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Finch
Jeff Vandermeer
Corvus paperback �12.99

review by Gary Couzens

Finch is the third in Jeff Vandermeer's Ambergris Cycle following the mosaic novel City Of Saints & Madmen (which featured the World Fantasy Award winning novella The Transformation Of Martin Lake) and Shriek: An Afterword. While there are links back to the previous novels in Finch, each novel is meant to be able to be read independently. I'm not so sure. After reading Finch and without having read its two predecessors, I had the constant sense I was missing something.

The city of Ambergris is occupied by the 'gray caps' (sentient fungus) that control the human population via narcotics and acts of terror. Detective John Finch is called to a crime scene, where there are two victims, one human and the other a gray cap cut in half. Finch's superiors want the case closed urgently but, as Finch continues to investigate - with very few leads, it takes on larger ramifications for himself, his colleagues and maybe the city itself.

Vandermeer dips into noir for this novel, his third-person narrative dominated by short, terse and often fragmentary sentences. Here is an example, from the beginning of chapter three:

"Back at the station, which used to be Hoegbotton & Sons' headquarters. High ceilings. Hints of gold leaf and mosaic. Dull light from tiny round windows set in rows across both side walls. A tortured light that never gave any hint of the weather outside." [page 15]

And so on - on some pages, conventionally grammatical sentences are in the minority, but Vandermeer has the tight-lipped tone down pat. However, Finch never really comes into life as a character: he's flat; merely the vehicle for the plot and what I suspect Vandermeer is really interested in. That would be the world, the city, beautiful and rotting. Vandermeer is clearly fascinated by fungal infestations of all kind, which in this novel bring down buildings and supplant them with living habitations. This is what you read this novel for: the imagery and mood, and that's what stays with you the longest.

Finch refers particularly to Shriek, passages from which are quoted here. That novel's protagonist, Duncan Shriek, reappears here. There's a sense that Finch gathers weight from a knowledge of the two earlier novels, and no doubt scenes and incidents in this novel will gain from having such a knowledge. Without it, I couldn't help feeling that to a greater or lesser extent Finch was going over my head.

Finch by Jeff Vandermeer



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