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Guest #BookReview: Inspection by Josh Malerman

Rich Duncan

Today’s guest review is brought to you by Rich Duncan, formerly of The Horror Bookshelf. Rich is an avid reader and reviewer of dark fiction and the other half of the Ink Heist editorial team. Rich is a native of the suburbs of Philadelphia but now resides in Central New York with his wife and daughter. He grew up immersing himself in R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series and Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark which featured the unsettling, yet utterly terrific illustrations of Stephen Gammell. Those two series were his introduction into the world of horror fiction and he has been hooked ever since. Horror is his first love, but he is equally drawn to crime and noir. If your book is gritty and dark, chances are he’ll love it.

When he isn’t reading or searching for vintage paperbacks, Rich watches an unhealthy amount of movies and blasts independent, underground music from the 80s until now.



J is a student at a school deep in a forest far away from the rest of the world.

J is one of only twenty-six students, all of whom think of the school’s enigmatic founder as their father. J’s peers are the only family he has ever had. The students are being trained to be prodigies of art, science, and athletics, and their life at the school is all they know—and all they are allowed to know.

But J suspects that there is something out there, beyond the pines, that the founder does not want him to see, and he’s beginning to ask questions. What is the real purpose of this place? Why can the students never leave? And what secrets is their father hiding from them?

Meanwhile, on the other side of the forest, in a school very much like J’s, a girl named K is asking the same questions. J has never seen a girl, and K has never seen a boy. As K and J work to investigate the secrets of their two strange schools, they come to discover something even more mysterious: each other.

Book cover for Inspection by Josh Malerman

Title: Inspection | Author: Josh Malerman | Publisher: Del Rey | Pub. Date: 19-March-2019 | ASIN: B07FZN5246 | Language: English | Triggers: (unknown) | Source: Rich received a copy of this book from Netgalley for review consideration, and also purchased a copy through Nightworms.

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Inspection Review

If you’re a fan of horror fiction, chances are, you’re well aware of Josh Malerman and his work. Malerman burst onto the scene with his debut Bird Box, which has since been adapted to film and has made him a household name since it dominated the pop culture landscape. I’ve been a reader of Malerman’s work for years now and the one thing that continues to impress me is his ability to tackle different forms of horror fiction. So far in his career, he has yet to release the same sort of novel twice. He’s written books that deal with a much more subtle brand of horror and even a weird western. While each novel may be thematically different from the next, Malerman’s voice shines through in all of them. It makes for one hell of a reading experience. You know it’s a Malerman novel as soon as you crack the spine, but you have no idea what to prepare yourself for as each of his books has been different from the last.

Which brings me to his latest novel, Inspection. It marks another new style Malerman has added to his writing arsenal and it was exciting to see how much this one differed from his straight-up horror bonanza, On This, the Day of the Pig, Cemetery Dance released earlier this year. This novel has a sort of dystopian, science fiction feel and raises some interesting philosophical questions throughout. While there is a little in the way of plot similarities, reading Inspection, I couldn’t help but notice some tonal similarities to Hugh Howey’s Wool series.

Inspection introduces readers to The Alphabet Boys, a group of boys who are raised in isolation by the mysterious group The Parenthood, in a monolithic tower known as The Turret. The Parenthood’s goal is to shape these young men into the brightest minds in the world by eliminating their knowledge of the opposite sex and carefully crafting their environment. While most of the boys seem to enjoy living in The Turret and idolize the leader of The Parenthood and their father, D.A.D, the Parenthood’s methods are portrayed as authoritarian and the reader knows there is something wrong with this environment before we even uncover the group’s secrets. The Parenthood attempts to control the Alphabet Boys through psychological conditioning that breeds fear which keeps them in line and following the Parenthood’s directives. One of these methods is the “Inspections”, where D.A.D. interrogates the boys on their thoughts and actions that he notices throughout daily activities. D.A.D tells the Alphabet Boys it’s to help prevent them from contracting diseases like Rotts and Moldus, Vees and Placasores, but even earlier on that reasoning seems hollow.

