By Paul Finch
Avon Books (HarperCollins)
Paperback: 452 pages, £6.99
Reviewed by David A. Riley
Paul Finch’s name will be familiar to horror enthusiasts for his numerous short stories in The Black Books of Horror, or in his collections, Walkers in the Dark (Ash-Tree Press), Stains (Gray Friar Press), Groaning Shadows (Gray Friar Press), Enemies at the Door (Gray Friar Press) and his historical horror novels, Medi-Evil, volumes 1, 2 and 3.
This is his first mass market paperback, a crime thriller with more than a touch of horror. Indeed, some of the things that happen in Stalkers would not be out of place in any anthology of horror stories. This is real horror, though, the kind that not only can happen but, nightmarishly, does.
Stalkers introduces us to Detective Sergeant Mark “Heck” Heckenberg, late of Manchester, now stationed in London as part of the Serial Crime unit. An obsessive workaholic, Heck has convinced himself that the disappearance across Britain of over thirty successful, often professional, women with no reason to abandon their families, are connected. His superiors, though, are unconvinced. Almost burned out and in bad favour, Heck is forced to take three months leave. His boss, Detective Superintendent Gemma Piper, with whom he had a fling years ago, still has some faith in him and reluctantly agrees to let him use his leave as an opportunity to continue his investigations under deep cover. When he travels North to Salford to interview an ex-con who shared a prison cell with someone he thinks might have a connection with the disappearances, things suddenly start to get out of control. Unwittingly, rather than the lone predator he was expecting to uncover, Heck has stumbled on something far more dangerous, a professional gang, the “Nice Guys Club”, which will provide anyone perverted enough with whatever sexual thrills they want… for a price.
An ex-policeman, Finch’s description of police procedures are impeccable and add authenticity to the story as the violence notches up at an alarming rate. Struggling to stay within the boundaries to which he is expected to adhere as a serving policeman, Heck is gradually forced to go further than he would like, especially when it becomes obvious he can no longer rely on support from his colleagues, and has to go on the run for his life. The people he is up against are ruthless. Trained to kill, adept at torture, and merciless, they acknowledge no limits to what they are prepared to do to anyone who threatens them.
This is one of those novels which successfully blurs the boundaries between crime and horror and should satisfy enthusiasts of both. Finch has a grittily realistic, easy to read style. The pace is relentless. I found it hard to put down and, for all that Stalkers is over 400 pages long, it took me only a short time to get through it. Thankfully, another Heck novel, Sacrifice, the first chapters of which are included at the end as a taster, is due for publication in July.
From what I have read so far Heck will certainly become an iconic character.