Friday, November 30, 2012

Silent Voices by Gary McMahon

Returning to the realm he previously envisioned in The Concrete Grove, English author Gary McMahon creates, via Silent Voices, the second part of a now-trilogy. Although there are off-shoots of the previous tale here, this is a different kind of beast altogether. Whereas the first brought us into the bleak atmosphere of The Grove itself like a hummingbird’s view of it, Silent Voices is more a character study of three individuals (Simon, Marty, and Brendan) who battled its demons as children and - years later and now grown into adulthood – return to the Concrete Grove for a final revelation, closure, or both.

The Good:

Steeping back into Gary’s narration is akin to a homecoming. The prose – while a little less cerebral this time around – moves around the page like dark poetry. There is also an everyman eloquence to the mood: these are hard characters who have been chiselled from austere upbringings: Simon Ridley is a successful entrepreneur, the only one to escape the Grove, but a man who’s unhinged all the same. His friend Brendan suffers the same insecurities we all reach upon seceding into adulthood: keeping up a pretence of happiness when realizing the dream machine of youth has an ‘out of order’ sign attached. And Marty has all the hallmarks of what a neglected childhood can sometimes bring forth: masochism and brutality to hide what lies beneath. When the three of them reconcile to talk about a weekend in the Needle twenty years previous they cannot recall, the resultant outcome is a commanding story of sin and salvation.   

The Drawbacks: 

The second outing of a trilogy is never an easy one; the story is usually a bridge to a final farewell that can be wobbly at the best of times. Somewhat formulaic, Gary has chosen the horror trope: best friends who battled an evil in childhood are summoned as adults to confront the monster again. For me, this is fairly well-worn, and probably peaked during the eighties. There is a lot of story here where simply nothing happens, where plot-devices are pushed aside to make way for characters to brood inwardly and stare out of windows in drab reflection. The climax, when it comes, strives for the cinematic ... but with only one small flashback scene of our protagonists in youth it can sometimes be hard to grasp the aching nostalgia and (horror movie) feel our author is trying to illicit.

Positives and drawbacks aside, this is an accomplished work of dark fiction. It may not be Gary McMahon firing on every cylinder, but even the author’s bridge work is head and shoulders above many others who work in the same arena. The foundations of story have been set; the cement of the project has dried. The only thing left to do now is take one more (final) journey back into the Concrete Grove ...  and see what lies beyond it.  

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Red Town Lost by John Shupeck Jr.

Necro Publications continues its Fresh Flesh experiment with a debut novel from John Shupeck Jr. Here the author has woven a tale of four very different stories containing interlocking characters and situations. Like converging train lines that ultimately intercept at the same terminal, each story has the same analogous outcome. 

We begin in nowhere, Pennsylvania - and Dan Suppers is looking for civilisation after breaking down in his car. Soon he stumbles upon the still-smoking and charred aftermath of a large fire, the remnants of an entire small town’s populace. With no survivors to tell the tale, Dan is left to piece together the mystery of Kecksgille’s final moments ... and how an entire municipality ended in a baptism of blood.


Slow out of the gate, Incipientium chronicles a young Mike Rearick and his merry band of friends as they make their way to the local Kecksgille Baptist Church and a night of revelry. But the resultant climax here is more like a reverse-coin Children of the Corn that will see Kecksgille’s adults – guided by the hand of a local priest - rise up against the children in a well-choreographed genocide.


As implied by the title, mental illness takes centre stage in this first person narration. Composed in diary form, we are slowly introduced into the ailing world of young Carl Truitt and the doctors tasked with helping him. Our narrator’s voice is sly, crass, and contains just enough adolescent humour to please any underdog.

River Road:

Chronicles the story of Zachary Bennett who takes the path less travelled in an effort to escape an impoverished existence and parents battling addiction. A mere child when he begins his journey, Zachary Bennett comes to age almost overnight after being pitted against the ‘medicine man’ of his nightmares. A final showdown in heart of Kecksgille rounds off a story rooted in subtext.

Spider Arms:

Another tale of the underdog, Spider Arms centres on Kevin Ritchie, Kecksgille’s neighbourhood teenage punching bag for Jocks everywhere. Cursed with a subtle malady that redefines lanky, Kevin decides – on one fateful day – to fight back. But not in the manner his adversaries expect. Ultimately a routine narrative of revenge.

There are a few other intervals here in Red Town Lost – some clever, others mystifying – while the syntax (at times) can be slightly awkward and comes pre-packaged with run-off sentences and juvenile metaphysics. However, as a working whole there is a quality of strangeness that grows as the story progresses. If some of the plot devices are a little too deus ex machina for some readers, I suspect more light can be shed on them in John’s illuminating and candid afterward.

Red Town Lost is available now from Necro Publications.