The Lonely Dead by Michael Marshall Smith

Mike GristBook / Movie Reviews 5 Comments

I really wanted to like this book. Ever since Michael Marshall Smith wrote his sci-fi trilogy of One of Us, Spares, and Only Forwards, I thought he`d be one of my favorite authors.

My first novel (as yet unpublished 🙁 ) was influenced by his breezy first person narrative style. His books were packed with cool ideas, tidbits of nifty philosophy, and it was easy to overlook the parts that didn`t make sense, felt like filler, or were just too damn smug.

Well, it`s not so easy any more. The Lonely Dead is all of the bad in that list, with almost none of the good.


The last book I read by Smith was `The Straw Men`, a serial killer retread with something of a spin. It had the same breezily overconfident detective protagonist as his sci-fi books, waltzing along commenting cynically about the state of the world today while effortlessly performing shoot-outs and smoking filter-less marlboros, only set in the `real world`. In this real world our pleased-with-himself protagonist (Ward) had his parents killed by (or his parents were?) members of a shadowy cabal of powerful figures called the Straw Men.

Ok. So Ward explores, and these Straw Men are into getting their kicks through some horrible torture-porn activities. By the end of the book Ward finds one of their lairs, where rich dudes go and `order up` the type of victim they want brought in for torture, rather like ordering a pizza. Ward blows the place up, ok.

It was alright. It left me wanting more, of course, but I figured I`d see Smith on the shelves again, and I`d pick up his next book and give it a try. Well, I didn`t see any of his books for almost 10 years. A month ago I got to wondering whatever happened to him, so went on Amazon to seek him out.

All I could find was 2 more Straw Men books. Zero more of his decent SF stuff. I ordered the Lonely Dead, book 2 of the Straw Men, it being about my only option.

First off, what a crappy title. It tells us nothing at all. Lonely Dead, really? And it never makes any more sense throughout the book. It`s the blandest title I can think of.

Into the book, and now I have to be honest, it`s generous to call it a book. It`s certainly long enough, and is bound in paper and printed with ink, but it barely contains a foot-note`s worth of story.

The Story

Ward is trying to hunt the Straw Men, sort of. His brother (who was a pizza delivery boy for the Straw Men, and apparently a boy-genius) abruptly decides now is the time to enter a cat and mouse game of serial killer sending creepy-clues-in-dead-bodies to the police. Ward finds him, they have a bit of a fight, game over.

Hmm. It doesn`t work on like a hundred levels. First off, Ward`s brother (The Upright Man, he likes to be called), used to be bad-ass. Now he is pathetic and seeking attention. He kills like two women and stuff hard drives into their bodies, which contain fragments of narcissistic teen angst poetry. I don`t get it. Where did the stone-cold killer go? How can we fear someone so blatantly needy?

So that is supposed to hook us, along with some general dread of the Straw Men, who kill people and stash their bodies in deserted areas. The book in fact begins with Ward finding bodies in a hut in the middle of a desert, bodies that have been killed and stored over 100`s of years. Hmm, now that is quite interesting. Oops, never revisited in the book again. Wtf?

So we have the foot-note of Ward`s brother as the main story. What is the rest? The rest is two things.


1- Ward sits around complaining in his own head about stuff in a cynically humorous way. Godawful, whiney BS, for the most part. Why don`t bars have more smoke in them, for real men who like a smoky bar? Why doesn`t this abandoned restaurant have better service? It`s grating and I found myself skipping over it. Smith reviewed himself very accurately in one thought of Ward`s-

Boys achieve a degree of timelessness: didn`t matter how ancient my body sometimes felt, fifteen seemed a glass ceiling for my level of sophistication.

Well, yes. That is a real quote from the book, page 195 in the hardcover. I want to say to Ward- Grow up! Stop whining! Get on with it!

2- Filler. Over half of this book is filler. By that I mean pages and pages of interminable back story on people who, ultimately, wind up as victims. Their back story is instantly rendered pointless. We learn enough about them to care a bit about their deaths, then they die. Almost every time Smith went off on a tangent, I knew that person was going to die, so there was no point in reading about their fantasies of cheating on their wife, or their desire to buy a house in the Everglades, or whatever piece of junk it was. What a waste!


As such, we can hardly call this a book. What it seems to be is the out-takes and cast-offs of the first book, the bits that didn`t make the cut the first time around, then filled out with a wodge of character proposals Smith did for a creative writing class. Lots of bits that add up to nothing at all.

Zero stars out of 5.

Comments 5

  1. Post

    Riparazioni- Yeah, basically stretched. I found a lot of reviews saying similar things on amazon before I went ahead and got it. Those reviews though didn’t go far enough in trashing the book, in my opinion. Hence- this.

  2. I echo this review, this book was nigh on completely pointless.
    MM could have condensed the whole book into about 30 pages or so as a precursor to the final book.

    1. Post

      I don’t know what happened to him. He was never so strong at ending books anyway, I feel (Spares just devolved into a bunch of Vietnam-leaf dream scenes, while One of Us had to be explained in a lengthy post-script), but in this one he didn’t begin or middle well wither.

      Where did the cool stuff go?

      1. It was replaced by big foot, large glades and massive plot holes.

        I’d love for MM to explain what the hell these were on about.

        I really enjoyed spares and only forward so forgave him for that, one of us was pretty random too.

        I might harass him on twitter for an explanation.

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