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3.8 out of 5 stars35
3.8 out of 5 stars
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on 21 February 2014
The Lonely Dead is the sequel to Michael Marshall's successful serial killer novel The Straw Men.

The story picks up a few months on from the end of the last book with a bloated fifteen-page prologue. And for the first 50 pages or so, the writing's kind of wooden, almost as if Michael Marshall was writing without any direction or purpose. Even the dialogue seems forced, the whole mess stilted from page one until it suddenly finds its rhythm and evens out. However, in spite of it improving, there were still times when I was lost in the story. This is because Michael Marshall writes the book from about fifty different perspectives.

There's one main character, writing in first person, then there's about four or five other participating characters, all who have their own strand within the book in third person--which became confusing and hard to keep up with at times, especially when Michael Marshall then gave supporting minor characters their own strand of narrative for the short time they appear in the book. Sometimes characters would go a whole chapter without a part, just for their part of the story to be picked up again in the next chapter. At one stage a main character was shot, then went missing for about twenty or thirty pages during the next chapter, then came back and it took me a moment or two to realign my thoughts and remember what had happened before. This book is definitely not for the type of reader who takes their time, dipping in and out every few days -- you're bound to forget some of the key players and their back-stories and you might get to wondering what exactly is going on in places.

Plus there are a few more elements that have been thrown in this time, not just horror and crime; such as the possibility of ghosts and creatures from the lagoon and some other Sci-Fi type stuff, which some people might not like or get. I didn't mind it, as such, although that part of the story is left without any resolution or explanation, so hopefully Marshall will delve into that more in the next instalment of the series.

Also, finally, Marshall has this annoying writing technique which he picked up from who-knows-where. He does this thing where he cuts words down almost to bullet points, presumably to speed up the writing. For example, something like this (which I've made up):

"Johnny turned. Saw Danger. Reached for his pistol. Brought it to eye level. Pulled the trigger. The bullet tore through skull. The man was dead."

Now I know this kind of bullet-point writing can be effective from time to time, but my problem is that Marshall uses this technique way too often, and usually for no reason at all other than to speed up a sentence here and there. And the reason it doesn't work is because it becomes part of his style, and it's too noticeable as a technique and takes away from the prose rather than adding to it. Usually his sentences are seamless, the prose fluid, but this is like a flashing beacon that says you're reading. I don't know why he does it, but maybe he'll break out of it. Probably not, though. Not unless he reads this, and then definitely not. You know what these stubborn authors are like . . .

Anyway, in conclusion, the book has its moments, and it's a good read, but nowhere near on the level as The Straw Men--plus it's pretty convoluted and at times confusing. Pushing that aside, though, the writing is strong (once you get past the beginning) and the characters are written well, although not as fleshed out as in the first novel, which is to be expected--and overall it's an enjoyable read and worth suffering through the bad parts for.
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on 2 May 2004
With the same wit and jarring insight that colors all his work, Marshall sets out to tell a story about paranoids, psychopaths and quasi-law enforcement officials... and we start to discover they aren't all as neatly separated as we want to think. John Zandt, Nina Baynam and Ward Hopkins are the only ones who know about the Straw Men and unfortuneately the acquisition this knowledge and the loss of Bobby Nygard and anything approaching their personal safety is doing a nicer job dismantaling their sanity than their new enemies could hope for. Unfortuneately the same can't be said for Ward's homicidal brother Paul and as the trail heats up again it remains to be seen if the trio can still cut it against the Straw Men.
The story is pacey and punchy, with lots of gore thrown in but it has to be said there is no chase to the finish here. People get killed, nobody stops it because nobody knows what's happening except the reader who can guess what's happening from a relatively early stage in the story. The final showdown is good, but not as good as The Halls (in my opinion that is) and the 'revelation' of the story carries a lack of credibility that makes me wonder if there was a point in it at all.
All that said the characterization is excellent and that's where the book shines. Ward's escalating disassociation from society... and tandem gravitation towards Paul is wonderfully played. Simultaneously the spectre of Bobby Nygard is clearly one that will be with him to stay and he has to deal with that. (I must say, I missed Bobby very much in this book. Without him to spar with Ward's wit and cleverness had little opportunity to shine through.) The damage done to Nina career wise and mentally is carefully illustrated - particularly in her relationship with the newly expanded character of SAC Charles Munroe. Paul's past and personality are explored making him seem both more, and so much less than human adding a tangible ambiguity to his situation that makes your mind think - hard. Meanwhile, as always, Zandt's character is played largely through actions and not words. Sadly, there weren't too many of those.
The main reason this book gets 4 stars and not the 5 that Straw Men recieved is because as it proceeds it becomes a more and more lopsided affair due to the inclusion of Ward and Nina's POVs but a lack of Zandt's. While I appreciate that keeping his actions secret did enhance the suspense of the novel, it also damaged it's flow and some of the credibility of Zandt's actions and by default the plot. By keeping Zandt in the frame, Marshall could have made things more even-handed and the revelations of the third act would have had more weight, if perhaps less wow-power... that is... if you can believe those revelations or not.

