Monday, February 11, 2013

Beyond Here Lies Nothing by Gary McMahon

A few years ago, Gary McMahon mesmerized readers with an apocalyptic vision of an urban nightmare. The Concrete Grove (with its stand out artwork by Vincent Chong) came at a restless time when the real world seemed to hold up a sobering mirror to our own dark insecurities: not only in the author's native England, but for the collective world as a whole. With poverty, crime, and the decaying municipal jungle of The Grove as a playground, The Concrete Grove tapped into some of the things that truly scare us in the modern age. While the supernatural trappings were original (sinister hummingbirds are no trope), they seemed more of side dish to the main course: a human prison in the guise of a derelict suburb. Its sequel, Silent Voices, continued the tale in a more domesticated framework. With Beyond Here Lies Nothing, the author serves symmetry by taking his last book of the trilogy to the same lofty heights we experienced in The Concrete Grove.

This outing concerns another new character, Marc Price. Price comes back to The Grove to research a book about the ‘Northumberland Poltergeist' - an infamous case from the 1970s: twins haunted by the spirit Captain Clickety. Soon a relationship is underway with a local woman, the mother of one of the Gone Away Girls (children abducted years previous with no evidence of how they disappeared). That bygone case has also left an indelible mark on local cop Royle, a hardened man with an addiction to alcohol who seems to embody the Grove itself. 

Not far from The Needle, scarecrows appear, their heads plastered in photographs of the missing and the dead ... 

In this, the culmination of a story arc, Gary McMahon accomplishes what he set out to do: unsettle the reader not with supernatural overtures but with a desperate and broken people. If The Concrete Grove were a musical project, Beyond Here Lies Nothing would be its greatest hits compilation; a symphony of the damned returning to the Needle with unfinished business or an ultimate score to settle. Though scarred, they are well-rounded off-shoots, each player a component of the author's own black-garlanded psyche.

There were times here when I felt genuinely unnerved (rare for someone schooled in the genre). Dark and poetic, Gary is tapping into his own staple brand: a twisted school of thought we have only just glimpsed the surface of.