A couple of books ago I said it was easy to review a book that I’d hugely enjoyed. Here’s one I enjoyed just as much but it’s harder to review because, I think I don’t want to give too much away.
Killer Move is a novel by Michael Marshall, a name he goes by when writing crime fiction. When writing his earlier SciFi novels, such as Only Forward, he went by Michael Marshall Smith. And, when he wrote The Servants, which you’ll remember I also loved, he was M.M. Smith.
Anyway this is the first of his crime books I’ve read. I’ve avoided them partly because I knew that there was some fairly grim subject matter in the likes of The Straw Men. I carry around in my head that I don’t like such things but let’s be honest I’ve read and enjoyed Let the Right One In and 1974, and at least read 1977, all of which have material that’s as dark as any you’d find.
Still, the reason I picked up this book rather than the earlier crime ones was the intriguing blurb about it, and the fact that it didn’t on the face of it seem to be dominated by gruesome murders. And in fact that’s true. Mostly.
Killer Move is about Bill Moore, a florida realtor who’s ambitious and trying to push his career to the next level. He’s actually got a very nice life – a lovely home, a successful wife who he loves and enough money for a comfortable lifestyle – but he wants more. One day he receives a business card with the single word “Modified” written on it. From then on weird stuff starts to happen to him and slowly his life starts to unravel.
The thing I really like about this book is the way it slowly builds. Things happen at a pace that mean that initially it’s just intriguing, then gradually it becomes stranger, more involved, more dangerous until you’re in a full-on thriller. By the time the gruesome stuff shows up – and it does – it feels like you’re too wrapped up in the story to really worry about it. Plus it has become integral to the story anyway.
But it’s more than just the finely tuned mechanism of the plotting, it’s the slow reveal and/or evolution of Bill’s character. This is an ‘extraordinary things happen to an ordinary person’ type of story and what’s interesting is that the person he is at the beginning – obsessed with success, listens to self-help podcasts, reads positivity blogs and attends branding seminars – isn’t particularly likeable, but he slowly reveals himself to be more interesting than he first appears. I loved the main character of Stark in Only Forward, but I loved him from the first page with his dry wit and cool persona, Bill I grew to like as he both showed more of himself and was changed by the experience.
That’s what sets Killer Move apart from say a John Grisham thriller, though they share a clockwork precision of plot, the characterization. There are characters you sympathise with, ones you instantly like (like Stark), or dislike, or are appalled and intrigued by.
And there is some tough stuff in there but more of it is implied than seen. Certainly it doesn’t have that unrelenting grimness and all-humanity-is-scum feel of 1977.
It would also make a terrific movie.
My only quibble is the title – Killer Move is so generic as to be meaningless and it really doesn’t connect with anything specific in the book. There is an obvious one-word title but I suspect that it was rejected because it doesn’t say enough about what kind of book this is.
9/10 – an excellent gripping read and one that slowly builds up both tension and character development.