Today on The Tattooed Book Geek I am honoured to be one of the two bloggers (alongside Hayley from Rather Too Fond of Books) opening the blog tour for In the Absence of Miracles by Michael J. Malone by featuring an excerpt from the book and also, I am resharing my review as an additional extra for the post. 🙂
My thanks to Anne cater for the tour invite, Michael J. Malone and Orenda Books.
In the Absence of Miracles.
- Paperback: 300 pages
- Publisher: Orenda Books (19 Sept. 2019)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 191237479X
- ISBN-13: 978-1912374793
- Amazon UK
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.
Excerpt from In the Absence of Miracles.
My mother’s face had haunted me since I’d last seen her, almost two weeks ago. Her one good eye staring. A string of saliva stretching from the corner of her mouth. Her right hand frozen into a claw as she struggled to reach for the warmth of mine.
This would be the first time I had seen her since she’d been transferred from the big hospital in Glasgow to Lennox House – a nursing home in the village where she’d spent most of her adult life.
The driveway was just wide enough for one car – there were a few passing places dotted along its length. The grass verges were neatly trimmed and a mix of large-leafed trees and giant rhododendron bushes broke the view over a wide, closely clipped lawn.
I followed the long curve of the drive and a couple of minutes later we were pulling up in front of a large ivy-covered Victorian mansion. There were three rows of tall windows set into stained, blond sandstone. In the centre, a grand portico, supported by four Greek pillars, stood over a large glass door.
‘It’s lovely,’ Angela said to me from the passenger seat, as she craned her neck to look up at the building.
‘The village seemed nice as well. A nice place to grow up. I’ve only ever known the city,’ she added wistfully.
I studied her expression to check if she was having a go at me. Despite the fact we’d been together for around two years – by around I mean we’ve been as much ‘on’ as ‘off’ over that period – I’d never brought her to the village where I’d grown up.
Inside, I was struck by the elegance and grandeur of the place. This impression was followed by the recognition of the subtle smell that hung in the air. It clung to my nostrils and filled my lungs. It was the smell of incontinence, dying breaths, and fading memories.
The flowers spilling from vases on every available surface did nothing to mask it; their perfume only added to the cloying smell.
We approached an imposing desk, and the receptionist looked up from her paperwork and offered us a smile. She had dark, straightened hair and was wearing a black jacket over a white shirt. The name badge on her lapel read Donna. Receptionist.
‘Morning. How can I help you?’
She looked from me to Angela and allowed her gaze to rest on her as if she judged Angela the more important.
‘I’m here to see my mother, Donna,’ I said. ‘Mrs Lorna Docherty.’
Donna smiled over at me, then looked down at her screen and punched a few keys on her keyboard.
‘Room twenty-two, first floor.’
I nodded my thanks, turned and walked over to the staircase.
As I looked around, the doctor’s words from the last time I spoke to him echoed in my mind: ‘Your mother has had a massive stroke, Mr Docherty. And sadly she didn’t get to a hospital quickly enough. Our tests indicate…’
He went on speaking but I couldn’t really take it in.
Lots of big words and serious expressions. ‘…We remain ever hopeful of course, but despite her relatively young age we expect she will see her days out under assisted care…’
And this place would cost money. A lot of money. I’d need to sell her house.
Angela reached for my hand.
‘You okay?’ she asked.
‘Got a bit of a sore head,’ I replied, offering her a smile, aware my tension was causing it to fray at the edges.
Together we walked over to the wide staircase and started to climb its plushly carpeted steps. The oak panelling on the walls matched the banister and was hung with large portraits of grim-faced Lennox men and women. The men all wore some form of army uniform and the women were dressed in dark, no-nonsense garments, the only flesh on show their pale hands clasped firmly on their laps.
Finding the door marked 22 I paused before it, steeled myself against the upset of what I would see on the other side, knocked on it with a single knuckle and entered.
In the Absence of Miracles Book Review.
(originally posted onAugust 23rd, 2019)
John Docherty’s mother, Lorna has recently suffered a massive stroke. Due to the stroke, she no longer has the use of one of her hands and she has been left unable to speak properly. After the death of her husband years before she had been living by herself but the stroke means that she is no longer capable of looking after herself, that she now needs round the clock care and that she can no longer stay at her home. Funding for the care home where she is staying will come from the sale of the family home. But, before the house can be sold it needs clearing and sorting out which falls to John. Whilst clearing out the attic John comes across a couple of brown paper wrapped and dusty boxes tied with string. Curious, he opens the boxes and inside one he finds a bloodstained child’s shoe and in the other a pile of old family photographs.
