By Paul Finch

Reviewed by Terry Gates-Grimwood

I'm afraid this book suffers from what looks like a pulp horror cover that led me to believe it contained a set of old fashioned, plot driven yarns, which is a pity, because this is an important piece of work.

This is a collection of stories centred round the two World Wars. While not war stories per se, they are glimpses into the dark psyche of those conflicts. If war can have a dark underbelly (and God knows what you see is dark enough) then it is exposed in this book.

From The Extremist itself, in which a veteran of a bloody and desperate battle re-enacts that brutal last stand when his own home comes under attack, to The She-Wolf Shimmered, his savage look at the two-edged sword that is revenge, Paul Finch pulls no punches. There are no heroes or villains in this take on conflict. Instead, it focuses in on the individual, the person brutalised by prejudice, hate and the relentless violence of war. A focus so sharp, the generalisations of good versus evil are no longer visible.

While all the stories in the collection are excellent, My Day Dying towers above the rest. A British soldier lies dying among the corpses of his comrades. Inevitably memories stir and the reader is taken on a journey through his life. It all starts innocently enough, with a boy orphaned by the First World War, accompanying his mother on a tour of the battlefield where his father was killed. But dark forces are stirred within the lad by that visit and what he sees there. And even before it is his turn to answer the next great call to arms, those forces have brutalised him beyond redemption.

In The Extremist and Other Tales of Conflict, Paul Finch asks some uncomfortable questions, offers some unpalatable answers and has given us some of the most incisive and deceptively subtle writing I have seen for some time. Anyone trying to understand the atrocities recently committed by the “good guys" in that war, should try this book first.

Shame about that cover though...

The Extremist and Other Tales of Conflict by Paul Finch. Tpb, 76pp, £4.99. Published by Pendragon Press, PO Box 12, Maesteg, Mid Glamorgan, South Wales, CF34 0FG, UK.

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