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Who are they? What do they want? Why do they kill? Can they be stopped? You know who they are . . . if you've ever known fear. In Palmerston, Pennsylvania, two men in long coats walk calmly into a crowded fast-food restaurant--then, slowly and methodically, gun down sixty-eight people. They take time to reload. On the Promenade of Santa Monica, California, a teenage gir Who are they? What do they want? Why do they kill? Can they be stopped? You know who they are . . . if you've ever known fear. In Palmerston, Pennsylvania, two men in long coats walk calmly into a crowded fast-food restaurant--then, slowly and methodically, gun down sixty-eight people. They take time to reload. On the Promenade of Santa Monica, California, a teenage girl gives sightseeing tips to a distinguished English tourist. She won't be going home tonight. In Dyersburg, Montana, a grief-stricken son tries to make sense of the accident that killed his parents--then finds a note stuffed in his father's favorite chair. It reads, "We're not dead."Three seemingly unrelated events, these are the first signs of an unimaginable network of fear that will lead one unlikely hero to a chilling confrontation with The Straw Men. No one knows who they are--or why they kill. But they must be stopped. Michael Marshall's electrifying debut novel is an instant masterpiece of modern suspense. An epic thriller for anyone who has feared that someone is watching us.


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Who are they? What do they want? Why do they kill? Can they be stopped? You know who they are . . . if you've ever known fear. In Palmerston, Pennsylvania, two men in long coats walk calmly into a crowded fast-food restaurant--then, slowly and methodically, gun down sixty-eight people. They take time to reload. On the Promenade of Santa Monica, California, a teenage gir Who are they? What do they want? Why do they kill? Can they be stopped? You know who they are . . . if you've ever known fear. In Palmerston, Pennsylvania, two men in long coats walk calmly into a crowded fast-food restaurant--then, slowly and methodically, gun down sixty-eight people. They take time to reload. On the Promenade of Santa Monica, California, a teenage girl gives sightseeing tips to a distinguished English tourist. She won't be going home tonight. In Dyersburg, Montana, a grief-stricken son tries to make sense of the accident that killed his parents--then finds a note stuffed in his father's favorite chair. It reads, "We're not dead."Three seemingly unrelated events, these are the first signs of an unimaginable network of fear that will lead one unlikely hero to a chilling confrontation with The Straw Men. No one knows who they are--or why they kill. But they must be stopped. Michael Marshall's electrifying debut novel is an instant masterpiece of modern suspense. An epic thriller for anyone who has feared that someone is watching us.

30 review for The Straw Men

  1. 5 out of 5

    Patrick

    I don't ordinarily read thrillers, but I really enjoyed this. Marshall has an amazingly clever turn of phrase, and the book hooked me so badly that I read the whole thing in one sitting.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Stephen

    5.0 stars. This one might even make it onto my 6.0 star list. This was a great read and is teh first in a series about a "global secret society" of "serial killers" with an agenda to change the world (and kill a lot of people in the process). I thought the description of the "Straw Men" society and its "theory" of human evolution was very clever and put the book a cut above the average thriller. Highly recommended.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Kimberly

    THE STRAW MEN, by Michael Marshall is one of the most absorbing, powerful thrillers that I have ever come across! This begs the question of how three entirely separate incidents in the beginning of the novel could possibly be interconnected. Marshall weaves a complex web of mass murders, abduction, and intricate cover-ups into one all-consuming tale. Serial killers were not chilling in and of themselves. The chill was in the realization that it is possible to be human without feeling as other THE STRAW MEN, by Michael Marshall is one of the most absorbing, powerful thrillers that I have ever come across! This begs the question of how three entirely separate incidents in the beginning of the novel could possibly be interconnected. Marshall weaves a complex web of mass murders, abduction, and intricate cover-ups into one all-consuming tale. Serial killers were not chilling in and of themselves. The chill was in the realization that it is possible to be human without feeling as other humans do." We have FBI agent, Nina, and John Zandt on one case, and Ward Hopkins--accompanied by friend and CIA agent Bobby Nygard--trying to unravel the deepening mystery behind the sudden death of Ward's parents. The depths of conspiracy this novel goes through are breathtaking. "It's not monsters we're afraid of. Monsters were only a comforting fantasy. We know what our own kind is capable of. What we're frightened of is ourselves." I won't go into plot details, as this is the first book in a trilogy. Suffice to say, Marshall has created "real" people with his characters--these are personalities that could walk right off of the pages and into life. Everything they do and think remain consistent with the way we are introduced to them. One character makes the observation: "If you can live with yourself, the opinions of others can be withstood." This is, simply, a phenomenal example of incredible writing in all areas. The prose flows so naturally, and some of the comments made ring all too true. "If you looked at what our species did to its own kind and to other animals, you had to ask if we didn't deserve whatever we had coming to us, whatever auto nemesis we brought merrily into being; . . ." I have already picked up the other two novels in this trilogy, although THE STRAW MEN can certainly stand on its own. In parting, "Sometimes the truth isn't what you want to know. Sometimes the truth is best left to itself." Highest recommendation!

