It wasn’t just the black paint covering the window panes but the walls themselves, crowded with what looked like graffiti – streaks of brownish-red melding to form not words, but symbols, hieroglyphics. Mallory’s wood-paneled walls were covered from floor to ceiling with these strange sigils, each one as enigmatic as the next. “That looks like blood,” Ryerson said, closing in on one wall. She trained her penlight’s beam on one particular symbol that looked very much like an Egyptian glyph of an eye, only this eye had a vertical cat-like pupil.
–Bone White by Ronald Malfi
Bone White by Ronald Malfi
Bone White is a horror novel about Paul, a college professor whose twin brother Danny travels to Alaska to “find himself”, and shortly after sending a picture of himself outside of a reclusive town called Dead Hand, Danny vanishes. A year after Danny’s disappearance, a man from Dead Hand turns himself in for serial murder, and thinking that Danny may be one of the victims, Paul travels to Alaska to search for his brother. Dead Hand is just as isolated and just as creepy as its name suggests, and Paul makes little progress in his hunt for his brother. However, it is clear that there is something deeply wrong with the town, starting with their deep belief that the Devil himself lives in the woods and can turn men into monsters.
The setting of this novel is spot-on, fleshed out by the imagery and the characters themselves. I often cringe away from cliched characters, but in this case, the cliches present in some of the secondary characters acted more as an extension of the setting, rather than making the characters feel flat. The citizens of Dead Hand were often exactly as expected from a horror novel set in a rural area: uneducated and behind a polite face, highly mistrusting of strangers. This allowed each secondary character to play their superficial role while making Paul seem even more isolated, as he was one of the only fleshed out characters of the novel. In that way, Bone White held the same stark isolation of The Shining. Although there was an entire village through which Paul moved, the characters seemed just as false as the ghosts of The Shining. It was not only the characters, though, that made the setting: Ronald Malfi’s descriptions, especially the cold and the snow of the woods, added that same deep cold and feeling of never-ending winter that permeated The Shining.
One of the most difficult aspects of horror is managing the pacing, but Bone White mastered this. At no point in the novel did I feel bored, but I also did not feel overwhelmed, as I am prone to feel when reading horror. Instead, it had several steady builds to quick, violent events that foreshadowed the conflict at the end of the novel while still keeping the reader invested in the overarching plot. The Shining had a similar build-up, dropping hints and violent outbursts occasionally about the darker truth behind the hotel.
I had been a little concerned with “the Devil” as a villain – I was afraid it would turn out to be just one big cliche. However, without giving too much away, I want to say that the development of the villain of this book was perfect, and tied well into the pacing. Little glimpses of the evil of the wood was spread well throughout the novel, and at the climax of the story, there was just the right amount of fantasy without seeming to launch us into an entirely different world, or risking breaking the world’s established laws of nature.
In all, I would rate Bone White an 8 out of 10. For a horror novel, this book hits the mark, with its spooky setting and perfect pacing. However, readers that do not enjoy horror will not find much else in this one.