Many of the photographs are of John and his younger brother Chris. But then, there is a mysterious photograph with John as a toddler next to an older teenage child. Written on the back of the photograph in John’s dad’s handwriting is ‘the boys‘ which is the same term that his father used to use to describe him and Chris when they were younger.
With the discovery of the dusty boxes in the attic and of the photograph a decades-old secret resurfaces, John once had an older brother. A brother that he has no memory of and a brother who, thirty years ago when he was fourteen-years-old disappeared and was never again mentioned.
As John delves deeper into the mystery hoping to expose the bones of the past and investigates what really happened to his brother you see him getting nearer to the edge. Every moment for him is consumed with his need to find the truth and you see the toll that the revelation that he had a brother has taken on him. He starts to break, to crumble, to unravel, to slowly come apart at the seams as the tattered edges of who he is are ripped, becoming tears in the fabric of his soul.
Sometimes it is best to leave the past undisturbed and the secrets buried as once they are out in the open there’s no putting them back, no going back to the before and you now remember things that perhaps, you wish you didn’t. However, before you can heal, before you can be whole you have to face what you have been running from. To be able to build a future, to move forward and to move on you first need to make peace with the past.
Uncovering the truth is an obsession for John as he can’t remember having an older brother, it is like anything to do with his brother has been erased from his memory. But, that’s not all as he also has trouble remembering lots from his childhood. Where there should be memories, there is nothing but a deafening silence and an empty vault. As he (along with Chris) makes progress in solving the mystery vague recollections of past events and echoes of what happened to him during his childhood make their way through the abyss of nothingness that has been his memory.
In the Absence of Miracles is mostly written in the first-person perspective with a few flashback chapters in the third-person. The flashback chapters serve to shine a light on what happened to John’s brother thirty years ago and also, to show some of John’s repressed memories as they start resurfacing.
The writing in In the Absence of Miracles flows well, the characters feel real, the story is fast-paced and the emotion is imbued upon on the pages. There is a profundity of sadness to the harrowing story that Malone is telling. The dark and shocking secrets that are waiting to be discovered and the disturbing truth that when revealed breaks you, that pulls at your heartstrings and that sees them unravel.
Malone tackles a hard-hitting and tough subject in In the Absence of Miracles. There is something raw about the depiction and Malone deals with the subject in a respectful manner. Throughout the book, he maintains the care and the sensitivity that the topic requires when being addressed and there is no glorifying and no over sensationalising for shock value. But, Malone doesn’t pull any punches either looking at how those who have been mired in darkness have trouble escaping, overcoming their past and how those who have suffered must endure the demons that haunt.
In the Absence of Miracles is a story that grips you from the start and a story that tears out your heart. You are pulled in and you want, no, you need to know the truth about John’s brother and his disappearance. At the same time as that need, as that yearning for the truth you know that also, the truth when it is revealed will lead down some dark roads. And, that those roads will travel to some very dark places where memory, where the horrors of the past await and where monsters dwell deep in the depths of remembrance.
You keep turning the pages with ardent energy. But, while you are captivated by the unfolding story there is also a feeling of unease for what will come to pass. A tension to your reading as you know that, for John, it will mean nothing good and that what lies ahead will bring him only pain, sorrow, suffering and stormy waters.
In the Absence of Miracles is a captivating mystery, a heartbreaking look at family and a triumph of emotional storytelling that all combine to create a powerful and poignant story.
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, in Ayr. He has published over 200 poems in literary magazines throughout the UK, including New Writing Scotland, Poetry Scotland and Markings. His career as a poet has also included a (very) brief stint as the Poet-In-Residence for an adult gift shop. Blood Tears, his bestselling debut novel won the Pitlochry Prize (judge: Alex Gray) from the Scottish Association of Writers. Other published work includes: Carnegie’s Call (a non-fiction work about successful modern-day Scots); A Taste for Malice; The Guillotine Choice; Beyond the Rage and The Bad Samaritan. His psychological thriller, A Suitable Lie, was a number one bestseller on AU/UK ebook charts, and House of Spines soon followed suit. Michael is a regular reviewer for the hugely popular crime fiction website http://www.crimesquad.com. A former Regional Sales Manager (Faber & Faber) he has also worked as an IFA and a bookseller.
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