  4. 4 out of 5

    Bill

    “AS YOU SOW SO SHALL YOU WEEP” A well-drawn suspense/thriller with intersecting plots of deception, murder, family secrets, and conspiracy. If foreshadowing is anything, sh*t is going to get even crazier in the next installments. Written extremely well with thought out plot lines and true depth of character. Solid 4+ Stars! Highly Recommended.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jon Recluse

    A thinking person's serial killer suspense novel that blends conspiracy theory with the "Millennium" television series to potent effect. Marshall avoids the more garish trappings of the sub-genre, using subtlety, hints and insinuation rather than blood spatter and posturing to carry the story, allowing the suspense to build slowly, as the dark secret hiding in the shadows of this tale takes shape. Highly recommended.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Liz Barnsley

    Ward Hopkins returns to his parents home after they are killed in a car accident. Whilst at the house, he discovers a note from his father...and so begins a journey into his past and that of his loved ones, a dangerous journey of discovery that may not end well. Meanwhile a young girl, Sarah, has gone missing and former LA Detective John Zandt, a man fighting his own demons, begins his own journey of discovery. Is it possible that Ward holds the key to saving Sarah from her fate? This is a beauti Ward Hopkins returns to his parents home after they are killed in a car accident. Whilst at the house, he discovers a note from his father...and so begins a journey into his past and that of his loved ones, a dangerous journey of discovery that may not end well. Meanwhile a young girl, Sarah, has gone missing and former LA Detective John Zandt, a man fighting his own demons, begins his own journey of discovery. Is it possible that Ward holds the key to saving Sarah from her fate? This is a beautifully crafted story. One part leading to another to another a bit like Russian dolls - as Ward moves ever closer to learning the truth about his life, so John perhaps moves further away from himself and his own conscience....the terrible things they both face draw them together but also tear them apart. The mystery itself is well imagined - Serial Killer Thriller? Yes. And No. Or maybe. You decide. Certainly the author has created a rich mythology here - using real life events that we will all recognise he has woven an intricate tale and its extremely clever. Ward's growing incredulity at what he is discovering will mirror your own as reader and looker on of events as they unfold. The supporting cast all do their bit - but its Ward and John that will interest you. And perhaps The Upright Man.... All in all fantastic. This is probably the third time I have read this book and each time I discover something new. Mr Marshall may smile when he learns that I've only just got the point of Sarah's "safety" blanket - how many times have I read the name and it didnt sink in. You know what Im talking about...Don't you Mr Marshall? I'm not waiting. The Lonely Dead is next. Bring it on - what will I discover that I missed this time? You'll have to await my next review. Happy Reading Folks!

  7. 5 out of 5

    Bill

    I enjoyed this one quite a bit. Actually for about the first 3/4 of it, I was enjoying it a LOT. Michael Marshall Smith certainly knows how to keep a reader engaged. Here's a story with three converging storylines, each one teasing us along with the mystery of what the heck is going on. I had only heard of Michael Marshall Smith via the Pod of Horror podcast. This is a great show, by the way, and it's introduced me to several writers I'm looking forward to reading. Back to The Straw Men. This isn't I enjoyed this one quite a bit. Actually for about the first 3/4 of it, I was enjoying it a LOT. Michael Marshall Smith certainly knows how to keep a reader engaged. Here's a story with three converging storylines, each one teasing us along with the mystery of what the heck is going on. I had only heard of Michael Marshall Smith via the Pod of Horror podcast. This is a great show, by the way, and it's introduced me to several writers I'm looking forward to reading. Back to The Straw Men. This isn't really horror. It's a suspense novel with a sinister premise that has to do with a New Order which may be linked to some pretty terrible things that are happening around the world. Okay, I guess that is somewhat horrible. Anyways, like I said, I was totally enthralled through pretty much the whole thing, and this makes The Straw Men such a quick read and one you can barely stand to put down. This is one of those reads that is best reserved for the beach, and not disturbed by those petty distractions like real life, sleep, and a job. As another reviewer pointed out, the high points of this novel are the musings of life and the human condition by the characters. This is where Marshall(Smith) really shows off his talents. I'd post a few if I believed in doing that, but they're best read within the context of the story. So what happened towards the end that took me from enjoying a LOT to enjoying it quite a bit? Well, the novel fell into that cliched, shoot-em-up rescue climax, which, as a reader, really doesn't do a whole lot for me. I know the nature of closing off a story such as this has to have the ending it does; it's inevitable. I put up with it because I was so captivated by the story and his writing. This is a three-book series, but I've gone far enough with The Straw Men, and I still recommend it as a suspense/thriller. Just don't read the back cover of the book. There's a wee spoiler for the early part of the story.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Andrew King

