by Paul Finch
Published by Pendragon Press 2010.
Paul Finch has been quite prolific of late with horror books, Dr Who books and even a movie, The Devil’s Rock all gaining well deserved notices. For me, his work is always strongest when delving into the dark past with his fantastic historical horrors, Sparrowhawk is a fine example of that genre.
We meet the fascinating John Sparrowhawk in the less than salubrious surroundings of Fleet prison. A hero of the Afghan war, circumstances have left him in debt (hence the prison) and very alone. A visit from the mysterious Miss Evangeline comes with an offer of release with certain conditions. He is offered the job of guarding a house in London over Christmas, sounds simple? Not in Paul Finch’s hands. Thats about as much of the plot as I can reveal without spoilers but rest assured this short novella is packed with adventure both supernatural and otherwise.
Finch’s strength in this sub-genre is his obvious detailed knowledge of the periods he writes about. This is not portrayed through any great protracted exposition but via the everyday lives of the characters. Sparrowhawk’s revelations about the tragedy of the original Afghanistan war resonate into modern times but it is the wars effect on the returning soldiers that is most powerful. Here are war hero’s sent by their lords and masters to do their bidding in the most dreadful circumstances only to find on their return they are discarded by society, sound familiar?
This emotional resonance is portrayed with a light touch but is only part of the story. The details of the surroundings and everyday life in Victorian London really bring the book alive, you can almost smell the filthy backstreets and grimy bodies. But this is first and foremost a ghost story and it succeeds by never revealing too much of the threat, although many readers will probably guess the ending fairly soon into the book, that doesn’t in any way spoil the journey.
Ideally it’s a book that should be read on a snowy Christmas eve, preferably by candlelight and with the local urchins singing Christmas carols outside but even in a blazing hot April it still managed to impart that atmosphere and Christmas spirit. I am delighted that Paul Finch is achieving a degree of success outwith the horror genre but I am equally delighted that he is still writing powerful, fascinating and fun horror stories like this one.
Rating 4 out of 5