By Marty Mulrooney
Killer Move is the latest psychological thriller from Michael Marshall, award-winning author of The Straw Men, The Intruders and Bad Things. Bill Moore has a lucrative job selling condos in the Florida Keys, a huge house and a wife he is madly in love with. Bill is a man with a plan. Then one day, he finds a strange card on his desk. It’s black on both sides, with just one word printed in white: MODIFIED. Suddenly, Bill’s life is turned completely upside down…
The prisoner is escorted through a series of corridors. Some are the pathways that have circumscribed his universe for the best part of two decades, routes between mess hall and workshop and yard that echo with the shouts and cage rattling of men – thieves and killers, parole violators and pedophiles, carjackers and gangbangers anywhere from eighteen to seventy-one years in age – whose names and natures and varying degrees of moral deviance he has already started, with relief, to forget. A few call out as he passes. He ignores them. They’re ghosts, deep in the caves. They cannot hurt him now.
Killer Move opens with a superb opening chapter. Rather than immediately focusing on main character Bill Moore, we are instead introduced to prisoner John Hunter on the day of his release from jail. We follow him through sterile corridors as he walks calmly to freedom, seemingly reformed. We are then told that the first thing he intends to do once he is free is get hold of a gun.
Michael Marshall – who originally gained recognition for his earlier science-fiction novels as Michael Marshall Smith – has the rare ability as an author to accurately depict the world we live in, horrifying though it may be, in vivid detail. The closest comparison I can think of is Stephen King, who also continually finds the disturbing in the seemingly mundane. Indeed, King himself hailed Marshall’s novel The Straw Men as “a masterpiece… brilliantly written and scary as hell.” Here, Marshall enters somewhat new territory, tackling modern-day life – and its inherent precariousness – to great effect.
When I got to my desk, I saw something lying on it. This was easy to spot, as my working area is the tidiest in the Sarasota area, possibly even along the entire gulf side of Florida – though I’ve heard rumours of a guy up in St. Pete who has nothing on his desk at all. Propped in the centre of mine was a rectangular card, midway between business and postcard size.
Bill Moore thinks nothing of it when he first starts receiving small cards with the word MODIFIED upon them. A disinterested colleague even comments that they’re probably just some form of viral marketing. But slowly, Bill starts to realise there is much more to it than that…
It starts innocently enough. A mildly racist group email is forwarded to all of Bill’s contacts, although he doesn’t remember sending it. A restaurant reservation is made even though he is sure he forgot to do so. A pornographic book arrives from Amazon and his wife finds voyeuristic images on his laptop. Somebody is messing with Bill’s life and he intends to find out who it is before his marriage is destroyed. Then his wife goes missing and people around him start to die…
Cassandra’s bedroom door was shut.
I had time to feel a beat of relief that I hadn’t made a total fool of myself by trying to follow her in there in the dead of night.
Then I noticed that the bathroom door was closed too, and that there was now a word on it. The word was scrawled in letters that had dripped and run like spilled red wine.
The word was MODIFIED.
Someone was banging on the front door.
Killer Move offers a frantically paced read, building up to a crescendo as Bill Moore’s life continually crumbles around him. The main reason the narrative grips so effectively is because Bill ultimately seems to be a pretty decent guy. He can grate with his self-improvement plans but through it all, his love for his wife clearly shines through, endearing him to the reader. One flashback to an early teenage date in MacDonald’s is beautifully written and perfectly placed, ensuring that the reader is always on Bill’s side despite his faults.
My only real complaint stems from the fact that the supporting characters are never as well developed as Bill Moore. As previously mentioned, John Hunter is set up as an effective anti-hero from the outset, but his plotline ultimately just fizzes out, his path seldom crossing with Bill’s. Likewise, the antagonists are certainly very bad people but it would have been nice to have had a cleaner resolution to satisfy both Bill and the reader. On the upside, there is a welcome nod to The Straw Men included near the end and I could certainly see Bill crossing over into that universe in the future.
The weapon felt heavy. It was warm from the sweat and pressure of Emily’s hand. Every single thing I knew about guns had been learned from watching television, and I couldn’t remember any of it. I looked down, however, feeling its heft in my hand, knowing that really I just had to pull the trigger and everything else would follow.
Killer Move is another breathless modern-day thriller from Michael Marshall (Smith). Although not quite as effective as some of his previous books written under the same name, it is still miles ahead of the competition in terms of its writing and style. Although the plot can become quite outlandish at times, it manages to retain an air of believability throughout that makes it all the more enjoyable to read. An engaging thriller written by a heavyweight of the genre, my recommendation comes without reservation or indeed, modification…
9 OUT OF 10
Killer Move was released today (7 July 2011) by Orion Books in the UK and is available now at all good book shops.