(Telos Publishing Ltd, £8, 121 pages, paperback; published 31
October 2002; ISBN: 190388960X.)
Cape Wrath by Paul Finch marks the beginning of a new line of
original Horror / Dark Fantasy fiction from Telos Publishing. This is
a very welcome move by Telos,
who have previously published a line of Doctor Who novellas. Cape
Wrath does not quite receive the same ultra-deluxe production values
enjoyed by the Who line, but it is a nicely produced paperback and it
has a slightly more affordable price tag.
Cape Wrath's word-count is just about high enough for it to
qualify as a novel, so Finch has room to manoeuvre in terms of developing
characters and plot, and the result is a superior short horror tale.
It begins with an archaeological unit's arrival by boat at Craeghatir,
an uninhabited rock close to Cape Wrath, the northernmost tip of Britain.
The team lands in difficult weather conditions, and is abandoned on
the rock. Finch does a terrific job here in establishing the remoteness
and wildness of the location.
The team have come to Craeghatir to investigate a newly-discovered
barrow on the island, which might contain the remains of Ivar Ragnarsson,
"probably the most famous Viking of his or any other age." Naturally,
disturbing the grave of an infamous Viking warrior is bound to end badly.
But Finch wisely holds off on the bloodshed for a good while, letting
the suspense build while we get to know the cast of characters. There
are numerous emotional entanglements within the group--jealousy between
ex-lovers, for example--and plenty of scope for them to turn on each
other with fear and suspicion when things start to go wrong.
The deaths seem to be textbook examples of Viking ritual murders. But
can this really be because Ragnarsson has risen from the grave? Or is
it more likely that someone in the group is responsible? After all,
they are all familiar with the relevant Viking history. Finch keeps
his characters guessing, and the reader too.
Cape Wrath is a fine piece of work, with believable characters,
intriguing plot and some particularly effective descriptions of the
remote landscape. For the most part, the story is told with admirable
restraint, though Finch does rather abandon this in the end, with an
I did notice a few uncharacteristic lapses in Finch's prose--an unexpectedly
clumsy sentence (such as on page 17, the first sentence of the last
full paragraph), or an occasional split infinitive. It's a slight shame
that these weren't spotted and excised as they rather break the spell
that Finch, for the most part, casts so effectively.
Whether or not you will enjoy Cape Wrath depends largely on
your ideas of what good horror is. In terms of the level of gore, well
there is a lot of it in the second half of the book. But on the whole
we get to see the grim aftermath of the violence rather than its perpetration,
and this is an approach that works well for me.
One thing the story is not, is postmodern. There is absolutely none
of the wise-ass smugness of some recent movie horror, where characters
seem to know they're in a horror movie. For some, Cape Wrath
might therefore be considered old-fashioned in its approach, but I found
the back-to-basics approach refreshing. Finch concentrates on telling
a good story with believable characters who behave realistically when
confronted with the inexplicable deaths of their friends and colleagues.
Review by Chris Butler.
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