"Mr. Cables" Book Review
Written by Steve Pattee
Published by JournalStone
Written by Ronald Malfi
2020, 80 pages, Fiction
Released on November 6th, 2020
Like most readers, I go to different authors depending on what I’m in the mood for. If I want to run with monsters and enjoy the destruction of property and people, I go with Eddie Generous or Hunter Shea. If I want a bit of brutality, I’ll call up Ed Lee, Jack Ketchum or J.F. Gonzalez. If I want to be surprised and get a little bit of everything, I’ll go with Jeff Strand. And if I want a feeling of dread to envelope me as I enter into a world of fear, I’ll devour something from Ronald Malfi. His latest, Mr. Cables, shows just why I can trust Malfi to get under my skin.
Brian Keene once said on his now sorely-missed podcast that the novella is a perfect length for a horror story. I tend to agree with him. Don’t get me wrong, one of my favorite horror books of all time is Stephen King’s The Stand (and the other being King’s IT), but over the years I’ve found that more often than not, the novella rocks for delivering fine horror, and Mr. Cables is a perfect example of this. No word is wasted, characters are given just enough time to develop and breathe, and you can tear through this in about one sitting.
Mr. Cables had me hooked from the first paragraph. Author Wilson Paventeau is at a book signing when a woman puts a novel in front of him for an autograph. However, while his name is on the cover and the bio he uses is on the back, it’s not one of his works. Yet he’s intrigued enough to trade the fan his most recent release for this book-he-didn’t-write to find out what this is all about. Bad move, Chachi.
The novel Wilson has acquired (which also shares the title Mr. Cables) is rather boring when he reads it. He gets sucked into it and loses all track of time, sure, but the actual story is bland. However, both his housekeeper and his agent say it’s the most terrifying thing they’ve ever read, and they’ve only ingested parts of the story, not the entire thing. As it goes on, the mystery deepens as to who wrote the book and why, and Wilson is determined to solve this mystery.
I can’t rightly put my finger on what makes Mr. Cables so terrifying. There’s a scene in House of Leaves (a book I desperately need to start over and finish-this-time at some point) that creeped the hell out of me. They were doing measurements of the house and the inside is larger than the outside. There’s something similar that happens here which I won’t spoil; mainly due to its length. But Malfi has this uncanny ability to take something that would otherwise seem like a nothing burger and make it terrifying. It’s not bloody, it’s not gory. It’s the best kind of scare. It’s simply something missing that should be there, and the fact that it’s gone is unnerving; it’s something I’m still thinking about.
And that’s what’s at play here. That’s what Malfi brings to the table. His books, even the novella-length ones, take their time. It’s like he guides you through the woods, showing you the layout of the land, giving you a false sense of security. Then suddenly you realize these trees are little more alive than they should be, the shadows a lot darker than you first realized, your anxiety right there ready to bust out, and you have to trust him to lead you out of the danger. But he’s not going to make it easy on you. He’s going to relish your fear. And, man, I’ll take this journey every time.
I should also add that Mr. Cables is more than a horror novella; it’s also a helluva mystery. Malfi does a phenomenal job not only feeding you bits of information at a time to keep the story moving at a perfect and unhurried pace, but everything is so believable. The whole thing is very fluid and natural, and I’m not going to lie, I was so into it, I was a bit worried that the ending would bother me. That happens a lot, you know, where you have a hell of time reading a book, only to be disappointed at a lackluster ending. Not here, though. Everything comes together as it should at the end.
While 2020 has been a dumpster fire for about everything else, it’s been a tremendous year for horror books. I’ve read some fantastic works so far this year, and it’s going to be tough working out what’s going to be on my "Favorites of 2020" list. But, as tough as it’s going to be, I can comfortably say Mr. Cables is going to be an easy choice on that list. If you’ve never read Ronald Malfi, Mr. Cables is a perfect place to start. It will keep you up at night.
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