#Orentober – Review: In The Absence of Miracles by Michael J Malone from Orenda Books

Gripping, tense, unexpected, deeply moving. An at times difficult read, but a beautifully written story full of heart and compassion.

Available to buy via Orenda Books here.


This is a difficult book to review. I’ll get that right up front. It goes to some really dark places, if you are going to give this a read you need to be prepared for that. Themes of lost childhoods, abuse and broken families run through the story. All couched in a thrilling mystery that starts to present itself in the early chapters and gets more intriguing and dangerous as the story progresses. Deep secrets start to surface of a shameful past, and those who have kept them would like them to stay buried, but how far are they willing to go to ensure that happens?

John Docherty’s mother has just had a stroke, a stroke that’s put her in a nursing home. After visiting her, John goes to start clearing the house that needs to be sold to pay for her ongoing care. In doing so he makes a discovery that will end up changing his world permanently.

In the early stages we hear a lot about how its best to let the past lie buried and not go digging up old secrets. That old chestnut. What Michael does really differently here though is to talk about the psychological effects of that action, or inaction. John is a difficult man, a commitment-phobe (Gamophobia if you’re interested, I didn’t know that until writing this review) with a quite serious drinking problem, his brother is absentee having gone globetrotting. All of these things can be traced back through a family history that starts to unravel as the story progresses.

Michael talks about difficult issues throughout the story, from a male perspective in such a way as to not feel like a public service announcement. Men, as a group, are notorious for not talking about their feelings and Michael brings to life in real detail the dangers of this and the damage that toxic masculinity can do. He also plays with your expectations somewhat, when you think the story is taking one direction, he veers off in another. Veers might be a bad choice of word though, suggesting as it does an element of anarchy. This is a writer in complete control of his story. A story written with a fluid almost graceful prose and a quiet emotionality to the tougher sequences, In the Abence of Miracles is a highly recommended and thought provoking mix of drama and crime thriller.


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