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Michael Marshall Smith, as Michael Marshall
The Intruders
Wm Morrow / Harper Collins
US Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-0-061-43440-2
Publication Date: 08-18-2007
392 Pages; $24.95

Date Reviewed: 05-06-2014
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2014

Index Mystery, Horror General Fiction, Science Fiction  

Identity need not be a tricky notion. We open our eyes and we are who we are. We presume the same to be true of those around us, even those who mean us harm. It's simply life as we live it.

Michael Marshall (Smith) manages to rather neatly gut us to the core with 'The Intruders,' a smart surrealistic novel, which quite methodically pulls out the pins that glue us to both ourselves and this world. It's an unlikely combination of philosophy and terror, or more accurately, philosophy pushed to the point of terror in modern American settings. Crisp and clean, it cuts deep, like a razor. You don't even know you've been sliced until it is too late.

Marshall writes in an unusual style, combining first and third person perspectives to create a very tight and unusually deep sense of mystery and tension. A man claiming to be from the FBI pushes his way into a house and murders a scientist's wife and son. Before we know why, we meet Jack Whalen, an ex-cop who published a book of photography and has since left the life of law. An old friend comes to him to ask for some help. His wife goes out of town for a business trip. It's not long before his world no longer adds up.

Marshall has a way with his own brand of surreal mystery, and he's at the top of his game in 'The Intruders.' With deft, sure strokes, he creates characters we really like, even if they're quite on the terrorizing side of life. Jack Whalen, who tells the bulk of the story, is a likable combination of cop and creative type, balancing the two quite nicely. He's able to ask the right questions, and do some dirty work, but he has the imagination required to deal with what is waiting for him in this novel. Madison, a nine-year-old girl, proves to be a complex, intense and always fascinating character. No matter who you are with in 'The Intruders,' the pages are pleasurable to read and difficult to turn fast enough.

Marshall's prose is polished and stripped down to the wire. He can craft a scene with intensity and personality without the reader ever actually noticing what's happening; we're just there. He does, however, have a very unique method of combining first-person and third-person segments that is seamless and provides for a rather different feel from almost any other writer out there. Jack Whalen is our first-person visceral perspective on the story, while Madison and other characters offer a sort of framing view that keeps the novel from feeling claustrophobic.

The upshot of this prose style mix is to give Marshall a variety of ways to increase the tension and play with the plotting. He's able to evoke a sense of deep unease that is both frightening, almost Lovecraftian, but also suspenseful in the manner of gritty thriller. And there is grit to be found here, plenty of it, in service of a core concept that is unsettling and thought provoking. 'The Intruders' will definitely make you think — and think about thinking, even as you check the lock and windows.

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