The other is a mysterious room known as The Corner, a terrifying place that is used almost like a bogeyman. The only thing that is interesting about that is The Corner doesn’t only scare the children, but also the adults that staff the Turret. You can hear noises from it and the mythology that surrounds the room is what scares both the Boys and the staff alike. It allows their imaginations to run wild and sometimes the threat of the unknown is the one capable of instilling the most fear. Also, their ideas of relationships and the outside world are warped based on the information they are given from D.A.D. According to him, they weren’t merely born, instead they grew on the Living Trees that are in the Orchard that surround the Turret. Their entire worldview and existence revolve around the Turret. As far as the Alphabet Boys are concerned, the world only exists in that building and the Orchard that surrounds it. There is no concept of an outside world, no aspiration to start a singular life alone. There is only the Turret and the Parenthood. That is until one Alphabet Boy, J, begins to show signs of wanting something more. As the Alphabet Boy’s begin to grow older and smarter, D.A.D.’s need for control begins to get the better of him and starts a chain reaction that can’t be reversed.

Malerman is ambitious in the way he structures Inspection. There are multiple storyline threads and fluctuating point of views, which makes it feel like you are getting multiple books in one tidy package. Despite the fluid nature of Inspection’s structure, Malerman keeps the threads tightly intertwined and the pacing or cohesion never falters. There are also epistolary portions of the novel known as “Burt Reports” that clue the reader into the truth behind The Parenthood and the Turret and offers interesting insights into the operation of the organization and the people who run it. It also is a fascinating look into the psychological effects of the organization’s experiment, even if the author of the reports is a bit misguided.

There are a host of interesting characters that populate Inspection, but there are a few key ones whose arcs shape the events of the novel. One is the megalomaniacal character D.A.D., who serves as the order and control for the Alphabet Boys. He rules over the Turret with an iron fist and is a master manipulator who knows how to exploit the emotions of the Alphabet Boys in order to keep control of them and get them to do what he wants. He was happy with the experiment when the Alphabet Boys were infants and toddlers, because it was easier to see them establish the traits he so desired to be borne from his program, but his paranoia grew as the boys grew older and he knew they would soon establish their own personalities. Their transition into adulthood is a wild variable in his world of structure and order and he doesn’t handle it well. D.A.D loves his Alphabet Boys, but not in the way a true parent would. He loves them for the traits they exhibit, that show his wildly delusional plan succeeding.

Then there is the Alphabet Boy J. He is not necessarily the smartest of the Alphabet Boys or the most creative, but he is the most independent. He begins to have feelings that indicate something is missing from his world and he slowly starts to question the only world he has known since birth. J takes risks in sharing his thoughts with his peers, which show a sense of leadership and free thinking that should not grow within the confines of such a rigid upbringing. While J is an influential character, perhaps the most intriguing and well-developed character is K. The less I mention about K the better as I would hate to spoil the surprises Malerman has in store for those who read Inspection. That being said, you’ll know why K is so special when you meet the character. K is the brightest student to come from the program and may actually even transcend the wildest hopes The Parenthood had when they launched their experiment.

One of the main themes that comes up when discussing Inspection is the topic of gender politics and better writers than I have tackled that topic in-depth. However, while I was reading, I couldn’t help but notice another theme emerge that centers around art and creativity. Sure, there are a few characters who are interested in the arts, but it’s often not prioritized, especially in the case of the Alphabet Boys. The author of the Burt Report knows this and mentions it early on in the novel. In fact every aspect of their lives that isn’t directly tied to the pursuit of knowledge is either outright forbidden or extremely limited. Even in the case of their resident author Lawrence Luxley, The Parenthood dictates how his books should be written. It can’t be a coincidence that the characters who do exhibit the most creativity and artistic talents end up playing significant roles in the course of the narrative.

I was totally enthralled with the world Malerman has built-in Inspection, but I can see how this book could be divisive among horror fans, much like Unbury Carol was upon its release. At times it can be difficult tracking the many characters as they are referred to by a single letter. Each of the major characters has personalities that helps distinguish them, but when supporting characters are introduced, it can be a little difficult to keep track. There have also been other criticisms about the actions of the characters, which I believe are valid. However, they weren’t an issue for me and my overall enjoyment of this novel. I enjoyed the heavy focus on the psychological impacts of The Parenthood’s experiment and the more subtle hints at horror, but if that style doesn’t interest you, Inspection may be a tough read.

While there is a definite dystopian tone that runs through Inspection, there are also moments of hope sprinkled throughout. I really enjoyed getting lost in the world of the Alphabet Boys and one thing is certain. I can’t wait to see what Malerman comes up with next.


You can find this book at many retailers via clicking on the appropriate link on Goodreads; however, in the spirit of supporting literacy programs, we would like to point out that you may be able to purchase this book through BetterWorldBooks.

Published inGuest PostsHorror Book Reviews
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  1. Excellent review and I have this one to read. I’ve enjoyed some of his other books and this sounds different. Curious to meet these characters.

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