December Park by Ronald Malfi is a coming of age story in the tradition of Boy’s Life and The Body. Readers going into expecting a traditional Malfi horror tale may be disappointed. This isn’t a supernatural novel. Oh, there is the running narrative about a sinister individual who abducts teenagers, but this plot provides the backdrop for the adventure story of five teenage boys who try to solve the mystery. The missing kids are never heard from again, and suspense builds as the boys gradually gather clues as to the identity of the perpetrator. You know they are going to come face-to-face with the creep at some point, and there are enough red herrings to keep the reader on edge. This novel is over 700 pages, so there are numerous story lines beyond the child abduction mystery. And these stories, believe it or not, are where Malfi’s writing really shines. The interaction between the five boys is clever and realistic. Malfi captures the banter and exchanges between the kids—and they feel “right” for guys in their mid-teens. Then there are the other real-life issues the kids face: bullies, personal grief, girls, parent relationship problems, and summer school. They add a sense of normalcy to the story. All of them cleverly portrayed. At times, the coming-of-age detail is excessive and threatens to derail the action. I think the editors could have pruned at least ten percent which would have resulted in a tighter flow. Nonetheless, the final denouement is riveting (although a tad unbelievable), and ultimately satisfying. The final pages address adolescent relationship issues, and the ending is bittersweet. A solid 4-star read.
Anthony Hains is a horror & speculative fiction writer.