COME WITH ME by Ronald Malfi (BOOK REVIEW)
“The small secrets are easy to keep hidden—easier, say, than the big secrets, the whoppers, the infidelities, and closet addictions that, like some underwater beastie that must ultimately ascend to the surface for a gasp of air, don’t remain secrets forever.”
Come With Me by Ronald Malfi is one of the most addictive psychological thrillers I’ve read in such a long while. Strictly speaking it isn’t just a psychological thriller, it’s also part paranormal, with the narrative meandering it’s way through the belief in ghosts and urban legends. This blend is exactly what made me fall in love with this book. Malfi continually kept my mind abuzz with theories, I was kept suspicious of every character and every development, I thought I knew all the answers, I was wrong.
Please note this review is spoiler free, but if you would rather go into this novel knowing nothing about the plot, then I’d stop reading now.
The book begins with a tragic event. Aaron Decker, our main protagonist, is a Japanese novel translator whose seemingly ordinary life completely changes after his wife, Allison, is suddenly killed in a shopping mall shooting. We heartbreakingly follow Aaron as he numbly becomes haunted by memories of his wife!and struggles to come to terms with her death. When acceptance slowly begins to seep in, Aaron decides to sort through Allison’s possessions, but he makes a discovery which changes his whole perception of her. You see Allison held many secrets, dark secrets.
From there on, we follow Aaron as he embarks upon a journey to uncover the truth about his wife and exactly what she was up to in the weeks prior to her death. It is a compelling journey that takes many unpredictable twists along the way, and as Aaron’s obsession with seeking answers heightens, we too addictively keep our eyes glued to the pages eager to know more.
One aspect which really drew me into the story was Malfi’s highly emotive prose. Aaron’s grief is at the forefront of the narrative, we truly feel his loss and his pain. The prose is written in first person framed narrative, with Aaron being the narrator addressing this story to his dead wife. This allows the reader a deeper insight into Aaron’s character, as we explore every aspect of their relationship from the first time they meet, to the life they eventually lead together. Malfi includes many flashback scenes of this relationship, and it poignantly brings to light just how much Aaron has lost. Then during Aaron’s investigation he meets characters such as Bobbi Negri, a journalist, Peter Sloane – a retired police officer and James de Campo – Allison’s stepfather; we feel his utter bewilderment unfold as he realises the kind of childhood his wife really had. These characters never felt cliched, which is often a problem I have when reading psychological thrillers, yet Malfi avoids this by making each character serve a purpose and simultaneously feel realistic.
“My grief was so palpable in that moment that my entire body began to tremble and I thought it possible that I might just break apart and crumble to the carpet in broken shards of crockery, a powdery heap that that had once been a person which only you, in your spectral majesty, might reshape into something even more exquisite and true.”
I loved the way Malfi’s prose was also atmospheric. As I have mentioned Come With Me also incorporates elements of the paranormal and even horror. The closet light turns on and flickers with no explanation as to how, a figure appears and disappears in the shadows, at night a handprint remains upon Aaron’s car window. Are all these signs of Allison’s ghost haunting him, or is his grief so overwhelming that it’s all in his mind? Then there’s the mysterious phrase ‘Gas Head will make you dead’ which was found among Allison’s notes, which turns out to have such a creepy supernatural story behind it. Even the title, Come With Me, a phrase which is eerily repeated throughout the book, holds more than one meaning. Malfi excels at building up a sense of uneasiness and dread, he knows how to keep the reader in anticipation for what may come next.
Lastly, by the end of the novel I was left with an ache in my heart, but after reading the author’s note, my heart completely broke. Therefore I would suggest that you make sure to read this once you’ve finished the novel, it gives the entire narrative a whole new meaning.
”You have plumbed the darkest depths of this world and left a part of the curtain pulled away so that I, too, might peek behind it. This bleak, rusty machine we call life. This unexpected beauty.”
ARC provided by Sarah at Titan Books in exchange for an honest review. Thank you for the copy! Come With Me is available to buy now.