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The Straw Men

3.8 out of 5 stars 54 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: Berkley Pub Group (Mm) (July 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0425185591
  • ISBN-13: 978-0425185599
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars 54 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #3,973,952 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Marshall's debut thriller, which is essentially two seemingly independent stories that meet in the middle, takes its time hooking readers. But once the complex and disparate plot lines meld, this expansive work demands the readers attention. In Dyersburg, Mont., narrator Ward Hopkins, attempting to make sense of the accident that killed his parents, discovers a note and videotape that lead him to believe their lives (and deaths) were not as they appeared. Meanwhile, the abduction of 14-year-old Sarah Becker renews the search for a serial killer who scalps his victims, embroiders their names into sweaters using their hair and then delivers the clothing to the victims parents. As Ward and his CIA buddy slowly unravel the mystery surrounding Wards parents, FBI agent Nina Baynam and former LAPD homicide detective John Zandt search for the elusive killer. Their paths cross when a series of connections is made between the victims and a bizarre cult known as The Straw Men. Marshall's book is filled with pages of uninterrupted description, which, while compelling, doesn't make for fast reading. But, to borrow a cliche, the devil is in the details. Thats certainly the case with this novel, whose graphic scenes of child abuse and dismemberment depict humankind at its most evil.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.


It's brilliantly written and scary as hell. -- Stephen King

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Mass Market Paperback
Michael Marshall used to publish great sci-fi novels under the name Michael Marshall Smith. But when his books didn't sell well in the States, he took his publisher's advice and reinvented himself by changing his name and by chosing to write fiction in a whole different genre. But as they say, some things are better left untouched. There is very little enjoyment to be found in this story that's just too complicated and too full of incompatible ideas for its own good.
The novel follows two different stories. The first is of a man who's parents died in a car accident. A conspiracy is soon unveiled, one that puts doubt over their death and over the man's own past. Then, you have the sad, broody cop who's hunting a killer who also kidnapped the cop's daughter (how original!).
Eventually, these two stories meet. But the reader is left in the dark for so too long that he soon loses interest. The connections between the two plots aren't strong enough to be believable. The moment the two stories meet, the book collapses, falling into a mess of subplot after subplot that never leads anywhere. The author just seems to be digging his own grave.
And the fact that the author never really explains anything doesn't help matters. I hate a book where everything is given to you. The reader should be left to discover SOME things by himself. But not everything. Marshall is so vague when it comes to explaining the plot that the reader is left wondering if the author every really knew himself what was going on.
The Straw Men is a mess of idea that never seem to mesh well with one another. And that's a shame, because Marshall can write very complicated and fully fleshed out stories. He can write great characters that are intriguing. But none of that is to be found in Straw Men. Maybe Michael Marshall should leave the Dean Koontz territory to Dean Koontz and stick with what he knows best: Sci-fi.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
I agree with one of the other reviews that the plot was muddy, but that didn't detract from the good time I had reading this book. I understand this was Marshall's first book, so he'll probably resolve that with more practice. Obviously this is not great literature, and I don't think it was meant to be. But this book has me practically holding my breath for the next installment (which I'm sure there will be.) I really enjoyed the characters, and would like to see them again in a sequel. The story line had a very relevent message that might not interest everyone, but it sure interested me. It was an idea I'd never thought of, and once presented it grabbed a hold of my imagination to the extent that it actually began to become plausible. The way he brought the characters together was logical, and I appreciate that. Also, a silly little thing, but I really enjoyed Marshall's vocabulary. It's not often you find a paperback with a decent turn of the word. I think this book was a good read, especially for a vacation or travel when you've got the time to read it straight through, because that's what you'll want to do once you buy into the plot. And then you'll do what I'm doing, looking for a way to get a head's up when Michael Marshall writes his next book.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
"The Straw Men" 's strong beginning, with keen observations on our relationships with long lost friends and relatives and good commentary on society, is left almost forgotten by the time the final page is read.
Our first protagonist's (Ward Hopkins) regrets about not fully knowing his parents is right-on and--as with the whole book--is well-written. His search for his mother and father is the best of the three concurrent stories that eventually come together in the last 100 pages.
The other story lines concerning a former cop looking for a serial killer, and (far shorter story) a girl's ordeal with her kidnapper, are fine, too, but all three tales are awkwardly combined.
When our first hero, Ward, finally discovers the truth about his parents, the parents' small circle of past friends' reactions are not what the reader expects, and those reactions are never explained. For instance: Ward, upon finding one of his mother's and father's acquaintances, says, "My parents are dead." The friend replies, "Good". Why does he have this feeling? We don't learn why. Even the double-crosses at the end make no sense.
Marshall's description of how a kidnapping takes place in front of a self-centered populace always on the run, is done very well.
In our next story, former policeman John Zandt's explanation to his (completely-miffed) female partner about how he found one of the Straw Men is totally far-fetched. He says, more or less, "a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend....told me..." We are left out of this detective work, and are asked to just take this character's word on what he has found out.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
Jove's packaging of this book is a little puzzling, seeing as this author has three other novels and a short story collection to his credit, albeit under a (very slightly) different name: Michael Marshall Smith. Check the copyright page, since the novel is copyrighted under his full name; or check the author's website (the full name, plus a .com... since Amazon doesn't allow URLs). I can understand their desire to not have the novel confused with another _The Straw Men_ released just last year by another Smith, but aside from the "debut novel" statement being a lie, it deprives many readers of the chance to check out his old work, and it means that many old fans won't know a new book has come out.
Okay, enough of that...
This novel starts a bit slowly, setting the scene and scenario, developing characters, and slowly working towards the revelations that kick the plot into motion. Like another reviewer stated, the less said about the details the better, but suffice to say, once things start to move you won't be able to put this book down.
Also, it is a very well writen novel, and there is a fair bit of social commentary there if you want to look for it. However, this book can be just as enjoyable as a page-turner, if that's what you are looking for. But be warned, it is a very, very bloody book. There is a good deal of violence, especially towards the end, and there are some graphic scenes involving children (though not of a sexual nature).
As it stands now, this is my favourite new novel of 2002, and I only hope that Michael Marshall (Smith) won't take as long to finish his next novel as he did to finish this.
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