Book Review: Reaping The Dark by Gary McMahon

reaping the dark

“One of the best British writers in horror!”

Reaping the Dark is the latest novella from Gary McMahon and is the story of Driver Z, or Clarke as he is known to a small number of his closest friends. Driver Z is a low level criminal, a getaway driver. He is good at what he does and is cool and calculated in his actions. The novella begins with Driver Z waiting patiently for a routine job to finish. When the job inevitably turns sour, Driver Z is left holding a bag full of cash and all of the heat that comes with it. However, nothing in Driver Z’s criminal career can prepare him for the type of heat this score will bring…

Reaping the Dark is a novella that wears its influences on its sleeve. Dennis Wheatley is referenced in the acknowledgements and the occult pervades the narrative from the very start. McMahon has always successfully interwoven the supernatural with the mundane and rundown, yet Reaping is a particular triumph in this regard. The involvement of black magic could have easily grated against the story’s backdrop of low level, career-criminal characters, yet it is interwoven with a subtlety that is often lacking in the genre.

Aside from the occult references, the most obvious influence on Reaping is James Sallis’ short novel Drive, and the Nicholas Winding Refn’s screen adaptation. Whilst the opening scene is almost identical to the film’s, McMahon quickly takes ownership of the story and pulls it in a completely different direction. However, the novella does have a cinematic quality and some of Driver Z’s dialogue and actions echo the best parts of Ryan Gosling’s stoic performance.

The characters in Reaping are fractured, broken people. McMahon has become an expert at identifying the weaknesses in the human psyche and chipping away at the fears and cracks held within it. The conflict created in the character Driver Z is one of the highlights. A character that lives a short-sighted, fast-moving lifestyle is thrown into a situation where his partner is pregnant and he is suddenly endowed with the money to look after his newly flourishing family. In the hands of a lesser skilled writer, the decision of a risk-averse, careful criminal to trade his lifestyle for his family would seem trite yet McMahon handles Driver Z with rare tenderness and craft.

There are a couple of missteps within the novella. Some of the peripheral characters are slightly underdeveloped and lack enough depth to make them as sympathetic or dangerous as they need to be in order to make the novella anything other than just Driver Z’s story. The character of Oakes, Driver Z’s long time mentor, is slightly clichéd and doesn’t quite deliver the same realism and believability as his protégé.

The real joy of Reaping is in McMahon’s stripped back, pared-down prose. McMahon has always delivered tough characters and realistic, horrific situations with aplomb yet the writing in this novella is a cut above his previous work. McMahon has previously delivered plot points with blunt force yet here his words are succinct and powerful. They cut precisely. McMahon’s dialogue has also improved, becoming not only more believable but more powerful. In light of the quality of his previous works it could now be held up as amongst the best in the genre.

Reaping the Dark is the latest instalment in the career of perhaps one of the best British writers in the horror genre today. This tightly plotted, cinematic and absorbing novella shows huge progression from McMahon’s previously excellent work. Coupled with the quality of his recent short novel The Bones of You, a transition in McMahon’s work is becoming clear. McMahon has raised the bar in terms of both the quality of his storytelling and his prose to such an extent that all horror fans should be looking forward to his future releases as important events in British horror.


Publisher: DarkFuse
eBook (204 pp)
Release Date: 20 May 2014

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