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Seriously!!? This book was terrible!! I was looking for a good, gripping and gritty book. Stephen King's glowing recommendation labeling it a 'masterpiece' and all the 5 star reviews on here made me think I was onto just the book and was excited to read it. It started out slightly interesting but I was taken aback straight away by the cliche characters and the cheesy dialogue. Really??? The washed out ex cop who is running from his demons... Dragged back on the case of a missing girl by the ex lov Seriously!!? This book was terrible!! I was looking for a good, gripping and gritty book. Stephen King's glowing recommendation labeling it a 'masterpiece' and all the 5 star reviews on here made me think I was onto just the book and was excited to read it. It started out slightly interesting but I was taken aback straight away by the cliche characters and the cheesy dialogue. Really??? The washed out ex cop who is running from his demons... Dragged back on the case of a missing girl by the ex lover/partner. I thought I was reading a bargain bin erotic novel for a second. All these seemingly unrelated events are put forward (each of which are interesting on their own) running parallel leaving the reader to wonder how the hell such unrelatable events will collide.. The way they do is pretty stupid and doesn't really seem thought out. This Bobby character who we know nothing about except was an old work friend of the main character is prepared to put his life on the line time and time again.. For what?! They leave this trail of destruction and no one else gets involved even when they're in the right and could really use some help. By the end you're so use to the continual disappoints it's hard to care about the ridiculous shoot em up rescue which seems rushed and ridiculous. Far fetched and shallow.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Karl

    This is copy 519 of 774 signed and numbered copies signed by Michael Marshall Smith.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jaksen

    A book you can sink your teeth into... The Straw Men don't exist - or do they? If so, how are they connected to mass killings, occasional abductions and the parents of sort-of loner Ward Hopkins? And what if anything do they have to do with the abduction of a fourteen-year old girl on the West Coast? Introduced are the three MC's, Ward Hopkins, John Zandt, and Sarah Becker. Hopkins is on his way home to bury his parents; Zandt is a former homicide detective dragged out of early retirement to look A book you can sink your teeth into... The Straw Men don't exist - or do they? If so, how are they connected to mass killings, occasional abductions and the parents of sort-of loner Ward Hopkins? And what if anything do they have to do with the abduction of a fourteen-year old girl on the West Coast? Introduced are the three MC's, Ward Hopkins, John Zandt, and Sarah Becker. Hopkins is on his way home to bury his parents; Zandt is a former homicide detective dragged out of early retirement to look into the case of Sarah Becker, the abducted girl. These two men are different in background, age, personality and even geographical location. The book moves between Hopkins' POV (in first person), to Zandt's (in third), to Sarah's (also in third). But it's obvious that at some point the two men will have to meet up - and they do. But it's that good that you want to know - as much as Ward and Zandt do - what the heck is going on here! Is Sarah's abduction the work of one man, a serial killer, or is there some sort of conspiracy, sect, cult or ultra-conservative something going on in the background? Something I liked about this book: you, the reader, never see anything unless Ward, Zandt, or the lonely, abducted Sarah do. Because of that, the story has elements of a true, or classic mystery. Yet it goes beyond that - you really are inside the head of Ward, Zandt or Sarah as things unfold. (So you can sort of puzzle things out as they discover things, talk to people, or get shot at - stuff like that in a book I just eat up, hence the 'you can sink your teeth into' remark I made at the start of this review.) So who or what is/are the Straw Men? Do they really exist or are they a relic of the past? Where are they? What are they planning, if anything? Or are they just that, straw men, things/people/an organization which doesn't exist? Anyhow, loved this book, read it in two days. Mr. Marshall is an overlooked writer, IMO. His writing just flows. Dialogue, description, narration, brief moments when we get insight into Sarah, Zandt or Hopkins are wonderfully done. I intend to seek out his other books.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Shambhawi P.

