11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 12 July 2011
In the Concrete Grove, Gary McMahon successfully fuses grim urban realism with the spiritual mysticism of Machen and Blackwood. There are other echoes here too; creatures wander abroad in the grey environs of the Grove that made me recall late-night sessions of playing Silent Hill and a particular breed of demon evokes the grotesque visuals of Aphex Twin. The characters who inhabit The Concrete Grove are, on the face of it, familiar types but they are soon fleshed out as the story goes on until they become people. They are distinctive, damaged and none of them come to quite the end you might well expect.
The Concrete Grove is a work of thoroughly contemporary horror whilst not being knowingly modern or hip. The influences, literary, cinematic and pop culture, are all blended together to create an environment that becomes as real as those depicted on the evening news and as disturbingly imaginative as you could hope for.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 2 August 2011
Concrete Grove is my first experience of Gary McMahon's work but it definitely won't be the last. This is a dark urban horror which isn't afraid to take its readers into the shadows.
We all know those areas of towns to stay away from. They're full of criminals and dealers, and we're happy to not live there. But what about the people who don't have a choice? What about those who have to live there? Concrete Grove concerns a few of these people, principally the mother of a teenage girl who's in debt to the local crime boss, and the man who might be the one to help her or the one to make things worse.
McMahon's creation is a frightening place. Crime boss Monty Bright has a tight hold on the area and the police don't appear too interested in doing much about him. A woman, Lana, is recently widowed and struggling to look after her daughter Hailey. She's in debt to Bright, Hailey seems to be suffering from an illness which causes blackouts and the only positive in her life is her developing relationship with Tom, the man who helps Hailey home after one of her episodes. While all this is occurring, an evil force is growing in the centre of the Grove and Hailey knows much more about it than Lana realises.
On the surface, Concrete Grove might sound like a fairly straight horror complete with a teenage girl in danger and a vile figure in the shape of Monty Bright, but McMahon takes the story into much deeper places. There are also several passages of gorgeous writing which bring to life the characters in a way lacking from some horror fiction.
Overall, this is a superb read. I'm looking forward to the sequel next year.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 8 January 2012
The word concrete, the overpowering image of the Concrete Grove, the shear struggle for survival in a world full of harsh, bitter and destructive influences is what flows through this book making it an unbelievable and at times difficult read. The content is bleak, the subject matter is bleak and the characters we meet, for the most part are people at the bottom of the food chain struggling for some form of survival and existence. The story takes place in a run down council estate somewhere in North East England, and in such a locality there lives the takers and those who are taken from. The author must surely draw upon his knowledge when he introduces us to Monty Bright, evil personified who together with his associates Terry (whose prosthetic limb lends itself to one of the most enduring and horrific scenes)and Francis Boater a murdering psychopath for most of his life but finally finds some sort of peaceful conclusion. The only real hero, in an otherwise pitiful list of characters, is Hailey whose bad luck it is to find herself living in this concrete hell, but has the good fortune to be drawn to a form of magic that may prove her redemption. Hailey's mother Lana Fraser is a woman who will do anything to remove herself from the burning fires of this living nightmare and when she finds herself in debt to Monty Bright hopes that her friendship with Tom will be her escape. Tom receives very little sympathy from the reader as he is fundamentally a weak character and bemoans his life and his non existent marriage to the grotesque Helen. Gary McMahon graphically shows what life must be like living in the gutter style existence of the concrete jungle where only the takers succeed and the taken from survive by eking out an existence in a world that largely chooses to ignore them.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
It seems that, lately I am focusing on UK horror. the next load of books in my reading pile are all UK authors. There is a welcome renaissance in the genre, and leading the charge, in my opinion, anyway, is Gary McMahon. Gary is an author with an exceptional talent, his stories are in the main very downcast, gritty that elicit powerful emotions in the reader. Up hear we have a word that sums up this sort of thing "dour" At times Gary's work his hard to read, he doesn't shy away from the darker side of life, and what he puts his characters through is heart wrenching. Yet for all this doom and gloom, you'll keep turning the pages, captivated and caught up with an author who is truly gifted with an expectational talent.
The Grove, is an unnamed estate in the north of England, a place full of people who are lost from society, stuck at the bottom of the pile, trying desperately to eke out some form of life. From Hailey, and her her mother Lana, trying to build a new life, Tom desperate to escape from his duty bound care of his paralysed cheating wife, to Monty Bright a disgusting loan shark and his gang of truly despicable cronies. These characters are real, unlike those of your typical Koontz novel, the wearing of white or black hats, do not distinguish the good guys from the bad guys. For the most part these people are not likeable, they are full of flaws and shortcomings, so it says a hell of a lot about Gary's writing, that these characters enagage, and you do end up caring about them.
The fact that you end up caring for, and rooting for Francis Boater, Monty Bright's main enforcer, is a revelation. This is a big violent, brute, an evil man, with no remorse, who has done really despicable acts. Yet the journey he sets out on leads to some form of redemption, you will feel sorry for him.
This is Urban Horror at it's finest, that's Urban horror folks, not urban fantasy, you not find some spunky teenage girl battling demons here. This horror that is firmly rooted in the real world, for the main the horror that the people of the Grove face, comes not from some supernatural source, but from the horror of their day to day lives. This is one of those stories that even if you took away the supernatural element, you would still be left with a great story, yes the writing is that good. That's not to say the supernatural element feels tagged on. It deftly threads it's way through the novel, giving an otherworldliness to the proceedings, a parallel world, that has been twisted and shaped into a weird mirror of our own.
