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© 2002 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
Editor:  Ernest Lilley
Associate Editor: Sharon Archer


Aug02 Contents
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Editorial License
US Books
UK Books
Can Books

CanVention 22 and the Aurora Awards
If It's Tuesday, this must be TOR

Feature Interview:
Ken Macleod

Feature Review: Cosmonaut Keep by Ken Macleod

BBook Reviews
The Alchemists Door
by Lisa Goldstein
Alternate Generals II
ed by Harry Turtledove
Argonaut by Stanley Schmidt
Fire Logic by Laurie J. Marks
The Iron Grail by John Woodstock
The Sacred Pool by L. Warren Douglas
The Sky So Big And Black by John Barnes
Spaceland by Rudy Rucker
Straw Men by
Michael Marshall Smith
Sisters of the Raven by Barbara Hambly
To Trade The Stars by Julie E. Czerneda
The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror
, Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling
Graphic Novel:
Murder Mysteries. Original short story and radio play by Neil Gaiman. Graphic story script and art by P. Craig Russell
Zine: The Journal of Pulse Pounding Narratives

Austin Powers: GoldMember

Metropolis (2002) Restoration
& Metropolis Essay
PowerPuff Girls
Reign of Fire

The Straw Men by Michael Marshall Smith
; (UK: August 2002)
Review by John Berlyne

Hardcover - ISBN: 02256010 List Price:  £10.00
Purchase this book at: Amazon UK

I'm struggling in this review to avoid the old clichés of "unputdownable" and "tour de force" because this long awaited new novel from one of the UK's best exports is simply one of the best things I've read in ages.. 

Michael Marshall Smith has amassed a fiercely loyal readership over the last ten years with his impressive short story output and award winning novels.  His work has been optioned for film, published in anthologies, collections and in impressive limited volumes and has even been the subject of academic thesis. This is a writer on a sharp upward trajectory and with The Straw Men he looks set only to steepen the angle and quicken the pace of his success.  

The opening of The Straw Men takes place in a MacDonald's in Palmerston, a small backwoods town somewhere in Pennsylvania. Folks are sat quietly munching on their sandwiches, salesmen on their lunch breaks, tourists just passing through. This scene of quiet if not hugely interesting tranquility is shattered by the intrusion of two gunmen who enter the restaurant and begin firing indiscriminately.

Ten years on and Ward Hopkins attends the funeral of his parents, both killed in a car crash. The event naturally has him full of regret. He should have visited more often, made an effort to be closer, returned his mother's phone call last week. He did none of these things, and now it's too late. He sits with his parent's lawyer and, still stunned by the suddenness of it all, signs forms and attempts to take in these changes to his circumstances. His life has turned on a sixpence, but exactly to what extent, Ward has yet to discover.

In California, a teenage girl is abducted, the latest in a series of such disappearances. Victims have been found dead; their hair hacked off and returned to their parents as part of a grisly trophy gifted to them by "The Upright Man". Only one cop, John Zandt, has come close to finding this killer and he was punished royally, his own daughter joining the ranks of the victims. Now Zandt, having left the force and retreated into a world of grief is tracked down by a former colleague and offered the chance, in an unofficial capacity, to rejoin the investigation.

Ward, meanwhile, is discovering that everything he thought he knew about his parents was lie. Indeed, the conspiracy he begins to uncover shows that they weren't his parents at all, and their deaths were certainly no accident. The Straw Men were involved, and Ward is about to find out how powerful and dangerous they are.

It is rare that I read a story that really freaks me out, but The Straw Men is so chilling and relentless that it may well keep you up all night. This is one of those books that you experience rather than read. The overall tone revels in Smith's glorious cynicism, the breathless pace of the plot being infused with the author's wry and dry wit. Smith has a talent for articulating our most deep-seated fears and insecurities, not those that come under the heading of Grand Themes but rather the little things - our fear of the dark, our feelings that no matter how important we think we may be, how big our egos, the truth is that we're powerless small ants and that the boot of fate could come down on us at any time. Indeed behind this novel lies a commentary on the nature of truth itself. Late in the book, Zandt says, "Some people put too high a premium on truth, Ward. Sometimes the truth isn't what you want to know. Sometimes the truth is best left to itself."  The Straw Men is a warning to us all that ignorance is bliss.

The Straw Men will doubtless be optioned for film and if we don't see it on our screens before too long, there is simply no justice in the world! With this novel, Smith shows he is up there with Thomas Harris and Stephen King.

Very highly recommended.


John Berlyne is our regular man in London. He'll be off acting in The Marriage of Figaro at The New Victoria Theatre, Newcastle-Under-Lyme from August 2nd to August 24th and at The Stephen Jospeh Theatre, Scarborough from 10th to 28th September. Anyone approaching John after the show in the bar stating that they came to see the show specifically due to this flagrent plug will be bought a drink by our erstwhile actor/correspondent!