    The Straw Men is a gripping story that will keep on the edge from the very first page. You will be making guesses, trying to make out conclusions and even if you get some of it right that does not reduce the thrill any. It is quite hard to write this review without spoilers, but I will try. The story begins with a shoot out in a small town in Pennsylvania where two gunmen kill sixty-eight people without even blinking an eye. We are then taken a decade later where we meet Ward, an ex CIA agent, a The Straw Men is a gripping story that will keep on the edge from the very first page. You will be making guesses, trying to make out conclusions and even if you get some of it right that does not reduce the thrill any. It is quite hard to write this review without spoilers, but I will try. The story begins with a shoot out in a small town in Pennsylvania where two gunmen kill sixty-eight people without even blinking an eye. We are then taken a decade later where we meet Ward, an ex CIA agent, attending his parents funeral in Montana. After the funeral as he visits his parents' home he finds a note hidden there that simply says "We're not dead". Trying to find out the truth he sets in motion a series of events that lead him to a wild goose chase for the truth - truth about who his parents were and who he really is. At the same time in California a sixteen year old girl is abducted, which is linked to a notorious serial killer who was absent for two years. As the book proceeds we find out how these three events are interconnected and how a mysterious group that call themselves The Straw Men fit here. This was the first book I read by Michael Marshall and I know it will not be the last. I fell in love with his characters, all of them. An ex CIA agent trying to collect his life back after everything he ever believed in is shattered. A police officer in a quest for revenge when deep inside he is in war with himself. A FBI agent who remembers the height her career was once in and is struggling to pull it back there by trying to catch the most wanted killer. A CIA agent with a fierce sense of loyalty, and humor. And a killer who is advocating his cause and justifying the killing but is just trying to piece his sense of self together again. They were all beautiful. Even the side characters and their motives were beautifully expressed. Everybody had a place in this book and everybody had a role in the story, some we may realize later than sooner. The plot was slower than in most thrillers with more details about the mindset of the characters and what is driving them forward rather than the actual story but I didn't mind it. The story was pieced together beautifully and transitions between the situations and characters were smooth. I like books that tell the story from alternating point of views and all the characters held my attention, even Sarah with her incoherent rantings. Each character's essence was captured and it was easy to distinguish who was thinking the particular paragraph I was reading - which made me like the book even more. The last few chapters were so explicitly described it made me wince. It was even hard to even imagine the atrocities described and to write it down in such detail was so horibble and yet so wonderfully in sync with the book. There are a few plot-holes but since this is a series I guess my queries will be answered in the next books. But even as a stand-alone The Straw Men will put you on the edge and make you rethink about every crime, every massacre, every natural disaster and every plague that threatened human lives and wonder if there was not any inherent motive to all of it. A well deserved 5 stats!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Aditya

    I decided to read The straw Men after reading one of Michael Marshall's later books Killer Move which happened to make a passing mention to the titular group of this book aka The Straw Men.After completing the book I am going to make a claim that might seem too astronomical to some that Marshall is as good as any other contemporary & popular thriller writers like John Grisham, David Baldacci or Lee Child.Now let me get to the review. PLOT The book is about an ex CIA agent who after the death of hi I decided to read The straw Men after reading one of Michael Marshall's later books Killer Move which happened to make a passing mention to the titular group of this book aka The Straw Men.After completing the book I am going to make a claim that might seem too astronomical to some that Marshall is as good as any other contemporary & popular thriller writers like John Grisham, David Baldacci or Lee Child.Now let me get to the review. PLOT The book is about an ex CIA agent who after the death of his parents in a car crash comes to discover that when it comes to his past nothing is as it seems.With some help from his friend Bobby he tries to piece together what he can about his past.There is a parallel plot about a FBI investigator trying to find a serial killer with the help of an ex cop who has a personal score to settle with the killer.The 2 plots quickly come together & four of them discover a conspiracy spanning decades & a secret so deadly & absurd that no one else would believe. PROS What sets apart Marshall from other writers in the genre is that he gives a fully fledged personality to each of his central characters.The back stories given to each of them helps the reader to identify with them & understand their motives.The pacing is good throughout & the atmosphere is bleak.The writer does not consider his readers as idiots (unlike many other modern authors) & everything is not laid out in form of expository dialogue.The character view often changes from 1st to 3rd depending upon the character & a reader has to be alert or he may face some difficulty at the beginning to follow the book. Straw Men at heart is a conspiracy thriller & the less you know about the plot,the greater your enjoyment will be.Conspiracy thrillers when written in a proper way can be very interesting as they usually have a huge reveal at the end or a central secret like conventional mystery books as well as a very fast pace to keep the fans of techno-thrillers or action thrillers pleased.This one has both the elements & the balance is just right to keep everyone happy. CONS The way Marshall builds up tension is one of his biggest assets & ultimately that brings the book's downfall as the ending is not as good as it could be.It leaves a lot of loose ends though the main plot is somewhat tied up.This is a trilogy so I hope one would get all the answers in the later books.The ending brings the book down a notch in my opinion because I never like those books which has a "To Be Continued" type of story line. The only place where Marshall falters is while writing action scenes,they seem a bit rough around the edges.But as this was his first book in this genre it can be overlooked as a minor fault.I have read his later books & can vouch that it ceases to be a problem for him. FINAL VERDICT This is an atmospheric & intelligent page-turner with interesting characters which surely makes it different from other similar books if not a rarity.Had it not been for a bare bones ending it would have got a perfect score.Ultimately 4/5.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Maureen DeLuca

    This was a readable book for me but nothing all that special. What I can say though, I liked it enough to pick up the second in the series and hoping that it will be even better!

