Written by: Tony Jones
A brother’s desperate search for his missing twin leads him to a remote Alaskan town
Ronald Malfi’s latest novel “Bone White” is an absolute beauty and grips intensely from the first page until the chilling conclusion. Indeed, reading this tremendous odyssey into the frozen heart of Alaska keeps the reader on tenterhooks as the tale gets progressively darker. My kindle hit 97% and 98% and I still wasn’t entirely sure how it was going to end, with the author cleverly shrouding what horror lurked around the next corner. Like the main character Paul Gallo you’re going to lose something here, frostbite claims a couple of his toes, instead you’re going to have your nerves frazzled. I couldn’t take my eyes off the page and I love that level of intensity in a book.
Having said that, this is not a fast paced book. Some readers may even call it slow. If you know this author’s work you’ll already be aware that he specializes in strong plot-driven horror thrillers with very well drawn and believable characters, so “Bone White” has this and much more. If you’re new to Malfi, give this novel time, allow yourself to get into the head of Paul Gallo and follow him on his dangerous and desperate journey to Dread’s Hand. Join him on his guilt ridden search to find his wayward twin brother Danny who has not been seen or heard of for over a year. Except in his dreams and nightmares…..
The one-horse (and road) town of Dread’s Hand is a brilliant creation and location. Even the kids are freaky. It’s the remnants of a small mining town that has been down on its luck since the early twentieth century. Out of the blue a reclusive town local, Joe Mallory, hands himself into the police claiming to have murdered eight people. The police don’t believe him, but dig anyway, after the discovery of the bodies the story becomes international news. Elsewhere in America a mild mannered English literature teacher recognizes the name ‘Dread’s Hand’ from the last communication he had with his brother and fears the worse. Because of the severe decomposition of the discovered bodies Paul travels to the Alaskan backwater seeking answers in a town that prefers to keep silent and its secrets close….
Do twins have deep psychic connections? This is one of the recurring themes explored in the back story of Paul and Danny, with Paul having guilt over some events in Danny’s past which still bother him. If there is a deeper connection with twins then surely Paul would know whether Danny really was dead? Although there aren’t that many characters in this novel Malfi plays it out very slowly, deliberately, throwing the reader tip bits here and there, ultimately leading to the real strength of the novel: genuine suspense over whether the supernatural is at work, or not…. It’s really expertly done as the author reveals the local meaning of ‘Bone White’.
The signs aren’t good for Paul… We find out quickly that Dread’s Hand has a troubled history and resides in a remote part of Alaska which is akin to the Bermuda Triangle, folks disappear all the time and are never found, or perhaps they just don’t want to be found? It has one hotel, which only has one room, it has one diner and superstitious kids who run wild in fur-skinned animal masks. Dread’s Hand does not have its own police force, but local policewoman Jill Ryerson, who interviews the serial killer Joe Mallory also begins to dig and begins to uncover other secrets and connections previously missed. All of which combines into a very well crafted horror novel which was a highly satisfying read where Paul’s and Jill’s investigations collide.
Surprise, surprise Dread’s Hand barely appears on any road maps (never mind tourist listings) and the novel really moves up the gears when Paul arrives in a town that looks at him like he’s a ghost. Books rarely come more atmospheric than this, it broods, it whispers and it has some pretty unsettling scenes without ever being graphic. It’s psychological, it plays with local mythology, and for those of you who like slow-burning and atmospheric horror novels it is an absolute gem. Highly recommended.