The Straw Men - Michael Marshall

There are two authors from the shores of Great Britain one English and one Irish and they both, in my opinion, have similarities in their style and subjects of writing. I am speaking firstly about John Connolly and his wonderful antihero Charlie Parker who suffered the sad loss of his wife Susan and daughter Jennifer and this in turn haunts all that follows “I have learned to embrace the dead and they in turn have found a way to reach out to me” Former homicide detective John Zandt is the creation of Michael Marshall and in a similar way to Parker has suffered great loss with the kidnap and murder of his own daughter Karen.”They tried to hold it together. They failed. His position had been untenable. Either he bore the horror of Karen’s disappearance and remained strong for his wife, while feeling like he was going to break apart into small sharp pieces: or he could reveal the pain he was in. When he did so he lost the male claim to strength without gaining any foothold on the high ground of revealed trauma that was the preserve of women. It was her job to express the outrage; it was his to withstand it.”

 

In The Straw Men Zandt is persuaded to come out of early retirement since it appears that the psycho who abducted and killed his daughter has found another victim. Both authors have a great knowledge of the American landscape used to great effect in their storytelling and it is a shame to realize that Michael Marshall has really not achieved the acknowledgement and acclaim he so richly deserves.

 

The Straw Men is the story of the search for those who kidnapped Sarah Becker...but it is much more than that. Ward Hopkins returns to the home of his recently deceased parents where a note awaits him and makes him question the truth behind not only their recent car crash but his very existence. As Hopkins is drawn deeper and deeper into the past he encounters the shadowy sinister world of the Straw Men and fate will lead to a meeting with John Zandt and an incredible revelation connected to The Upright Man.

 

The story is fast, multi layered but never over complex, with a very descriptive and intelligent yet observant prose. There is a scene where Ward Hopkins is in a bar waiting for his ex CIA buddy Bobby to arrive and as he looks around he observes.....”They looked up at me grimly when I came in. I didn’t blame them. When I get to their age, I’ll resent young people too. I resent them already, in fact, the slim little fresh-faced assholes. I don’t find it surprising that super-old people are so odd and grumpy. Half of their friends are dead, they feel like shit most of the time, and the next major event in their lives is going to be their last. They don’t even have the salve of believing that going to the gym is going to make things better,that they’ll meet someone cute in the small hours of a Friday night or that their career is suddenly going to steer into an upturn and they’ll wind up married to a movie star. They’re out the other side of all that, onto a flat, grey plain of aches and bad eyesight, of feeling the cold in their bones and having little to do except watch their children and grandchildren go right ahead and make all the mistakes they warned them about.”

 

This is a wonderful rich dark tale which the author manages to balance with a growing feeling of uneasiness and fear. It is also an observational study of access and the true value of existence..”They were doing it for some god, some ideology, some fallen comrade or ancient grievance. They weren’t just doing it for themselves. Bobby realized this made a difference, and also that if we were all the same species, there was little hope for us; that nothing we ever did in the daytime would bleach out what some of us were capable of at night. Some aspects of human behaviour were inevitable, but this was surely not. To believe so was to accept that we had no downward limit. Just because we were capable of art didn’t mean what lay in front of him could be dismissed as aberration, that we could take what we admired and fence that off as human, dismissing the rest as monstrous. The same hands committed both. Brains didn’t undermine the savagery. They made us better at it. As a species we were responsible for all of it, and carried our dark sibling inside.”

 

A brilliant dark story...an astounding author....my highest recommendation!!