Jeff Vandermeer, Finch
Finch is a revolution disguised as a police procedural, an unholy wedding of hard-boiled Hammett noir and Ballardian catastrophic landscape, presided over by the ghost of Philip K. Dick.
In Finch the gun VanderMeer hung over the mantlepiece in City of Saints and Madmen is finally fired — with apocalyptic, revelatory consequences for the city of Ambergris and its people, human and gray cap alike.
As in the best noir detective stories, the double murder at the center of Finch is only one loop in a much greater knot tied in the world itself; and as in the best apocalypses, if unraveling that knot resolves many of the world’s great mysteries, it does so only to open the way to a new world wider and weirder than anything the old world’s inhabitants could have imagined.
Jeff VanderMeer asked me to blurb Finch. I didn’t know what Jeff’s publisher would want, so — as you can see — I gave them every damn thing I could think of, plus the kitchen sink. I figure there’s six or twelve different ways to edit it down.
There’s a metaphor there somewhere about six or twelve different ways to read Finch, but let’s be honest about it. Finch is a crime novel. A crime novel full of fungal weapons and horrific transformations and dimension doors and the memories of dead men captured in the flesh of evil fruits, but still a crime novel. The city of Ambergris might be a trillion miles from the nameless capital of Bridge of Sighs, but only one magic mirror separates Emil Brod’s squad room from John Finch’s. Both of them are, in the best noir tradition, more-or-less good men trying to work under a bad, bad system, but Finch’s system is much worse than Brod’s, and Finch knows it.
But there’s more to Finch’s world than that.
People began to appear in doorways. Leaning against rusting lamp posts. On balconies. Dark in complexion. Wore strange hats. Stared you in the eye. Challenged silently why you were here. Sometimes as many as six or seven. Loitering on a street corner. Any time Finch saw more than four people gathered in one place, he figured the gray caps had used their resources elsewhere.
“Put your badges away,” Finch said, suddenly.
Dapple had been holding his badge so anyone could see it. Protested, even after Wyte made his own disappear.
“Seen any Partials here?” Finch asked.
“Seen anyone who would give a shit about your badge?”
Dapple didn’t respond.
“And you won’t, either,” Finch continued. “Not this close to the wall. Except for the ones following us.”
They’d be heavily armed. Probably with fungal weapons. Moving in a tight formation. If they were doing more than shadowing Wyte and Dapple, gray caps might be following, too.
It probably helps a little, reading Finch, if you’ve read Shriek: An Afterword or “An Early History of Ambergris” from City of Saints and Madmen, but if you haven’t, what you need to know is this: Ambergris is a city built on an atrocity. The founders of Ambergris slaughtered its aboriginal inhabitants, the gray caps or mushroom folk; they razed the city that stood there before them, and drove the survivors underground. But the grey caps crept back — as scavengers, garbage-pickers, a despised, silent underclass; and the wonders and horrors of Ambergris, most of them, lead back by one road or another to the gray caps’ fungal magic, so that the city’s sleep is always a little uneasy, its dreams haunted by the consciousness of original sin, the memory of genocide — the dread of inevitable retribution.
In Finch’s time, that retribution has come. As monstrous as the rule of the gray caps is, there’s a rude justice in it. Every drop of blood drawn by the gray cap regime’s lash was prepaid by the city-founders’ swords. Finch is, Jeff says, the last Ambergris novel. It would be too simple, too easy on the city’s troubled conscience, for Finch and his motley cohort of half-allies and half-enemies to merely overthrow the regime, restore the rightful bureaucracy, return Ambergris to the status quo post atrocitatem.
How Jeff resolves that tension between injustices is one of the rewarding discoveries of the book. Suffice to say that my fear that Finch would resolve all the mysteries of Ambergris and close all of its doors proved more than groundless.