Books 2017: Four Stars - Michael Marshall Smith

Michael Marshall Smith

These are all re-reads. I read them all pretty much as they were published, which made it difficult to follow the continuity between the first two books and the trilogy, and this fall I was in kind of a reading funk so decided to go back to something I knew I liked. The author published some really great science fiction under the name Michael Marshall Smith, and then started writing mysteries with a hint of the supernatural under the name Michael Marshall. I find his voice and imagination extremely fresh and original - I'm never quite sure what I'm going to get, but it's always something wonderfully surprising, with a fairly cynical worldview that nevertheless allows for some real and deep human connections.

Bad Things by Michael Marshall. Synopsis from Goodreads: Three years ago, lawyer John Henderson watched his four-year-old son tumble from a jetty into the lake outside their Washington home. In a terrible instant, a life all too brief and innocent ended. But it wasn't drowning, the fall, or even some previously undetected internal defect that killed the little boy. Scott Henderson had simply, inexplicably...died.
Today, John is a different man—divorced, living a solitary existence in a beach house in Oregon, working as a waiter in a restaurant that caters to the summer crowd. Withdrawn from a life and past too painful to revisit, he touches no one and no one touches him. Then one night he receives a short and profoundly disturbing e-mail message from a stranger. It reads: I know what happened.
It's enough to pull John back to Black Ridge—the one place on earth he'd hoped never to return to—in search of answers to the mystery that shattered his world. In this small, isolated Pacific Northwest community, populated in large part by descendants of the original settlers, the shadows now seem even darker and more sinister than when tragedy first drove him away—and the wind whipping down out of the primal forest can chill a man to his soul. It seems that bad things have always happened in this town of generations-old secrets—and are happening still.
The deeper John digs into his own past, and into local history, the more danger he draws toward himself...and toward his estranged and helpless family. And though he doesn't know it, he's not the only one who's been called back to Black Ridge.
And that's a very bad thing.

What really makes this is the character of John Henderson - extremely flawed and clear-eyed enough to know it, but with a bitter kind of integrity. The sense of place is well-rendered and a big part of the atmosphere, and the plot is complex and satisfying. 

We Are Here by Michael Marshall. Synopsis from Goodreads: An intelligent, page-turning thriller from the international bestselling author of THE STRAW MEN.
It should have been the greatest day of David's life. A trip to New York, wife by his side, to visit his new publisher. Finally, after years of lonely struggle it looks as though the gods of fate are on his side. But on the way back to Penn station, a chance encounter changes all of that. David bumps into a man who covertly follows him and, just before he boards the train, passes by him close enough to whisper: 'Remember me.'
When the stranger turns up in his home town, David begins to understand that this man wants something from him...something very personal that he may have no choice but to surrender.
Meanwhile, back in New York, ex-lawyer John Henderson does his girlfriend Kristina a favour and agrees to talk to Catherine Warren, an acquaintance of hers who believes she's being stalked by an ex-lover. But soon John realises that Catherine's problem is far more complex and terrifying than he could ever have imagined...
There are people out there in the shadows, watching, waiting. They are the forgotten. And they're about to turn.

I didn't even realize the first time I read it that this was a sequel of sorts to Bad Things, with the same main character and his now love interest. It was a perfectly good read even without that knowledge, but it gave it a little extra depth once I went back and figured it out. This was really, really good - the passages detailing the lives of the community of strangers are really lovely. Of course, then it all devolves into horror and violence, but in a really cool, insightful way. 

The Straw Men (The Straw Men #1) by Michael Marshall. Synopsis from Goodreads: Who are they? What do they want? Why do they kill? Can they be stopped?You know who they are . . . if you've ever known fear.In Palmerston, Pennsylvania, two men in long coats walk calmly into a crowded fast-food restaurant--then, slowly and methodically, gun down sixty-eight people. They take time to reload.On the Promenade of Santa Monica, California, a teenage girl gives sightseeing tips to a distinguished English tourist. She won't be going home tonight.In Dyersburg, Montana, a grief-stricken son tries to make sense of the accident that killed his parents--then finds a note stuffed in his father's favorite chair. It reads, "We're not dead."Three seemingly unrelated events, these are the first signs of an unimaginable network of fear that will lead one unlikely hero to a chilling confrontation with The Straw Men. No one knows who they are--or why they kill. But they must be stopped. Michael Marshall's electrifying debut novel is an instant masterpiece of modern suspense. An epic thriller for anyone who has feared that someone is watching us.

I first read this when two-year-old Angus had a broken leg and I was pregnant with Eve. My mom was watching Angus and I was wandering around the bookstore, and I picked it up and immediately felt like it was going to be really good. That feeling is by far not always accurate, but in this case I was a frigging genius. This is nearly noir but not quite, I loved the characters, and it was just a really well-written, masterfully plotted thriller. 

The Upright Man (The Straw Men #2) by Michael Marshall. Synopsis from Goodreads: Ward Hopkins is afraid. He's seen something dreadful in the high plains of the Columbia River. It's sent him fleeing cross country, forever running. And in his wake, one by one, people are dying. Something's following Ward Hopkins.

More of the same, except adds in some small vignettes about really really nice people who have terrible things happen to them, one of which leads to a new setting and a new, really cool element in the story. Also, there was one scene that I was dead certain I remembered from this book, and I kept waiting for it and it never happened, so now I'm really curious which book it was actually from.

Blood of Angels (The Straw Men #3) by Michael Marshall. Synopsis from Goodreads: Notorious serial killer the Upright Man has escaped from prison, and the FBI have no idea where to look for him. His brother, Ward Hopkins, suspects he may have been aided by the Straw Men, the shadowy organization founded on murder as a way of life that killed Ward's parents.But apart from his girlfriend Nina, a discredited FBI agent, the only other person who believes the Straw Men exist is John Zandt, a former homicide cop turned lone vigilante.Ward's brother was broken out for a reason. The Straw Men are planning something new and terrible. And only Ward, Nina and John stand against the Upright Man and his terrifying allies.

I remembered very little of the whole first half of this, and it veers pretty far away from the original story and characters, but it was still interesting. It all comes to a very satisfying conclusion.


StephLove said…
That experience of remembering and waiting for a scene that never comes happened to me this summer with The Gunslinger and the ironic part was it was that very scene that stopped me from reading the Dark Tower series with Noah until he was this age. Since this was the only DT book that underwent substantial revision once the series was complete, I'm wondering if King just deleted it after the first time I read it.
Nicole said…
Hmmm...I'm not much for supernatural stuff but this sounds interesting!

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