Onyx reviews: Killer Move by
An innocent man named John Hunter is released from prison after serving out
his murder sentence for the death of the woman he loved. His empty cell door has
barely slammed shut behind him before he sets out to even the score with the
people responsible for his incarceration. He goes straight for the head of the
suspected conspiracy, snatching him from his house and holding him prisoner in
an abandoned construction site. There's no shortage of those in the Sarasota
area after the housing bust.
Bill Moore is feeling the crunch of this crisis, too. He's a realtor trying
to make it big selling units in a posh waterfront gated community where the
owners are unwilling to put any money into keeping up the properties. He has a
five-year-plan that ends with him putting up his own shingle, though one of his
friends advises him that "Bill Moore Realty" will probably be misread
as "Bill More Realty," which isn't a message he wants to send to
The housing bubble and the fact that he's already overshot his goal by a year
and a half aren't Bill's biggest problems. Someone is messing
with his life. It starts innocently enough. He receives a soft porn book from
Amazon that he didn't order. Someone sends a politically incorrect joke to
everyone in his address book. Then the stakes go up. It's not just a
run-of-the-mill case of identity theft. The
only hint that someone has deliberately targeted him is a series of cards he
receives that contain a single word: Modified (which would have been an ideal
title for the book). Things quickly go from very bad to ever-so-much worse.
His wife finds a folder on his home
computer containing photographs of his female associate getting undressed. A
wealthy businessman disappears. Bill's wife vanishes. People die. The evidence
all points at Bill.
Michael Marshall, a British author who also publishes as Michael Marshall
Smith and whose vocabulary occasionally betrays his origins, specializes in the
paranoia thriller. People suddenly find themselves in the middle of a vast,
unassailable conspiracy. Dozens of people are involved. The setup is elaborate
and sophisticated. The noose tightens around the protagonist. There seems no way
out. These books depend on a certain willing suspension of disbelief. The
strongest argument against conspiracy theories is that there is always a weak
link. Someone who can't keep up the pretense for as long as is required for the
whole thing to play out. All it requires is one poorly placed card for the whole
construct to collapse. There are never any weak links in Marshall's books. The
conspirators have infinite resources. Often there are layers within layers of
intrigue, and the lower-level players are as much victims as victimizers.
The presence of John Hunter gives the book an added dimension. He knows who
set him up. However, he doesn't care a whit about Bill, and isn't above using
him for his own purposes. He has no interest in sharing information with Bill or
helping him out of his predicament. For his part, once Bill gets a peek under
the hood at the scope of the organization that has pitted itself against him,
his imagination runs wild. If these people are part of the plot, than what about
those? Who can he possibly trust?
Marshall's novels don't always end well for the protagonist. Once they are so
badly burned by the schemes aimed at them, their lives can never be the same.
There are no get-out-of-jail-free cards in this game. Even the people who try to
disentangle him from the web have their own agendas, which conflict with
The biggest flaw in Killer Move is the notion that the cabal
responsible for framing Hunter seemed to be taken off guard when he was released
from prison and started to "hunt" them down. The group's
socio/psychopathic ringleader is a mastermind who should have anticipated this.
Given their resources, they probably could have guaranteed that Hunter never saw
the outside of the prison again.
One problem with the paranoia thriller genre is that, after a while, the
books all begin to resemble each other. The details of how the plot unfolds may
differ, but the end result is often the same. That said, once the vice closes
around Bill, the book is relentlessly entertaining. The level of suspense
doesn't ease up for a minute as the breadth and depth of the plot expand,
ultimately bringing in Marshall's successful The Straw Men.
At the end, Marshall waxes philosophical about how little imprint people
actually leave on the world. How they can vanish and never be remembered once
they're gone. It's an interesting insight, but is that what the book is really
about? Or is it more about how really bad rich people are above recrimination no
matter what they do?
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