Michael Marshall (michaelmarshallsmith.com)
Michael Marshall is something of a cult writer. His first three novels, as well as the vast majority of his short stories, were published under the name Michael Marshall Smith and were mainly classified as science fiction (the novels) and horror (the stories). In 2002 he dropped the “Smith” and published his first piece of “crime fiction” in the form of The Straw Men.
Nine years later, “Marshall” has produced six novels (of which Killer Move is the latest), while “Smith” continues to produce a steady stream of short stories (you’ll go a long way before you’ll find a more disturbing short story than “More Tomorrow”, but that’s another discussion for another day).
Killer Move tells the story of Bill Moore, a Florida-based realtor who has an almost-perfect life: a great job, good standing in his community, a beautiful home in an exclusive gated community, and a perfect marriage to a woman he loves. If there is one blot on this idyllic life, it is that he is currently six and a half years into his five-year plan with no chance of achieving his goals under the current status quo. Moore is a techno-geek: he starts his day by reading positivity blogs, updates his Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter and whatever other social networks he happens upon. He’s all about the “Bill Moore brand”, the image of himself that he has built up as the way he wants to be viewed by other people. In short, he’s a bit of an asshole, but a harmless one who most people actually seem to like.
When a small black card with the single word MODIFIED inscribed upon it appears on his desk – and its twin appears later at his house – he pays it very little attention. But then things start happening, things that affect his brand, and make him slightly uneasy: a book of fetish photography arrives from Amazon; an off-colour joke is sent from his email account to a group of friends and acquaintances. Things really take a turn for the worst when his wife discovers on his laptop a set of photographs of his female colleague – naked – taken with a telephoto lens. It doesn’t take long for things to turn violent, and Bill finds himself in the middle of a situation over which he has no control, and which he does not understand.
As with all of Marshall’s crime novels, there is a parallel storyline: the story of John Hunter, a man just released from prison after serving sixteen years for the murder of the woman he loved, a murder he did not commit. Hunter has only one goal: to find the people responsible and kill them, a goal which sets him firmly on a collision course with Bill Moore’s already unstable life. Following a well-established pattern in his books, Marshall tells the story from two viewpoints: Hunter’s story is told in the third person while Moore narrates in first-person for the sections where he is the star.
Killer Move is an unconventional thriller, like the rest of the Marshall back catalogue. Darkly funny at times and disturbing and graphic at others, it treads a fine line between straight crime and straight horror, while never actually fitting exactly into either genre. Bill Moore begins life as a despicable human being, self-centred and worried only about how everyone else views him. But as his story progresses, and we watch his life fall apart, we’re suddenly in his corner, fighting his fight. It’s because the scenario Marshall outlines is so plausible and so topical: what if someone got hold of your various ecommerce and social network passwords and started to change peoples’ perceptions of who you are? Would we even notice before it was too late to do anything about it? The Internet in general and social networking in particular has made the world a very small place. But it is arguably – in Marshall’s mind at least – a darker and much more dangerous place: we never really know exactly who it is we’re talking to or why they might be interested in us.
Fans of Marshall’s earlier trilogy will be pleased to know, without going into any more detail, that there are loose links between those books and this one, a small bonus for long-time readers. That said, it’s a standalone novel and a good jumping-on point for anyone who has yet to read Marshall (although I would personally recommend going back and starting with The Straw Men). Funny, thrilling, violent, the story moves at a cracking pace towards a devastating conclusion that will leave this story rattling around your head – and affecting your every online moment – long after the final page.