Reading history and reviews
Finished on 10th June 2011The third book in Jeff VanderMeer's series set in Ambergris sees the city's population subdued by the fungaloid beings called "gray caps", who have finally risen up after centuries living underneath it. Using their fungus-based technology to keep the city's inhabitants in a state of near-anarchy, the gray caps seem most intent on constructing two enormous towers for an unknown purpose.
Against this background, detective John Finch (forced reluctantly to work for the gray caps, who are unaware of his former existence as a member of the resistance) is called in to investigate a double murder - a human and a gray cap discovered dead in an apartment. The case winds up putting him in the firing line of spies, rebels and the gray caps, each of whom want something from him, as well as revealing the true nature of the gray caps' towers. Ultimately Finch is forced to come to terms with his own buried past, his compromised present, and to make a choice about the fate of the city and its people.
It's fascinating to see the city of the previous two "Ambergris" books (City of Saints and Madmen and Shriek: An Afterword) transformed, ruined in fact; it's also satisfying to finally learn something about both the origins and motivations of the gray caps, and aspects of the world beyond Ambergris (such as the ancient fortress of Zamilon). However, against this VanderMeer keeps the focus primarily on Finch, telling his story almost as a classic detective noir: imagine the "Maltese Falcon" or "Casablanca", if Bogart had carried a fungal gun, and humans could be colonised, transformed and destroyed by fungal-spores.
At same time these fantastical elements don't overwhelm the story, which - like all good noirs - is ultimately about trust, and walking the tightrope between self-preservation and doing the right thing. "Finch" is a brilliant read and had me hooked from the moment I started it; so while perhaps the fantasy/noir genre is not for everyone, if any of the above sounds interesting to you then I'd recommend it wholeheartedly - I don't think you'll be disappointed.