The Straw Men
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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
Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.Read more ›
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.
Most recent customer reviews
It was suspenseful enough to make me keep turning the pages.
Not so bad a book however like many other reviewers were saying there were some things that weren't really... Read more
The book is a smooth read. Somewhat predictable but good character development and a ending that welcomes a sequel that has just been released. Read morePublished on July 17 2004 by C. connolly
At this point I don't think I need to go over what the book is about, the other reviews do that quite well. Read morePublished on May 14 2004 by sign-in-stranger
THE STRAW MEN plays out like a dream-team collaboration by Stephen King (who hailed the book a masterpiece), Dean Koontz, Thomas Harris, and Michael Slade. Read morePublished on April 20 2004 by Scott Bradley
I see there's a new paperback out, featuring Ward Hopkins, which I assume is a sequel. Due out 3/30/04. The Upright Man, Michael Marshall. I can't wait to get my hands on it!Published on March 23 2004 by cakhuxel
Excellent read. The Straw Men has it all. Intriguing main characters, compelling plot, and mind-blowing plot twists. I have no idea why others hated it. Read morePublished on Dec 16 2003 by M. H. Mosher
Michael Marshall is the thinking man's James Patterson. It's a shame more people haven't heard of him or more importantly, his book, The Straw Men, which is really more like two... Read morePublished on Dec 5 2003 by PC Mountain
Like many other readers I tried to believe that Stephen King Blurb about how scary as $%#% this book was. This was the absolute worst book that I have ever read! Read morePublished on Oct. 23 2003 by Lameka Greenlee
It's not often these days that a book can genuinely frighten a voracious and jaded reader like yours truly, but this book gave me the heebie-jeebies. Read morePublished on Oct. 2 2003 by Roy W. M. Sweeting