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The Extremist and Other Tales of Conflict

by Paul Finch

(Pendragon Press, £4.99, 73 pages, paperback, published 30 September 2004.)

Review by Noel K Hannan

cover scanHmmm, I wonder how this one ended up on my desk?

Paul Finch's slender collection from Pendragon Press is comprised of five stories and a lengthy introduction from the author, on the theme of war and conflict and in particular its lasting effect on the human psyche, told through the medium of horror stories. Quite rightly, the real horrors of war and its effects are held up as worthy competitors to the fantasy horror of vampires and ghouls, and in his introduction the author outlines the reasons for putting together this collection in addition to a role call of family members whose experiences and sacrifices, reviewed again once you have read the collection, informs much of what is to come.

The title story gives us a glimpse into the mind of a man who, tortured by memories of the Far East in WW2, the loss of his wife and constant abuse by a problem family on the estate where he lives, loses grip on reality and the concept of appropriate force, exacting vengeance on his abusers in as uncompromising a way as if they were Japanese soldiers faced in battle. Well written and thought provoking, but poorly structured and a weak ending.

"We Who Fight Monsters" is for me the stand out story of the collection. Neo-Nazi sympathisers, children snatched and raised in the enigmatic Farm as assassins to purify the country of the physically and mentally handicapped, facing east and worshipping a dead Fuhrer (with clever allusions to the trappings of Christianity and the sacrifice of 'Our Lord'). One such hardened killer finds himself developing feelings towards a potential victim and of course, it all ends in tears. Excellent premise and delivery.

"My Day Dying" was my second favourite, extremely well structured account of a wounded soldier trying to come to terms with his own father's death in WW1, his troubled childhood and his own ever increasing-brutality during combat as he lies dying at Arnhem.

The collection ends with two weaker stories in comparison to what has gone before. "Ordeals Inc" treads the same ground as the movie The Game with a company specialising in extreme 'treats' for the rich and bored -- in this case, the protagonist wants to live out his childhood hero fantasies in order to live up the images of his VC winning grandfather and air ace father. "The She-Wolf Shimmered" had me baffled by its ending -- a good build up with a notorious Nazi female guard being held prisoner by brutalised British soldiers -- but in the end made no sense to me.

Overall this is a strong collection with a powerful theme, and even those stories I criticise as weak show much skill in characterisation and pacing, it is just the denouement which sometimes fails, which surely is half the battle -- no pun intended -- with the short form? Recommended, and I will be hunting out more work by Paul Finch.

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