The Book of Malachi by T.C. Farren

I’m still thinking about this cleverly constructed fable set fifteen or so years in the future. Thirty year-old Malachi is hired to essentially be the groom for a stable of murderers whose bodies are being used as part of a top-secret organ-growing project run by Raizier Pharmaceuticals. The nutrients fed to the prisoners cause their nails to grow far faster than usual, and since the wardens would rather their cash cows didn’t hurt themselves, someone must be given the daily task of clipping their claws (if you’ll forgive my bag of mixed metaphors here.) Malachi is the perfect candidate, in large part due to his muteness. In addition to the usual remuneration, Raizier offers to graft on a new tongue for him in exchange for a little over half a year’s work. Lonely Malachi, seeing not much of a future at the chicken processing plant where he currently runs quality control, readily accepts.

The prisoners, he is told on the long journey by both car and helicraft, are the worst of the worst, rapists and killers who are being given a chance to give back to society for their misdeeds by having their bodies be used as vessels to grow extra necessary parts. After these parts are harvested, the criminals will be sent back to prison to finish out their terms. Upon arrival at the offshore rig where the prisoners are being kept, Malachi discovers that all the other staffers he’ll interact with — the non-medical staff, essentially — have also been promised organs for their loved ones: a heart here, lungs for another, arteries for a third.

The reality of the holding cell is the first shock for our new prison warden. Forty naked prisoners are held in plexiglass enclosures in one large room through which he must travel with his trolley of grooming items. Handsome, gregarious Tamba, his new roommate, oversees from the console room above, while Meirong, their cold supervisor, checks in from time to time to make sure that no one is communicating with the prisoners. Apparently, Malachi’s predecessor had made that mistake, but Raizier is confident that hiring an illiterate mute will circumvent any future issues.

Trouble is, Malachi isn’t actually illiterate, tho he’s feigned so for years as part of a self-imposed penance for the crime that cost him his tongue. As the prisoners begin to tell him their stories, however, Malachi discovers that not all crimes are created equal, and that perhaps the greatest one of all is the injustice being perpetrated on his new charges. But what can he do, a lone, mute man on a rig in the middle of the ocean?

The Book Of Malachi is a searing indictment of inhumane carceral systems and for-profit prisons, both of which are mere symptoms of a society that chooses to see certain elements of humanity as merely chattel or animals. I very much admired the sensitivity with which T. C. Farren examined the concepts of guilt and absolution, tho a certain part of me wonders how absolution can be granted without sincere attempts at atonement — it isn’t enough to claim you feel tortured for your crimes without actively trying to make things right with the ones you harmed or the ones they left behind. The question of rehabilitation and restitution is, of course, an ongoing one, and TBoM brings important moral considerations to the discussion. I did also admire Ms Farren’s craftsmanship in building the interlocking parts of her complex tale, as Malachi struggles first with his conscience and his desires before undertaking the even more physical struggle for freedom. It was also very cool that the lens was fixed firmly on Africa in all its diversity, as TBoM was peopled almost exclusively with characters strongly tied to the continent, whether by birth or long-term residence.

We’re lucky enough to be able to interview Ms Farren so watch out for that in the coming weeks! In the meantime, The Book Of Malachi was published in the US by Titan Books on November 10th, 2020, and is available for purchase here:

Want it now? For the Kindle version, click here.

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