  14. 4 out of 5

    HT Goodwill

    I suppose it was well written, I did finish it after all. If the author's goal was to leave a lasting impression on me, it worked. However, I found it to be profoundly disturbing, and images and ideas haunted me (not in a fun "I had a nightmare" way) for years. The quality of my life was measurably diminished because of the images this book placed in my head. Here's the one positive thing I gained from the experience of this book: I now am very discriminating about what I read. If it brings darkn I suppose it was well written, I did finish it after all. If the author's goal was to leave a lasting impression on me, it worked. However, I found it to be profoundly disturbing, and images and ideas haunted me (not in a fun "I had a nightmare" way) for years. The quality of my life was measurably diminished because of the images this book placed in my head. Here's the one positive thing I gained from the experience of this book: I now am very discriminating about what I read. If it brings darkness into my life, I put it down. Or better, just never start them. Recommendation: Read a thriller that will excite/scare you, but ultimately uplift you. This one won't.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Javi

    A very engaging thriller, which also poses its fair share of phylosophical questions regarding human nature. It's got two distinctive story lines which apparently have nothing to do with each other until they merge at the end; each sub-plot carries a well defined set of characters and the pacing is quite even, keeping you intrigued all throughout the book, and it rewards you with a massive twist that is the basis for the rest of the books of the series, although this one has a conclusion. The st A very engaging thriller, which also poses its fair share of phylosophical questions regarding human nature. It's got two distinctive story lines which apparently have nothing to do with each other until they merge at the end; each sub-plot carries a well defined set of characters and the pacing is quite even, keeping you intrigued all throughout the book, and it rewards you with a massive twist that is the basis for the rest of the books of the series, although this one has a conclusion. The story turns out to be very disturbing, more and more as it progresses, and will make your skin crawl. Highly recommended to all thriller fans out there.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Plum-crazy

    On the whole a good & engrossing thriller that moves along at a fair pace with the tension building up nicely. While the story had me gripped for the most part it didn't hold me quite the same towards the end. It seemed a bit rushed somehow & I felt there were some loose ends that could have done with a bit more of an explaination. On the whole a good & engrossing thriller that moves along at a fair pace with the tension building up nicely. While the story had me gripped for the most part it didn't hold me quite the same towards the end. It seemed a bit rushed somehow & I felt there were some loose ends that could have done with a bit more of an explaination.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Kiwi Begs2Differ ✎

    It seemed like a decent thriller until (view spoiler)[ the weird conspiracy theory (hide spoiler)] which didn’t work for me. Not impressed with this one. It seemed like a decent thriller until (view spoiler)[ the weird conspiracy theory (hide spoiler)] which didn’t work for me. Not impressed with this one.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Vicky

    Really liked it. Good twist at the end.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Rob Twinem

    A brilliant dark story from an astounding author 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” F A brilliant dark story from an astounding author 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!!  

