All Your Gods Are Dead, by Gary McMahon

Reviewe by Barry J House

When Doug Hunter travels to Leeds to investigate the circumstances surrounding his brother's ultra-violent death, he is plunged into the nightmare world of the Church of All Sufferance, a bizarre religious sect that claims, 'all your Gods are dead', and believes in the pursuit and control of human suffering.

They gather pain. Pain is the key. When they have enough, they intend to use it to unlock the door to… ah, but that would be telling, wouldn’t it?

An astute introduction by Mark Samuels warns us that, from the prologue onwards, ‘we are plunged almost at once into a nightmare of gut-wrenching physical torment that dovetails with profound metaphysical horrors’. I couldn’t agree more. All Your Gods are Dead is a novella that grabs you by the throat (or, feel free to insert your own suitable body-part word) early on, infusing you with a sense of dark foreboding that proves to be well founded, again and again, throughout the tale.

For me, that feeling of dread begins on page 3 of the prologue, just after Doug’s brother, Andy, is accosted in a busy city centre street by a little shaven-headed man in a black suit. Andy agrees to accompany this seemingly innocuous individual back to his office to participate in a survey. Following the little man up a narrow flight of stairs, Andy notices for the first time that the hem of the stranger’s suit jacket is frayed; shiny stains are revealed under the interior lighting: a hint that all is not as it appears. For me, this harmless observation somehow heralds the true beginning of Andy’s undoing. Something terribly wrong is afoot, here.

Andy starts to have his own misgivings over his impulsive decision to accompany the man. But it’s too late, there’s no going back, now. From this point onwards, the reader (who, by now, has no other choice but to follow) is dragged from one bleak, nihilistic scene to another, until the story’s darkly ‘enlightening’ climax.

Now, I’ve read and enjoyed some of Humdrumming’s other titles so I jumped at the chance to review All Your Gods are Dead. I had heard through the grapevine that the general atmosphere of the novella was rather grim, to say the least. And so it turned out to be. The book is a compulsive and riveting read, with a plot that’s relentless in its execution,

The book is well edited throughout but there is a nasty little printing error in chapter two, where the final passage has been duplicated. However, it’s a particularly effective passage; hell, the reader might even benefit from reading it twice.

All Your Gods are Dead is written with sustained power and a confident grace by an author who is comfortable with his skills. Gary McMahon’s literary star is still rising and, be assured, when it reaches its zenith it’s set to burn very brightly indeed.

All Your Gods are Dead by Gary McMahon. Published by Humdrumming. Pb, 110pp, £7.99.

This review originally appeared on Whispers of Wickedness, and is reproduced here with permission.