VanderMeer’s Finch is, stylistically, a very down-to-earth detective story set amid an occupied, war-torn nation, with allegories very much in tow – the difference is, this nation is Ambergris, a fungal-infested nightmare where creatures known disparagingly as the Gray Caps reign.
The titular detective investigates the death of a Gray Cap and a human, found in the same apartment, and soon unearths conspiracy, militaristic legend and his purpose in bringing the horror show of Ambergris to a halt. Finch himself is more slave than detective, trying to survive at any cost. The characterisation of the protagonist is particularly strong. We watch him gradually crumble apart as many of those characters around him – even those that claim to be symbols of good – are far more reprehensible than we ever expect them to be. It’s a pessimistic tale, one that mires every hopeful right turn in the story with some unseen difficulty or evil. At one point or another, Finch veers into every shade of grey, and as such the book never loses its capacity to surprise or entertain.
VanderMeer’s tendency towards melodramatic description and unsubtle dialogue is his only real weakness in Finch – this is an incredibly strong, well-paced piece of work. One particular, sexually explicit sequence is nothing short of embarrassing, incorporating unnecessarily visceral language that would make Jilly Cooper fans blush. Plus, one blatant reference to suicide bombers seems crowbarred in for the idiots who weren’t paying attention.
Not every reader will buy into the high concepts at work – mushroom bullets in particular test suspension of disbelief – yet those who do embrace the grimy towers of Ambergris will find this a worthy genre-blending work.