Tuesday 27 September 2011

Dead Bad Things.

Dead Bad Things is the second Thomas Usher book by Gary McMahon, a sequel to Pretty Little Dead Things. This is a Thomas Usher book - it even says so on the front cover, but the novel actually features three main characters, each following their own plot lines - all of which eventually converge - and, of the three, it's Usher who appears the least.
He does enjoy two of the best set-pieces in the book however, a brilliantly written encounter in a cafe in which a connection is made between the parallel realities that make up Usher's world, and a surreal and terrifying trip through an abandoned warehouse.
The other two characters sharing the pages of Dead Bad Things both appeared in the first book, PC Sarah Doherty, embittered after a childhood of abuse from her recently deceased father and Trevor Pumpkiss - the stage psychic discredited by Usher in Pretty Little Dead Things.
The plot centres around the hunt for a child-killer.  This, combined with Pumpkiss's sexual predelictions make this another very dark piece from Gary and it is, at times, a difficult read - it will take you places you really don't want to go.  It's a credit to the author, however, and his skills at writing, that the story never feels gratuitous or exploitative, the horror of what's happening comes across loud and clear - there's no titillation here.
All the McMahon trademarks are here and images and ideas from some of his earlier works coalesce to stunning effect. This isn't meant as a criticism, seeing ideas evolve and form through a writer's work is fascinating.  It's those ideas that draw us to particular authors in the first place, in the same way that we like bands because of their sound - a sound that's distinctive and recognisable because they use the same chord progressions, instrumentation. Anyone who's read Gary's work before will have an expectation of anything new he writes.  Dead Bad Things delivers on those expectations in spadefulls.
My only real criticism of the book is that the conclusion is a wee bit exposition-heavy. Not in the usual way that I dislike exposition i.e. it's handled badly and comes across as clunky - Gary actually does it very well - but that there's too much, too much is given away about Usher's true nature.
There are similarities between the Usher books and John Connolly's excellent Charlie Parker thrillers, both in terms of the subject matter and the way the two series are written - first person perspective from the "heroes" mixed in with third person narrative. It was eight books into Connolly's series before Parker's true nature was revealed, following seven books of tantalising hints. Maybe it's a case of too much too soon with regards to Thomas Usher but we'll see... It's  a minor criticism and certainly won't stop me looking forward to the next book in the series.  There's resolution aplenty in Dead Bad Things but new threads are introduced too.  It's going to be interesting to see where Gary takes the character of Traci with an eye not a why.
It's a tough read, but there's loads of dead good things in Dead Bad Things.

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