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.
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 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.