Serial killing

A note today that’s not so much about horror as about thriller. I’m halfway through ‘The Lonely Dead’, the second book in Michael Marshall’s (better known to genre fans as Michael Marshall Smith) Straw Men series. It’s compulsive reading. Having finished the first one, ‘The Straw Men’, I went straight out and bought two and three, and now I’m binging.

Over and above the plot driven unputdownability, what’s really fascinating about Marshall’s work is the subtext. The books so far have been obsessed with aging and decay, with coming to a maturity that has at its core a deep, disenchanted awareness of the transience of life and its pleasures.

Marshall doesn’t make Hannibalised anti-heroes of his serial killers. Rather, he keeps them at the margins of his story. They remain unglamourised, anonymous. He’s concerned with the effects of their actions, rather than the actions themselves.

That anonymity allows them to perform an important thematic function. In narrative terms, they’re barely privileged beyond other in-narrative killers – lung cancer, for example. As such, they form part of a complex rhetorical web, coming to symbolise the random, shattering, inevitable action of death itself.

I started by saying that these books are thrillers, but having written the above I’m now not sure about that. In some ways, they’re deepest horror, obsessing about the one inevitability that we all share; that that implacable serial killer death waits for every one of us, leaving only empty space and the effects of our passing as traces of our lives.

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