The Straw Men and The Upright Man

After finishing the disappointing Breed, I did something I rarely do after being let down by an unknown (to me) author.I took a chance on another unknown.

Usually, I go back to the well of familiar authors. You know, play it safe before diving back into the unknown again.

But when I went to my box ‘o new books (a box of books accumulated from used book stores, the Wheaton library and yard sales not yet shelved), I picked up The Straw Men by Michael Marshall Smith (writing as Michael Marshall) and decided that would be my next read. I had heard a lot about Smith, The Straw Men in particular. And it was nothing but good. So, what the hell. Worst case scenario would be I would have a crappy read that day on the way to and from work.

Fortunately, Men did not disappoint. At all. It was so good, as soon as I finished it, the very day no less, I went to Borders & Noble to pick up its sequel, The Upright Man.

The Straw Men - Michael Marshall The Upright Man - Michael Marshall

The Straw Men has a fantastic opening, two men pop into a crowded McDonald’s and kill just about every customer in the joint. Then, it immediately moves onto three (apparently) different side stories — a kidnapped girl, a man who is unwillingly pulled into the missing girl’s investigation and another man who finds out after burying his parents they may not really be dead. And the best part is Smith keeps every storyline separate, until he decides to start pulling them all together. Which he does very smoothly and very believably.

The “men” of the title play a minor role to the bigger picture (the book ends up centering around “The Upright Man,” which is the title of its sequel), but they are interesting nonetheless. To tell you their history and the things they do, and even the upright man’s involvement with them, would be to spoil it for you, as the more you know about the story — and its characters — the more some of the enjoyment is taken out. I went in knowing nothing more than its a good book, and you should know the same.

The Upright Man, the sequel to The Straw Men, is just as good as the first. In The Straw Men, you learn the identity of The Upright Man. In The Upright Man, he is hunted by many of the characters from the first novel. And what a trip he leads them on. My. My.

However, one thing I wish Smith had done — at least in The Straw Men — is developed The Straw Men’s past some more. The very little you get to know from this group is incredibly intriguing, but their story seems to just peeter out. It’s almost as if Smith had a broad idea of The Straw Men going in, but got a bit about The Upright Man, and rolled with him, instead. It doesn’t make the book less enjoyable, by any means. It’s simply an avenue I wish had been traveled more before the road split.

All in all, though, two very quick and enjoyable reads. There’s a third in the series, Blood of Angels, that brings the players back together, but I haven’t picked it up just yet. I’m hitting a couple bookstores this weekend, so we’ll see.