In the Absence of Miracles by Michael J. Malone (Orenda Books)

Michael J Malone has written some intriguing and unusual novels that never shy away from taboo subjects. I find it incredibly exciting to pick up a Malone novel, knowing that I’m in for a thought-provoking, emotional ride. In the Absence of Miracles was a welcome addition to my Kindle. Here’s the blurb:

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. 

As always, Malone hits you square between the eyes with truths that are at once too awful to comprehend, yet providing you with an awareness that this is a very real situation for some people and he compels you to face the pain his characters are feeling, to have some semblance of understanding at how incomprehensible it is that families can inflict such damage on each other, and even worse, can find some kind of justification for it.

Malone phrases his narrative with great sensitivity and the structure of his novel lends itself well to build up the tension and the shock and awe of John’s situation. He also explores the effects of trauma on the psyche and illuminates how different people can be affected by trauma in a variety of ways.

This is a novel about control and abuse of power, and Malone, as with his novel, A Suitable Lie, has framed this in a gripping story that breaks your heart, but more than that, it drives home the reality of the terrible lives some people lead at the hands of those who should have protected them, and the knock-on effects of that upbringing on their future. Malone takes an emotionally charged topic and unerringly unfolds the mystery to provide his readers with a novel that they can’t put down. Malone doesn’t just give you a novel to read, he gives you food for thought, that lasts longer than after the book is back on the shelf.

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