  20. 4 out of 5

    Laura Lam

    Background/Synopsis: Michael Marshall writes horror under this name, but is also known for his science fiction, which he writes under Michael Marshall Smith. Perhaps he was inspired by Iain (M.) Banks, who likewise changes names depending on the genre. The Strawmen is a brutal, well-written horror story about a mysterious group of mass murderers called The Straw Men and a lone serial killer to may be tied to them, who calls himself the Upright Man. The Upright Man kidnaps a young, 16-year-old girl Background/Synopsis: Michael Marshall writes horror under this name, but is also known for his science fiction, which he writes under Michael Marshall Smith. Perhaps he was inspired by Iain (M.) Banks, who likewise changes names depending on the genre. The Strawmen is a brutal, well-written horror story about a mysterious group of mass murderers called The Straw Men and a lone serial killer to may be tied to them, who calls himself the Upright Man. The Upright Man kidnaps a young, 16-year-old girl from a solidly middle-class family, Sarah Becker. John Zandt, a former policeman whose own daughter was taken by the Upright Man, is drawn reluctantly along back into the case with his former partner, Nina. Meanwhile, Ward Hopkins's parents die in a car crash but leave behind a message that he must investigate. Both Hopkins and Zandt end up working together to try and solve the mystery before Sarah Becker is murdered. Strengths: Michael Marshall is a clever writer. His prose is tight and he makes use of metaphoric language without going overboard. In just a few sentences, he can make the reader connect and understand a character, so that if that character dies later on, you mourn them. Weaknesses: Michael Marshall falls into the trap of usually writing the same protagonist, which is probably heavily influenced on himself. His protagonists are almost always drinkers, smokers, or drug users that have just kicked the habit and are trying to get their life back around. They have always recently undergone a terrible tragedy and if they had a relationship, it's fallen apart. The characters are witty and sardonic and have a way of getting themselves into trouble. He writes this character well, and in The Straw Men he does portray Nina and Sarah Becker quite well. Another weakness is that the book starts extremely strongly, but near the end it wanes a bit in my opinion. Things become a bit too large and link into a huge conspiracy. It was interesting, but it took away from the serial killer, and when he meets the other characters, he does not come across anywhere near as terrifying as he did in the opening scenes with Sarah Becker. Musings: A lot of serial killer novels are very serious and horrific all the way through. Occasional bits of humour (mostly dark humour, understandably) work very well in this novel. Also, characters at several points throughout the novel make fun of other horror novels like Thomas Harris, even though a blurb on the cover proclaims that Marshall is in the "Thomas Harris category." The format of the novel also worked well. Ward Hopkin's viewpoint is in first person, John Zandt's is as well if I remember correctly, which can be a bit confusing at times. Sarah Becker and Nina are in third person, as are the occasional viewpoints from the Upright Man's perspective. I really identified with Sarah Becker, as she reminded me quite a bit of myself and my friends at that age. It was terrifying, to think that so easily I could have had something so terrible happen to me, if my luck hadn't quite held out. Recommendation: I recommend the book to any lover of horror, and definitely not to anyone squeamish.

  21. 5 out of 5

    J

    MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS. I DON"T "HIDE" MY REVIEWS, NOR PROMOTE THEM BY ANY FEED. I picked up this book on the strength of of the cover endorsement blurb by Stephen King, who called it "a masterpiece." I was fooled. The book is interesting -- for writing and plot. But I realized, at book's end, that the author had failed to answer a key question. That made me devalue the whole story. Backtracking, "Straw Men"'s about a grown only child who lives away from his parents, and isn't emotionally close to th MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS. I DON"T "HIDE" MY REVIEWS, NOR PROMOTE THEM BY ANY FEED. I picked up this book on the strength of of the cover endorsement blurb by Stephen King, who called it "a masterpiece." I was fooled. The book is interesting -- for writing and plot. But I realized, at book's end, that the author had failed to answer a key question. That made me devalue the whole story. Backtracking, "Straw Men"'s about a grown only child who lives away from his parents, and isn't emotionally close to them, either. He goes home to deal with their accidental death -- which turns out to be NOT SO. Long story short, there's an elaborate conspiracy to alter society, spanning decades, in which Main Character and his parents have become embroiled. Main Character helps foil it. Thematically, I guess the book is about: 1) not knowing thoroughly the people one is close to by family tie; 2) confronting oneself. Main's "self" confrontation is literal -- in a climax scene, he has to kill his identical twin, who's joined up with the evil forces. Main did not even know he has a twin until well into the story. Also, he learns he was adopted. But, back to the key unanswered question ... Mitchell has an elaborate back story, in which Main's parents as young adults had access to both toddler twin orphans, but chose to adopt only Main, and also deliberately chose to abandon Anti-Main (in some urban setting with, as I recall, a note or something attached to his clothing to denote he needed a home.) Why, why, why? I feel as if the author left me holding a bag of questions. That's an unsatisfying feeling. I conclude the author loved all the details of his plot (including the back story) more than he loved his reader. (Read this months ago. My memory has faded. Review may contain inaccuracies.)

  22. 5 out of 5

    Michelle (meshe)

    Synopsis: This book brings two different stories that seem to be totally unrelated, but we know that they are going to converge at some point. Ward Hopkins returns home to Montana after his parents die in a car crash to find a note hidden in his dad's chair that reads "We're not dead". His buddy Bobby Nygard, a CIA agent helps him unravel his history and uncover a group called "The Straw Men". John Zandt, a former police detective is looking for "The Upright Man" who has abducted 5 teenage girls Synopsis: This book brings two different stories that seem to be totally unrelated, but we know that they are going to converge at some point. Ward Hopkins returns home to Montana after his parents die in a car crash to find a note hidden in his dad's chair that reads "We're not dead". His buddy Bobby Nygard, a CIA agent helps him unravel his history and uncover a group called "The Straw Men". John Zandt, a former police detective is looking for "The Upright Man" who has abducted 5 teenage girls (the 4th being his daughter). His former lover, FBI agent Nina Baynam thinks he may be onto something, and is working outside the agency with him. As these two stories are told we also discover a tall blonde man who turns up at the sites of seemingly senseless massacres around the world. How do these all come together. It was a little slow to get into this book, and I didn't envision how these stories could come together. There were hints and the way the author brought them together was exciting and made for a good thriller. I didn't realize that this was the first in a series, and will most definitely be putting the next one on my hold list at the library. If you like sick shit and serial killers, this book will be right up your alley!

