By Marty Mulrooney
We Are Here is the latest novel from award-winning writer Michael Marshall, the Sunday Times No. 1 bestselling author of The Straw Men. David is an author on the brink of publication. His life is looking up, despite the fact that he is unsure if he has another book in him. Then he bumps into a stranger in New York and his entire perception of the world shifts monumentally. Catherine is an affluent woman with a strong marriage and two children, who has recently been unable to shake the growing suspicion that she is being followed. David and Catherine are total strangers, yet they have one thing in common: they are both being followed by someone from their past. Someone who has been forgotten… but who will never forget.
As David hurried after her, someone appeared out of the crowd and banged into him – hard, knocking David back on his feet and getting right in his face.
Untucked white shirt and hard blue eyes.
The same man again.
”Hello, David,” he said.
Although the characters of David and Catherine are integral to the plot of We Are Here – and indeed, entire chapters are dedicated to them – the characters focused upon the most are actually a man named John and his girlfriend Kristina, who both work in a local bar & restaurant in New York’s East Village. When Kristina’s friend Catherine confides in the couple that she thinks she’s being followed, John agrees to look into it. What starts out as a small favour however, along with some much-needed excitement for Kristina, quickly spirals out of control. Catherine is being followed – but her evasive stalker is eerily fast and seems to be able to disappear into thin air.
We Are Here delivers a borderline fantasy premise with the cold hard edge that only factually written fiction can offer. Michael Marshall (Smith) has been writing this way pretty much his entire career, regardless of genre – he has the uncanny ability to make whatever he writes stick. It feels possible. It isn’t made immediately clear whether the strangers colliding with the lives of the book’s multiple protagonists are real people, forgotten imaginary friends or ghosts – and that’s part of the fun. Whoever they are, their message is clear: we are here. Walk down any street, anywhere in the world. Do you pay attention to every single person? Is every person real? The Straw Men trilogy painted the real world as a facade, the carefully placed veneer on an overabundance of evil, rot and decay. We Are Here takes things in a different, equally scary direction – what if there are people all around us that we simply cannot see? What if they were sad and lonely? What if they got angry?
Kristina was standing beside me now. I think we realized at the same time that the marks on the window, though faint and jagged, were letters, and that they spelled out three words.
LEAVE US ALONE
We Are Here thrives on its strongly developed characters. David should be happy, but something is obviously eating away at him inside. The man he bumped into, who whispered remember me, soon turns up again. His name is Maj. David feels like he knows him… but he’s also sure that he doesn’t. Catherine tells John and Kristine that she doesn’t know the person following her either. But even if she feels that she is telling the truth… is what she’s saying strictly true? Complicating matters further, it seems that many of the unseen people of New York – and quite likely the entire world – don’t quite understand the full truth of their existence either. Something is happening. It isn’t quantifiable yet, but it makes the very fabric of existence crease and tear. Something must be done.
Equal parts thriller, mystery and horror story, We Are Here offers no immediate answers. It’s quite happy to brew, layering people and plot threads and events until not only New York leaps off the page, but the characters – both those real and those whose state of being is as yet undetermined – take on lives of their own. It’s difficult to speak directly about the plot without giving too much away. Suffice to say, the main reveal – despite being wonderful – isn’t the main draw here. In fact, the ending itself falls short of a well-deserved payoff, perhaps on purpose. Instead, the true pleasure of We Are Here is in running alongside John and Kristina as they stumble blindly into a world right on their own front doorstep that is a million miles from home.
Isa started to move her arm. She held it up at the same height, moving it slowly to the left as if following something changing position from beside the television to the far end of the room, near the fireplace.
The back of Catherine’s neck felt very cold. “Isa… what are you pointing at?”
We Are Here is a novel brimming with imagination. Fittingly, imagination and the power of belief is also its central premise. It’s a bold direction. Not entirely new – after all, Michael Marshall has for many years had a long and fruitful love affair with conspiracy theories and hidden truths – but nonetheless freshly squeezed, with a twist. Sometimes the mystery is so good that the payoff will never quite live up to expectations. Regardless, every single character here feels alive. In many ways, that’s the greatest compliment one can pay this book. Yet another engrossing thriller from an author who remains a cut above the rest, always writing from the heart, aches and all. We Are Here… and we’re not going anywhere.
9 OUT OF 10
We Are Here was published by Orion books on the 14th March 2013 and is available now from all good bookshops.