Skip to main content

Only Forward by Michael Marshall Smith

Memory was coming to an end...
I'm not an effusive type. Not unless it comes to beer of course, but even then I'm not exactly the sort of chap to  rant ceaselessly on the subject. 

Wait a minute, I know you're thinking, if he's starting with a denial then he's leading up to some sort of artificial epiphanic moment where he realises he IS effusive about something! Am I right?

Nope. 

Back in the early Xennial period I read all of this guy's work, including his short double-header with Kim Newman (see the Amazon link below–for those interested in how stupid I've been in giving away most of my books a few years back, the paperback at time of writing is selling second hand for OVER £100...), including *shudder* his collection of short stories*. I even read his first couple of 'horror' novels, none of which later. They were sharp, they were slick, they were funny, and you felt they had a brain behind them. I haven't changed my mind. Re-reading them has been a pleasure, but more for the sake of nostalgia. 

Only Forward, winner of this award and that, is narrated by Stark, wise-cracker, information sifter, problem solver, a PI with a specialty in a particular kind of problem–no spoliers here, not today. He's honestly unreliable, but adaptable, friends with movers 'n' shakers and psychopaths, and has a talent no-one else has. He is a character with verisimillitude, and his thoughts on life and love and the meaning of it all are piquant and prickly. One suspects he is the man Smith would both love to and loathe to be mistaken for. 

In Stark's world, revealed later on in the novel to be the near future London (damn, sorry), a massive sprawling megalopolis, there are neighbourhoods where the quiet live, where the colour-appreciative live, where the crazy mad bastards live, and where all the cats live. As a device goes, it stretches incredulity to breaking: worth ignoring of course in the grand scheme but on second reading mostly irksome. Someone from Action neighbourhood goes missing (a real go-getter who Gets Things Done and thus is sorely missed) and everyone suspects kidnapping. Stark's 'friend' (not a spoiler technically as it only hints at their failed relationsh–damn, sorry) suggests him for the job, and off he jolly well trots to find our missing executive. Of course, there is more to this than meets the eye.

On the face of it, Only Forward is a warped but enjoyable gumshoe romp, following Marlowe-light Stark around the city–and other places–in pursuit of what is lost. While he goes, we get slowly drip-fed hints and intimations that there is much more going on. And then, of course, just like in Spares, and if memory serves, also One Of Us, there's a character who plops into the story and the reader is like, man, wtf?, like, really, who is this guy, for sure? only for the reader later in the book to go, like, damn! so that's why he's here, sonnufabeech. It's Chekov's gun of course, and if you're looking for it you'll spot it a mile off. Nicely, depsite the story taking a very major and unlikely detour into Jeamland (make of that what you will), the gun has already gone off, even before the story's begun. As twists go I like it very much.

So on reflection, it is a thoroughly enjoyable, if implausible, detective story, managing to break conventions on perception and memory, dreams, fantasy and reality, and still capable of some shockingly visceral violence and horror, right from the off. Give it a read, unless you already have, in which case go back and start again. Just don't make a fuss.

*Not *shudder* because they're his, but rather just because they're short stories. You have to be a FUCKING great short story to make me happy.



Comments

What Readers Are Reading

Hannah Green And Her Unfeasibly Mundane Existence by Michael Marshall Smith

I was sold this book by Simon at the Big Green Bookshop in return for the money it cost plus a small donation towards operating costs and postage. 

In truth, I'd forgotten it was on its way, and it was a fucking lovely surprise when it arrived at my desk in work, my letterbox at the time being a tad short on width and breadth and unlikely to admit a hardback plus packaging. I recall very much enjoying reading Michael Marshall Smith, and I also enjoyed re-reading him, recently, and I documented this here, here and here. This was a book for which I hadn't realised I'd been waiting for a long time. 

However, had I not the history and warm, cosy feelings safely tucked up in the nostalgia bank, I would probably not have picked this up, going solely on the cover. There's a clock, the silhouette of a small girl, and leaves, along with a colour contrast and meandering font which brought to mind something cringe-worthily reminiscent of Alexander McCall-Smith*, or the covers of Sc…

Our Ancestors by Italo Calvino

Now is as good a time as any I suppose to admit that I regularly confuse Italo Calvino with Umberto Eco and when struggling for the name of one of them, invariably come up with the name of the other. What value does this add to a review of either’s work? None whatsoever. I just thought it would pay to be honest up front, so that if I start talking about semiotics, the discourse of literary criticism, or beards, then you’ll know my train of thoughts has switched tracks and is heading for a bridge under construction.
Of course, reading the Wiki pages on the two of them (to make sure I was talking about the right fellow) I noticed with some dread that Our Ancestors is one of the best known works of the most translated contemporary Italian writer (at the time of his death) and here I am, trying to make sense of it in my own personal context. Well, I’m always going to be treading down some fool’s heels so why should I care if it’s actually most people? Indeed, Calvino mentions in his own i…

Dead Writers In Rehab by Paul Bassett Davies

Another laudatory post about Unbound should surely follow had I the heart to go on and on about them again. I do but I won't in this instance, as they've just somehow bilked from me £60 for an as yet unwritten historical novel inspired by a TV script by Anthony Burgess, the dastards. I do it to myself and that's etc.

One definite pleasure of the crowdfunding model, for us end users, is the delayed gratification, something with which I, and it would seem the main character in this novel, have no small difficulty. I had sort-of forgotten this book was in the offing, only for it to land suddenly in my wheelie bin one sunny morning (it wouldn't fit through the letterbox). I was delighted to be reminded.

It also came at a fortuitous time. I've been unwell and looking for distractions to keep me from internet mischief in my restlessness (being ill is mostly boring). After finishing the beautiful but rather depressing Stoner I was in need of something lighter, or rather, so…

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Argh, Neil Gaiman blah blah, waffle waffle, and so on.
There, that’s out of the way.
I can’t help but equate the resurgence in popularity of the Norse mythos, Icelandic sagas, and Skaldic and Eddic poetry in all their new televisual, literal and figurative forms, to the similarly resurgent popularity of comic-book- and super-heroes. In fact, they’re two sides of the same interrogative coin: one asks, “How did we get here?” whereas the other asks, “Who can save us?” for the world needs heroes, and people to blame.
I will leave it up to you to project your own personal Them into the nice Them-shaped gap that leaves behind.
You may think it very necessary and timely to have brought out such a book. Alternatively, you may be suffering from hero-fatigue and see it as all a bit unnecessary. Or you may have been seduced by the big hammer on the cover and the lovely tactile matt-finish cover. In any case and in my own humble opinion, other than talk William Warder Norton into springing for a lov…