The Concrete Grove
by Gary McMahon
Published by Solaris, 2011.
Regular readers will know that I am a huge fan of Gary McMahon’s work so it was a delight to receive a review copy of The Concrete Grove but I also approached it with some trepidation. After all, his work has been of such a consistently high standard that this book had a lot to live up to. I was also fascinated by the hints of dark fantasy in the blurb, could Mr. McMahon pull off another winner?…read on.
The Concrete Grove is an inner city housing estate in the North East of England. Dominated by drugs, crime, gangs and violence this is the place where teenager Hailey and her mother Lana find themselves following her fathers death and subsequent debt issues. Thrown in among the violence it’s not long before they are drawn into the dark underbelly of the place. At the same time Tom is struggling to come to terms with his wife Helen’s illness which has left her confined to bed. Lana and Tom find salvation in each others company but it’s Hailey who begins to see that the Concrete Grove and it’s dominating skyscraper, the needle might just be hiding even bigger secrets.
As usual with Gary McMahon the whole book has an extremely dark tone. His marvelously realised characters (all of whom are based on real life figures) are fascinating, tragic and often dangerous and the darkness of the location is the perfect match for them. At the heart of the book though is a deeper level of parallel worlds and supernatural creatures. With more than a passing nod to the likes of Arthur Machen, McMahon offers us tantalising glimpses of a much deeper mythology. It’s this undercurrent which sets this book apart from McMahon’s other works to date and in my opinion places it on a higher level.
We have seen plenty of darkness is McMahon’s work in the past and often this has come without hope of redemption, this book is different, here the story goes on and I suspect for some characters may go on for some time in the promised sequels. Indeed the only criticism I could level at The Concrete Grove is that at a “mere” 380 pages we only just scratch the surface of the mysteries he invokes. Of course it’s a tremendous story in it’s own right but it does feel like there is a whole lot more to come and I for one can’t wait.
So although I have used up most of my stock of superlatives on McMahon’s work in the past, I am going to have to find some new ones. This book is an outstanding mix of urban horror and dark fantasy, hints of King’s The Dark Tower series, hints of Holdstock’s pagan fantasy but above all the realisation of McMahon’s talents as the outstanding British horror writer of our times. Highly recommended.
Rating 5 out of 5