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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.



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