Review: Lies You Wanted to Hear


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Author: James Whitfield Thomson

Published by: Sourcebooks Landmark

What would you do if you believed your child was in mortal danger? How far would you go?

Lucy’s two young children have been gone for nine years now, an unbearable burden that haunts her even more because of her role in what happened.

You can hardly glimpse that carefree girl Lucy was before she married Matt. She was a magnet for men who were bad for her—men like Griffin. With shattering, unthinkable turns that will wrench every mother’s heart, this suspenseful story probes the issue of how well you know the person you married. How much can you trust them with your heart—and with your future?

That’s what the publisher’s blurb promises, but does the book deliver?

Without doubt it is a good book and quite an achievement for a 67-year-old debut novelist. The writing is confident and eminently readable, though not extraordinary. But whereas the blurb suggests this is Lucy’s story, it is most definitely equally Matt’s. And why will it wrench every mother’s heart and not every father’s?

Lucy is a bit of a bad girl. She has a penchant for drugs and rough sex, so falling for a cop might not be the best idea in the world—but she does just that while recovering from an emotional break up with Griffin, a nasty piece of work to say the least. Matt offers her steady reliability, and she takes it.

They get married and have two children, but during a bout of postnatal depression things take a turn for the worse. Matt’s perfect parenting skills begin to annoy Lucy, and their marriage comes under intense strain as she grows to resent him.

Feelings of inadequacy overwhelm her, and she starts an affair with old flame Griffin. Matt and Lucy split, and there is a tussle over the kids. Matt reckons— and no doubt readers will agree—that Lucy’s behaviour is endangering the children, so faced with losing custody of them he kidnaps them, changes all their identities, and starts a new life.

Dr. Thomson raises the thorny issues of separation, divorce, and the presumption in favor of granting custody to the mother, and he does it well enough. The story alternates from Lucy’s point of view to Matt’s and back again, giving the reader an insight into both sides, but the case in Lucy’s favour is not convincing—if indeed that was the intention.

So does the book deliver? Well, kind of. The marketing suggests something darker and far more disturbing, but perhaps that wasn’t ever the author’s intention.

This review appears in the New York Journal of Books and is reproduced here with their kind permission.

Review: The Concrete Grove

I’ve read some really disappointing books this year purporting to be horror. At times I’ve felt quite down about it. One book that didn’t disappoint is The Concrete Grove. I read that last year! But it’s so good, I thought I would post my review here from the New York Journal of Books. You can access the original site via this link:

“The Concrete Grove conjures up images that will haunt readers long after the book is put away.”




The Concrete Grove is the first book of the eponymous trilogy from British horror writer Gary McMahon. Set in the northeastern of England, it tackles the very real and current issues facing those who find themselves trapped at the bottom of the pile, either in rundown housing projects or in lives that have turned bad for one reason or another.

Mr. McMahon’s writing is crisp and minimal. As a result, the crime and misery of a crumbling urban landscape are portrayed with an uncomfortable edge. As if this were not enough, a parallel supernatural world is woven deftly into the story.

The reality of The Concrete Grove—underfunded and crumbling estates, drugs, murder, rape, corruption and general urban decay—will be all too familiar to some. Mr. McMahon says that he has based his characters on real people, and they are incredibly engaging—even the villains. It is impossible not to empathize with even the nastiest of thugs.

Such a story of desperation could stand on its own, but author McMahon adds the chill of a darker world that exists alongside the housing project. Some of the creatures are works of genius, and the use of hummingbirds to send shivers down the spine of the reader is the height of originality.

The Concrete Grove conjures up images that will haunt readers long after the book is put away.

McMahon’s writing builds the tension and keeps the reader guessing to the very end, cranking up the terror with the turn of every page. His complex vision of the supernatural world echoes the early works of Clive Barker yet is original to the core.

The Concrete Grove twists and turns through dark alleyways, finally delivering a shocking an unexpected finale. The second book in the trilogy will be eagerly awaited. Mr. McMahon is a welcome and refreshing member of the horror scene.