Michael J. Malone’s haunting thriller, In the Absence of Miracles, has the distinction of garnering Auntie M’s first “Highly Recommended” rating of the New Year, thanks to @orendabooks.

The novel brings John Doherty to the page, a teacher whose mother is recovering from a massive stroke that will leave her in a facility. With his job and relationships in turmoil, John’s younger brother arrives to help with the selling of the family home.

It’s while John roots through stored items in the attic that he comes across a photo of himself as a toddler being held by an older brother he never knew existed. Setting out to find the truth behind that photo, along with other scarce evidence he uncovers, John plays detective-of-sorts, investigating the knowledge both of his parents hid from their other two sons, even while he discounts memories he might have buried.

John’s younger brother finally comes on board to help in the search once it becomes clear there was indeed an older brother neither boy knew about. But things continue to twist as the plot becomes as complicated as John himself.

Are there other secrets to uncover? What about the memories John can’t recall? Whose truth and memories are the right ones? How did growing up in this particular home affect these three young men and their choices?

Ian Rankin calls this novel “Vivid, visceral and compulsive” with good reason. Readers may be shocked by one particular twist, but Malone manages to capably illustrate what happens in a family where secrets are kept and hidden, and the long-term repercussions of growing up in such a home.

There’s heartbreak here, but also redemption for some characters. Malone has a gift for perceiving facets of human nature as he combines the inexplicable with a degree of sensitivity that brings a simple beauty out of tragedy. Not to be missed.