Written by: James Keen
“It was worse than any nightmare he had ever known.” – ‘Malice’.
Family relocation to a new town, to a strange environment is a rich literary pool of narrative possibilities for a writer to explore. Displacement and the struggle to fit in, to integrate with the new community opens up intriguing story-telling opportunities and avenues for dramatic tension. Griffin Hayes’ in his horror novel, ‘Malice’ takes this central story idea, laces it with the recurring motif of the past constantly threatening to usurp the present in devilishly gruesome ways -of secrets that refuse to wither and fade away- ladles on some grotesquely sanguine imagery and offers up a novel that while certainly entertaining to begin with, it’s a reading experience that becomes increasingly predictable with a cast of characters whose trite dialogue is all too redolent of torpid exchanges in the blander variety of episodic crime-based television series.
Introducing our hero, Lysander Shore, a seventeen year old ‘goth’, struggling to minimise his sense of social alienation, Hayes from the first chapter gets his story off to a suitably unnerving opening. Shore encounters the local insurance rep Peter Hume, who ominously informs the young lad, “You were warned not to come here.” Millingham, Shore’s new home town has its sinister portents but it also has its decidedly more attractive aspects, most notably in the form of his new classmates, Samantha and Summer, the former a self-styled wiccan and the other a typical example of college air-head eye-candy. As the odd events in Haye’s novel begin to increase in terms of malevolence and blood-letting, the author draws a rather vapid, overly familiar picture of a young man torn between his affection for two wildly different girls while slowly revealing the origins of the paranormal occurrences in the otherwise relatively peaceful town of Millingham.
‘Malice’ has many creatively interesting elements going for it; there’s an abandoned house with a violent history, a decidedly creepy police deputy, a sub-plot involving Samantha’s father -the local Sheriff and the suicide of her mother but to quote the text itself here, “something wasn’t quite right.”. Hayes keeps the plot moving along at an energetic pace, but as the book diligently hammers on, its fervent intent to scare and thrill is sabotaged by the hackneyed exchanges between characters, by reliance on character archetypes and character development/motivation that smacks of convenient artifice on the part of the writer. It’s the novel’s tiresomely obvious story arc that stymies narrative tension until reading it becomes an exercise in page-turning with very little reader empathy with the book’s characters. There are set-pieces in the text that the seasoned horror aficionado has come across time and again and instead of attempting to do something different with these ideas, Hayes’ narrative methodology is to simply synthesise horror tropes, perhaps aiming to distract the reader from the plainly transparent conceit here.
It’s a shame as Hayes has a nice line in economic and effectively descriptive prose. If he finds a story that isn’t so obviously derivative and reins in his penchant for cliched dialogue then this reviewer would certainly be interested in reading more from this author. As it stands, this is neither frightening nor sufficiently dramatically engaging to warrant more of the same.
Order Malice here.