Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Servants-Michael Marshall Smith

The Servants
Michael Marshall Smith
Eos, Sep 2008, $14.95
ISBN: 9780061494161

Eleven year old Mark hates moving from London to Brighton with his ailing mother and new stepfather David. Mark blames David for the fact that his divorced parents will never reconcile and his biological dad will probably never come to take him to the Chinese restaurant like they used when they came to Brighton as a family visiting the resort. He also loathes Brighton where unlike London, which stretches on forever; he can see where this new city ends at the shore. Lonely, Mark’s only companion is a skateboard, but he makes no friends as the older kids ridicule his efforts on their ramps.

The elderly woman who lives in the apartment below that of Mark’s shows the lad the once occupied servants' quarters. Fascinated by what he has seen, Mark sneaks in by himself to explore further. However, Mark is stunned when he begins to see the servants working and becomes frightened as he knows there are no servants living or working in the house. Mark realizes he is seeing their ghosts. He begins to connect the increasing chaos below to his mom’s illness; now if he can find a way to help these ghosts with their issues, he might save his mom who seems to be slowly fading away.

Although there is a paranormal Twilight Zone feel to the story line, Mark as an angry, despondent preadolescent who does not understand what happened in the last year to his perfect life makes the tale. He comes across as an authentic troubled youth even when he enters the eerie surreal realm of THE SERVANTS, which in turn Mark brings with him a sense of “reality” to these ghosts going about their jobs as if time stood still waiting for his presence. The secondary characters including his stepfather, his mom, his memory of his father, the elderly neighbor and the apparitions enhance a strong haunted house thriller; reader will wonder if the lonely depressed child went over the edge in his search for normalcy as he remembers it.

Harriet Klausner

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