Of course, real life isn't evenly segmented like that so perhaps I have little right to comment.
Like I say, good book but roll on the next because this one was meant have the words 'to be continued...' stapled to the back cover.
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on 26 August 2009
From the synopsis on the back of the book, this sounds like a stand alone read, but once you start you realise that unless you have read "Straw Men" then its very hard to work out what is going on. The main plot which isn't included at all in the synopsis revolves around this book and the cover synopsis which caused me to buy the book is only a tiny part of the whole thing. 250 pages in and I was still very confused by it all. This was my first Michael Marshall and will probably be my last. The plot was far too involved and drawn out with a long winded history lesson and characters I had no idea about. Everything came back to the Straw Men including the relationship between the main characters. Very confusing and a bit disappointing at the end.
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So my re-read continued and of course I had to go next for Book Two of "The Straw Men" Trilogy - The Lonely Dead and very shortly I will be immersed back into Book Three - Blood of Angels.

After the events of "The Straw Men" we find Ward in hiding, drifting from place to place and occasionally attempting to find out more about his background. Meanwhile John is pursuing some dangerous people - but who are the most dangerous - them or John himself? The only other person Ward trusts, Nina, is having her own issues - after covering up the dramatic final events of "The Straw Men" both her job and her life are on the line..together she and Ward must untangle the web John is caught up in but can they save him? Does he deserve to be saved?

Once again Michael Marshall weaves an intricate tale - so intricate that its hard to talk in depth about the plot without offering spoilers - and if you have yet to begin this trilogy then I would be mortified if I spoilt any part of it for you. I can say the mythology deepens - both Ward and John again find themselves facing almost impossible decisions - the world they find themselves in is a lonely and dangerous place. Nina, a character I didnt mention by name in my review of the first book, really comes into her own here. She is the voice of reason, the moral guidance if you like - and yet through her we explore the question - how far is too far before you will leave the law behind.

