A review that originally appeared in The Third Alternative #40:-
THE EXTREMIST AND OTHER TALES OF CONFLICT by PAUL FINCH
Pendragon Press pb, 74pp, £4.99 http://www.pendragonpress.co.uk
This book consists of five tales on the theme of conflict, three of which were originally published as an impromptu trilogy in Nasty Piece of Work, with the addition of an introduction by the author giving the background to the stories.
Title story ‘The Extremist’ touches on public issues raised by cases such as that of Tony Martin. Its protagonist, a WWII veteran, kills a burglar to save his own life and is let off by a court more lenient than that faced by Martin, but then the dead man’s family decide to take matters into their own hands. With his arsenal of WWII weaponry and some tricks courtesy of Home Alone old Joe is more than a match for the Culshaw clan and proof of the adage that an Englishman’s home is his castle, though in his mind the invaders become muddled with the Japanese enemy of fifty years before. It’s a well written story and many readers will get a vicarious thrill out of seeing the bad guys get what’s coming to them, but it slightly trivialises Joe’s mental state by using it as window dressing and doesn’t really address the issues of vigilantism that are implicit in its subject matter. The other stand-alone story is ‘The She-Wolf Shimmered’, in which a couple of soldiers at the end of WWII decide to take their own revenge on a high ranking female Nazi prisoner, but are resisted by a conscientious guard. Again the story has a contemporary relevance, but it touches on themes of justice and revenge without really bringing anything new to the table, while the twist ending seems to undercut much of what has gone before.
‘We Who Fight Monsters’, the first of the three linked stories, is more substantial, with a neo-Nazi group killing off the members of society it regards as sub-human and being rewarded for their actions, until one of their number, like Montag in Fahrenheit 451 stopping to read one of the books he’s meant to burn, confronts a crisis of conscience when he is attracted to a potential victim. The story bears out Nietzsche’s dictum about the dangers for those who fight monsters, while its picture of an extremist group and its rationale is certainly put over convincingly, making for an interesting read, one that more adequately addresses real concerns as to the direction society is heading. ‘My Day Dying’ is even more impressive, with a wounded soldier in a ruined building looking back at his life, and as he reflects the picture that emerges is one of a true monster, Finch providing credible motivation for the way in which the man acted. In many ways Westerner is the antithesis of the protagonist of the previous story, and yet though initially sympathetic he is perhaps a more ruthless killer, someone who murdered to protect himself but then found that he enjoyed it. ‘Ordeals Inc’ borrows from the Michael Douglas film The Game, with a shadowy organisation that offers to empower its customers by enabling them to live out their fantasies, only the customers don’t always get what they bargain for, as is the case with Burling, whose desire to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, a hero of the WWI trenches, doesn’t quite turn out the way he planned. This is disappointing compared to what has gone before. The idea of people discovering their boundaries in such a way is intriguing, but the organisation itself doesn’t quite convince or seem economically viable, while the final twist almost drags the story down into the land of genre cliché.
This was a worthwhile collection and gives a glimpse of what Finch at his best is capable of, but it’s let down slightly by a tendency to eschew tackling the issues raised by the stories in favour of taking the easier route, that of the ‘surprise’ ending.