They Lurk by Ronald Malfi a Horror Book Review by Tony Jones
For the last decade or so Ronald Malfi has been on a serious hot streak, which includes the exceptional novels; Bone White (2017), Come With Me (2021) and Black Mouth (2022). This has been backed up by an ultra-slick interconnected sequence of novellas Ghostwritten (2022) and We Should Have Left Well Enough Alone (2017) a collection of career spanning short stories. If you are new to this author he has one of the finest back catalogues in horror, which has strengthened as he has matured as a writer.
Although They Lurk was a very enjoyable read, it failed to hit the same sweet spots as most of his very recent fiction and in a straight ‘novella versus novella’ comparison is not a patch on Ghostwritten. Four of the five stories are reissues which were originally published between 2009-12 by the small press DarkFuse who ceased trading in 2017. They have not been rewritten in any manner and are presented in their original format. The stories are not connected or themed and can be read in whichever order you fancy.
The collection opens with Skullberry with a slightly down-at-heel private detective hired to investigate the disturbing circumstances behind the disappearance of three teenagers in a small rural town which clearly has lots of secrets and does not open up to outsiders. The detective was engaging company, an ex-cop with personal problems desperate to get to the bottom of why the only survivor (who is lying in a coma and prime suspect) made it out of the forest alive at the expense of his friends. Although this was a fun and very solid story, the direction it took did not hold much in the way of surprises and seemed to be warming up when it finished, with the reader desperate to know more about the elephant in the room.
The Separation was a fascinating change of pace with Marcus arriving in Germany to find Charlie, his old friend and successful boxer in a deep depression, losing weight, having marriage trouble and on the verge of abandoning his career in the fight game. The story is built around Charlie’s erratic behaviour, which includes stalking his estranged wife, disappearing in the middle of the night and either memory loss or blackouts. The story is seen from Marcus’s perspective, who works in the medical profession, with the easy answer being that Charlie is having some sort of breakdown, but increasingly strange events point to something more sinister. This was an odd and rather striking story, which included a bizarre scene of a guy boxing/fighting a horse (a rather sad one-sided contest), and I enjoyed the sombre melancholic mood as Charlie spiralled to god knows where amongst a myriad of personal demons.
The Stranger was a particularly eye-catching story containing some wincing bone-crunching moments which may well have you turning away from the page, I am not going to provide the context as that will ruin the wince inducing surprise! The story opens with David considering when he is going to ditch his latest girlfriend, it is implied that she is the latest of many, with this level of general unhappiness and discontent bubbling away in the background of the story. After finding a motel for the night the action unfolds predominately in a rural Florida parking lot where David returns to his car to find a stranger sat behind the wheel. The doors are locked and there’s a gun on the dashboard. He does not recognise the man, calls the police and all the other model residents quickly get involved to varying degrees, adding edge to the story as they disagree and argue over how to manage the increasingly desperate situation. To be frank, what happened next completely caught me by surprise and I was as riveted as grossed out. I am not sure it made much sense, but it did pack a huge juicy punch, or should that be crunch?
After the Fade was an old-fashioned and catchy creature feature which recalled Stephen King’s The Mist. A blues musician brings his girlfriend to his favourite Annapolis bar with the intention of dumping her until a young woman walks through the door and turns everything on its head. After collapsing and dying, upon closer investigation the patrons of the bar realise something akin to a huge insect, bigger than a fist, had attached itself to the base of her skull. After killing the monstrosity they realise it was not an isolated incident with the paranoia ramping up when they lose contact with the outside world and events spiral from bad to worse. This story certainly had the legs (or maybe that should be wings) to be expanded into a bigger piece.
They Lurk concludes with the only new novella, in survival horror style. A mother and daughter are involved in a car accident on a snowy desolate stretch of road, but this very cleverly blurs into an incident from many years earlier when the pair had another unforgettably horrible happening and the trauma connected to it. This was stalker crossed with hillbilly horror at its finest which packed a real whack as it silkily manoeuvred between stories and the increasingly bizarre present circumstances set on an isolated snow-covered road and forest area with a maniac on the loose.
It looks like Ronald Malfi has found a long-term home with publishers Titan, who have released his last four books and I will be interested to see whether they intend to dip further into his outstanding back-catalogue for other choice cuts. Another of his strongest novellas Mr Cables was rereleased by another publisher back in 2020 and so it would not surprise me to see others bounce back into print. Long-term fans will have undoubtedly read the original DarkFuse versions but these rereleases are no bad thing as Titan have definitely widened the readership of one of the world’s leading authors of horror and dark fiction. But personally I hope 2024 brings us a new novel.
They Lurk by Ronald Malfi
From the bestselling author of Come with Me, five collected novellas from the master of terror, featuring possession, parasites and something monstrous lurking outside…
Five terrifying collected horror novellas newly reissued from the “modern-day Algernon Blackwood”.
A private detective is hired after three teenagers disappear in a forest and uncovers a terrible local secret.
Marcus arrives in Germany to find his friend up-and-coming prizefighter Charlie in a deep depression. But soon Charlie’s behavior grows increasingly bizarre. Is he suffering from a nervous breakdown, or are otherworldly forces at work?
Set a rural Florida parking lot, David returns to his car to find a stranger sat behind the wheel. The doors are locked and there’s a gun on the dashboard. And that was when then the insanity started…
After the Fade
A girl walked into a small Annapolis tavern, collapsed and died. Something had latched itself to the base of her skull. And it didn’t arrive alone.
Now, the patrons of The Fulcrum are trapped, held prisoner within the tavern’s walls by monstrous things, trying to find their way in.
And one more novella to be revealed!