Written by: Wayne C. Rogers
Because I thoroughly enjoyed Michael Marshall’s The Straw Men, I quickly ordered its sequel and waited in excitement for the book to arrive. I truly loved Marshall’s first novel, especially the concept of an actual housing community where only serial killers lived. That was something new and intriguing to the genre, and I’d hoped that the second book would follow up on the concept.
Unfortunately for me, Marshall’s The Upright Man doesn’t come even close to equaling his first novel in this apparent trilogy, which is a huge disappointment. I will say this book has a fabulous opening chapter, though it simply doesn’t follow through with the expectations it creates within the reader.
In this story, John Zandt (ex-LAPD Homicide Detective), following a tip, leads Ward Hopkins (ex-CIA agent) to an area in Washington State called Dry Creek where over a dozen corpses have been left by either the Straw Men, or the Upright Man. Some of the bodies have been left in rather unusual and humorous positions. Zandt and Hopkins check out the crime scene, then go their separate ways. That’s pretty much the last time Dry Creek is mentioned in the book.
Anyway, John Zandt goes off on his own path, methodically hunting down members of the Straw Men in a vengeful search for the Upright Man. Little is known about Zandt’s journey till the very end. Ward, however, tries to hide from the Straw Men, but eventually gives up and begins to search for information about The Upright Man’s past, starting in San Francisco.
While Ward’s search for information is going on, Nina Baynam (FBI agent and Zandt’s former lover) finds herself involved in a double-murder case in Los Angeles that may involve the Straw Men. So far everything is set up nicely to hook the reader into this tale of woe.
What throws the book off course for me is another subplot involving a salesman by the name of Tom Kozelek, who attempts to commit suicide by walking ten miles into a snow-filled forest with nothing but booze and pills to keep him company, and the distinct possibility that Big Foot is actually real. It’s seems that the strange citizens of Sheffer, Washington are hiding some deep, dark secret. This subplot takes away from the rest of the story and eats up at least a hundred pages of the book. Each time a new chapter came along that dealt with good-old Tom and his sighting of Big Foot, I found myself scratching my head in confusion, wondering why the author was even including this stuff in the novel. I wanted to skip over these chapters (and almost did a couple of times), but I was afraid I’d miss something important with regards to the rest of the novel.
Of course, the whole point of this particular subplot becomes clear near the end, but I didn’t find the answers very satisfying. It’s only because I liked the parts dealing with Nina Baynam and Ward Hopkins that I’m even giving this novel a three-star rating. And, it’s only because I loved The Straw Men so much that I’d even consider buying the third book in the series, which is Blood of Angels.
Michael Marshall has already proven he can write an action-packed, edge-of-your-seat thriller that’s filled with new and fascinating ideas. The author is also great at creating strong and interesting characters–both protagonists and antagonists– and at weaving a complex story line, intertwined with several adrenaline-charged subplots that merge together at the end to form a very satisfying finale (at least in his first novel).
If you’ve read The Straw Men and are somewhat like me in reading tastes, you’ll want to buy The Upright Man and draw your own conclusions. I’m hoping Blood of Angels will equal the first novel in scope and excitement.