Solaris, p/b, £7.99
Reviewed by Carl Barker
It’s grim up north, apparently, though having lived in the North East for the last fourteen years, I can’t say I’ve ever found that to be true. Then again, I’ve probably never ventured into many of the areas on the outskirts of Newcastle and Gateshead which may have served as inspiration for Gary McMahon’s fictional suburb in this, the last of his Concrete Grove Trilogy. If I did, I certainly wouldn’t do it after dark because McMahon’s descriptive prose makes for sombre reading.
The central story of this final book is concerned with Marc Price, a journalist who arrives in the Grove to research a child haunting from the 1970s via his connection to one of the elderly inhabitants of the area. Around this narrative, McMahon weaves the tales of several other characters: Abbey Hansen, a mother living through the nightmarish aftermath of her young daughter having been abducted five years previous, Erik Best, a local hardman and gangster previously featured in the second book in this trilogy, and DS Craig Royle, a detective who obsesses over the multiple child disappearances in the Grove whilst simultaneously trying to rebuild the foundations of his failing marriage.
So far, so Get Carter, but when strange scarecrows start appearing all over the grove, each head adorned with a photograph of one of the missing children, things take a turn for the worse. Something is awakening in the Grove, something long dormant that seeks to open a doorway from this world into another.
McMahon’s prose is grubby and sparse, bringing a palpable sense of despair to proceedings, and after a few chapters you realise that this is the sort of estate you hope you never find yourself lost in. With faint echoes of King’s ‘The Dark Half’ and a hefty chunk of urban horror thrown in, the various narrative threads come together very nicely in an ending which feels entirely satisfying, whilst carefully leaving open the possibility for further returns to The Grove. Having not read either of the two previous books, I was glad to find that no previous knowledge was required in order to enjoy this one. Highly recommended for those of you who like your horror gritty, with a side-order of gloom.