Malerman makes the horror of this impossible experiment appear completely plausible while thoughtfully contemplating grand issues like nature versus nurture, gender roles, and scientific ethics—all of that, plus he manages to create a satisfyingly oppressive atmosphere. And yet, for all of this serious intensity, Inspection feels effortless; the story flows easily and at a compelling pace: think Shirley Jackson writing Lord of the Flies (1954). Hand to fans of Margaret Atwood or Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro (2005).
Wild concept meets richly imagined narrative ... There is a Hogwartsian flavor as Malerman shows us around and explains how this closed-up world works ... Malerman’s writing is matter-of-fact, non-showy ... How the children were first rounded up requires a leap, and it’s a bit of a head-scratcher that a giant laboratory in the woods—several miles of forest separate the two camps—has somehow gone unnoticed for a dozen years or more. Minor leaps. Check your own talents for close inspection at the door and go for an entertaining ride. Malerman’s world-building is rich, and Inspection’s quick chapters and brisk style make for a relentless, twisty read.
A novel whose premise is also claustrophobic and unsettling, but more ambitious than that of Bird Box ... The fact that the children are referred to by letters, instead of names, makes it difficult to differentiate all of them ... rich with dread and builds to a dramatic climax ... Malerman reminds us the real horror is not the blood that will splatter the towers. It is not the loss of innocence precisely, but something subtler and more poignant — the malevolence that could see yearning and love as something negative in the first place ... The children are not in cages in Malerman’s eerie new book. But they are lab rats.
Naturally, the sex-quarantining breaks down, and all the little guinea pigs end up 'spoiled rotten.' In real sci-fi, one can’t help thinking, there would be more interest in what all the child-geniuses were supposed to do. Design a starship, control climate, achieve immortality? As it is, they discover sex. Happens all the time.
... where Bird Box electrified by keeping readers as much in the dark as its blindfolded protagonist Malorie, Inspection leans too early and too quickly toward why the boys will revolt ... Unfortunately, Malerman spends so much time in the first half of the book describing the boys' routines that much less time is given to those of the girls. Really, 'twas it ever thus? You'd think, as a modern writer, that Malerman would avoid such an obvious pothole, especially because it's ultimately the girls whose complicated ideas provide one of the most chilling scenes ... The conceit behind Inspection is a big one, an original one. Malerman has a lot of big ideas and a lot of original ideas, and if Inspection isn't as electrifying as Bird Box or surprising as Unbury Carol, I'm pretty sure his next one, or the one after that, will be superb.
There's much to love about Inspection. Malerman's sparse yet evocative prose helps move the narrative along, which is good since, in other hands, the same idea could have ended up being quite bloated. Characters both good and evil are completely fleshed out, with the latter especially believing themselves to be the heroes of the story, convinced their deplorable deeds are just. Malerman handles the point-of-views of his adolescent characters adeptly, capturing the heartache, confusion, longing, and ever-shifting quality of self-esteem that comes with the onset of puberty, especially as it applies to these extraordinary pre-teens, who live strange and extremely sheltered lives. Much of the novel relies on atmosphere and mystery, for 'quiet' horror fans, but for those who appreciate some Grand Guignol levels of violence, Malerman has you covered there too. And yet, there's a pretty big oversight that mars Inspection ... But Inspection is still a worthy read, one that, despite its flaws, upholds Malerman's premiere horror author status. All that is good about it, stated above, remains intact, even if it's not entirely a knockout.
... a lot of mythology to consume, especially in the book’s disorienting early chapters. Malerman builds a striking world, but he struggles to ease us into it, especially since, despite this being their story, only a few of the boys crystallize into layered characters ... It’s all very high-concept, and to think too hard about the endeavor raises innumerable questions about its logistical realities. As he did in Bird Box, Malerman’s crafted an irresistible scenario that’s rich in possibility and thematic fruit ... a lot clogging, from red herrings to odd digressions to a backstory for D.A.D. that’s thin enough to make one wish the character remained as unknowable as Bird Box’s monsters. The ending, too, is a mess, but one so shocking and cathartic that its audacity might be enough to win you over. That’s true of much of Malerman’s work here; his prose works better in moments of frenzy or peril than it does in the quieter spells, if only for trading the ponderousness for propulsion ... In some ways, Inspection feels like an inverse of its predecessor: Where the latter confined us behind a blindfold, Inspection rips it off. That’s a neat trick, but Malerman would have been better off leaving more of this world in the beyond.
... strange, uneven ... There are parts of this book that require near-impossible suspension of disbelief; no thought is given to what would happen if one of the kids turns out to be queer or transgender, for example, and some premises go unexplained, such as why Warren has suddenly developed a guilt complex 13 years in. Fans of bad horror movies might find the story fun, but if Malerman intends it to be a serious exploration of gender or parenting, it falls far short.
Though one shocking plot turn is forced and the publisher needlessly gives away what would have been a beautifully orchestrated surprise, this unlikely cross between 1984 and Lord of the Flies tantalizes ... Malerman delivers another freaky thriller. The book ultimately lacks real depth but still enhances his reputation as one of today's most unpredictable novelists.