Wednesday, 23 May 2012

‘Silent Voices’ – Gary McMahon (Solaris)

One of the things that I love most about blogging here is discovering great new books that I wouldn’t have come across otherwise. These days I am veering towards the familiar (toddler in the house, the daily commute, you’ve heard all the excuses before…) but there’s still a lot to be said for taking a chance on an author you’ve never heard and seeing where the journey takes you. What favourite authors have you discovered more or less on a whim? I discovered Gary McMahon and I haven’t looked back since, preferring to look forwards instead and see what slice of nastiness he comes up with next.

Every since a copy of ‘Hungry Hearts’ (still an innovative slice of zombie fiction, check it out) fell into my hands, Gary McMahon has become one of my ‘go to authors’ in terms of horror fiction. If you’re a fan of the genre then I reckon you’ve already read at least one of his books. If not, I guess you know what you need to do.

‘The Concrete Grove’ is my favourite book of McMahon’s although ‘Hungry Hearts’ does run it a close second. You can read my review Here if you like. If not, have a couple of quotes from the review…

It goes without saying that if you are squeamish at all then this is probably a book that you should avoid. McMahon doesn’t include anything without a very good reason but when he does he doesn’t pull his punches at all and this shows us all to well that perhaps the true horror in this piece lies in just what us humans can be capable of if we want something enough. It’s not pretty.

It’s a vicious read with a delicate beauty about it; if you like your horror fiction then I don’t see any reason why you won’t get a lot out of this.

With quotes like that, you won’t be too surprised to hear that I was really looking forward to getting my hands on the sequel ‘Silent Voices’. I was hoping for more of the same at the very least, a little more if possible. Either would have been good but it wasn’t to be on that score. McMahon went for something different entirely and it worked… only up to a point though.

Twenty years ago, three boys went missing for a whole weekend. No-one knew what had happened, least of all the boys who could remember nothing but vague memories of a shadowy woodland grove.
Twenty years on and Simon has returned to the Concrete Grove to see his old friends and finally bury the memories that have plagued him all these years. Those memories won’t be buried though, not when the darkness that created them is calling out once more. The hummingbirds are flying again and dark shadows stalk a run down council estate once more. Will three men finally be able to escape the memories of their childhood and banish the evil at the centre of the Concrete Grove?

‘Silent Voices’ is a worthy sequel to ‘The Concrete Grove’, a book that expands on the secrets within the Needle and gives us a slightly longer look at something dark that is awake once more. At the same time though, ‘Silent Voices’ fell (just a little) short of what McMahon achieved in ‘The Concrete Grove’. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, more a case of the story going in a slightly different direction, to before, and perhaps losing a little impact because of it.

‘Silent Voices’ is a chilling tale of urban fantasy and horror. Not ‘that’ kind of urban fantasy; I’m talking about something that heads into ‘Mythago Wood’ territory if anything. Gary McMahon isn’t Robert Holdstock but the ‘Concrete Grove’ trilogy has definite echoes of that tale within it. At its heart though, ‘Silent Voices’ is a tale of three damaged men confronting what damaged them as children. It’s quite raw in places because of this and McMahon captures that pain just as his characters are feeling it. It’s intense stuff, make no mistake about it.

Where this theme can work against the book though is that it can make ‘Silent Voices’ a ‘slow burner’ for all the wrong reasons as well as the right ones. McMahon is very good at slowing things down and building up to some really nasty shocks; I’m talking about trips into the darkness that ends up with the line…

‘Fucking hell… then whose fucking hand am I holding?’

When you’re talking about three guys though, guys who have to come to terms with what they have become before they can even begin to talk about it to each other… This really slowed things down for me, I felt like I had to wait for Simon, Brendan and Marty to get their heads together before the story could move on. Looking back, I know that’s the point of the story but perhaps it was done a little too well? I was also left wondering if there was only so much mileage a writer can get out of a situation where at least one (maybe two) of the three main characters really didn’t want to talk about things at all…

It’s a tough plot to stick with then, in that respect, but McMahon seeds it with little moments of terror that scare the reader (when they least expect it) and heightens the anticipation for the final climactic events under the Needle. I loved the almost Celtic feel of the fantasy elements and how this added a little more strangeness and horror to the grim northern setting. McMahon has created something stunning not only in its simplicity but also in its capacity to shock and what this promises for the final instalment. ‘The Concrete Grove’ was perhaps a little more visceral but this only goes to show that McMahon is just as good at messing with your head as well as messing with your stomach. A child’s nursery rhyme here, a rustling in the corner over there… It all builds up into something you cannot take your eyes away from when the payoff hits you.

‘Silent Voices’ sometimes felt like a bit of a tough nut to crack but I couldn’t put it down nonetheless. The ending was superb and bodes well for the final book in the trilogy, whether McMahon chooses to carry on in that direction or not…

Nine and a Quarter out of Ten

No comments: