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This book is well written and a good example of the horror genre, but I would only recommend it to readers who can withstand and enjoy the bleak and harrowing story.

The story revolves around the lives of a group of people living in a multi-story council estate – the Concrete Grove. Hailey is fourteen years old and struggling with life at school.  She has been relocated to the Concrete Grove with her mother, Lana, after the suicide of her father. Life in the estate is tough, but for Hailey and Lana, it is at its worst because of their poverty and memories of their previous better life. Hailey is attracted to a derelict building at the centre of Concrete Grove, and, while exploring it, she comes across a mystical place frequented by hummingbirds. She runs in fear from the place and loses consciousness.

Tom, who cares for his quadriplegic and grossly overweight wife, Helen, is out running – a welcome escape – and finds Hailey unconscious on the ground. He takes her to her mother with whom he forms an instant and strong rapport.  After some soul searching Tom visits Lana again and they form a relationship.

Lana is in debt to a loan shark, Monty Bright, who sends his men, including another key character, Francis Boater, to threaten her.

Meanwhile, there are hints of supernatural beings, but it is not clear whether they are good or evil.

Thus the scene is set for the conflict and difficulties of Hailey, Lana and Tom.

The story is well told and forms two parts. At first, there is little in the way of fantasy and most of the focus is on the internal monologues of Hailey, Lana and Tom as they struggle to survive. This part of the story becomes progressively bleaker until it is almost unbearable. In the second half, the fantasy element makes a stronger appearance and there is more action and the pace is faster. But the story continues to be bleak, and it is impossible to tell how it will end – in tragedy or, relative happiness.

The only criticism I have of The Concrete Grove is its unrelenting bleakness. Coupled with the introspective start, it makes the story quite hard work and I nearly gave up on it several times. But, the second half did pick up and become more compelling, so it was worthwhile to stay with it. Perhaps those readers that really like horror stories would enjoy the first half more.

The quality of the writing was very good, easy to read with no significant errors in the narrative.

Normally at this point I would indicate which of the seven plots this story is based on, but part of the intrigue of the story is that you genuinely cannot guess how it will end. It could go in any of several directions. So, I will not spoil the reader’s interest by giving it away.

I give it the following positive awards, which the author will probably like. Each award is out of five.

• Twelve monkeys (yes, twelve or of five and if you can’t guess why I have given it twelve you need to get to the movies more often) for the uncertainty of the ending.
• Two pairs of hands with eyes in them for creating such strong empathy for the characters – it almost makes you feel their pain.

I also give it the following award which the author may not appreciate quite so much.

• Five servings of soylent green for despair and bleakness.

To summarize, the story is dark and depressing, well written and it draws your attention by the second half. I would recommend it to lovers of horror stories but not to those seeking heroic fantasy or hi tech sci i.

The Concrete Grove by Gary McMahon
Publisher: Solaris, 2011
Review by Wayne J. Harris

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