This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
19.09.19 / Orenda Books / Psychological Thriller / Paperback / 300pp / 978-1912374793
Target Audience: Readers who like hard-hitting psychological thrillers with deep and relevant themes. Those who can appreciate a psychological mystery that gets broken down into its rawest form by a seasoned Scottish writer who is at the top of his game.
About In The Absence Of Miracles
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.
My Review of In The Absence Of Miracles
‘Right.’ He looked away from me out of the window, and then back. His face was heavy with regret and sadness. ‘I came across a quote the other day. Nietzsche, whoever the fuck he was.’ He grinned to show me he knew exactly who he was. ‘”You can judge a man’s spirit by the amount of truth he can tolerate.”‘ Pause. ‘Can you tolerate the truth, John?’
The Absence Of Miracles – Michael J Malone
Michael J Malone always strives to deliver honest and vivid perspectives on the harsh realities of trauma, abuse, grief and mental health issues. Each novel is a deeply human story that focus on the unsaid, unexpected or unheard issues that people face in their lives everyday. MJM reveals in these situations that there can be positive insights and moments of clarity to be had that offer a chance to move forward with our lives after such devastating circumstances. A stance I have come to respect from MJM’s writing in each of his novels.
MJM’s signature development of the story, slowly yet eagerly revealing the truth about the people, their beliefs and their actions while ramping up the tension and suspense to uncomfortable yet irresistible levels. You just have to keep reading until its over as it’s hard to focus on anything else. Crafting these human stories imbued with psychological mysteries and relatable and tense dramatic moments that can have all kinds of effect of the reader. All building to huge revelations that strike the reader right to the core, leaving the mind reeling. The hows, the whys and the empathetic and compassionate thoughts that MJM easily manages to provoke.
In The Absence Of Miracles is a tense, eager and emotional story about the power of repressed memories, acknowledging and facing up to trauma and redefining its hold over the lives we lead. I can always trust MJM to break boundaries in the psychological thriller genre, blending them with taboo and the very real concequences of physical and mental abuse, and In The Absence Of Miracles continues this trend perfectly. Combining everything that was successful about his previous novels and bringing us an impressive exploration of a mind damaged by the effects of abuse and the underlying problems that manifest as the truth gets pushed deeper and deeper.
In The Absence Of Miracles is centred around John Docherty, a Glaswegian teacher in his 30s, who is searching for brother he never knew existed. John finds evidence of Thomas’ existence during a clear out of his mother’s home after she suffered a stroke and was left unable to live alone anymore. Thomas disappeared when John was only toddler and his parents had never taken the opportunity to tell him, or his younger brother Chris, what happened to him. The only thing the investigation into Thomas’ disappearance garnered was one of his shoes which was covered in blood.
After some investigating of his own, John manages to connect Thomas’ case with several other young teenagers who went missing around the same time in nearby towns. John discovers that the same travelling carnival was in each location at the time of the disappearances. John and Chris set out to find the people involved and stir up the past in the hope that they can glean some truth on death of their brother. What John finds shatters the foundations of his life and causes him to face a truth about his family that he had managed to suppress for all these years.
Michael J. Malone has written a superb novel that once again opens up a discussion on the human experience, this time it is memory. Memory is a huge theme (one of many) that drives the narrative. How emotions such as shame and anger, as well as positive emotions, can skew our recollections of the past in many ways and in some cases can be re-written entirely to fit the needs of a vulnerable mind. Yet the emotions tied to these memories still exist in the subconscious, coming out when a situation provokes them. How our behaviour changes due to avoidance of such memories which can have hugely negative consequences like alcoholism, drug abuse or relationship failures. MJM goes into all of this and more and I still find it hard to believe just how much he manages to cover in each of his novels.
Michael J. Malone is a genius who never seems to waste a word when cultivating a hard-hitting, emotionally challenging novel. There are some difficult subjects present in this novel that will certainly evoke varied reactions from readers but MJM doesn’t do this lightly. Themes such as child abuse and addiction. There is an enlightening weight to his words that sets to further break the stigma on speaking out about abuse, no matter who you are, past or present. Subtle encouragement to deal with our own needs and any truth we might be hiding from ourselves.
Though I have focused on the psychological side of events, I would just like to say that there are plenty of thriller/mystery elements (and charming too) at play as well which gave John’s experience some suspenseful moments. As the investigation unfolds and we learn more about John (and his family through flashbacks), MJM provides some great moments that will keep any seasoned reader on their toes. Shifting the atmosphere of events with each reveal, steeling both John and the reader for the whole truth by the end of the book.
I thought John was a great central character, complicated yet simple at the same time. There are many dimensions to him which a lot of people can grip onto. I really liked his time with Angela, they make a great couple, and it was interesting to see how events re-shaped their relationship as the narrative developed. It’s good to see that even after all the drama and suspense, MJM can still throw down some charm when it is needed.
MJM’s writing never ceases to catch me off guard. There are many words to describe it but its easier just to pick up his books yourself. In The Absence Of Miracles was compared to A Suitable Lie and, though it took a while, I would agree. Starting off impulsive and casual yet consistently escalating events to breaking point. Each moment is never what you totally thought it would be. I had never experienced anything like it until I started reading MJM’s work. Please keep surprising me because I can’t get enough. I agree with Luca Veste, start reading Michael J. Malone novels now because he is only getting better!
About Michael J. Malone
Michael Malone is a prize-winning poet and author who was born and brought up in the heart of Burns’ country. He has published over 200 poems in literary magazines throughout the UK, including New Writing Scotland, Poetry Scotland and Markings.Blood Tears, his bestselling debut novel won the Pitlochry Prize from the Scottish Association of Writers. Other published work includes: Carnegie’s Call; A Taste for Malice; The Guillotine Choice; Beyond the Rage; The Bad Samaritanand Dog Fight. His psychological thriller, A Suitable Lie, was a number-one bestseller, and the critically acclaimed House of Spinesand After He Died soon followed suit. A former Regional Sales Manager (Faber & Faber) he has also worked as an IFA and a bookseller. Michael lives in Ayr.