The ending of the is story is perfect, just when you think it's heading in one direction McMahon, kicks your legs from underneath you, and finishes the only way in which it could.
Everyone needs to buy this book, it is brilliant, if you want a point of reference, imagine the gritty urban realism of Ray Banks, mixed with twisted imagining of Clive Barker
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
I enjoy my fiction on the dark and surreal side. The Concrete Grove takes dark and surreal to a whole new level. Praise for Gary McMahon for placing his story in the solid, real environment of a housing estate/project. Had he played out this tale of haunting and ancient evil in the more usual setting of a Gothic house or Victorian asylum there'd been little to hold it down and stop the whole thing floating right off the page.
It's all a bit random to be honest and I couldn't take it too seriously. You need to be a fan of the likes of Joe Hill and Adam Nevill, I'm not making a comparison!, to stand a chance of getting into the concept however; there are some decent ideas here and plenty of supernatural/horror elements.
I was intrigued with the idea of a portal or 'doorway' sitting right at the heart of somewhere as bland as a housing estate/project. I looked forward to the mystery of Hailey and her connection to an ancient evil reaching out to consume her. I was disappointed. Concrete Grove promises everything I love most in fiction but the reality is much different.
I can't happily recommend The Concrete Grove. It's OK in parts but I can't give it more than that.
on 16 September 2012
A strange, disorientating read, this. Set on a grim northern estate hiding strange secrets and worlds, the book begins by rooting in a grim reality of loan sharks, violence, and personal struggle. It's a fine place for a horror novel to set itself, and establishes a different tone from the standard suburban settings that the horror genre became known for a decade ago. It doesn't take long for the weird to settle in though. The Concrete Grove is just a mask for a different place, older and stranger by far, and its influence soon becomes the plot. If I've a disappointment with the book, it's that the strange takes over rather too quickly, replacing the power of the setting before its full influence is felt. Fortunately, this is the first of a trilogy of stories set in the Grove, so I can look forward to exploring it a little more. The abnormality that emerges is lyrical and disturbing, but I want to get to know the normality it's invading as well.
In many ways, the plot of this novel is more about the Grove than the damaged cast of characters inhabiting it. Their stories are driven by otherworldy influence, their everyday horrors charged up by the mysterious powers at work, and in the end none of their agendas and resolutions root in reality. The journey from one spectrum to the other is where this novel gains its power to disturb. A fine introduction to the Concrete Grove, but not for the faint of heart.
on 12 June 2014
First of all the cover image is amazing, unsettling and evocative. Now the review. The Concrete Grove is a tightly written novel and a disturbing one. I've always appreciated McMahon's writing style, the haunted disconnected nature of it while capturing the truths about hard-lived existences. McMahon writes characters that are real and so close to us that it adds an extra layer of unease: we could slip as easily into this slow-boiling nightmare world just like them.
The setting is just as naked and torn as these characters inner-selves. The Needle, a tower block, is the centre piece of The Concrete Grove, the estate spreads out around it. There is something terrible within the Needle, and choosing a tower block to hold something unimaginable is also symbolic. The Needle is tethered to the grove while seeming to puncture the sky. Although inanimate one of the characters Hailey, senses a sentient energy about it.
The story concerns Hailey, her mum and another lonely and entrapped character Tom. Together the three witness the developing strangeness stirring within the grove. They see horrific acts of violence, suffer the claustrophobic fear of never escaping the grove and also they have to battle their own demons.
At the heart of the tale is a story about human nature, behaviour and the hope of something better. I will be reading the second instalment.
on 13 March 2014
He's a cracking writer, and the more I read him, the more I like it.
Thinking he's like this, like that, all the way through. There's a big hit of the otherworld, a seedy kind of noir feel to the situations and the characters. Thought for a while, reading it, that it's a little like Barker, maybe more like his influences, a little like Chandler, on the noir side - like two novels in one. But really, I think it's a hell of a lot more like Mr. McMahon. There's a lot to love about this - the kind of story that you don't want to turn the page because you know something awful is going to happen...but at the same time, you find yourself turning the page. I've read a few McMahon stories by now, and at each I'm struck by his skill, but also by a kind of spark of humanity throughout his work. It's dark, seedy, horrible, yes, but it's human. For me, this is what he does best - he's a grown-up about people - about their propensity to be completely awful human beings. He doesn't shy away from it - it's not about redemption, but about telling a good tale within the confines of some complex, evil characters...and still making you care, making it interesting. Anyway, what is this? A book club? Well worth a read, I enjoyed it.
on 16 December 2013
This isn't at all what I expected it to be. Amongst all the "usual" monster horror novels, this was a sickly- beautiful and highly original story which, despite being part of a series, stands strong on its own.
The metaphors throughout were complex, emotional ideas made simple, and all were ones I could relate to. Some particularly grotesque monsters became emotive and pitiful by the end, linking the characters' individual traumas with a Silent Hill-esque vibe.
Though it slowed somewhat in the middle, the last third of the book was filled with enough intrigue and horror to make the slow build-up worthwhile. Having read the first Thomas Usher book (Angry Robot books) it's clear, at least to me, that this story was a slow-burner. I might be wrong, but it felt more authentic and personal than Gary McMahon's crime series Pretty Little Dead Things.
The Concrete Grove is fantastic, and exhibits all the emotionally-driven, beautifully crafted horror that I loved when I first read his novella, The Harm.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
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.