Sunday, March 18, 2007

THE INTRUDERS by Michael Marshall

Harpercollins, £12.99, ISBN 978-0007209972

The Intruders, like the best of Michael Marshall's work, is brilliantly written. Unfortunately, it feels just a little schizophrenic - perhaps appropriate, given certain metaphysical considerations that come into play later in the book. But all the same, it is this dual personality that stops a good book becoming an amazing book.

Its hard to talk about this problem without giving away too much of Marshall's constantly twisting plot, but there's a point maybe just over halfway through the novel where suddenly the narrative switches from being a well-written, if somewhat standard, thriller into something else entirely. And to be honest, that switch is fine. In fact, its an interesting avenue that's opened up. And the problem is that it needs a whole other book to properly explore the implications of this sudden and fantastical plot twist. By the end, Marshall has gone from exploring standard thriller themes of paranoia and guilt to examining what it is to be a person, to attempting to disect what it is that makes a soul.

Its not like Marshall doesn't signpost the coming twists. There are hints of the otherwordly here and there, and you know that there's something deeper than the standard thriller tack being taken. You just feel it. And you're digging the world-weary narration of our hero, parcticularly his early reminisces about those formative school years which have a dark and wistful tone.

The problem seems to lie in the fact that Marshall is possibly too good at the thriller elements. That he suckers you into believing that you're reading a standard thriller and even when it takes this odd twist, you're half-convinced there's a still a "real world" explanation. But there's not, and as exciting as the ideas here are, you just can't buy them as part of this story.

Maybe that's the point - this dissasocation of what we believe the real world to be and what is actually going on. Maybe we're supposed to be disoriented, but the disorientation is only momentary because Marshall never quite follows up on some intriguing developments. Its a rare case of a book being too short for my liking. If there's a sequel in the works (and I hear there might be) then I'll be first in line to read it because, having got the set up out of the way there's a lot of fun things that can be done with the conceit behind The Intruders. As it is, on its own, the book is slightly dissapointing, with the crime elements - while well executed - being fairly standard and the more fantastic elements being subtly underused when it feels as though they should have been more in focus.

However, I have no doubt The Intruders will find its audience with thriller fans looking for something just a little different. Its well written, and Marshall has an excellent eye for character and action. It helps a lot, because its the writing and character that keep you moving through this novel, and indeed it was only after finishing that I began to feel a little dissatisfied with some of the explanations and explorations of the human soul that form the novel's central conceit.

But Marshall is trying for something different in the well worn thriller genre and that he's done it well enough to keep the reader turning those pages and guessing at the truth of his character's situations is indeed something to be applauded.

Russel McLean for Crime Scene Scotland, 02/04/07