Returning to the realm previously envisioned in The Concrete Grove, UK 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 invited 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 Grove for a final revelation, closure, or both.
Steeping back into Gary’s narration is akin to a homecoming. The syntax – while a little less cerebral this time around – moves around the page like dark poetry. There is also an every-man eloquence to the mood: these are hard character's chiseled from austere upbringings: Simon Ridley is a successful entrepreneur, the only one to escape the Grove, but a man unhinged all the same. His friend Brendan suffers the same insecurities we all reach upon seceding into adulthood: keeping up a pretense of happiness when the dream machine of our youth has an ‘out of order’ sign attached. And Marty has all the hallmarks of what a neglected childhood can sometimes usher in: masochism and brutality to hide what lurks beneath. When the three 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 usually a bridge to a final farewell that can be wobbly at the best of times. Somewhat formulaic, Gary has chosen the trope: best friends who battled an evil in childhood are summoned as adults to confront the monster again. For me, this is somewhat 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 a character 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 it can sometimes be hard to grasp the nostalgia and (horror movie) feel our author is trying to illicit.
Positives (and drawbacks) aside, this is still an accomplished work of dark fiction. It may not be McMahon firing on every cylinder, but even the author’s bridgework is head and shoulders above many others working 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 final journey back into the Concrete Grove ... and see what lies beyond it.