John Docherty is an alcoholic English teacher living in Glasgow. He leads a disorganised existence, struggles to commit to relationships and has a troubled past. Then, when his mother has a stroke and has to be placed into a nursing home, he discovers he must sell her house in order to pay for her care.
While clearing out the attic, John stumbles across a hidden family secret that cannot be ignored: a long lost brother. Beginning a journey of discovery, he rekindles past relationships with childhood friends, as well as his younger brother Chris, and attempts to commit to the woman he is in love with, Angela, regardless of his ambivalence towards her child.
But John is ill prepared for what comes next. A world of organised crime, child abuse and addiction hide behind the ageing faces that John meets in his quest for answers.
With each turn of the page, a more shocking detail is revealed and some of the people John thought might help him are not who they seem.
As the book reaches its climax, the reader is subjected to a barrage of emotional blows as John struggles to reconcile himself to the life that he led as a child. He frantically attempts to build bridges and open up for the first time to his partner Angela, and to Chris, but none of it comes naturally to a man who has hidden his demons and shame for decades.
In his previous work, A Suitable Lie, Michael J Malone surprised readers with a series of punch-in-the-gut twists and he achieves this again here. The domestic noir tale is one that many families will be able to relate to and the dialogue, although a tad unrealistic at times, gets straight to the point in dealing with taboos. There is barely enough time to catch your breath as John stumbles from one catastrophe to the next. Jacob Farr
In The Absence Of Miracles, by Michael J Malone, Orenda, £8.99