The Concrete Grove by Gary McMahon
Imagine a place where all your nightmares become real. Dark urban streets where crime, debt and violence are not the only things to fear. Picture a housing project that is a gateway to somewhere else; a realm where ghosts and monsters stir hungrily in the shadows. Welcome to the Concrete Grove.
This deprived area is Hailey’s new home, but when an ancient entity notices her, it becomes something much more threatening. She is the only one who can help her mother as she joins in a dangerous dance with loan-shark Monty Bright. Only Hailey can see the truth of Tom’s darkest desires as he tries to become part of their family. And only Hailey can lead them all to the heart of the estate where something older than this land stirs and begins to wake…
Hailey and her mother, Lana are trying their best to get by. They have fallen on hard times after a family tragedy and each have ended up way out of their depth. Hailey is in thrall to the strange powers that control the Grove while Lana has fallen foul of the local gangster, Monty Bright.
Lana is put through the emotional and physical ringer as she attempts to break the hold that Monty Bright has over her family. She also has to try and protect Hailey at all costs. The violence that Lana is exposed to is as graphic as it is harrowing, those of a delicate nature take note. Lana, however, has an incredibly strong personality and her determination shines through, making her a truly compelling character to read. Lana meets a man called Tom, who has dark demons of his own, and the dynamic of their relationship adds extra layers of insight into the novel’s narrative.
The other character that really intrigued me was Francis Boater. At first glance, when the reader is initially introduced to Francis he seems to be quite a flat, one-dimensional character. He appears to be nothing more than a violent enforcer type who acts as the right hand man to Mr. Bright. It quickly became evident, as the story developed, that there is far more to Boater than I had first assumed. He is filled with anxieties and regrets, and I eventually found myself pitying him. He wants to change, he wants to be a better person, and he has had enough of being the ‘Bad Man’. Kudos to Gary McMahon for creating a supporting player who starts off being loathsome but turns into someone you end up wanting to see succeed.
As soon as I saw the cover for The Concrete Grove, spookily depicted by Vincent Chong’s evocative artwork, I knew I had to read it. It triggered a childhood memory that I hadn’t thought about in decades. My maternal grandmother used to live in a tower block at the centre of a rundown council housing estate. Her home was a small flat high on the 12th floor. I recalled that I always dreaded visiting as some of the strange characters that lived elsewhere in the building frightened me. The claustrophobic lifts and stairwells also filled me with terror. The promise of a novel that touched upon my childhood fears of the unknown was too strong to resist
My favorite thing, in a book crammed full of favorite things, were the intricate lives that the author has crafted. All the characters that live in and around the Concrete Grove are wonderfully realised. I was struck by the fact that in various different ways everyone was lost or adrift. They are all looking for something whether it is escape, love, hope or redemption. McMahon really has a keen eye when it comes to characterization.
The Concrete Grove is a must read for all self-respecting fans of horror. The blending of ancient evils and the problems of modern society seems so obvious now I’m stunned no one has touched upon this before. I couldn’t tell you the last time a read a novel in a single sitting. More often than not, I am distracted by real life and need to dip in and out of anything that I read, not so with The Concrete Grove. There is something wonderfully compelling about McMahon’s writing. I genuinely found it difficult to tear myself away. My usual cry of ‘just a few more pages’ swiftly became ‘just the rest of the novel’.
The best news is, this is a trilogy, so there will be another two books. The second book, Silent Voices, is due to be released in April 2012.
The Concrete Grove is published by Solaris and released on 7th July 2011.