  23. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    I did come across this novel in my September holiday and remembered reading this a month before and for the life of me could not remember the story. So the book did not leave me with a large impression other than it was readable and some decent time spend. The premise that there is a place in this world for a general public and a place for the elite that needs to be protected with all costs. A nice idea but nothing really spectacular stuff. Readable but nothing special.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Baba

    A well thought out very dark conspiracy thriller about a group looking to undermine modern civilisation itself! It's also peppered some brilliant sub-plots. Such strong conspiracy thriller work from this multi-genre writer. 8 uot of 12. A well thought out very dark conspiracy thriller about a group looking to undermine modern civilisation itself! It's also peppered some brilliant sub-plots. Such strong conspiracy thriller work from this multi-genre writer. 8 uot of 12.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Salem Reid

    The Straw Men was a book I picked up at the laundromat, sitting on a brown shelf above the counters with all the old mass market paperbacks just waiting to be read by fifty year old women. Not me, though. I picked this one rather than the others not only because it had the most goose-bump worthy cover, but also because Stephen King gave it a raving review and I trust his judgement entirely. I mean, if Stephen King says 'Brilliant, stunning, amazing' on a cover of someone's book... you read it. Y The Straw Men was a book I picked up at the laundromat, sitting on a brown shelf above the counters with all the old mass market paperbacks just waiting to be read by fifty year old women. Not me, though. I picked this one rather than the others not only because it had the most goose-bump worthy cover, but also because Stephen King gave it a raving review and I trust his judgement entirely. I mean, if Stephen King says 'Brilliant, stunning, amazing' on a cover of someone's book... you read it. You read the blurb and think, "Wow, I know exactly where this going." No you do NOT. Let me tell you, the beginning is entirely different than how you are expecting this book to end. It is brilliantly done, brilliantly written with some of the most funny, lovable and hate-able characters. I read the first chapter, then decided to read almost a hundred pages in one or two hours waiting for my laundry. Best decision I ever made. I, right now in this moment, recommend you to pick this up immediately. Does it sound interesting? Read it. The beginning was crafted expertly. The writing style was fluid, and it didn't take long to get used to the narration and tone of the story. You think, a few hundred pages in, that you know exactly what's going on and what's going to happen. No matter how smart you are, it's going to hit you right near the very end. I sat outside to finish the last three hundred pages, out in the dark at 9PM and during the last few hundred I turned to my uncle who sat across from me at the deck table and my mouth dropped. He said, "What?" And I replied. "Oh my god. I know what they're doing. Holy shit." This book is INCREDIBLE. I don't think I'll be reading the second book until I re-read the first again, because you really need to re-read the end again to fully grasp what rocked my brain so hard. Also: My favorite quote because I'm a Hamilton dork, made me laugh so hard. There's a scene in which a character relating to the main character's parents is trying to roll a blunt but can't, and he says something about Thomas Jefferson and it had me CRYING. I unfortunately can't find it, but when you do please give a shout out and YOU'RE WELCOME. It was so funny. God, that's when I knew he was a good writer. Anyway. HIGHLY RECOMMEND. And it also proved that you don't have to watch trends and youtube videos of new debuts to find a good book. Go to a second hand shop and pick up some mass paperbacks.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Indyjen

    Wow Wow, wow, wow. This was fantastic. I raced through this book and the ending was awesome, but now I’m off to find the next book in the series.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    I won this book in a contest, I think. And it had a front cover blurb from the master of horror himself, Stephen King, so I was just a bit excited to read this. Now that I have read this, I'm feeling a bit more.... meh. First, let's address the introduction.... which the author states contains spoilers and to not read until after you've read the book. That's no longer an introduction, it's more of an afterword, if you will. Anyways, (after reading the book first) I circled back around to the intro I won this book in a contest, I think. And it had a front cover blurb from the master of horror himself, Stephen King, so I was just a bit excited to read this. Now that I have read this, I'm feeling a bit more.... meh. First, let's address the introduction.... which the author states contains spoilers and to not read until after you've read the book. That's no longer an introduction, it's more of an afterword, if you will. Anyways, (after reading the book first) I circled back around to the introduction. Either someone typing out the manuscript can't spell worth anything, but misspelled Aileen Wuornos' name several times and Jeffrey Dahmer while they were at it. The author then went on to explain how Aileen Wuornos was not a serial killer because she wasn't sexually motivated like male serial killers are. I feel fairly confident in reporting that I have had my share of education on Ms. Wuornos' case as part of my graduate school / social work experience and let's just agree to disagree. But onwards to the novel itself. It involves a man, Ward, who finds out that his parents are dead in a freak accident and travels to Montana to close out their estate. There, a number of creepy things start happening and he enlists the help of his good friend Bobby to help him out. Simultaneously as this is going on, there is a serial killer on the loose in Los Angeles and a detective and FBI agent are on the track of the killer hoping to catch him before he strikes again. This would be an interesting story if we stopped right there and went on with things in a more or less logical fashion. Instead, the story takes a left turn into weirdville and all of a sudden there are conspiracy theories, people who kill other people for telling secrets and a mysterious wealthy HOA that can only be accessed by driving across grass until you get to a new road (I swear I did not make this up). There were parts where I did not know what was going on or understand why because the author went off on a tangential bent and left some of us behind. I was going to give it three stars, but after the somewhat arrogant and error-filled Introduction, i think that 2 stars is more appropriate.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Sam Whitehouse