I loved this second part - it expands and adds to the overall tale brilliantly - no loss of pace or standard here - if anything it improves on the first in the series. Now you are in this world you need to know more about it. And Michael Marshall will tell you more about it...but not everything. Oh no. I'm in the happy position of not remembering in detail what is going to happen in the final instalment (for now - Yes Mr Marshall, I've got my eye on you - More Straw Men please!) so I can't wait to dig into "Blood of Angels" and find out what is next for Ward, a character I have fallen in love with all over again.
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Marshall appears to have had two ideas for his next book after writing the Straw Men. One had the synopsis: "A guilty man walks alone into the cold mountain forests of Washington State, aiming to never return", and the other was a straight sequel to the highly successful Straw Men.
Either he or his publisher decided it would be spiffy to merge the two into one, linking the stories by any means possible. As it turns out, the link is very tenous, and for most of the novel the two threads are wholly separate, only coming together for the denouement.
The Straw Men thread sees Ward Hopkins and buddies up against the Upright Man and is pacey and entertaining. It lacks the surprise elements of the previous book - a problem for all sequels - but still makes for a compelling and competent thriller.
The other thread is a bit of an oddity - I am deliberately saying very little about the storyline as it is easily spoiled. It is well written but doesnt quite grip the reader
Both stories are squeezed into 500 pages, and it is the Straw Men story that suffers most from this brevity - there was enough here for a full novel. Some short cuts are taken, and more than a few questions left unanswered.
For all this, the Lonely Dead is still a good read, and is certainly better than the average thriller. It disappoints for what is could have been, rather than what it is. Hopefully next time Marshall won't compromise.
Four stars.
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on 7 February 2016
Some weeks ago I read The Straw Men by Michael Marshall the first part of a trilogy by an author who has never received the acclaim and recognition that he so richly deserves. I thought The Straw Men was an excellent read and was doubtful if the style, character development, and story could be bettered in a sequel. I need not have worried, The Lonely Dead has exceeded all my expectations, it is quite simply a stunning novel told by an expert author.

Ward Hopkins, ex CIA agent, is a man with a secret past, and he is determined to confront the murderers of his parents and trace the whereabouts is his lost brother Paul “The Upright Man” a deranged serial killer. His parents had been murdered by a group that his father had belonged to 35 years earlier...”the Straw Men, and believed themselves the only portion of humanity uninfected by a virus promoting social conscience above the cold-hearted individualism they believed inherent to our species. Whether they genuinely thought this, or it was just a convenient cover for acts of violence and depravity, was not clear.”

John Zandt, former LA homicide detective has his own special agenda for seeking out The Upright Man, an enforcer under the auspices and protection of The Straw Men. His daughter Karen was brutally murdered by him, and he seeks revenge whatever the cost. Adding to the intrigue is Nina Baynum, FBI agent, and former friend and lover to John Zandt.

What makes for a good thriller is the author’s ability to capture the reader’s attention from the first page and to retain that enthusiasm throughout a multi layered tour de force journey straddling the coasts of America. What on the face of it seems like a complex novel is made eminently readable by a very direct and approachable writing style. I found myself richly involved in the storyline whether that was in the cold mountain forests of Washington State, the Verona logettes of Bill and Patrice Anders, or the corridors of the Seattle Fairfew hotel where “Miss Katelyn” the night manager meets an unexpected intruder with murderous intent. This second book in the trilogy also imparts a little history on The Straw Men and it seems their ancestry reached back many hundreds of years..”The Straw Men were here back in the 1500’s? Get real. They were here long before that. They got here first, Ward. They stole America from the locals four thousand years before anyone else knew it was here”.

This is truly a wonderful read, a thriller with elements of the supernatural, and a storyline that pulses excitement and thrills at every page. The ending when it occurs is perfect and leaves the setting poised for the third and final instalment. If you only read one thriller this year let that the story be The Lonely Dead...of course I am presuming you have already enjoyed its predecessor The Straw Men. Highly highly recommended!!
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on 28 April 2010
After the break-neck speed and action of 'The Straw Men' (one of my favorite novels), this is the slower-paced 2nd installment in The Straw Men Trilogy. I longed for the roller-coaster ride of the first novel to continue, but alas, like real-life, everyone in this one is completely exhausted and suffering from severe psychological burn-out and are in numbed shock after surviving the trials and ordeals of the first novel(Still don't think MMS was fair to do what he did with Bobby - Wards CIA side-kick would have been more useful here, both as a figure of hope and as a devise to lighten the sombre mood of this one a little with the laddish humour that existed between he and Ward)and are off licking their wounds.

