Upgrade to a better browser, please.

Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Books

Pretty Little Dead Things

Added By: Administrator
Last Updated:

Pretty Little Dead Things

Purchase this book through Purchase this book from Purchase this book from
Author: Gary McMahon
Publisher: Angry Robot Books, 2010

This book does not appear to be part of a series. If this is incorrect, and you know the name of the series to which it belongs, please let us know.

Submit Series Details

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
Sub-Genre Tags:
Avg Member Rating:
(3 reads / 1 ratings)



Following a car crash in which his wife and daughter are killed, he can see the recently departed, and it's not usually a pretty sight. When he is called to investigate the violent death of the daughter of a prominent local gangster, Usher's world is torn apart once more. For the barriers between this world and the next are not as immutable as once he believed.

Mashing together the grittiest British police procedural with dark supernatural terror, author Gary McMahon creates a refreshingly new take on horror fiction.




“Nothing at all exists which is not subject to the conditioning of death”

- The Tibetan Book of the Dead

I have never visited their graves...
I have never visited their graves; the grief I carry always inside me would be too much to bear, so I choose to remember them in my own way, in my own time. Not a day goes by when they are not in my thoughts. They haunt my every movement, but still I have not seen them: they have not come to me in the way that others have, asking that I bear witness to the memory of their passing or simply requesting that I usher them towards the next part of their journey... but some day, somehow, I hope that they will find their way back to my side.

Chapter One

Fifteen Years Ago

The Mersey is a broad black ribbon, the shimmering lights of Birkenhead promising a world of untold stories on the opposite bank – dark stories, probably told by old men in their cups and women whose skin has been bruised by careless husbands too many times to count. I stare through the passenger window, lost in thoughts of nothing in particular – just thinking, as I tend to do, about life in general: my dull job, paying the bills, the things I think I might be missing out on because I married so young and the things I gained by doing so.

The broad shape of a ferry trawls slowly across the darkened waters, seeming to heave upwards on waves that are not quite visible, as if a giant submerged hand is struggling to lift it above the busy surface of the river. Darkness then presses down on the vessel, giving the illusion that it is now sinking gradually beneath the waves. The motion is so lazy and incremental that it looks like a cartoon animation. I wonder why a ferry is crossing so late at night, and what haulage it might be carrying.

The car swerves to avoid an animal that has run into the road – a dog or a cat or perhaps even a roaming river rat – and Rebecca turns to smile at me, the delicate yellowish hue of the streetlamps at the side of the road catching her face and holding it for a moment in a wash of amber. In that instant I know that I have missed out on nothing in life, because all that I will ever need is inside the car with me. Past mistakes and misdemeanours no longer matter; what is important is how I feel right now, sitting in the dark with my wife and daughter.

“Sorry,” she says. “Did I disturb you?”

I shake my head, smiling. “No. It’s okay. I was just wool-gathering.” I have never known exactly what that phrase means, but have always enjoyed the way it sounds. Like a snatch of crude poetry lodged in the back of my mind, or part of the verse from a folk song I might have heard as a child.

Allyson sleeps soundly in the back seat; the sudden deviation of the vehicle’s path has not broken her slumber. Her breathing is even and her hands are clasped tightly in her lap. I turn around in the passenger seat and watch her, my heart breaking just a little, as it always does whenever I take a moment to realise how much my infant daughter means to me. Her small white face is the face of the world; her loosely closed eyes are windows through which I might glimpse the truth of my own existence.

“We should be home before midnight. Traffic’s light.” Rebecca’s face is stern; she watches the road intently, on edge because of what has just happened with the animal running out in front of her. She is a skilled driver – better than me – and she resents the thought of anyone thinking otherwise. Her angry pride is one of the things I love about her.

One of the many things I love about her. There are about a million other reasons to go along with it, but that one will do for now.

The strong German beer I have consumed earlier that evening sloshes around inside the pit of my belly, making me feel bloated and uncomfortable. I need to urinate, but I do not want to ask Rebecca to stop the car and interrupt our journey home. I should have gone to the lavatory back at John and Emma’s place, before we left. When I think about it, I realise that we should have stayed the night with our friends: the offer was there but I’d wanted to get home to make an early start in the morning. I am booked in to referee a football match for Ally’s school team at 9 AM and hate the thought of breaking a promise even as small as this one. The scars of adulthood are sometimes caused by such tiny blades.

