Book Review: Inspection by Josh Malerman
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 1.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Horror, Mystery
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Del Rey (March 19, 2019)
Length: 384 pages
While Inspection is only my second Josh Malerman, I’ve read enough and heard enough to know it is a crapshoot every time you pick up one of his books. With this author, you just never know what you’re going to get—an inevitable consequence of his creativity and unpredictable writing style. And unfortunately, this time I took a risk, but it didn’t pan out.
In a word, Inspection is strange. At the heart of this tale is a mad scientist couple seeking to raise a group of children to be the best that they can be, and in order to create these little geniuses, they have developed an experimental program called Parenthood and set up shop in the middle of the wilderness. As infants, twenty-six boys and twenty-six girls, each named for a letter of the alphabet, were placed in their respective facilities, separated by sex. Overseen by Richard, also known as D.A.D. to his charges, the Alphabet Boys have no idea that the girls exist—or any female, for that matter. Likewise, the Letter Girls who are tended by Marilyn, nicknamed M.O.M., are completely unaware of the existence of men or the outside world. Small differences in their education aside, both groups are raised without knowledge of the opposite sex, or any form of religion.
However, as the children gradually approach puberty, what happens when they start questioning their guardians and become more curious about the world around them? In the boys’ tower, 12-year-old J wants to be obedient and please his D.A.D., knowing that bad behavior gets children sent away to the “Corner” where they are never seen again. But at the same time, he can’t help but look out at the trees and imagine something more beyond. Meanwhile, in the girls’ tower, similar suspicions are starting to arise in K, whose boldness and intelligence has always led her to seek out answers. As expected, her quest for the truth eventually leads her to discover her male counterpart J, but it’s when their two storylines converge that things finally start to get interesting.
Still, as you can probably gather from the novel’s description alone, it’s complicated. To Malerman’s credit, his imagination knows no limits, and his ability to come up with these incredible ideas and push the boundaries of horror is what makes for fantastic reading for fans of the genre. I certainly don’t dispute the originality of Inspection, and I think that its premise makes for an intriguing thought experiment.
But that’s just it: this whole book is a singular great concept that sadly never materializes into anything I would call a coherent or engaging story. And yes, while I did say that things got interesting eventually, by the time it actually happens it was much too late. To call this book a slow-burn would be much too generous—it’s really more of a no-burn. If you were able to stay focused for the entire first half of the novel, then kudos to you. Unfortunately, I was unable to say the same, finding J’s depthless and rambling sections especially challenging to slog through. Only the occasional breaks provided by the perspective of Warren Bratt, an author hired to write all the “educational” books the Alphabet Boys read, kept me motivated enough to continue.
Also, calling this one a horror would be a bit of a stretch. It lacked the suspense and intensity I was expecting, which in turn fed into the slowness of the pacing. On another level, it put a distance between the reader and the characters, which made it even more difficult to get into the story. Things looked up once we were introduced to K’s perspective, possibly because I felt Malerman gave her a more compelling personality, but again, this improvement felt inadequate, coming in much too late in the game. The bloodbath of the ending was almost laughable in its absurdity and desperation, mainly because by that point, I just couldn’t bring myself to care anymore.
Honestly, I don’t know what could have made the book better. Its innovativeness and originality notwithstanding, the premise alone kind of dooms the story, I think. Some ideas are just better on paper than in execution, and I believe Inspection is a prime example. While this probably won’t prevent me from trying more of Josh Malerman’s books because I will always be drawn to unique stories, I’m sad to say I was sorely disappointed by this one.