Wednesday, 15 April 2020

BOOK REVIEW: In The Absence Of Miracles - Michael J. Malone.

Title: In The Absence Of Miracles
Author: Michael J. Malone
Publisher: Orenda Books

Malone’s novel begins with John, the principal character, and in whose voice the novel is written, visiting his mother in a care home following a recent stroke. He is the only family member who visits as his father is dead and his younger brother is rarely in the country. However, John soon uncovers a family secret whilst clearing through his parents’ house in preparation for its sale; a photograph of a young boy he does not recognise and a single shoe stained with blood. This discovery begins John on a whirlwind of exploration as he seeks to find answers to questions he does not yet know. As he delves deeper into the truth of these items, the novel becomes more dark and sinister than could have ever been imagined.

Malone’s debut novel published in 2012, the best-selling ‘Blood Tears’, won the Pilochry Prize from the Scottish Association of Writers. Malone has published many well-received novels since. This, his most recent publication can be described as thrilling, emotional and at times very difficult to digest. This is not a book for the faint hearted. I was caught between wanting to read on and uncover the novel’s secrets, at the same time as wanting to put the novel to bed as it were, and never discover the full extent of ‘In The Absence Of Miracles’’ truth.

That being said, this novel is unlike many traditional thrillers in that it is rather slow-paced to begin with. I was not truly gripped until about 100 pages into the novel, when Malone begins jumping around timelines and the novel begins to take different turns every twenty pages or so. Having looked at some of the previous reviews of Malone’s other novels, this seems to be a common theme in his writing. Do not let this put you off reading this novel however, as it is well worth reading the slower first third of the novel to get to the more gripping final two thirds. I found myself making several guesses as to the novel’s ending, and I was wrong on every count. That in itself is the mark of a truly good thriller in my opinion.

As well as the above, the mark of a great novel is its lasting effect on the reader and it must be said that I am still thinking about Malone’s novel 24 hours after finishing it and I know that I will still be thinking about it in the following weeks to come. As well as a thriller, this novel must also be described as an emotionally fuelled drama about love, family and loss. This can be seen in Malone’s repeated description of the protagonist, John’s, dreams; for example, ‘She’s (mum’s) wearing high heels and a blue polka-dot dress that stops mid-thigh. I momentarily long for this version of her, acknowledging the ruin she has become since her stroke.’ (pages 138-139). This use of story-telling is much needed within this novel as the central character is clearly devoid of emotion throughout most of the 300 or so pages, refusing to face his terrifying discoveries.

This is a novel that will not grab you within the first few chapters and can be considered somewhat of a slow-burner, but do not let that deter you. Malone’s writing style here is unlike traditional thrillers, but this can be considered a positive. Malone’s writing is unexpected and refreshingly different. The novel soon picks up pace and once it does, there is no slowing it down. This is a novel that slowly gets better and better throughout and peaks at the very end. Overall, this novel is a dramatic and tense read that will draw you in and have you lost in its pages.

Reviewer - Megan Relph

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