The Mall by SL Grey

reviewed by Joe Vaz

Published by Corvus
HC 312pages
RRP £14.99 (Kindle £4.99)
buy from Kalahari.net

 

Dan is an angsty emo-kid who works in a deadly-dull shopping mall. He hates his job.

Rhoda is a junkie whose babysitting charge ran off while she was scoring cocaine. She hates her life.

Rhoda bullies Dan into helping her search for the lost kid, but as they explore neon-lit corridors behind the mall they find themselves in the bowels of the building, where old mannequins are stored in grave-like piles and raw sewage drips off the ceiling. The only escape is down.

So for those of you who don’t know, SL Grey is the pseudonym of Sarah Lotz (who has recently published Deadlands, written with her daughter Savannah, under another pseudonym; Lily Herne) and Louis Greenberg (The Beggars’ Signwriters).

The Mall was apparently written by the authors in alternating chapters with Greenberg taking Dan’s first person viewpoint and Lotz writing for Rhoda. What this does is create a great sense of urgency and disjointedness as the viewpoints alternate between the chapters, which works like a bomb, keeping the reader disorientated and unnerved.

The Mall moves at a breakneck pace, dragging you straight into the story from the first line:

“My first instinct is to grab his hand, snap back his index finger, and floor the fucker.”

I must admit I’ve never read anything like it – The Mall is pure terror. When Lotz gave me the review copy she warned me that it was gruesome, and in places it really, really is, but this is not a gross-out story, it’s horror at it’s best. It is terrifying and disturbing.

The first section of the story, set in the underbelly of the mall, is reminiscent of Silent Hill as our heroes are lead through a seemingly never-ending labyrinth of tunnels and stairs, where every corridor and door leads the characters to some new and unknown terror, all the time with some massive, unknown thing chasing them. But the story really comes into it’s own when the horror gives way to the weird and creepy, where things seem normal, but just aren’t (why are the shopkeepers chained to their counters? And what exactly are they serving at McColons).

It has its failings, but these are few and far between: The MacGuffin (the lost child) is at times forgotten in the narrative, as the writers lead us into ever-stranger situations and settings. There are a few continuity errors which it make it feel like the book could have done with one more edit (specifically a knife that is forgotten and lost, only to be in the heroine’s pocket a few chapters later), but otherwise it is an extremely well constructed, well-paced, terrifying book.

Without giving too much away, the pace slows down a bit towards the end and the last chapters feel like they are the beginning of (possibly) a second book rather than the ending of this one, but to be honest it didn’t really bother me. I enjoyed the slowing down of the pace, I needed the slowing down of the pace after the torture Grey put me through. But like experienced torturers, Greenberg and Lotz never push you too far without giving you a breather, lest you should die from your wounds before they are finished with you.

The imagery, concepts and set-pieces are beautiful, grotesque, surreal and utterly terrifying. SL Grey achieves that most awesome of things; a terror that follows you out of the pages and into the everyday world.

My advice would be to stock up on your groceries before you start reading, because you will never look at the inside of a mall the same way again.

In a word, The Mall is totallyfuckingawesome.

 

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