Review

The Straw Men

by Michael Marshall



Three horrific events separated by time and distance are united by
a hidden, cunning conspiracy that threatens the foundation of
civilization.

I happened across THE STRAW MEN totally by accident. I was checking
out a hotel sundries shop one rainy Sunday morning in New Orleans
and saw the book on one of those wire, wall-mounted paperback racks
popular in hospital gift shops and airports. Two things attracted
me to it: the name of the author, "Michael Marshall," was the name
of a kid I went to grade school with; and the two word cover blurb
by Stephen King: "A Masterpiece." I picked the bad boy up; the
story looked intriguing, and I scraped some bills together and
bought it. It was the best several bucks I've spent in quite a
while.

The Michael Marshall who wrote THE STRAW MEN is not the kid I went
to school with. This Michael Marshall is from Great Britain, and
his name is actually Michael Marshall Smith. He's published three
books, I believe, under the latter name, works of speculative
fiction that I'm going to get into as soon as I finish keyboarding
here. Why he has been abbreviated to Michael Marshall is a question
I can't answer; it's confusing, apparently, even to his publisher,
which on the back of THE STRAW MEN, describes this book as his
debut novel.

Regardless, this guy is incredible. Let me put it this way: I was
firmly convinced before I was a third of the way through the book
that Michael Marshall was one of those Richard Bachman identities
that Stephen King comes up with. Or, even more improbably, that THE
STRAW MEN was some collaboration between King and Dean Koontz.
Marshall writes as if he is possessed with the strengths of both
writers and bereft of their occasional weaknesses. But he
apparently is his own, real person. Why angels are not calling his
name right now, I don't know, and why THE STRAW MEN went straight
to paperback, as opposed to getting a huge hardcover release first,
is a question I can't answer. This novel, however, is
incredible.

Marshall starts things off by recounting three separate, seemingly
unconnected events. The first is an occurrence at a fast food
restaurant; the second is the abduction of a teenaged girl named
Sarah Becker from a Santa Monica mall; and the third is the death
of a husband and wife in an automobile accident. Their son, Ward
Hopkins, finds a note in his father's handwriting stuffed into a
chair, reading "Ward, we're not dead." Hopkins, a ne'er do well who
has been at loose ends for most of his life, haltingly begins an
investigation and in the process begins to connect the random dots
of the three events, revealing a horrific plot that stretches
across the country and fifty years into the past, involving his
parents and ultimately himself. At the same time, an FBI agent and
John Zandt, a retired and grief-stricken Los Angeles police
detective, investigate the Becker abduction, an incident which is
tied to three prior abductions --- one of which involves Zandt's
own daughter.

As Zandt races against time to rescue Becker, his path becomes
intertwined with Hopkins as they race toward a tumultuous,
apocalyptic conclusion. Marshall keeps the suspense level ratcheted
to atmospheric levels practically from the first page, so that the
reader turning the page while actually fearing what will come next.
Marshall is a master of the unpredictable; nothing is as it seems,
and no event can be anticipated, from the first page to the
last.

With THE STRAW MEN, Marshall demonstrates that the Next Big Thing
is already here. If you wish you had held on to that first edition
of CARRIE, here's your second chance. This guy is a marvel. Highest
possible recommendation.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 23, 2011

The Straw Men
by Michael Marshall

  • Publication Date: July 30, 2002
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Jove
  • ISBN-10: 0515134279
  • ISBN-13: 9780515134278