"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested." (Francis Bacon)

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

The Upright Man by Michael Marshall (Smith)

Michael Marshall Smith has quickly become one of my favorite authors. His first three books (Only Forward, Spares, and One of Us) were science fiction. His next, under the name Michael Marshall, was a thriller called The Straw Men. This is the sequel.

It's difficult to discuss this without giving away too much of the first, but the action picks up after some time after Ward, John, and Nina dealt the Upright Man and his fellow psychopaths and serial killers a severe blow. But the Upright Man, one of a group of people who believe man's nature is that of hunter and killer, is still loose and his connection to Ward (revealed in the first book) makes tracking him down a personal mission for Ward. His responsibility for John's daughter's death keeps John on his tail. And Nina, a tenacioius FBI agent who was nearly killed by the Upright Man in the first book, has her own reasons to hunt him down.

But this is more than a typical thriller. It's about the nature of humanity, about deceit and secrets, though the story is more straightforward than in the previous one, now that The Straw Men have been revealed as an evil that has penetrated all levels of society. In The Upright Man, Ward and the others discover how ancient that evil is.

There are authors who would have told this story with fewer words, but in Marshall's hands, not one word is wasted. He paints pictures and sets moods, his prose crawls along your skin and seeps into your pores. His characters are painfully real with attitudes and agendas. If you're not squeamish and you enjoy genuine thrills that touch but don't quite cross into the preternatural, give these books a try. And if you find that, like me, you can't get enough of his wrting, you'll still have his gritty science fiction waiting for you.