Floating Staircase by Ronald Malfi; Medallion Press; 2011; 464 pgs; $14.95 US

One of the joys of reviewing is finding a gem in a pile of slush. Most of what this reviewer pens does qualify as quality, but rarely is handed a copy of something special without begging involved.

Ronald Malfi has been around the block a bit yet most fans know him just from Snow, a competent tale from the last of Leisure’s real horror line.  Floating Staircase displays Malfi’s storytelling and writing in a manner which combines the everyday man and town of Matheson with the flowing, song-like prose of Straub or McCammon. But there’s more to it than that. It’s a concise that reads like quicksilver. It’s a beach read horror novel for the fall season that can have the October breeze blowing the pages on a cool night. The reader might hold back a bit to savor a line or two, let it sink in and imagine how it will fit into the puzzle the author’s created.

Forgive the somewhat obvious setup: mid-list horror writer who moves into a small town house with a dark past followed by things which go bump in the night. Could be any number of hackneyed efforts that have muddied the pulp waters over time (a little originality maybe?) or one of the better stories ala The Shining or Ghost Story (not elevating Malfi to that level yet).

Novelist Travis Glasgow moves into a small Maryland town across the way from estranged brother Adam with his wife. Back when he was 13, his little brother drowned in an accident that has plagued him ever since and ruined his family. The bargain house, beautiful as it may be, holds a dark secret. The family before lost a child there under circumstances familiar to Travis’.

Where Malfi separates himself, besides the strong writing, is titular object.  Beyond his backyard in the middle of a lake a staircase stands, partially submerged. What he does with this setpiece turns this from cliched horror into strong mystery that centers more on family secrets than stereotypical phantoms.

If those who haven’t read Ronald Malfi before, Floating Staircase is a good place to begin.  He has created a must-read novel that just might garner some Stoker attention.

Aug 15, 2011

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