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Not as good as The Straw Men
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.