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Finch by Jeff VanderMeer

Finch (edition 2011)

by Jeff VanderMeer (Author)

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6153025,211 (3.98)45
In a world where mysterious underground dwellers rule the state of Ambergris and control its residents with addictive drugs, internment camps and random acts of terror, John Finch and his partner, Wyte, must solve a double murder for their oppressive masters, all while trying to make contact with the scattered rebel resistance.… (more)
Authors:Jeff VanderMeer (Author)
Info:Corvus (2011), Edition: Main, 353 pages
Collections:Kindle library

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Finch by Jeff VanderMeer


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Showing 1-5 of 29 (next | show all)
I was tipped onto Finch by Jeff VanderMeer's manual on writing science fiction and fantasy, titled Wonderbook. Judging by how much I didn't like Finch, maybe I shouldn't bother with the manual either. Except that I think that the manual's actually been good, so far at least. Maybe this is a case of "Those who know how, do, those who don't, teach", or something like that. (And those who really don't know how, write Goodreads reviews, of course ;)

You see, in the Wonderbook, Finch is dissected for its beginning. Several possible beginnings of the novel are written and VanderMeer explains the thought process behind each and then behind the selection of the most appropriate one. The actual beginning is naturally also detailed in the manual and that's what got me hooked. Here it is, summarized:

Detective Finch is called in to investigate a murder in an apartment in Ambergris, a fantastical, dark city where several years ago an underground, fungal-based race of "gray caps" has risen to take over and subjugate the human population. A man and a gray cap are found dead in the apartment, clearly not having demised of natural causes and Finch's gray cap superiors are demanding quick results with the investigation.

This has all the potential and setup of an intriguing noir whodunit, set in a fantastical setting. VanderMeer even uses a terse, immediate and tense style with short, immediate sentences that sort of emphasize the urgency of the situation.

However, then it all somehow fizzles into ... I'm not quite sure what, actually. Certainly the investigation is not at the forefront, and it all keeps happening in Finch's mind, or between some world portals that take you back/forward in time, and it's all about Finch's relationship with his dad, or his lady friend Sintra, or his cat Feral, anyway ... I don't know, but I got lost. For pages upon pages, the case goes nowhere as Finch reexamines himself and his relationships and his loyalties ... While the interesting setup and setting of the fungal-enhanced city and the terse style, which because used inappropriately becomes grating, go to waste.

So, to summarize, I like the whodunit setup, like the noir feel and setting of Ambergris, but the plot just goes nowhere and in the end it all amounts to a confusing and often boring story.
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  matija2019 | Jan 8, 2019 |
My first VanderMeer, I discovered after reading it that it is the third of a trilogy, albeit one that is intended to stand alone. This is an amazing amalgam of science fiction/fantasy/noir/police procedural and very well written. If it has overtones of Man in a High Castle, echoes of Kerr's Berlin Noir, parallels with Bulgakov's fantastic realism, it also has much that is very different to these, all in its own idiosynchratic mix. A very enjoyable read but, in the end, it felt like VanderMeer's interest was too much on stylistic experimentation for its own sake. 18 May 2018 ( )
  alanca | Jun 18, 2018 |
World Fantasy Award winner Jeff VanderMeer, in the anthology [b:New Weird|920795|The New Weird|Jeff VanderMeer|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1179466948s/920795.jpg|905827], defined the 21st century’s first major literary movement.

“New Weird is a type of urban … fiction that subverts the romanticized ideas about place found in traditional fantasy, largely by choosing … complex real-world models … that may combine elements of science fiction and fantasy. [It:] has a visceral, in-the-moment quality that often uses elements of surreal or transgressive horror for its tone, style, and effects.”

As the subgenre’s standard-bearer, VanderMeer has created an intriguing vision that successfully incorporates the seemingly disparate elements of fantasy and gritty reality.

The first two volumes of The Ambergris Cycle, [b:City of Saints and Madmen|230852|City of Saints and Madmen|Jeff VanderMeer|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1172928327s/230852.jpg|522014] and [b:Shriek: An Afterword|230855|Shriek An Afterword|Jeff VanderMeer|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1172928328s/230855.jpg|929525], introduced a fascinating story sequence centered on the city-state Ambergris and its unusual inhabitants and happenings. Typifying the uniqueness of VanderMeer’s world, fungoid creatures of unknown origin, dubbed the gray caps, occupy the city’s extensive underworld catacombs and drive many of the stories. Finch, the third and climactic volume, returns to VanderMeer’s singular creation some 100 years after the events recounted in Shriek. The book opens with homicide detective John Finch investigating the mysterious deaths of a human and a gray cap.