    This is it. This is how you write a thriller. I've read a lot of thrillers and it's pretty rare to find authors who can deliver on plot, action, pace and writing (Stephen King, Lee Child are two of only a handful), but Michael Marshall delivers all that and more in this first installment in the Straw Men trilogy. This is a multi-layered novel with a rich, disturbing mythology that makes you wonder if it all isn't true. Right from the start, Marshall builds a high-tension atmosphere. His writing This is it. This is how you write a thriller. I've read a lot of thrillers and it's pretty rare to find authors who can deliver on plot, action, pace and writing (Stephen King, Lee Child are two of only a handful), but Michael Marshall delivers all that and more in this first installment in the Straw Men trilogy. This is a multi-layered novel with a rich, disturbing mythology that makes you wonder if it all isn't true. Right from the start, Marshall builds a high-tension atmosphere. His writing is reminiscent of Stephen King and the opening scene is one of the most shocking openings I've ever read. Like King, Marshall isn't afraid to write about controversial subjects, and his plot revolves around a militia-type group who think of themselves as a superior race. Add to that a good old murder/kidnapping plot line and you've got a fast-paced, gripping thriller that is at no point boring and at no point does the pace let up. The characters are well developed, the climax is exactly as it should be: gripping and explosive. And the ending left me desperate for the next installment, which is always a good sign. Overall, this is one of the best thrillers I've ever read. Highly, highly recommended.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Patricia

    I really like a book that surprises me. Too many of them are predictable. While reading the first couple of chapters, I was interested but waiting. Then when I got to about chapter 3, it was BAM! My mouth dropped open. I loved it. Never expected the plot twist. Man I love that in a book and an author. If this book proves to be as excellent as it's beginning, it will be one of the best I have read in a while. This was a book that kept me guessing, even in the second to last chapter I was still bei I really like a book that surprises me. Too many of them are predictable. While reading the first couple of chapters, I was interested but waiting. Then when I got to about chapter 3, it was BAM! My mouth dropped open. I loved it. Never expected the plot twist. Man I love that in a book and an author. If this book proves to be as excellent as it's beginning, it will be one of the best I have read in a while. This was a book that kept me guessing, even in the second to last chapter I was still being surprised. Made me think about good and evil, and shades of both. Why is it that evil always seem so sure that what they are doing is the right thing? Good guys, or those who are trying, always seem to be questioning, is this right or wrong? Just as there is a close line between Love and Hate, so is the border between Good and Evil. Excellent book, but I think one that does better read in one or two sittings. I split it up and was reading it while reading about 5 other books. I would have enjoyed it much more had I given it the undivided attention it deserved.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Aldean

    Well, I haven't done that for a while: picked up a book and devoured it with every spare waking moment over little more than two days. I have been pushing this book around for more than half a decade, and have nearly purged it from the collection more than once in that time, but it was very much worth the wait. A well-paced page turner, this, with really nothing in the way of extraneous moving parts. The best feature to my mind, aside from the rather compelling main plot points, was the lengthy m Well, I haven't done that for a while: picked up a book and devoured it with every spare waking moment over little more than two days. I have been pushing this book around for more than half a decade, and have nearly purged it from the collection more than once in that time, but it was very much worth the wait. A well-paced page turner, this, with really nothing in the way of extraneous moving parts. The best feature to my mind, aside from the rather compelling main plot points, was the lengthy musings that Marshall puts in the internal monologues of his various characters: long riffs on the nature of society that feel neither forced nor pretentious, which I take to be an achievement of some merit. Very dark, but excellently delivered, and I am eagerly looking forward to ripping through The Upright Man at the same breathless pace.

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