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The second straw
by Asa Butcher
Issue 9
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The Lonely Dead
Michael Marshall
HarperCollins, 2004
Before Thanos encouraged me to start a long classic literature journey, I used to read a great deal of contemporary fiction, such as Iain Banks, Ben Elton and Michael Marshall Smith. However, every traveller deserves a break, so I pulled over and ordered my favourite dish from the roadside café.

Michael Marshall began his writing career as Michael Marshall Smith, writing science fiction and horror stories, such as Only Forward (1994), Spares (1996) and One of Us (1998). The books hooked me on to his writing, especially his extremely creative vision of the future that, for once, is not pessimistic and apocalyptic.

I was slightly disappointed when Michael Marshall Smith moved away from this genre and began writing psychological thrillers, but upon the completion of his first book, The Straw Men (2001), I forgave him because he had upset my delicate nature with a chilling story.

Perhaps it was his studies in Philosophy, Social and Political Science at King’s College, Cambridge, which enabled him to tap into the darkest dimension of the human psyche and create a monstrous, yet intelligent, serial killer. The motives of the killer are terrifying and instil a belief in the reader that this really does happen across Continental America.

The Lonely Dead is a worthy sequel to a story that freaked me out and contains many of Marshall’s trademark details once again. He has a talent for choosing cool-sounding names for his characters and knows his way around modern technology, injecting its uses creatively into the plot and into victims’ heads.

Another aspect of Marshall’s writing I enjoy is the insightful internal monologues and amusing cultural observations, especially when the character is getting drunk in a bar: “I was in a bar recently and it smelled of incense: how fucked up is that? Not smelling of smoke is bad enough, but spiced lavender?” Comments like that can’t fail to make you smile out loud and they do balance the colourful descriptions of the murder of innocent people.
The Lonely Dead is a worthy sequel to The Straw Men and Marshall has made ex-CIA agent Ward Hopkins, former homicide cop John Zandt and FBI agent Nina Baynam highly believable characters once again. The third book in the series, Blood of Angels, is currently out on hardback, with the paperback scheduled for release in February 2006, so I’ll have to wait until then for another break in my literary journey.

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