Teenage Sarah is kidnapped in LA and subjected to the endless mad rants of the man who has nailed her under the floorboards, who is slowly starving her as he has others before. Burned-out cop Zandt, whose own daughter was taken and never seen again, is called back into the investigation by his FBI ex-mistress. Drunken, off-the-rails, ex-CIA Wade investigates the things which do not add up in the deaths of the parents he did not know as well as he thought he did. This is a book whose ambiguously heroic heroes share an almost comic ruthlessness with its villains and yet which never ceases to draw a clear line between the merely wrong and the profoundly wicked. Along the way, both the nature of the underlying conspiracy and the smart moves needed to track it down are created with remorseless ingenuity.
Marshall Smith has the skill to create motives and moves that are at once insane, plausible and contemporary. --Roz Kaveney
‘The crucial thing about Michael Marshall Smith is that he is enormously readable… once you have started reading one of his books, you won’t want to stop until you have finished it … He has the talent to become the inspiration to a generation of writers’
‘Humour, a cracking pace and fluid prose… Sizzling… Michael Marshall Smith has a Crichton-like knack of attracting film studios’
‘Outstanding, highly original… fiercely funny, and hugely entertaining’
THE LITERARY REVIEW
‘As always with the fiercely inventive Smith, the rug of reality is exhilaratingly pulled from under the reader’s feet’
‘No one writes better than Smith about love: how it’s won, how it’s lost. No one writes better about being wasted – by drugs, by drink, by time. Nigh-on unique’
‘A storytelling skill that can only be described as pure genius’
From the Publisher
From the Author
Suddenly, Im two thirds the man I used to be. In terms of my name, that is. Possibly spiritually too. I havent checked.
Im referring to the fact that my new novel, THE STRAW MEN, is being published under the name Michael Marshall, whereas the previous three ONLY FORWARD, SPARES and ONE OF US, along with the story collection WHAT YOU MAKE IT came out under Michael Marshall Smith.
Theres another change too. These previous novels were most often found on the science fiction shelves. That wasnt my intention, nor my publishers, but the books were set in the future, and so it goes.
THE STRAW MEN is most definitely not science fiction. It is a present day crime thriller, a novel of suspense.
Ive been asked: why the change?
The name thing is straightforward. In a world where many people like to know what theyre getting, I decided that it would be helpful to make it obvious that in the future there would be two subdivisions within my work. I hope that most people will enjoy both. If not, at least its clear whereabouts in the bookstore you should be looking.
Michael Marshall Smith will continue to write fiction set either in the future or in weird compartments of the present world. Many readers seemed scared of science fiction prose, concerned perhaps that its all going to be about spaceships and aliens with unusually-shaped heads, and will have no bearing on their lives. Its not all like that, incidentally. Much of the best science fiction is actually about the present day, just seen through the prism of the future that flexible realm where metaphors can be made concrete in order to write things entertainingly large. Its odd that many people will watch sf television, or blockbuster movies set in the future, but not consider trying the written word (from where the majority of these big budget ideas emerge, well ahead of time), but there it is. MINORITY REPORT, TOTAL RECALL and BLADERUNNER were all based on the work of Philip K. Dick, whos been dead for over two decades. He wrote a bunch more stuff, and theres still time to read it... oh well, its up to you.
As Michael Marshall, on the other hand, I shall be writing what many people will consider to be crime. If Im honest, I feel thats what Ive been writing already: future crime, or perhaps more accurately, just noir fiction.
Im attracted to this genre because I believe it is the best at capturing the eternal reality of what its like to be alive. Science fiction is often about a sense of wonder, of recapturing the spirit of possibility. Horror fiction is almost a sub-division of crime, where the bad guys happen to be supernatural, and our visceral fears are made most concrete. Its noir with an extra helping of darkness.
Crime is about the absolute down-and-dirty building blocks of our lives, about love and greed and death. The noir sensibility strips all insulation away, like a music producer taking off all the violins and synths and samples, taking it all back down to a guy rasping sometimes unwelcome truths over straight guitar, bass and drums. Yet, paradoxically, its also capable of some of the most profound and lyric fiction on the planet, as the work of Jim Thompson, James Ellroy, James Lee Burke and John Connelly (amongst others) compellingly shows. And Raymond Chandler has not been the only writer to prove it can also be very, very funny.
Other fiction is often about things, and events. Crime fiction is about people, and about life.
I chose to make this switch at this time because THE STRAW MEN is specifically about the here and now. Its about the way we live with each other, about the kind of people who live amongst us, and attempts to asks questions about our present human condition. Its about serial killers, and murderers, but also about the more workaday species of loss and pain and love. I believe that we all live on a spectrum of behaviour and tendency, and that putting a fence around certain people and calling them evil is not only inaccurate but very dangerous. Few humans live without fault, and there is not a country on this planet which has not perpetrated something appalling, somewhere down the line. Conversely, there is no person without some worth, no nation without some special and admirable quality. We paint and we kill and we compose music and we destroy, and in between we all live and we love and we die. We are all susceptible to the same dangers. We can all be moved by the same sights. Somewhere down amongst all that is the truth about who we are.
I cant guarantee Ive found that truth, but Ive had a look. And its not all darkness along the way I hope the journey is exciting and fun too. Thats the weird thing about we humans. We may sometimes be, as Jim Thompson put it, the folks that mean so good but do so bad. But we also care deeply, and weve got the best jokes on the planet. Seriously. Sheep tell rubbish jokes.
From the Back Cover
"Sarah tries to struggle, but the man holds her. The scream never makes it out of her throat. 'Nobody's watching,' the man says. 'I made it this way. I can walk where nobody sees.'"
'THE STRAW MEN'
Sarah Becker is the fifth girl to be abducted by this maniac. Judging from the state of the bodies that have been found, her long hair will be hacked off and she will be tortured. She has about a week to live.
Former LA homicide detective John Zandt has an inside track on the perpetrator – his own daughter was one of his victims two years ago.
But the key to Sarah's whereabouts lies with Ward Hopkins, a man with a past so secret not even he knows about it. His parents have just died in a car accident, but they leave Ward a bizarre message that leads him to question everything he once believed to be true.
As he begins to investigate his own past Ward finds himself drawn into the shadowy, sinister world of the Straw Men – and into the desperate race to find Sarah, before her time runs out.
"Michael Marshall Smith is enormously readable…once you have started one of his books you won't want to stop until you have finished it…He's in a class of his own."
Praise for Michael Marshall Smith's novels:
"A cracking pace and fluid prose…Sizzling."
"Tense, exciting and at times very, very funny…He's worth every penny."
"A storytelling skill that can only be described as pure genius."
"Wry, fast-paced and original. Brilliant."
"Sharp as a switchblade."
About the Author
Michael Marshall lives in north London with his wife Paula, and is currently working on screenplays and his next book, while providing two cats with somewhere warm and comfortable to sit.