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The Intruders
Michael Marshall
William Morrow, 392 pages

The Intruders
Michael Marshall
Michael Marshall aka Michael Marshall Smith was born in Cheshire. After spending time in the US, South Africa and Australia, he now lives in London. His first novel, Only Forward, won the BFA in 1995. Spares has been optioned by DreamWorks SKG.

Michael Marshall Smith Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Spares

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Nathan Brazil


"He shook his head, as if either I should know already or he just couldn't say. 'And since then I can't get her out of my head. I have that dream every couple of weeks, sometimes more. Each time the door gets a little wider, before I wake up. And I know that if it's ever wide enough for me to see her face, then I won't wake up.'"
Jack and Amy Whalen, a former policeman turned writer, and his wife who works in advertising, are living the quiet life tucked away in small town America. Until Gary Fisher, an old high school friend of Jack's, turns up trying to interest him in an ongoing police case concerning the horrific murder of Gina Anderson and her teenage son. Gina's husband is suspect number one, and currently on the run. Fisher, a corporate lawyer whose firm dealt with Anderson, believes that his old school friend can help him discover what really happened. Jack Whalen doesn't want to know, and sends Fisher away. Then Jack's wife vanishes on a business trip, only to turn up at home, later than expected, as if it was all part of the plan. Fisher tries his luck again, this time presenting Jack with circumstantial evidence which suggests Amy might, in some way, have a connection to the Anderson murders. At this point Jack agrees to take a look, initially with the intention of proving that his wife is in the clear. Running parallel with this is the story of nine-year-old Madison, a girl who goes missing, possibly abducted, while walking on a deserted beach. Madison is suffering from odd blackouts, during which she cannot remember her actions. Inside her head she senses another presence, and it is this entity, an older adult mind, which directs her relentlessly toward an unknown destination. Meanwhile, a stone killer named Shepherd is in pursuit of Madison, directed by a secret cabal; the Intruders.

The Intruders is a really ghostly thriller, with a seasoning of science-fiction providing an edge. All of the major characters are deep and well drawn, using a style of writing that is both cinematic and wonderfully readable. Unusually, the author mixes first person narrative with third person exposition, but pulls off the balancing trick with aplomb. Almost every major character in the novel is touched by sadness or tragedy, and the portrayal of their pain has an easy believability. Michael Marshall also has a way with homespun philosophy, including a passage which explains how the worst crime committed by those who die, is that they leave echoes of themselves behind. Echoes which those who loved them have to deal with until their own time comes.

As the story progresses, all roads lead to Seattle, where tendrils of an ancient evil are wrapping tightly around little Madison. Jack Whalen is manipulated by fate and circumstance to a point where he has no choice but to seek the truth, if he is to redeem his wife. Marshall gradually ramps up the tension, until the characters lives collide in a sequence that could make a truly impressive movie, and does make an above average novel. The portrayal of Madison, in particular, is on a par with the unnerving depiction of Fenny Bate, from Peter Straub's seminal thriller, Ghost Story.

There were a half handful of negatives. Without giving away anything vital, when the reason for the Anderson murders becomes apparent I found myself wondering why there had not been a chapter, earlier on in the book, detailing Bill Anderson's intriguing activities. Similarly, the role of Shepherd is often murkier and more confusing to the reader than it needs to be. Finally, the conclusion, although satisfying, felt slightly fudged, suggesting that Marshall might just have a sequel planned. I do hope this is the case, as his world is one that I would be keen to explore again, and in greater depth. In particular, the prematurely terminated work of Bill Anderson into the more esoteric properties of sound, Amy Whalen's past, present and future, and the centuries spanning machinations of the Nine. Until then, I can recommend The Intruders to anyone who enjoys tautly written, flowing thrillers, minus the gore factor but imbued with just enough spookiness to require a night light.

Copyright © 2007 Nathan Brazil

Nathan Brazil
If Nathan Brazil were dyslexic, he'd be the dog of the Well world. In reality, he's an English bloke who lives on an island, reading, writing and throwing chips to the seagulls. Drop by his web site at

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