Bone White by Ronald Malfi
Kensington (July 2017)
384 pages; $10.17 paperback; $7.99 e-book
Reviewed by Kevin Lucia
Seven years ago I was sent an ARC (Advance Reader Copy) for a novel called Snow by some author named Ronald Malfi. I’d not read anything by him then, and at first the novel looked pretty pedestrian. Monsters devastate a town during a blizzard. The initial setup seemed to point in that direction: a flight is cancelled because of the snowstorm, so several folks set out in a rental car to try for home the long way, and come upon a town cut off by the storm. It looked like a fairly simple paint-by-the-numbers affair, albeit written very well.
However, it wasn’t long until Malfi’s originality revealed itself. Yes, the scenario may’ve been familiar…but the monsters weren’t, and their looming cosmic menace sparked my interest. This was a writer I’d want to follow, for sure. Follow him I did, and several novels later—Passenger, The Fall of Never, Floating Staircase, The Narrows, Cradle Lake, Little Girls, The Night Parade—I’m an unabashed Ron Malfi fan.
His prose is always tight, yet it has an almost poetic rhythm to it, and his characters, especially, are what lift his work above the standard. They are real, flesh-and-blood people, not cardboard cut-outs. They make you feel, and this is one of Bone White’s strengths. Paul Gallo is driven by the guilt he feels for not taking care of his twin brother, as his father had requested of him. He feels responsible for letting Danny disappear into the Alaskan wild on a vagabond quest to “find himself,” and is compelled to track him down when a mass grave is discovered, desperate for closure. Even more poignantly…despite their occasionally contentious relationship, he feels incomplete without him. A deep ache lingers inside Paul where Danny used to be.
Quite simply, Bone White is my favorite Malfi since Floating Staircase and The Narrows. The atmosphere is claustrophobic and tense, and the suspense is so very well crafted. As someone who’s read a lot of horror, it’s not often something sends that delicious little chill up my spine. Malfi does this in Bone White, and what’s more, there’s a deep sense of mystery in this novel often lacking in standard horror fare.
Does a cosmic battle between good and evil rage in the woods surrounding Dread’s Hand? Or does the isolation of this small Alaskan town simply drive some people over the edge? Is Danny Gallo still alive, lurking in the woods, doing unspeakable things in his madness, and what are the townspeople hiding? At first, Malfi hints maybe Danny Gallo succumbed to his own demons, but when officer Jill Ryerson begins digging into the case on her own, she encounters a startling revelation which turns what’s happening in Dread’s Hand decidedly sinister.
Early buzz has marked this novel as one of the best horror novels so far this year. I am happy to agree, wholeheartedly.