There was also the fact that things had grown tense as the evening wound down; John’s usual gently mocking demeanour had caved in and given way to something darker and slightly more vicious as he had gone well beyond his usual lager quota. He and Emma are on the verge of splitting up; she has even asked him for a divorce. I suspect that a third party is involved somewhere along the line, but am not quite sure on whose side the weight of infidelity falls. As usual in these situations, there is no one person to blame. Something has come between them, blocking the way they used to feel about each other, and it looks like whatever it is will not budge as much as an inch.

“How much did you drink earlier?” Rebecca speaks without taking her eyes off the road.

I wonder, briefly, if she has ever been tempted to sleep with someone else. God knows, I have been attracted to other women during our marriage, but have only once acted upon it. I consider myself a good man, a loyal husband, and would rather damage my own body than harm my family. That one time was a terrible mistake I know I will never stop regretting and will spend the rest of my life trying to make up for – a shame I will always carry with me, like a leaden weight around my neck.

“Just a couple.” It is not exactly a lie, and even years later I will still ask myself why, in that near-perfect moment of potential connection, I failed to tell the complete truth. If I’d admitted that I was slightly drunk, that the relatively small amount of beer I had consumed was stronger than I’d expected, then things might have turned out differently. My life might have been better. Then again, this might all be wishful thinking; some events, I have learned, are just meant to happen. Some things are meant to be taken from us, no matter how hard we try to gold on to them.

Ifs, buts and maybes: the eternal stumbling blocks to happiness.

“I’m tired.” Her eyelids are drooping and her mouth twists into a yawn. “Really tired.” She is blinking rapidly, which is always a sure sign that she needs a rest.

“Pull over. I’ll take it from here.” A sense of déjà vu hits me then, a strange feeling that I have lived through all of this before – perhaps many times – and the last time it had turned out badly, maybe even fatal. I feel a great desire to take back what I have just said, but the sight of Rebecca’s suddenly dough-white face and her eyes that are now open too-wide to try and combat sleep cause me to hold my tongue instead.

The moment passes. I actually feel it leave, like a physical presence passing over us within the confines of the car and moving on elsewhere, towards other unwitting travellers. Is fate a sentient entity? Did it touch me that night, making itself known to me? I suppose I will never know.

“It’s okay. I can make it.”

“No. You should rest. It’s my fault we left, so it’s only fair that I should drive. The beer’s out of my system now. I feel wide awake. Honest.”

“You sure? I don’t like the idea of not knowing how much you drank. Remember, we have a daughter asleep in the back.”

Lights blur past the window, but no sounds penetrate the car. I feel like we are in another world, or perhaps hurtling through a cosmic void. I have not really lied about my state of intoxication: the beer has left my system, yet I feel... odd. Detached. It is not a feeling of drunkenness, but a sense of the world spinning on its axis, of things moving too fast for anyone to stop and think. Particularly me.

“Here,” I say. “Pull over here.” I point at the bright service station lights, and before she has the chance to change her mind Rebecca is pulling into the entrance and stopping the car on the clean concrete forecourt, next to one of the stubby petrol pumps.

“We need fuel, anyway,” she says, undoing her seatbelt.

Lights flicker outside; darkness seems to fall in layers, coating the footpaths and the verges and the squat service station buildings.

Ally sleeps on in the back of the car, her state of near-exhaustion after that evening’s excitement and the hypnotic lull of the motorway conspiring to keep her under. Cold light bathes her face, making her look older than she actually is. Instead of a seven-old girl, for a brief moment I feel that I am looking at a little old lady snoring on the back seat, her small, claw-like hands making fists in her lap. The bones of her knuckles shine white for a moment as she grasps something in her dreams. I wonder briefly where my daughter has gone, and who has replaced her with this wizened little doppelganger...

The car door opens and Rebecca steps outside into the chill night air, which rushes suddenly into the car, filling it up. My ears pop from the change in pressure, as if we are travelling at high altitude instead of sitting parked at a petrol pump on a lonely motorway refuge.

“This should wake me up, actually. I can drive the rest of the way.” She slams the door and walks to the back of the car, twisting off the petrol cap and slotting the nozzle of the petrol pump into the tank. She leans on the side of t...

Copyright © 2010 by Gary McMahon


There are currently no reviews for this novel. Be the first to submit one! You must be logged in to submit a review in the BookTrackr section above.


No alternate cover images currently exist for this novel.