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Michael Marshall [Michael Marshall Smith]
Killer Move
Harper / HarperCollins
US Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-0-061-43443-3
Publication Date: 06-28-2011
350 Pages; $24.95
Date Reviewed:11-05-2012
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2012

Index Mystery, General Fiction, Science Fiction, Horror  

We seek permanence, stability and sameness. We want each day to be like the next, following the predictable routines that make us feel secure and protected. It's a very human trait, an intimately human desire, this clutching to the known. For most of us, most of the time, this is simply life as we live it, and it's almost beneath our level of perception. Until, of course, it comes undone.

In Michael Marshall's 'Killer Move,' the undoing of Bill Moore's life is announced by a single word on a business card: MODIFIED. Even before the announcement, things have begun cropping up, little incidents that by themselves, don't amount to much. Bill works at a real estate office, and the environment is intense. So he may not have remembered making sending an email, or making a phone call. And the upshot of these unremembered actions has been on the whole, good. But soon things tilt the other direction. Bill Moore's life goes from complicated to endangered without any clear crossing of boundaries.

Michael Marshall infuses his latest novel of suburban terror with a perfect level of paranoia and angst, combining domestic details with urban violence in a manner that seems both inevitable and surreal. Moore is a tense guy, and maybe not the nicest person you'll ever meet. His wife, Stephanie, is on the high-maintenance side of the equation, but all in all they are good people. Marshall writes them with assurance and flair, drawing us into their lives as he simultaneously pulls them apart. John Hunter, introduced in a creepy prologue, was once a nice guy, but no longer has reason to be one. Marshall's cast is full, well-rounded and realistic enough to be engaging in spite of faults that readers may share to one degree or another.

The plot is simple, but ultimately mysterious. Somebody is slowly and systematically destroying Bill Moore's life, and as they do, they leave those calling cards with one ominous word; MODIFIED. In this word, Marshall captures the essence of terrifies us most; change, which predictably usually ends up being for the worse. The ways in which Marshall undoes his protagonist's life are ingenious and terrifying even as they are grounded in everyday reality. Along the way, Marshall offers readers a detailed vision of a very personal American apocalypse.

Marshall's prose partakes something of the atmosphere of the novel; it's slick, smart and engaging, full of wonderful sentences that don't call attention to themselves. This is a novel that one is best advised to pick up early on a weekend day when you have nothing to do. You'll immerse yourself in the story and be lost within until it plays out, wanting to know not just the who, but the how and why as well. Marshall manages to create all kinds of tension on every level, which he deftly maintains and even notches up as the book moves towards a gripping finale.

'Killer Move' is a perfect example of what happens when you create a tense thriller plotline though an everyday life. Things go well without our knowledge and we are thankful for our foresight. But when our lives, our worlds go bad, our ignorance takes center stage, while the unseen forces that surround us plot our demise. Bill Moore's bad day, as it becomes an endless nightmare, gives us a means of seeing our own lives unravel. Seeing these inner struggles externalized as we read 'Killer Move' is the sort of unsettling meditation on life that is best experienced on the page as opposed to in person. Marshall knows how to, with great precision, shine a light on the darkness in our hearts.

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