I first stumbled across Michael Marshall in one of those gift shops you find in bigger hotels. I wandered over to the paperback “section” --- it was a wall mounting, containing slots for nine titles --- and I noticed the name “Michael Marshall” on a copy of THE STRAW MEN. I went to grade school with a Michael Marshall, so I picked up the book to see if perhaps it was the same gentleman. They turned out to be different people altogether. But I was so intrigued by the premise of the novel that I bought it, read it and quickly sought out the remainder of the author’s bibliography.
THE INTRUDERS is Marshall’s latest work, combining his trademark elements of unpredictability, craftsmanship and sterling characterization to provide an addicting, thrilling read that never disappoints.
If you’re paranoid at all, you’re going to get your instincts jumpstarted within a few pages of reading THE INTRUDERS. The story deals primarily with Jack Whalen, a man who is unsettled by the feeling that his world is slowly, almost imperceptibly, changing. Whalen is an ex-LAPD patrolman who retired from the force, wrote a book of some nominal success and now lives with his wife Amy --- a successful marketing executive --- in a small rural community a few hours removed from Seattle. Their world seems to be financially and emotionally secure. But, as Marshall slowly reveals, there are tiny cracks around the foundation of the Whalen family --- not necessarily fissures or yawning chasms, but cracks nonetheless.
When Amy turns up missing during what would otherwise be a routine business trip to Seattle, Jack immediately begins to investigate, only to discover that her disappearance is more a misunderstanding than anything else. That’s not the end of it, however. Jack notices that his wife is doing little things --- acquiring new habits, listening to different music --- that she has never done before. Taken together, they portend the arrival of something far beyond anything that Jack can imagine.
In the meantime, events occurring that appear far removed from Jack’s world will jeopardize his very existence. A mysterious stranger breaks into a house, brutally murders a woman and her son, and sets the house on fire. A young girl, walking alone on a beach, is approached by a polite man and shortly thereafter leaves without explanation, even as her demeanor begins to change. And Amy? She just gets more and more bizarre.
As you’re reading, you will probably find yourself wondering just how Marshall is going to tie up such apparently disparate elements into a cohesive story, and to what ultimate end. What Marshall does, however, is not only create a chilling tale that will keep you awake at night, but he also provides a possible answer to a question that has puzzled individuals for hundreds of years: What, precisely, makes us what, and who, we are?
Those familiar with Marshall’s body of work wish that he would write more frequently. But when he publishes a novel of such quality as THE INTRUDERS, one remembers that any book of his is worth the wait, no matter how long it may be.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 22, 2011