Customer Review

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining Ghost Story, 8 July 2008
This review is from: The Servants (Hardcover)
'The Servants' is around 230 pages long, but such is the modern preoccupation with length (oo-er missus!) that it's classed as a 'short' novel or novella, rather than simply the `novel' it undoubtedly is.

MM Smith has previously written novel length science fiction under his full name Michael Marshall Smith, and conspiracy thrillers under the shortened name Michael Marshall. Last year's excellent 'The Intruders' - containing supernatural elements - was also published under the latter moniker.

Now there's another variation on his name - MM Smith - which he's used for this modern-day ghost story. Michael himself has commented that this latest book is more akin to his excellent far-ranging short fiction than his longer stuff - hence the new name.

Enough of my preamble - is this book any good? Well, yes. It's beautifully told in clear, simple prose and it won't take the reader long to finish it.

Mark is an 11-year-old boy who's moved down to Brighton from London with his mother and new stepfather. Naturally he hates his step-dad, because like most boys of that age he clings to an idealised view of his birth father, that no other man could compete with.

Once in Brighton, Mark leads a loner's existence, practicing his rudimentary skateboarding skills, until he meets the old lady who resides in the basement of the big property he lives in. She shows her rooms to him, reveals what lies behind an old locked door, and explains that the whole basement forms the old servants' quarters. Immediately Mark's curiosity is piqued. At this stage his mother's health is also deteriorating alarmingly...

To give away any further plot details would be unfair so I'll leave it at that, but I will comment that the book unfolds at a perfect, just-right pace and has a very satisfactory ending - Michael doesn't believe in short-changing the reader!

The portrayal of Mark is very perceptive and touchingly told. We gradually see his viewpoint towards the step-dad shifting, and if it never achieves a volte-face, he at least comes to appreciate him a bit more. Naturally we, the reader, can tell the step-dad is a decent man almost from the very beginning, but then we're not emotionally attached to him.

Michael Marshall is a huge fan of Stephen King - another writer who has written the occasional subtle ghost story featuring a young protagonist. I hope he'll be flattered if I say this is almost a British equivalent of the lovely literary stuff King writes when in a certain mode. I wholeheartedly recommend this intelligent book to Michael Marshall Smith newcomers and old fans alike.
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Location: Tyne & Wear, England

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