Michael Marshall writes horror under this name, but is also known for his science fiction, which he writes under Michael MarshallBackground/Synopsis:
Michael Marshall writes horror under this name, but is also known for his science fiction, which he writes under Michael Marshall Smith. Perhaps he was inspired by Iain (M.) Banks, who likewise changes names depending on the genre.
The Strawmen is a brutal, well-written horror story about a mysterious group of mass murderers called The Straw Men and a lone serial killer to may be tied to them, who calls himself the Upright Man. The Upright Man kidnaps a young, 16-year-old girl from a solidly middle-class family, Sarah Becker. John Zandt, a former policeman whose own daughter was taken by the Upright Man, is drawn reluctantly along back into the case with his former partner, Nina. Meanwhile, Ward Hopkins's parents die in a car crash but leave behind a message that he must investigate. Both Hopkins and Zandt end up working together to try and solve the mystery before Sarah Becker is murdered.
Michael Marshall is a clever writer. His prose is tight and he makes use of metaphoric language without going overboard. In just a few sentences, he can make the reader connect and understand a character, so that if that character dies later on, you mourn them.
Michael Marshall falls into the trap of usually writing the same protagonist, which is probably heavily influenced on himself. His protagonists are almost always drinkers, smokers, or drug users that have just kicked the habit and are trying to get their life back around. They have always recently undergone a terrible tragedy and if they had a relationship, it's fallen apart. The characters are witty and sardonic and have a way of getting themselves into trouble. He writes this character well, and in The Straw Men he does portray Nina and Sarah Becker quite well.
Another weakness is that the book starts extremely strongly, but near the end it wanes a bit in my opinion. Things become a bit too large and link into a huge conspiracy. It was interesting, but it took away from the serial killer, and when he meets the other characters, he does not come across anywhere near as terrifying as he did in the opening scenes with Sarah Becker.
A lot of serial killer novels are very serious and horrific all the way through. Occasional bits of humour (mostly dark humour, understandably) work very well in this novel. Also, characters at several points throughout the novel make fun of other horror novels like Thomas Harris, even though a blurb on the cover proclaims that Marshall is in the "Thomas Harris category."
The format of the novel also worked well. Ward Hopkin's viewpoint is in first person, John Zandt's is as well if I remember correctly, which can be a bit confusing at times. Sarah Becker and Nina are in third person, as are the occasional viewpoints from the Upright Man's perspective. I really identified with Sarah Becker, as she reminded me quite a bit of myself and my friends at that age. It was terrifying, to think that so easily I could have had something so terrible happen to me, if my luck hadn't quite held out.
I recommend the book to any lover of horror, and definitely not to anyone squeamish....more
Kate Atkinson is a long-standing favourite author of mine. She writes novels about strange family histories and in recent yearBackground and Synopsis:
Kate Atkinson is a long-standing favourite author of mine. She writes novels about strange family histories and in recent years branched out and started a mystery series starring Jackson Brodie, yet they are unlike any mystery series you have read before. Emphasis is primarily on the characters, and the plots are strong yet rely a bit too heavily on coincidence. But the characters have a way of getting under your skin. The prequels to this book are Case Histories, One Good Turn, and When Will There Be Good News?
In this installment, Jackson Brodie has somewhat retired from being a private investigator, but stumbles into a case anyway. A friend, Hope McMaster, asks him to find out more about her childhood and past when she has difficulty gaining access to her birth certificate. Tracy Waterhouse, a lonely, overweight ex-cop, impulsively buys a little girl from a prostitute for 3,000 pounds and then wonders how she will manage to get away with it. An elderly soap opera actress is forgetting herself.
Jackson, while searching for the origins of Hope McMaster, disturbs a long-ago crime of another lost child, the child of a murdered prostitute who was trapped in an apartment with the mother's corpse for three weeks. Jackson saves a dog from a cruel owner and it becomes his trusty sidekick.
As you can see, it's not a typical mystery. Atkinson interweaves the present narrative with flashbacks, both in extended scenes from 1975 and the characters thinking back to earlier events. This can be a bit confusing at times, but overall works very well. Jackson Brodie is a very likeable character, and adding a little dog hits home that he is growing older and in some ways softer. He is more contemplative than he was in Case Histories.
I also really enjoyed the character of Tracy Waterhouse. She was a solid, dependable person who had a hard life as a policewoman, especially in the beginning when there were not many women in the force, but she is soft on the inside. She tries to be a good parent to her new charge, but fears that she is doing it all wrong, as her own childhood was lacking in picnics and trips to amusement parks, and there were no storytimes or hugs.
Atkinson's prose is, as always, richly filled with metaphors, simile, and witty dialogue. She is a very, very good writer. She has that same talent Margaret Atwood does, to sneak into my mind and somehow articulate feelings I've had before but been unable to express.
Though I enjoyed it thoroughly, it did not touch me as some of the other books of the series have. It also took longer than usual for the differing threads to begin to come together. By page 90, I was still wondering when and how characters would meet each other.
Overall, it's excellent and I would recommend it to others and read it again myself....more