6000 Pages 2011, The Straw Men – Michael Marshall (pages 9520-10015)


(May as well get this out there now too)

After enjoying Killer Move so much I started reading The Straw Men as the next but one book. M. had raved about it to me years ago but I’d always avoided it due to potential gore, violence etc but having read Killer Move I figured I could handle it. Unfortunately it was the book I was reading when I went home to see my dad after his heart attack (he’s still fine btw) and somehow that created bad associations for me so I abandoned it and didn’t start again until a couple of weeks ago.

The Straw Men follows three story lines initially. There’s the latest victim of a serial killer known as The Upright Man, a teenage girl he has abducted and, if true to form, will kill within a few days unless someone can stop him. There’s the story of Ward Hopkins ex-CIA and ex-various other similar careers who returns home to deal with his parents death in a car accident only to find that things are not quite as they had appeared. Finally there’s the shadowy, possibly mythical organisation known as ‘The Straw Men’. Who exactly they are, what their aims are and how they plan to fulfil them ends up connecting the other two story lines.

This is another excellent thriller from Michael Marshall. I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as Killer Move but it’s still very good. In particular the plot is very clever, the way things join up, the way Hopkins for instance figures out something about his parents by the state they’d left their home in (which to all the world looks normal) was smart and satisfying if you like that kind of thing. Also the plot rattles along as you’d expect but still with enough space for characterisation and relationship. There are some tough moments violence wise, a little worse than Killer Move in my opinion (though still not up to David Peace gruesome). One of the worst was a description of what unedited news footage of a terrorist attack would look like. I think that affected me because I know that such footage exists.

I feel like I have to justify why I didn’t quite enjoy it as much as Killer Move. It’s M.’s favourite Michael Marshall book (her favourite ever book is his Only Forward written as Michael Marshall Smith). Anyway I think the reasons I preferred the later book are as follows:

  • I was slightly spoiled – partly by some indirect remarks of M.’s which I correctly deduced plot points from, but mostly by reading the blurb on the back of the next book in this series. If you plan to read this book stay away from The Lonely Dead (or The Upright Man in the US) as it mentions the big reveal on the back cover.
  • I preferred the hero of Killer Move. Hopkins was fine. He was sympathetic, clever and very competent. But he was also a little bit of a stereotype, the ex-military/cop/security services guy investigating some dangerous mystery. Bill Moore, as I said at the time was an ordinary annoying man thrown into a gradually more complicated and dangerous situation. Also Bill had a wife he loved and Ward was alone (in that sense, he had a friend/colleague).
  • One of the characters disses Buffy in the first few pages – ok mostly kidding about this. (mostly!)

Having said all that if I’d read it first and not known anything about it maybe I’d have preferred it. Either way it’s still a great read.

8/10 – another great crime thriller from MM(S).

One oddity worth mentioning. I read the ebook of this (as I do with most new purchases now) and the story ends, there’s a section of ‘Acknowledgements’ (thanks to …) and then a section which in the table of contents is called “ebook extra”. Thinking this was like a dvd extra, deleted scene if you will, I thought I could see why it wasn’t in the original. This was a kind of coda explaining more clearly what had happened and how various characters ended up – most of which you could infer from what had gone before.

Except that it was in the original. It came immediately after what I had thought of as the final chapter. The acknowledgements came after that. weird.

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About shuggie

My name is Shuggie, Paul or LatePaul depending on where you know me from. I work in computers (databases) and occasionally write about softw
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