The Intruders. By Michael Marshall. William Morrow. $24.95.
This is a novel in which no one is who he or she seems to be. More precisely, the people are what they seem to be, but not who. The book opens with a particularly appropriate quotation from Jacques Lacan: “How can we be sure we are not impostors?” And that is what The Intruders is about – who is real, who is not, what it means to “be real,” and what makes a particular person into that person.
This is also a murder mystery. A multiple-murder mystery. Michael Marshall combines elements of noir detective story with touches of science fiction and fantasy, wraps everything in the sort of conspiratorial trappings that keep people focused on the Kennedy assassination and supposed flying-saucer landing in
It takes a while to get to this nonsensical existentialism, though. First,
Marshall (author of The Straw Men, The Upright Man and Blood of Angels) handles all this with expert pacing and a blithe disregard for any absurdities he finds along the way (and there are more than a few of them). Some of his writing is downright clever, as when Madison – who has unsuspected inner strength – declines to go to the police station with an adult who wants to help her: “She’d never understood how easy it was to deal with grown-ups, after you realized most of them were basically frightened of you. Sure, moms and dads were okay with their own children, but they always watched other children out of the corner of their eyes, as if all other kids were wild and ungoverned. And children could be,
The narrative of The Intruders veers, sometimes shakily, from first-person to third-person, depending on what events are occurring and who is at the center of them. It eventually ends in Whalen’s voice, with the many mysteries solved but the future as uncertain as ever – a standard genre conclusion. The Intruders is, in fact, little more than a well-written genre book, its attractions coming from the difficulty of figuring out which genre (or genres) it fits into. It’s clever rather than smart – interesting while you read it, but not particularly memorable after you finish.