Tuesday, May 3, 2011

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 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 a 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 overly 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 I now regret … and goes to show there is talent here consistently producing quality. Moreover, I highly doubt Brett lends his voice to anything half-heartedly or churns something out at the behest of an editor. Concrete Jungle might well be The Day of the Triffids told from the unique scaffold of the author'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 with refreshing Australian verisimilitude and syntax. A few errors jumped out. In one particular stanza the author describes the smell of meat cooking ‘glorious’ but goes on to say paragraphs later the smell of cooked rat was ‘mildly appetizing’. Viewed as a whole, however, the writing and editing is crisp with short, choppy chapters denied being weighted with 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.