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Book Review: Bone White by Ronald Malfi

“Malfi has established himself as an accomplished and respected author of dark fiction, be it mystery, thriller, or horror.”

 

The author of fifteen novels since 2017 and seven novellas since 2009, Ronald Malfi has garnered praise from readers and writers alike. His work has also been nominated for, or won, some very prestigious awards, including Shamrock Alley (Medallion Press, 2009) which won the Independent Publisher Book Award silver medal, and Floating Staircase (Medallion Press, 2011) which won the Independent Publisher Book Award gold medal, third prize in the Vincent Preis German Horror Awards and was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award. It is safe to say Malfi has established himself as an accomplished and respected author of dark fiction, be it mystery, thriller, or horror.

His latest novel, Bone White, tells the story of one man’s desperate search for his twin brother. Paul Gallo is a college professor. His brother, Danny, has had a more troubled life, run-ins with the law and a lack of career opportunities, partly due to him dropping out of college. But, before their parents passed away, their father asked Paul to look out for his brother. Danny drifts in and out of Paul’s life until, after spending eleven months in prison, he turns up on Paul’s doorstep looking for a place to stay for a while. They spend the next few months reconnecting, strengthening that special twin bond, before Danny announces that it is time for him to leave. He manages to get his own place. And then he feels the pull of the wilderness of Alaska. He seems to be on a quest of self-discovery, but manages to stay in touch with Paul. Until one day, about a year before the book begins, he disappears without a trace. Paul alerts the local authorities but, given his brother’s history, and after the police locate his car on the outskirts of a small Alaskan town with no sign of any wrongdoing, Paul soon accepts that maybe Danny wishes to be left alone. Malfi does a good job of describing the relationship of the brothers, from their closeness as kids to the strain they feel as grown-ups.

The story actually begins with the admission of a man in the small town of Dread’s Hand, Alaska, the same mysterious town where Danny Gallo’s car was found a year before. When the old man, Joseph Mallory, shows local police where he has buried the bodies of the people he has murdered, the news coverage begins and this gains the attention of Paul. He heads to Alaska, initially to identify one of the bodies as that of his brother. But he eventually finds himself sinking into an evil deeper and murkier than anything for which he is prepared. While the local police, led by Detective Jill Ryerson, struggle to deal with the aftermath of Mallory’s crimes, Paul’s increasingly desperate search for Danny takes him to Dread’s Hand, full of cryptic crosses and strange inhabitants. Here, Malfi takes a great deal of time and care, perhaps too much, to set the stage and describe the obstacles Paul faces as an outsider in this community where people keep to themselves. While some readers may find the slow, methodical build-up to be distracting from the story, fans of a slow-burn gathering of dread and terror will enjoy the lengths Malfi has gone to to describe the feeling of isolation that Paul experiences.

Whether a fan of the slow pace or not, by the time the story reaches the conclusion, the reader will be on the edge of their seat. When Paul discovers what really happened to his brother, and the truth that lies at the heart of the mysterious town, the pace soon picks up, leading to an explosive confrontation with a deadly force that has been haunting the frozen forests surrounding Dread’s Hand for centuries. Can a college professor from the city really take on such an entity and survive? The depiction of the action is handled very well by Malfi and he also conveys the descriptions of the frozen and gloomy Alaskan surroundings with the touch of a skilled writer.

Overall, with some good character development and interaction, and a strong sense of place, Bone White is mostly entertaining. This will certainly be more appealing to fans of books which are a lengthy slow burn of atmosphere and description, rather than fast-paced action. That said, the ending was very thrilling and exciting. Ronald Malfi is clearly a great writer with a skill for descriptive language and strong characters.

THOMAS JOYCE

Publisher: Kensington
Paperback: 384pp
Release Date: 25 July 2017

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