No obvious bullet or stab wounds. No tattoos or other marks. Grunting with the effort, Finch turned the man over for a second. He seemed heavier than he should be. Skin warm, the flesh solid. From the position of the arms, Finch thought they might be broken. A discoloration at the edge of the man’s mouth. Dried blood? When Finch was done, the man settled back into position as if he’d been there a hundred years.

No point checking the gray cap. Their skin didn’t retain marks or burns or stab wounds. Anything like that sealed over. Besides, the cause of the gray cap’s death was obvious. Wasn’t it? Still, he didn’t want to assume murder. Yet.

Out of the four “murders” in his sector over the past year, two had been suicides and one had been natural causes. The fourth solved in a day.

Disappearances were another subject altogether.

The gray caps now rule Ambergris. They oversee all aspects of city life, though they delegate daytime duties to humans. Once a bright and hopeful place, occupied Ambergris has transformed into a diseased, totalitarian nightmare.

Harsh blue sprawl of the bay, bled from the River Moth. Carved from nothing. The first thing the gray caps did when they rose, flooding Ambergris and killing thousands. Now the city, riddled through with canals, is like a body that was once drowned. Parts bleached, parts bloated. Metal and stone for flesh. Places that stick out and places that barely touch the surface.

In the foreground of the bay stands the scaffolding for the two tall towers still being built by the gray caps. A rough pontoon bridge reaches out to them, an artificial island surrounding the base. The scaffolding rises twenty feet above the highest tower. Hard to know if they are almost complete or will take a hundred years more. Great masses of green fungus cling to the tops. It makes the towers look shaggy, almost as if they had fur, were flesh and blood. A smell like oil and sawdust and frying meat. At dusk each day the gray caps lead a work force from the camps south of the city. All night, the sounds of hammering and construction. Emerald lights moving like slow stars. Screams of injury or punishment. To what purpose? No one knows. While along the lip of the bay, monstrous fungal cathedrals rise under cover of darkness, replacing the old, familiar architecture. Skyline like a jagged wound.

Finch’s weeklong investigation unveils a seedy underworld littered with revolutionaries, hustlers, femme fatales, and characters from his own questionable past. Cataloging this novel’s strata, twists, and feints will occupy fans and critics for years. All aspects of the story interact with elements of the prior Ambergris adventures, though Finch stands entirely on its own merits; the three books of the cycle can be enjoyed in any order.

Yet in Finch, VanderMeer departs from the style and tone of previous Ambergris books. For his previous tale, Shriek, VanderMeer relied on long, elegant sentences while telling the decades-spanning story of Ambergris’s most notorious historian and gray-cap apologist. In Finch, he employs a short, choppy manner reminiscent of noir fiction.

In another shift from his previous novels, VanderMeer amps up the violence, especially during interrogation scenes. While arguably necessary for the story, his graphic descriptions could lead to reader desensitization and eventually dampen the impact of other events. VanderMeer begins each book section, save the last, with dialogue between Finch and an interrogator.

Interrogator: What did you see then?

Finch: Nothing. I couldn’t see anything.

I: Wrong answer.

[howls and screams and sobbing:]

I: Had you ever met the Lady in Blue

F: No, but I’d heard her before.

I: Heard her where?

F: On the fucking radio station, that’s where.

[garbled comment, not picked up:]

F: It’s her voice. Coming up from the underground. People say.

I: So what did you see, Finch?

F: Just the stars. Stars. It was night.

I: I can ask you this same question for hours, Finch.

F: You wanted me to say I saw her. I said I saw her! I said it, damn you.

I: There is no Lady in Blue. She’s just a propaganda myth from the rebels.

F: I saw her. On the hill. Under the stars.

I: What did this apparition say to you, Finch? What did this vision say?

The violence is but a minor distraction in this excellent book. As with all of VanderMeer’s works, this layered tale ultimately satisfies as it barrels to a momentous conclusion. If Finch is indeed the final Ambergris story, and I have my doubts that it is, VanderMeer left his creation with an extraordinary novel — one of the finest of his young career — and completed a cycle that encapsulates the very best of the New Weird.

This review originally appeared in the San Antonio Current, October 4, 2009. ( )
  rickklaw | Oct 13, 2017 |
John Finch is a detective working in the city of Ambergris for the gray cap overlords. He's just been tasked with a case where two bodies have been found dead in a n apartment. Only one of which is human. The other, a gray cap, consists of only the upper half. Where is the other half? What made such a clean cut and why is there so little blood? The bodies look like they fell from a great height so they must have been placed in the apartment after death. With so few clues at the scene, Finch is commanded by Heretic, his gray cap boss, that he'll have to eat the two memory bulbs from the corpses to see what he can find out. This investigation will put Finch right in the confluence of events with so many parties having an interest in what he discovers. As well as pressure from above to solve the case there's the rebels, led by the mysterious Lady in Blue, as well as two other agents, god knows who they're working for, who aren't averse to using strong-arm tactics to get what they want. All of this is set to an impending backdrop of a gray cap project of building two towers that everyone in Ambergris is speculating on. Can Finch survive them all and get to the bottom of what's going on? Or will he end up just another pawn in the ongoing struggles of Ambergris?

