My friend Gary McMahon is just about to have his next Concrete Grove novel - "Silent Voices" - published by Solaris Books. I'm making a trailer for him, so he sent over his final draft to read through. It's epic, a truly amazing piece of work and I can't wait to do the trailer - there are so many images and sounds I could include, the hardest part is figuring out what to leave out.
Since I have a bit of a scoop here (the book is scheduled for publication on March 27th), I thought I'd publish my review. It's good, at least 4.5 out of 5 stars!
Twenty years ago, three ten-year-old boys - The Three Amigos - went missing in The Needle, in Concrete Grove. When they were found, nobody knew what had happened to them, the boys included, but it tainted their lives and their friendship. Now, Simon is a successful property developer in London, Marty is a hard man and Brendan is a lost soul, the only one with family but ground down by life. Simon is haunted by the past and, spurred on by mysterious letters and emails, he decides to head back to the Grove - and his old friends - and see if he can uncover the truth.
Welcome back to The Concrete Grove, the second in McMahon’s trilogy about that eponymous hell-hole of an estate. Moving on from the events in book one (Hailey and Bingo re-appear, the former with seemingly more to do with the Grove than we’d originally thought), this spends a lot of time getting to know the three leads, how their lives are and how they’ve changed since their childhood (we get some flashbacks to them as ten-year-olds) and the book works fantastically well because of that. We are shown their pain, we are shown how it affects - and sometimes runs - their lives, we are made to empathise with their existence. Simon is a millionaire, with a Russian lingerie model girlfriend, who feels that something is missing from his life. Brendan has a wife and children that he loves - and who love him dearly (Jane, his wife, is wonderfully developed and rounded, even though a lot more of her story is hinted at than shown) - but he’s one of life’s losers. The same can’t be said for Marty who was psychologically and physically scarred by his father and continues to push his body and his hard-man existence to extremes. An occasional doorman, he lost his boxing licence after an accident that killed the only girl he ever truly loved and now he takes part in illegal bare-knuckle fights. The moments of horror all focus on the main characters - Brendan and his acne, his son and a small bird (a scene that is very disturbing) and Marty’s fight with an untrained Polish opponent is as brutal as anything I’ve read in a long time.
The construction of the novel is pitch-perfect, doling out just enough information to keep the plot moving forward, allowing the reader to piece it all together - who is Captain Clickety, what are the hummingbirds doing, why is Bingo in The Needle, why is Marty obsessed with Humpty Dumpty? We see more of what’s powering the grove, more of what’s inside The Needle and the confrontation between good and evil that doesn’t end here.
Gary McMahon is one of those writers who constantly ups his game, delivering more power and emotion with every new work. I thought “The Concrete Grove” was an astonishing achievement, moving away from straight horror into something that was much more of a horror/urban fantasy hybrid, but this novel tops that, pushing both sub-genres further. He barely puts a foot wrong, immersing the reader completely into the world, writing with strength and passion about friendship, family history, urban history, location and sins of the past and it’s genuinely brilliant stuff. I’ve been lucky enough to read “The End” (awaiting publication) and since I did, I’ve considered it my favourite McMahon novel - this runs it very close and has perhaps his bleakest climax so far.
With “Silent Voices”, Gary McMahon writes about childhood and friendship and how adults can perhaps reclaim the past and he does it superbly, with as much love and tenderness and bleakness and brutality as we've come to expect from him. I can’t wait to find out what the third Concrete Grove has to offer us.