The Straw Men is a gripping story that will keep on the edge from the very first page. You will be making guesses, trying to make out conclusions and even if you get some of it right that does not reduce the thrill any. It is quite hard to write this review without spoilers, but I will try. The story begins with a shoot out in a small town in Pennsylvania where two gunmen kill sixty-eight people without even blinking an eye. We are then taken a decade later where we meet Ward, an ex CIA agent, attending his parents funeral in Montana. After the funeral as he visits his parents' home he finds a note hidden there that simply says "We're not dead". Trying to find out the truth he sets in motion a series of events that lead him to a wild goose chase for the truth - truth about who his parents were and who he really is. At the same time in California a sixteen year old girl is abducted, which is linked to a notorious serial killer who was absent for two years. As the book proceeds we find out how these three events are interconnected and how a mysterious group that call themselves The Straw Men fit here. This was the first book I read by Michael Marshall and I know it will not be the last. I fell in love with his characters, all of them. An ex CIA agent trying to collect his life back after everything he ever believed in is shattered. A police officer in a quest for revenge when deep inside he is in war with himself. A FBI agent who remembers the height her career was once in and is struggling to pull it back there by trying to catch the most wanted killer. A CIA agent with a fierce sense of loyalty, and humor. And a killer who is advocating his cause and justifying the killing but is just trying to piece his sense of self together again. They were all beautiful. Even the side characters and their motives were beautifully expressed. Everybody had a place in this book and everybody had a role in the story, some we may realize later than sooner. The plot was slower than in most thrillers with more details about the mindset of the characters and what is driving them forward rather than the actual story but I didn't mind it. The story was pieced together beautifully and transitions between the situations and characters were smooth. I like books that tell the story from alternating point of views and all the characters held my attention, even Sarah with her incoherent rantings. Each character's essence was captured and it was easy to distinguish who was thinking the particular paragraph I was reading - which made me like the book even more. The last few chapters were so explicitly described it made me wince. It was even hard to even imagine the atrocities described and to write it down in such detail was so horibble and yet so wonderfully in sync with the book. There are a few plot-holes but since this is a series I guess my queries will be answered in the next books. But even as a stand-alone The Straw Men will put you on the edge and make you rethink about every crime, every massacre, every natural disaster and every plague that threatened human lives and wonder if there was not any inherent motive to all of it. A well deserved 5 stats!