Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Review: Concrete Jungle by Brett McBean

In this, the first of a trilogy, Mother Nature has decided to recycle the earth and spade it under with a fresh Eden. Caught in the tumult are a small cabal of luckless survivors who are trapped in a Melbourne shopping centre car park late one night near closing time. Paul is a dead-beat Dad on the fringe, making a last minute pit-stop to buy a present for a birthday he almost forgot. Beth and emo daughter Candice have stocked up on movies so Candice doesn’t get bored grounded at home. Harold is a survivor of World War 2 … a man who will soon endure jungle horrors far worse than he ever had to face on the battlefield. And Bruce is just a desperate loner who sees the cataclysm as the perfect excuse for a man to return to a more primitive existence where morals and the rule of law simply do not exist.

Upon Concrete Jungle first being released I will admit my enthusiasm wasn’t high. The cover illustration from a distance seemed to suggest this was mid-range Brett or something of filler in between longer projects. But it’s a judgment that I now regret … and goes to show there is talent in this country that consistently produces quality work. Moreover, I highly doubt Brett lends his voice to anything half-heartedly or merely churns out something at the behest of an editor. Concrete Jungle might well be The Day of the Triffids told from the unique scaffold of Brett’s imagination, but it’s still a narrative with biting simplicity and more than enough lure to hook a reader.

Standing at a short and sweet 160 pages, this is a species of horror without conscience. On more than one occasion I’ve mentioned the similarities Brett has with an author like Richard Laymon - and it’s still evident here, but imbued throughout with refreshing Australian verisimilitude and references. A few errors jumped out. In one particular stanza the author describes the smell of meat cooking ‘glorious’ but goes on to say mere paragraphs later the smell of cooked rat was ‘mildly appetizing’. But viewed as a whole the writing and editing is crisp with short, choppy chapters not bogged down with weighty or numbered sections. Characterization is right on the money – you will care whether these people live or die. And in the modern horror novel, that will be something ultimately on the menu. Welcome to the jungle.

The Australian small press Tasmaniac Publications just keeps improving its product, and a reader will find the interspersed illustrations by Keith Minion and Steve Crisp more than adequate for the tale. There is a whole universe to explore with Concrete Jungle, and we are provided with two other tales set in the same wilds. Local writer and reviewer Tim Kroenert gives us an utterly funny but dark underscore with Lullaby – it’s the tale of misfit musicians and fans who just happened to be at a concert when the green hell broke loose. Also included is The Cage by Nate Kenyon – Nate takes a look at what prison life would be like for guards and prisoners alike in this post-apocalyptic forest. Another one with droll results. Thankfully with this review I can happily point out copies still remain and the sequel Neighborhood Jungle is available to pre-order. 

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