December Park by Ronald Malfi
Published by Medallion Press
Will be published May 2014
Synopsis: In the quiet suburb of Harting Farms, the weekly crime blotter usually consists of graffiti or the occasional bout of mailbox baseball. But in the fall of 1993, children begin vanishing and one is found dead. Newspapers call him the Piper because he has come to take the children away. But there are darker names for him, too . . .
Vowing to stop the Piper’s reign of terror, five boys take up the search. Their teenage pledge turns into a journey of self-discovery . . . and a journey into the darkness of their own hometown. On the twilit streets of Harting Farms, everyone is a suspect. And any of the boys might be the Piper’s next victim.
Our thoughts: From the get-go, December Park hooks the reader with it’s gripping tale of lost and murdered children in a small, suburban town located in Maryland.We happen upon the scene, much like the main character, Angelo, and his three buddies do, as the body of a teenaged girl is being pulled from the side of the road. It’s obvious she’s been murdered, an enormous dent evident on the right side of her head. Suddenly, we are pulled into the story of The Piper, a boogeyman roaming the streets, searching out his next prey. Angelo and his friends become consumed with that story as well.
We meet the fifth and final boy of the group when Adrian Gardiner moves in next door to Angelo. Adrian is a small boy, viewed even younger by his love of comic book super heroes and sadly sheltered life. Once the group is complete, their quest to find out who The Piper is begins. We follow them from the fall of 1993 into the winter, spring, and finally summer, of 1994. Along the journey, we, the reader, get to relive those years gone by with reminders of Seattle-sound music and flannel shirts worn with Docs. I was especially pulled in by these reminiscences, being a high school teenager in those years, following those same bands.
Angelo, known as Angie to both his friends and family, is a well fleshed-out character. Likable, a punk with a heart of gold, we invest ourselves in Angie. Within the pages of the book, we are welcomed into his home to meet his father, an Italian-American police officer working The Piper case, his paternal grandmother, a wonderful Italian lady who loves to cook and loves to feed people even more (so much like my own little Italian Nana), and his paternal grandfather, a man who served in WWII and now sits around, falling asleep in front of the tv, complaining about the news, and smoking cigars on the back porch. We find out Angie’s mother passed away from cancer when he was three, and Angie’s older brother, Charlie, was killed in combat in ’91.
Angie’s three oldest friends, Michael, Scott, and Peter, are his surrogate brothers, and while each have definitive characteristics, I kind of lumped them all up into one funny, sarcastic, hot-headed dude throughout the book’s entirety. They are important to the story, but it’s Angie and Adrian that really carry the book, in my opinion.
Adrian is well written, and I appreciate that we learn who is little-by-little throughout the book. It’s evident there’s more to him from the start, and I spent a good deal of the book trying to figure out what that hidden something was about him. I was quite surprised when I finally learned the whole truth about this boy.
I will say that I figured out who The Piper was pretty early on, but that in no way hurt the book. I really enjoyed reading Malfi’s excellent prose filled with description. I imagined each and every scene unfolding in my mind, no detail left out. That’s the mark of a good writer. He’s got a writing style all his own, though you can see hints of novelists he’s read throughout his life, like King and Straub, simple nods to the men that helped pave the path of horror writing in the 20th century.
December Park is a tale of five boys, searching for answers, finding themselves, and realizing you can never go back. It’s about friendship, and the ties that bind. It’s about childhood’s last, big hurrah, never quite capturing that feeling of flying while sitting on your friend’s handlebars as he peddles hard enough and fast enough to pass the devil himself.