originally due to the publishing of another book of the same title in 2001 by Martin J. Smith. Michael then decided to use the split to offer the possibility of publishing different genres of books under the two names - "modern day" novels as Michael Marshall, and horror/science fiction as Michael Marshall Smith (cf. Iain (M.) Banks).
When Sarah Becker is kidnapped by the serial killer known as The Upright Man, John Zandt is finally persuaded to leave his backwoods retreat. Zandt had tried to catch The Upright Man before, but when he got too close, his own daughter had been taken.
In another town, Ward Hopkins’ parents are killed in a car wreck and he finds that as well as inheriting a fortune, he’s been left a message from beyond the grave in the form of a crudely edited video tape. The tape takes him to a strange housing concern in the hills. The Halls lies carefully hidden behind hills and trees, a fantastic project where Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture has been borrowed to heighten a sense of privacy and retreat. Doorways are made complicated, windows of stained glass create an illusion of vegetation, while the houses themselves are secret places, reinforcing a concept of a hidden hunter-gatherer society.
With the aid of a former CIA friend Bobby, Ward finds evidence that a sinister organisation lies behind most terrorist activity across the globe. Again and again the same blonde man appears near the outrages. And in an age when most things are immediately available, Ward and Bobby learn that victims too can be made available “on demand”.
By the time Ward and Bobby’s path has converged with that of Zandt and Nina, the storyline has begun to get a touch Sam Peckinpah, with big guns and exploded windscreens in evidence; but eventually they have to meet The Upright Man.
The novel is divided into first-person narrative for Ward Hopkins and Bobby and third-person for John Zandt and Nina Baynam. It looks like a hefty volume, a trade paperback, but a large font and short chapters mean you’ll whip through it. I enjoyed the author’s asides and observations; just as I thought they might get a little tiresome, the story got back on track. If you like serial killer stories... here’s another one.
"What are you going to do now, Quatermass?"[br][br]"Start again."
I enjoyed the heck out of this and The Upright Man and The Blood of Angels.
A friend of mine criticized the characters dialogue as all having the same "voice", but it didn't seem that way to me.
I chalked it up to the high amount of tension throughout the series, and characters under such stress being unable to display the depth and range of emotion that might be possible under less demanding circumstances.
Michael Marshall Smith - Spares (HarperCollins, 1996)
Illustration: Michael Marshall Smith
From the author who created the brilliant, funny and disturbing Only Forward comes another dark and wickedly vibrant adventure into strange territories.
Luck? Don't talk to Jack Randall about luck.. He didn't keep up the payment on his, and it ran out a long time ago. The good fortune box is empty. A loner veteran of a savage war, he's spent the last five years buried deep, hiding out on a Spares farm with people who can't even spell luck.
Forced to flee this last bolthole, Jack returns to the city that used to be his home. All he wants is to score a little money and disappear with the people he's trying to save. Unfortunately, he's got a talent for attracting trouble - the kind most people would run screaming from. Jack Randall isn't most people. That's part of his problem. His escape from the Farm with six of its inmates (well, five and a half) brings him head to head with the man who destroyed everything he once held dear.
He has to make a decision: take revenge or turn away?
In a startling odyssey of fear, black comedy and the surreal, Jack Randall discovers that the choice has already been made. The demons in him take on the demons without, and all he can do is to stand back and see who wins...
I've not read any of his novels yet, but this one is slowly creeping up the pile. A member of Pantechnicon mentioned that it's an extension of his brilliantly horrible short To Receive Is Better from Mammoth Book Of Frankenstein. Perhaps unusually in this game, MMS was far from an obsessive horror junkie in his youth, and only really got into it when a friend twisted his arm to read Stephen King & Peter Straub's The Talisman, so he's coming at it from a very different angle than, say, lifelong fan Christopher Fowler. Judging by his What You Make It collection, it certainly works for him.
From the first, I set myself against "literature"; the story was the thing, and no amount of style could persuade me to select a story that lacked genuine, unadulterated horror. For those who wanted something high-brow there was plenty. - Christine Campbell Thomson