by Paul Finch
Publisher: Telos, 2002.
I recently encountered Paul Finch in the pages of Black Static 14. His story We, Who Live In The Wood was an outstanding short story. Full of deep empathy for nature and a sense of place, it was also violent, dark and creepy. In short it was everything I liked in fiction. I decided to seek out more works by Mr. Finch and purchased Cape Wrath as a first step.
The island of Craeghatir is a desolate, isolated rock off Cape Wrath on the northernmost tip of Scotland. The island holds secrets, however, as scattered amongst the trees and lonely crags are ancient megaliths and barrows. It’s to investigate these places that Professor Jo Mercy leads a team of young archaeologists. In particular they are in search of the legendary Ivar Ragnarsson an infamous Viking with a penchant for violence.
Before long the team find clues which seem to indicate they are on the right trail but events are set to disrupt the investigation. A series of grisly accidents follow and it soon becomes clear that the deserted island is not quite as deserted as they would like.
Cape Wrath is a short novel which packs a huge punch. Full of tension, extreme violence and in one scene, particularly graphic sex. It’s also a book full of that same genius loci that I encountered in the Black Static tale. It’s a very powerful portrayal of place, you can almost smell the pine trees and feel the savage wind on your face as you read.
The characters are interesting and some of the complex relationships play a huge part in the developing tensions. The plot is fairly straightforward but that allows for more action and less exposition, climaxing in a vicious and satisfying conclusion.
For me, it wasn’t quite up to the standard of We, Who Live In the Wood. I think in comparing the two stories we can see Paul Finch developing as a writer. The prose and drama in the Black Static short is tight and well paced. Cape Wrath, published much earlier, has a looser feel but still reads well. Finch has an almost Holdstock like ability to portray that defining sense of place and history, an ability that pulls you into his writing and leaves you filled with deep and powerful emotions. In short despite having read so little of his work, Paul Finch is rapidly gaining a place as one of my favourite writers.
Rating 4 out of 5