Dead Bad Things
by Gary McMahon
Published by Angry Robot, 2011.
Dead Bad Things takes us once again into the carefree and jolly world of Thomas Usher, where the hat is always on the side of the head and everyone has a cheery smile for each other…okay, maybe not. You will find my review of the previous novel Pretty Little Dead Things here and you will note how I enjoyed the “horrifically bleak” scenes, well I can tell you now compared with this book, that was a technicolour extravaganza. You want bleak, this is bleak!
Once again we meet Thomas Usher a man haunted by his ability to communicate with the dead, well actually it’s not so much of an ability as an inevitability, the dead are everywhere and Thomas has to live out his life surrounded by them. Police Constable Sarah Doherty, however leads an even darker life. She is haunted by memories of her abusive father, a former policeman and by the horrific scenes she encounters in her daily job. Of course it’s not long before these various strands come together and as Sarah investigates the depths of her father’s depravity she finds some shocking truths about herself.
With both Pretty Little Dead Things and the even more impressive Concrete Grove, Gary McMahon has perfected the art of urban horror. He populates his books with a catalogue of grotesque, depraved characters all who are much too real for comfort. Here we have rentboys, child abusers, bent coppers and every other down at heel, grasping for survival, section of society you could think of. Throw in some powerful supernatural and demonic forces and these grim realities become horrendous, dark absurdities.
This is a book which holds no punches, yet involves very little gore. The horror here is a caricature of things we all know go on, blown up into macabre visions of the dark lives of others, and where McMahon has always turned up the bleakness dial here is at number 11, this book is unrelenting, to quote Nigel Tufnel there is “none more black”. Yet amidst the shocking scenes and depravity there is redemption, a very small light at the end of the tunnel, a light we don’t yet reach (this is, after all, part of an ongoing series) but just enough light to allow the reader to hope that somewhere down the line things will get better.
Reminiscent of John Connolly’s bleak, supernatural tinged, Charlie Parker books yet retaining its own distinct tone this is a book that deserves a wider audience. I praised Gary McMahon previously for not dampening his bleakness in pursuit of bestseller fame and I can only repeat that feeling here. Dead Bad Things is an excellent reflection on the perilous state of our society, thrilling, beautifully written and emotional without being overwrought. It might not make you laugh but it will make you think and for that fact alone this novel transcends the genre boundaries and establishes its own territory. I still feel The Concrete Grove is a better book, purely for its imaginative forays into fantasy but this is close behind. I’ve already praised McMahon’s writing to the point of sycophancy but this is further proof, if needed, that he remains the dark star of British horror.