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Silent Voices by Gary McMahon

SILENT VOICES coverPublisher: Solaris
Paperback (384 pp)

Silent Voices is the sixth novel from talented British writer Gary McMahon. Arguably, it could be said to be his best novel to date. It is the second book of his Concrete Grove Trilogy, book one of which, The Concrete Grove, won Best Novel at This Is Horror’s inaugural awards.

This time around the story revolves around three friends, Simon, Brendan and Marty who, when they were children, disappeared for a weekend only to emerge, battered and abused, from the local building known as The Needle with no recollection of the ordeal they had suffered, nor the person responsible. Events of the first book are mentioned and several characters make appearances but essentially this shift in viewpoint serves to highlight that the estate itself, the Concrete Grove of the series name, is the focus of the narrative.

The three boys grow to be very different men, but all show signs that the events of their youth still affect their emotional lives; family-man Brendan has a predilection for bondage porn, bare-knuckle boxer Marty has a rage he struggles to keep in check and self-made millionaire Simon has commitment issues which he’s all too aware of but is unable to counter. All three are plagued by bad dreams and hints of memory that largely feature a sinister creature they all recall as Captain Clickety, and who they first encountered prior to their missing weekend. Brendan is the only one of the three not to leave the area.

Comparisons can be made with IT by Stephen King, a novel featuring children returning as adults to face the monsters of their childhood in a town that seems in itself evil, but this is only the flimsiest of associations as the scale here is much smaller and more intimate. Continuing with the King comparisons, there’s a scene within Silent Voices which will be as genuinely affecting to readers with children as the events of Pet Sematary. It is also a supremely written scene which displays all McMahon’s strengths as a writer; beautiful prose, an outstanding eye for detail and an instinctive understanding of exactly what to show the reader and what to leave to their imagination.

Another stand-out scene centres on Marty’s bare-knuckle fight with a young Polish fighter. The seedy underground setting is wonderfully evoked but it’s the action itself which really gets the pulse racing as the fight is described in all its brutal detail so that you can almost smell the sweat and hear the baying crowd. Here McMahon shows that he is as equally adept at physical scenes as he is at the psychological ones usually featured in his stories.

The climax is also handled perfectly and, typical of McMahon, is not without its heartbreak. Some questions are answered, others are left unrevealed and several new ones posed, but it still provides a satisfying resolution to the story whilst instilling a sense of eagerness for the rest of the story which will be revealed in the concluding part of the trilogy.

Gary McMahon’s stories are never less than good, but when, as is the case with Silent Voices, there is in evidence a searing honesty and the feeling of an author prepared to tell the truth as he sees it, no matter how brutal that may be, then his stories approach greatness. The Concrete Grove trilogy will culminate with Beyond Here Lies Nothing and, on the evidence of Silent Voices, it should see McMahon reach even greater heights.

ROSS WARREN

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