Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
John Marrs is a name most thriller fans are familiar with, having penned numerous bestsellers which still stand tall to this very day. In The Good Samaritan, one of his better-known works, he tells the story of Laura, a woman who abuses her position as a suicide hotline operator to push people over the edge. However, one man has seen beyond the veil, and is closing in on her sinister nature, unaware that she’ll do just about anything to stay in the shadows.
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John Marrs Creates an Insidious Villain
If there’s one department where human beings have never lacked in imagination, it’s the one pertaining to the murder of living beings. We’ve learn to snuff out lives in so many different ways, one could likely write a few tomes about all the villainy humans inflict on each other. It has even come to the point where people have devised ways of murdering others using nothing but their powers of persuasion, as is the case for Laura in The Good Samaritan by John Marrs.
The story begins by introducing us to Laura, a woman who hasn’t had an easy life by any stretch of imagination. Not only has she survived a sickness which ravaged a good part of her life, she also managed to break free from an oppressive marriage and now finds herself nearing her forties, alone and wrathful in a world which doesn’t seem to want her.
There is, however, one thing which really lifts up her spirits: talking to people who are much worse off than she is. To do so, she works as an operator at the End of the Line, a hotline for people considering suicide, their last attempt at reaching out and hearing that life is indeed worth living. Laura, however, isn’t exactly the kindest person in the world.
Taking a morbid delight in it, Laura pushes the people who call her over the edge, doing her best to send them barrelling into the grim reaper’s cold embrace. What’s more, she has become quite good at not only accomplishing her goal, but also leaving no trace behind, getting away with one murder after the next… however, she’s about to meet her nemesis.
Ryan is a man whose world has recently fallen apart when his pregnant wife took her own life, hand-in-hand with a strange man he never met. Needless to say, Ryan doesn’t intend on resting until he finds the truth at the bottom of it all, putting him on a collision course with Laura, threatening to expose her dark secret before the entire world. Unfortunately for him, she won’t go down without a fight, and is willing to cross any line in order to preserve her life, her identity, and her passion of killing people over the phone.
Because when you’re not considered to be a threat, you can get away with much, much more.― John Marrs, The Good Samaritan
Human Vulnerabilities Exploited in The Good Samaritan
Because the laws inherent to our universe do not ascribe a correct way of living beyond the survival of the self, we have been made free to justify whichever mode of existence suits our wishes and desires best. Philosophically, morally and practically people have been able to rationalize an incredibly wide spectrum of actions, but I think most of us remain quite baffled at the mental gymnastics some murderers can perform, and we get to see quite a bit of it with Laura.
A sizable chunk of The Good Samaritan is dedicated to acquainting us with this unusual woman, to showing us what her inner world looks like, and how she has come to be where she is, a serial killer preying on the most vulnerable members of society. Before going onward, I should say that John Marrs never tries to justify her actions as being right in some way; he simply shows her to us as he imagined her.
I wouldn’t say there’s anything groundbreaking in what the author shows us with Laura, with her motivation ultimately revolving around her own enlightened position, her duty to help people (by pushing them to suicide) who trudge onward towards nothing but a hopeless existence. As you might have guessed, much of it stems from her own traumatic past.
In and of herself, Laura might not exactly be the most fascinating character I’ve ever encountered, but what John Marrs does do exceptionally well, is he makes her inner world extremely believable and logical. In other words, not only I could certainly imagine her character portrait being based on an authentic person, but I would go as far as saying one could certainly encounter a person exactly like her, out here in the real world.
We also get to see her “work” in startling detail, how she slowly works over her victims, nudging them bit by bit towards the abyss of oblivion, exploiting their weaknesses, manipulating them and their perception of reality with dreadful mastery. It all hits quite hard because of how believable it is, and ultimately this realism is what drew me deep into the story and made me forget I was reading a piece of fiction… and believe you me, this isn’t something accomplishable by just any novel.
With his brown chinos, white jacket and red hair he resembled a raspberry ice cream.― John Marrs, The Good Samaritan
The Hunter in the Dark
If The Good Samaritan was just a story about Laura plying her serial killing abilities over the phone, it would have made for a rather dark, and perhaps even pointless exercise in the end. No, as much time as we spend with her, the novel is also about Ryan, on the hunt after Laura (though he doesn’t know it) seeking to avenge his wife and unborn child.
Through him, we first get to experience the other side of the suicide equation we’ve been presented with. That is to say, we see what it’s like in the shoes of the victim’s loved ones. As you might expect, John Marrs captures it quite poignantly and doesn’t ever really need to dwell on it to drive the necessary points home.
Once we’re familiar enough with both of our characters, that’s where the novel starts to pick up in terms of action, setting them on a collision course against each other. We see their stories unfold through alternating point-of-view chapters, and I’d say by the halfway point of the novel is where the pace reaches its frantic perfection, never letting up until the very end.
The cat-and-mouse game unfolding between Ryan and Laura is gripping in every sense of the word, constantly keeping me on my toes and never allowing events to unfold in a predictable manner, and this becomes increasingly true the closer we get to the conclusion. To me, it was just as exciting watching Ryan following the clues and racing after the truth, as it was watching Laura deceive the world at large while moving closer and closer to the fire.
If you’re thinking of most thrillers as being fairly predictable when it come to the ending, I won’t blame you. Most readers are indeed looking for happy endings and satisfying conclusions, no matter how unlikely they might be. Without spoiling anything, I just want to say that John Marrs concludes The Good Samaritan in a rather realistic way for both of our protagonists, and it left me with a quite a bit of food for thought on the topics of vengeance and the incomparable beauty of living.
|399||Thomas & Mercer||April 12 2018||978-1503903364|
The Final Verdict
The Good Samaritan by John Marrs is a bit of an unusual, but a highly effective and enthralling psychological thriller. On top of offering a high-octane back-and-forth struggle between our two protagonists, the novel also explores the difficult subject of suicide as its thematic linchpin.
If you’re a John Marrs fan, or looking for a moving psychological thriller which does things a little differently and has a respectable amount of depth to it, then this novel is certainly one I’d recommend you look into.
John Marrs is a freelance journalist and author based in London, England, and has had the distinction of writing for many prominent publications, including Huffington Post, The Independent, Total Film and Guardian Online. As a writer he primarily specializes in thrillers and murder mysteries, with some of his best-known works including What Lies Between Us, The One and Keep it in the Family.