Review by Gary Fry
The superb cover of this book reminded me of the recent film Sinister, which is a real favourite of mine, and so I greatly looked forward to something of similar persuasion. Here we have a male narrator, whose life is troubled, and who moves into a new home to start a new life. It’s a familiar narrative technique, allowing us to join him at this existential juncture and see how it all goes. But it isn’t going to go well; we all know that. This is a horror novel.
McMahon spends the opening half of the book lining up all his dominoes, bringing them tumbling down in the second half. There are great descriptions of working, recreational and interpersonal life. The author has a real gift for documenting the minutiae of everyday life, the nuanced tensions arising between people, private concerns conveyed by body language, etc. It lends the outré proceedings a convincing backdrop.
I really liked the way the darker events were hinted at, building slowly and intriguingly. And while the bogeyman (well, in this case, bogeywoman) is kept offstage for much of the book, there’s enough suggestive material to hold the reader’s interest. I guessed at some plot events, but was surprised by others. That’s the way it should be when an experienced reader meets a tricksy writer.
The finale is suitably grisly, involving – NO spoilers here – an abandoned house and folk rather less than dead. If I had one complaint about this, it was that the “purpose” of the “villains” was rather hackneyed, but that’s only a minor issue. McMahon seems less interested with the mechanics of plot and invention of new tropes than with delineating character and their interactions, using horror themes as way of exploring them, like strips of litmus paper dipped in the genre’s acid. And on this point he’s always superb.
This short novel’s greatest strength is the voice of the narrator. Educated, world-weary, by turns poetic, it lends the story a real depth and detail. We get to know every aspect of his troubled life, his hopes, regrets and struggles. McMahon’s prose is addictive. It’s rhythmic, chatty and pared to the bone. I tore through this book in less than a day, and that was why. Coupled with a thoroughly satisfying mystery and a sinister conclusion, we have a fine, lean horror novel, maybe the best kind there are. I enjoyed the hell out of it.