SACRIFICE by Paul Finch
Review by Gary Fry
For all his sterling work in the horror genre, I think the Heck series of police procedurals / detective novels are Paul Finch's ideal milieu. As a former cop, his narratives have an air of authority, of events lived rather than just researched, and this is perhaps the key to the books’ success.
Paul is an unassuming guy, a native of Wigan, who talks straight and wouldn’t know a “pretension” if it danced in front of him. This second characteristic – the “man of the world” tone of his fiction – is perhaps the second reason why the books fly. The prose is half-chatty / half-lyrical, the storytelling headlong and headstrong.
I loved this book from the first page – it hooks at once, with its appealing premise concerning a calendar killer. But this is just a front for some pretty trenchant and satisfying commentary about the spiritual vacuity of modern life, how even folk promising fulfilment are as bereft as those against whom they pitch their homespun policy. All this stuff is delivered without a single “lecture”, simply woven into the tale in a seamless fashion, to be taken or left by the reader according to preference. That’s quite a trick, and leaves the book both thrilling on the surface and slightly deeper beneath it.
Heck is a great character, too. At first, you think there’s not a great deal to him other than car chases and good hunches, but after the book is done, you think back and realise that the author has done another great job. The characterisation is revealed in situ, rather than in reflexive info dumps, and that renders it greatly satisfying. Hooked on Heck? the page following the last one asks, and you know what? I think I am.
The dialogue is great throughout – we should expect nothing less from a seasoned screenwriter – but Paul’s many descriptions of settings shine, too. He writes that effortless prose that’s a joy to read, both colourful and rhythmic. In many other authors, I have a real problem with stock phrases (“…that had knocked her for six,” for example) but they kind of work here. Paul’s prose style has the right tone for these many well-trodden terms; they suit the workaday characters. There’s an unfortunate transposition of words on page 233 – “Keep your eyes to the ground and your ears open,” – but that’s just me trying to show how observant I am. No other typos or stylistic infelicities I could see.
The plot is brilliant, a really clever and cunning idea, properly exploited. I did think that – SPOILER HERE, FOLKS!!! – the final calendar killing strained credulity a bit. That is to say, bringing it forwards 26 days (however much the villain makes a spoken concession to this), robs the story of a little of its symmetry, but that’s only a minor thing. It couldn’t have worked in any other way. [SPOILER OVER]
The novel has a few “LOL” moments, including a great character called Mick the Muppet who, the author tells me, is based on a real person. There’s also a dig at horror editors, which, speaking as one myself, I found absolutely hilarious. This intermittently playful tone lends the grisly proceedings an authentic atmosphere. I grow increasingly impatient with fiction that’s unrelenting grim; it misses half of life. Here we get both the laughs and the horrors that characterise everyday modern existence.
All in all, Sacrifice is an absolute triumph of a novel: well-written well-paced, exciting (yes, that unfashionable quality), unpretentious, informative, fun, and genuine.
Well done, Finchy. You done good, my son. Long may it continue.