John Docherty’s mother has just been taken into a nursing home following a massive stroke and she’s unlikely to be able to live independently again.
With no other option than to sell the family home, John sets about packing up everything in the house. In sifting through the detritus of his family’s past he’s forced to revisit, and revise his childhood.
For in a box, in the attic, he finds undeniable truth that he had a brother who disappeared when he himself was only a toddler. A brother no one ever mentioned. A brother he knew absolutely nothing about. A discovery that sets John on a journey from which he may never recover. For sometimes in that space where memory should reside there is nothing but silence, smoke and ash. And in the absence of truth, in the absence of a miracle, we turn to prayer. And to violence.
Shocking, chilling and heartbreakingly emotive, In the Absence of Miracles is domestic noir at its most powerful, and a sensitively wrought portrait of a family whose shameful lies hide the very darkest of secrets.
Man oh man, what a tale! First of all, a bazillion thanks to Karen Sullivan from Orenda Books for my gifted proof copy, and to Michael J. Malone for writing it. I’ve been going over it in my head for days now and I’m still not any closer to forming coherent thoughts, so I’ve given up and I’m just going to spew all my thoughts and feelings as they are, y’all will just have to deal with it! Alternatively, save yourself the trouble and just go buy it, it’s available in eBook format as of today (buy directly from Orenda Books here)! If you’re more of a paperback kinda gall/guy, you’ll have to wait until September, but nothing’s stopping you from pre-ordering (here), just saying?
Alrightie. Back to all my rambling thoughts and feelings, so many feelings I could not cope. At all. In the Absence of Miracles broke me, and then some. Once again, Michael J. Malone’s focus is on a family, one that seems to be doing okay, but is actually anything but. And once again, he made me care about his characters too damned much, which is why I practically keeled over when light was finally shed on this family’s dark secrets.
We first meet protagonist John at a rather difficult point is his life. His mother’s just had a massive stroke and John’s checking her in in a nursing home. She can’t speak properly, she has lost the use of one hand, and being the one parent John still has, it’s a sad, sad thing. It’s pretty obvious that she’ll never be able to return home, and with his younger brother still AWOL (physically but even more so emotionally), it falls on John to make a start with cleaning up and clearing out his mum’s house so it can be sold. Randomly going through some old boxes in the attic, he finds a shoe with traces of blood, and photographs of himself as a toddler, with another boy, a boy who looks just like him. And so, barely having made a dent in the book, In the Absence of Miracles was already tugging at my heartstrings and making me reach for my detective hat: what happened to the boy in the photo, why is there blood on the shoe? It only gets worse (or better, depending on your point of view) from there: John finds irrefutable evidence that the older boy in the photos is in fact his brother and he’s desperate to find out what happened to him and why he never even knew he had an older brother. Trying to expose that truth though, he bares a truckload of memories he had buried and hidden from everyone, including himself, and his whole past starts to unravel.
The blurb and the comments on the proof’s cover mention dark secrets, violence, a shocking taboo, but still I had no idea that In the Absence of Miracles would have such dark and emotional depths (pretty daft, really, it’s a Malone, of course there are dark and emotional depths *smacks own forehead in disdain for own daftness*). There are so many layers peeled away, one by one until only the naked truth remains, and what an ugly truth it is. I’ve been going back and forth on whether or not I should give away part of the plot by disclosing what it was that was so horrible, the thing that broke my heart in a million pieces and had me ugly-crying, and reaching for both tissues and ice cream (full disclosure: I ate half a tub, and felt a little better), but the blurb keeps it vague and therefore so shall I. The fact of the matter is that I cared far too much, and so every time John got emotional, I was bawling. If you have any major triggers and you want to make sure they’re not in this book, feel free to drop me a line.
In the Absence of Miracles is a tough read emotion-wise, but easy-peasy in terms of pace and writing and flow, I fell into it, read fifty pages in a single breath, forgot everything and everyone, it was just me and Malone’s voice in my little book bubble. A thriller, the darkest domestic noir, a family drama. A captivating, mesmerising, engrossing, at times poetic story about creating a future among the ruins of a past. I highly recommend you read this, although perhaps not in public spaces!
I read and reviewed In the Absence of Miracles for the Indie Crime Crawl. It’s not your typical crime thriller, but believe me when I tell you it does fit the bill!
Be sure to check out the Orenda eBookstore for lots of special offers! Lots of offers going on everywhere in celebration of the #IndieCrimeCrawl, have a nosey on the websites and Twitter feeds of these lovely indie publishers and check out these blogs for tips on what to buy!