DECEMBER PARK by Ronald Malfi (BOOK REVIEW)
December Park is my second foray into Ronald Malfi’s novels, and after how immensely thrilling this was, he’s on his way to becoming one of my favourite horror authors. Filled with eerie atmospheric prose, heartfelt characters and a gripping mystery, this book is a coming-of-age tale that demands your attention.
During 1993 in the sleepy suburbs of Harting Farm five friends anticipate the end of school and a long summer of carefree shenanigans and capers in the park and mysterious surrounding woods. However, when children begin disappearing, and one young girl is found brutally murdered, fears of a serial killer, terrifyingly named The Piper, grips all the residents in fear for their children’s safety. As parent’s become stricter and police begin to enforce restrictions, our five band of friends decide to make a pact to uncover who The Piper is and put an end to their horrific deeds. Yet what begins as a simple pledge, an adventure of sorts, soon turns into a deadly task. Can they find The Piper before one of them becomes their next victim?
“When I wrote, I entered a fantasy world. That old typewriter was the machine that took me there and brought me safely back. I didn’t
know if I could get there from someone’s spare word processor. Moreover, I thought that once you stopped writing words and started processing them, those wonderful fantasy worlds became harder and harder to visit.”
Our main protagonist is Angelo Mazzone, a fifteen year old Italian American boy, who gives us his first person account of the fateful summer he and his friends spent searching for The Piper. Angelo doesn’t quite fit into the mainstream crowd, his passions are music and writing, not sports, and his home is filled with grief and longing after the death of his brother Charlie. Angelo loses himself in his imagination, creating stories on a rickety typewriter, spinning tales of horror. At school his new English teacher recognises his talent and encourages him, but to a fifteen year old boy, thoughts of future careers are not of high priority. His father is often aloof, lost in thoughts, and due to his police work, and now the task of catching a killer, he’s rarely at home. It is clear he cares for his son, but after losing one, he doesn’t know how to show affection for the one who still lives. Unlike most teenagers, Angelo never showed bitterness towards his father, he’s a kind and gentle soul, a boy who can see beyond himself. In his grandparents’ care most of the time, Angelo doesn’t grow up without love, and certainly not without friendship.
As we meet Peter, Michael, Scott and some time later Adrian, we soon discover Angelo never had to face life alone. Together they bike ride across the twilight streets of Hartings Farm, watch horror movies at the Juniper, secretly enjoy a smoke or two, listen to Nirvana and Springsteen, and share jokes and quip at each other. Over the course of the novel these five young boys form an unbreakable bond. Malfi is fantastic at building characters, making each of them distinct and memorable. I loved the way Michael was the comedian of the group, Angelo the more sensible one, Peter the guardian, Scott cautious and Adrian held dark secrets. As the threat of bullies rears its ugly head, and the danger surrounding The Piper mounts up, these kids stand together, never leaving each other’s side. Their friendship was everything and I truly adored them.
“We were four black souls carving our way up the cliff road on the
outskirts of town. The city faded
to smeary lights and dark pits of shadow. It was the world as we
knew it, and we were shuttling right
out of orbit.”
I have also come to really love Malfi’s prose, which I always find easy to fall into. His dialogue flows naturally, full of jibes and insults as teenagers do. Yet it is his descriptions I love the most, they build up to become gloomily atmospheric, bringing the setting of Harting Farms, December Park and the surrounding forest to life. At the beginning of the novel these places reflect a carefree and joyous neighbourhood for the five boys to spend their summer together, but as the disappearances grip the streets, Malfi raises a sense of foreboding, every dark alley or secluded area a threat, a potential abduction or even murder site. Instead of outright horror and gore, Malfi creates tension, a sense of eeriness and claustrophobia. He plays on sensory fears and makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck, right until the very end.
Once again, Malfi hit me with an unexpected emotional ending. I hadn’t realised how much I would miss this little band of friends and their quips until I had closed the book. December Park may be a horror novel but it is one which centres on friendship, growing up and discovering who you truly are.
“I become you and you become me and us become us and we become we.”