This is a classic noir story but with a fantastical setting. Everybody has a secret and nobody is entirely who they seem to be. Plenty of violence to which Finch is neither immune to giving or taking goes along with the clipped dialogue but it's all used to keep the story flying along. The book is split into seven chapters. Each a day of the week that Finch has been given to solve the case. It's an intense and atmospheric read and the world-building is fantastic building on what has come before. While each book of the Ambergris cycle is a stand alone (and this one is no exception) it really builds up the background if you read the others prior to reading this one and you will have a greater understanding of events if you do. This is the last book, so far, of the series but you're left with the feeling that there are more stories to tell in this amazing world if the author cares to tell them. I, for one, would certainly pick them up if he does. ( )
  AHS-Wolfy | Jun 5, 2016 |

Finch by Jeff VanderMeer is the third book in his Ambergris Cycle. VanderMeer returns to fungus-laden Ambergris with Finch, a dark, atmospheric noir. And while it is a gritty police procedural, it's also a genre-bending fantasy/science fiction novel. John Finch has a double murder to solve, but the real danger is in dealing with the living, including the fungus.

I don't want to say too much more about Finch because I don't want to give away any of the plot twists and turns. There is plenty of intrigue. Since it is set 100 years after Shriek, there have been some big changes in Ambergris. The Gray Caps are now in charge, but they also have a hidden agenda. Other's involved in the investigation have their own plans. Everyone is trying to manipulate each other. Even Finch has secrets.

VanderMeer's writing and the complicated, layered plot make this a joy to read. Personally, I think you really need to have read the other two books, City of Saints and Madmen and Shriek: An Afterword, to fully appreciate Finch, although the book can stand alone.

VanderMeer wrote in the "About the Book" section at the end of Finch:

"While remaining true to an overarching narrative about the history of Ambergris, each book has used the approach and style best suited to its characters and stories. The first Ambergris novel, City of Saints and Madmen, was a mosaic novel composed of multiple narratives that played with postmodern techniques, mixing formal experimentation with the tropes of weird, uncanny fiction. That first book used a stylized, baroque approach to language and was dedicated to the idea of book-as-artifact.

"The second novel, Shriek: An Afterword, presented a sixty-year family chronicle through the eyes of a dysfunctional brother and sister, whose dueling voices form the heart of the book. Although steeped in war, intrigue, and bizarre events, Shriek lay more in the realm of works by Vladimir Nabokov and Marcel Proust - dreamlike yet precise, chronicling the unhappy, the strange, the quirky.

"Finch, by contrast, combines elements of noir, the thriller, spy stories, and fantasy, and in so doing gets to the true nitty-gritty of Ambergris. It's the first time readers have a chance to explore the city - albeit during a time of occupation, crisis, and change - almost as if seeing what the main character sees by way of handheld camera." Finch, About the Book, pg. 338-339

Very Highly Recommended; http://shetreadssoftly.blogspot.com/
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  SheTreadsSoftly | Mar 21, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 29 (next | show all)
"Finch," as should be clear, plays with the conventions of detective novels. Grizzled sleuth? Check. Mysterious woman who brings trouble? At least two. And a plot with more twists than the health-care debate. Despite these trappings, though, "Finch" wriggles from the grip of easy categorization. It's full of fantastical elements and genuinely humane ones, too.

VanderMeer can write beautifully, summarizing the deprivations of life in war-torn Ambergris, for instance, with haunting subtlety: "239 Manzikert Avenue was a dark vertical slab of stone and wood with blackened filigree balcony railings crawling up the front. Trees left black leaves and rotting yellow berries on the steps. If the berries had been edible, the steps would've been clean."
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Interrogator: What did you see then?
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In a deserted tenement in an occupied city, two dead bodies lie on a dusty floor as if they have fallen out of the air itself. One corpse is cut in half, the other is utterly unmarked. The city of Ambergris is half ruined, rotten; its population controlled by narcotics, internment camps and acts of terror. But its new masters want this case closed, urgently. Detective John Finch has just one week to solve it or be sent to the camps. With no ID for the victims, no clues, no leads and precious little hope, Finch's fate that hangs in the balance. But there is more to this case than first meets the eye. Enough to put Finch in the cross-hairs of every spy, rebel, informer and traitor in town. Under the shadow of the eldrich tower the occupiers are raising above the city, Finch is about to come face to face with a series of mysteries that will change him and Ambergris forever. Why does one of the victims most resemble a man thought dead for 100 years, what is the murders' connection to an attempted genocide nearly 600 years ago, and just what the secret purpose of the occupier's tower?
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