July 25, 2017
Reviewed by Marvin Vernon
In the (hopefully) fictional town of Dread’s Hands, Alaska, Joe Mallory has confessed to eight murders. He leads the investigators to where he buried the bodies. When Paul Gallo hears about this chain of murder and discovery on the news, he instantly recognizes the place as where his twin brother Danny went missing a year ago. He travels to Alaska to find out if his brother is one of those that was murdered. His journey leads him to a strange small town where crosses are mounted near the roadside like some form of protection, children wear animal masks to ward off devils, and the inhabitants seem fearful of him and just want him to leave. Like many who grieve, Paul is looking for resolution but instead is being sucked into a bigger mystery and an even more horrible secret.
Bone White is one of those rare horror novels that can make a place a monster. Ronald Malfi is a master of dark description and Dread’s Hands is all the more forbidding because of it. It is described as barely a town at all and those who visit it remember it “as a sequence of crude Neanderthal drawings, a series of snapshots all laid out of order, and in random, nonsensical collages. Nightmare fuel.” But as the reader gets more into the story, Dread’s Hand becomes the foundation for a more deadly horror. The author builds up the terror almost perfectly with each skillful description leading to more fears. I shouldn’t be here is an impression Paul gets when he arrives, and is repeated in varied and significant ways as he remains. It is also the impression the reader receives as he or she explores Dread’s Hand on paper.
But Paul Gallo is looking for his brother so he braves the forbidding town despite the townspeople’s effort to make him leave. There are essentially two mysteries going on in the novel. There is the disappearance of his twin brother and there is the more recent discovery of eight corpses which is being investigated by detective Jill Ryerson, who is being lured in by the contradictions and questions that follow the killer’s confession and explanation. Inevitably the two events are connected but not in a way that might be suspected by the reader. Again, we see the enormous skills of the author as he pulls everything together in a way that may be surprising. But what surprises me the most is how well Malfi works in the psychological angst of a man whose love/hate relationship with his brother fuels his guilt and keeps his needs to put closure on his twin’s disappearance alive. The horror of the town and its residents may be the bait, but it is the emotions and struggles of the main protagonist that places this book above the heap of good suspense and horror tales to see the light of day in 2017.
Hence Bone White is not only essential reading for the horror fan, but is just as important to those who want a literary read that explore basic human emotion of grief and the need for resolution. Bone White may be dark and it certainly fits the bill for atmospheric scares and chills, but it is the human connection that makes this more than just another horror novel and why it is one of the best books of 2017 of any genre.