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The Servants

by Michael Marshall Smith

(Earthling Publications, $ 30, 209 pages, trade hardcover.)

Review by Mario Guslandi

cover scanAlways torn between dark fantasy and SF, Michael Marshall Smith is an extraordinary writer, author of award-winning novels such as Only Forward, Spares and One of Us, as well as of a number of excellent short stories, collected in the outstanding volume More tomorrow and other stories published by Earthling Publications.

More recently, he has produced the Straw Men thrillers, using, by order of an idiotic American publishing marketing, the pen name of Michael Marshall.

After almost a decade Smith is back with a dark novel, much to the delight of his countless fans.

Eleven-year old Mark has to leave London to settle down in Brighton, with his mother and her new husband. The mother is very sick and Mark's stepfather appears to be a heartless, distant man unable to create a bond with the kid. Trying to escape the dullness and the difficulties of his new household Mark makes friends with an elderly lady living in the house basement. Which, in turn is the door to another section of rooms inhabited by a group of servants whose task is to provide any kind of service for the proper functioning and maintenance of the house.

Are the servants real or only ghosts from a distant past? Is Mark's father a victim or a culprit?

How severe is Mark's mother's disease? Is her new husband a kind of tyrant or just a man devastated by sorrow ? And, more importantly, is there a link between the servants' underworld and his mother's health? In due time the reader will find an answer to every question and discover that the truth is not always easy to accept.

Those already familiar with Smith's previous work are fully aware that he's a terrific storyteller, able to handle with great skill both short and long fiction, to produce beautiful prose, realistic dialogues and unsettling atmospheres, to portray people's feelings with an elegant, sympathetic touch.

In other words, Smith provides a great, captivating work which will make you wonder about life's true meaning and essence. Not a small accomplishment compared with too much shallow fiction sitting on the shelves of our bookstores.

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