I think MMS, like his characters, also took a much needed breather (Stamina exercises, Michael, stamina exercises!) here too. I got the feeling that this novel was a little pushed and his heart didn't seem to be in this novel as much as the previous one. Of-course, he (MMS), could just be using this as a device to get you to feel as Oppressed, exhausted and psychologically drained as Ward, Nina, and John felt after their ordeal, and I certainly felt oppressed (and depressed at times!) here. Maybe he was aiming for an atmosphere of futility in the face of the characters failures and insurmountable obstacles from before? Who knows? MMS is a good thriller writer who definitely pushes the psychological buttons (the topical deeper meanings in his books also get you thinking about civilisation and those that seek to destroy and corrupt it, what it truly means to be human, what is humanity and how does it separate us from other animals - but this is done in a subtle and subliminal way, like a cerebral undercurrent).

Anyway, back to the book! This story tells us the historical back-story of the mysterious 'Straw Men' and how they began, developed over time and infiltrated themselves in corrupting every worldwide organisation in their fight against civilisation. The Upright Man story also develops here.

Although I enjoyed this book as an atmospheric crime novel (Michael Connolly fans will like this one), It is slower paced and I didn't find it as enthralling as I did 'The Straw Men' which was crime thrilling on acid (well written, multi-layered plots, multi-layered characters and multi-layered-devices! You sometimes have to remember to breathe!). Still, it's a good book for all of that, and I would encourage you to read it, but it's not worthy of the 5-star I gave to to 'The Straw Men'. This one is more of a build-up novel to set the scene and back-drop for the climax and cumulation of events that one would assume will be an explosive end to the trilogy in the third book 'The Blood of Angels'.
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on 23 March 2013
Following the events of 'The Straw Men', Ward Hopkins has been on the run from the powerful group and one of their most deranged acolytes, the Upright Man. However, when Ward takes the decision to stop running and instead track down the Upright Man, he cannot know that his quarry is doing some very unusual hunting of his own.

Michael Marshall is, thankfully, incapable of writing a run-of-the-mill crime novel, and 'The Lonely Dead' takes the ideas of its predecessor, then develops them and twists them into interesting new shapes. Whilst it remains much more grounded than 'Michael Marshall Smith' novels, the paranoia and strangeness that characterises his writing is as strong as ever. The plot tears along, while still being peppered with entertaining and thoughtful tangents. Marshall also knows exactly how much information to deploy and at what points, something especially noticeable in the sub-plot which sees a formerly suicidal hiker searching for an explanation for his experiences in the forests of the Pacific North West.

It's also worth saying that although it stands on its own, having a clear arc with a satisfying conclusion, it's almost certainly better to read the (equally gripping) 'The Straw Men' before 'The Lonely Dead' to really understand the importance of some of its elements.
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on 17 May 2005
I'm a big fan of MMS. Sometimes I'm quite keen on having his babies. But this book was something of a dissapointment for me. It just doesn't have the tension of The Straw Men, as there's no sense of a race against time. The characters from the first book are back, but they've all become manic-depressive versions of themselves, which is a very hard thing to do and still make the reader care about them. I was quite rooting for the bad guy be the end, at least he believes in what he's doing, even if it is murdering innocent civilians. I won't spoil it, but for me the biggest dissapointment is the ending. If you've read his sci-fi then you'll be used to some dramatic plot-shifts, but going in the direction he does after two novels of fairly standard thriller-fodder is kind of unconvincing at best.
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on 6 July 2004
'The Straw Men' really must be read before this book to get a deeper understanding of much of the core plot. The sequel, The Lonely Dead' had my attention from page one, and successfully held it throughout. I appreciated the character development of Nina and Ward, which added a sense of realism to the story, when compared to some of the dubious opinions of Jim Hendrickson, the journalist. The plot was fast paced and exciting, with just the right amount of gruesome detail to the murders. I would recommend this book to those of you who enjoy a good page-turner of a thriller!!
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