Black Mouth

By Ronald Malfi

Black Mouth, a novel by Ronald Malfi
Book details

A group of adults tormented by their past when a carnival worker changed their lives forever. Sound familiar? No not It, but Ronald Malfi’s Black Mouth, the author’s own take on how the memories of youth haunt the present. This is dark horror with glimpses of the supernatural, but also plenty of the horror of the real. The horror of living with your past, with substance abuse, with having to go back to that grim hometown you thought you had left forever. Welcome to Black Mouth. 

Jamie Warren is not doing well, after a particularly bad drinking session he finds himself in rehab. His release coincides with the news that his mother has just died, and his dependent brother needs his help. Jamie is only one slip away from another drink so the pressure of going back to near Black Mouth, his childhood home, is not helping. Memories of an abusive father and a strange magician who tutored children magic in the woods. A magician who also tried to convince them to kill. Twenty years later and the deaths are starting again, and Jamie wants nothing more than to be far away, but with his childhood friends gathering, fate has other ideas and perhaps this time they will end the evil. 

It is difficult at times to not think of Stephen King when reading horror as he is an author who has dominated the genre for decades, but in the case of Black Mouth, the parallels are clear. However, at no point does Malfi lose their own voice. This is an even darker take on childhood trauma that suggests the real is as horrific as any supernatural beast. 

Jamie is your classic modern untrustworthy horror protagonist. As an alcoholic prone to blackouts and visions, are his memories even real? When he starts to come across eerie things in the present day, how much of it is the drink? Even Jamie does not trust what he sees. It is a fine balance making sure that the horror remains grounded when you are not sure the hero is believing what they are seeing, but Malfi does an excellent job. As the book progresses, it becomes more horror based and denying your own eyes is harder to do. 

What makes the book is not only the finale, but the horror of everyday life leading up to it. Jamie, his brother, and friends are all broken in some way. What they say in their youth damaged them into adulthood. A fellow victim enters proceedings and shows that the evil that man commits is as great as any monster. Some of the most thrilling and horror filled moments in the book do not even include the magician, but his influence hangs over it all. 

It is this sense of puppet mastery that makes the magician such an interesting horror concept. The boogieman that lives in the woods, but one that will not undertake the act. In fact, he uses guile and trickery to make others commit crimes. As the book progresses you learn why this is and it opens a whole new element to the book. 

Black Mouth is a dark read and downbeat in places. This is a supernatural tale that is grounded. The sense of a broken American and broken characters makes the horror seem more real, even when it might not be. Despite being darker than even King’s work, it would be a book that appeals to that type of horror fan. One that likes character development, an intriguing evil and a slow burn book that allows the story to breath.  

Written on 3rd August 2022 by .

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