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Michael Marshall Smith, as Michael Marshall
Bad Things
Wm Morrow / Harper Collins
US Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-0-061-43440-2
Publication Date: 03-17-2014
372 Pages; $24.99

Date Reviewed: 03-17-2014
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2014

Index Mystery, Horror General Fiction, Science Fiction  

Even the most logical of us, who accept a chaotic, unfurling universe, must sometimes sense an ordering intelligence that we cannot see. And even those who believe in the ultimate power of such an intelligence must sometimes sense the formless chaos that undermines all belief. Most of us spend our lives between these two poles of discovery and faith, until something bad happens. No matter what we believe, bad things will cause us to question those beliefs.

For John Henderson, the bad thing is the death of his four-year-old son, Scott, one moment living and standing on the side of a pier, the next a lifeless body in John's arms. This is where Michael Marshall's intense 'Bad Things' begins, and the immediate follow-on is has the inevitable feel of deep sorrow. John's marriage dissolves. He moves. He moves on, to the degree that he can, to a small town where he waits on tables and tries to forget his past. Once, he did bad things for our government. Now, he waits for them to happen to him again. They begin with an email; I know what happened.

'Bad Things' is a tension-filled journey to find out just what happened to Scott and why. When Henderson returns to the town where he and his wife had built their lives, the memories, good and bad return. John meets some new people and re-acquaints himself with some old friends. Few of us are who we say we are and we see that play out in the plot of 'Bad Things.' Just what is happening, and why, are best left for the readers.

Along the way, expect prose that is generally sparse and lean, unless Marshall is trying to dial us into someone's perceptions. Then the words and the world are likely to become more elastic and surreal. Marshall marries his prose with an unusual approach to storytelling. Much of the novel is told from the first-person viewpoint of John Henderson, but there are plenty of other portions told in third person as we catch up with his understandably bitter wife, some of the town's people and Kristina, a woman who knows a bit more than she's willing to admit.

Marshall's cast is nicely rendered. Most of them have more weaknesses than strengths. They feel real even when what they're doing pushes the boundaries of common experience. Marshall turns around some seeming-thugs into sympathetic characters. It's a great reversal that gives the whole novel an aura of believability. Whatever is happening is clearly happening to people you might actually know or hope o know.

'Bad Things' is shot through with horror and real humor. Marshall uses his point-of-view changes to modulate the tone and keep the tension extremely high. On a sentence level, he's can be quietly elegant and then laugh-out-loud funny. He deploys all these in the name of toe-tapping terror. He's able to maintain a rather remarkable level of suspense until the final page of the novel, and yet his reveals are richly satisfying. What happens in 'Bad Things' feels like real things happening to real people. For the readers, that proves to be a very good thing indeed.


 
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