Thursday, 13 February 2014

Pit of Despair


‘The road had been long and hard, and he’d tried his best to walk it with George to its end. But the path had snaked and twisted around them, and they’d met with men who charmed and smiled and robbed them into a gutter they could never climb out of. And when Shuter had managed to free his own shattered mind from the darkness enveloping it, grasped desperately for what little sanity his aggressors might have missed, he saw George, broken for good, far down below him in the shadows and the grime, and he knew despair.’
I, The Fury, 1977

 
original 1977 paperback edition

As I write this, the M2 motorway in Kent is closed due to a vast 15ft-deep sinkhole opening up between junction 5 near Sittingbourne and junction 6 near Faversham. Like most Finch fans, my immediate thought was whether or not they'd find George at the bottom. The metaphorical pit in which Shuter must leave the tormented soul of his murdered sibling is, of course, pure fiction, yet in the brutal world of Terry Finch's pulp vigilante novelettes, the M2 is where The Reprisalizer first hunts; a bleak stretch of crumbling, concrete motorway where Bob Shuter slowly and inexorably tracks down his brother's killers.
            This strange occurrence of life imitating art, for Finch fans at least, is testimony to the raw, prescient power of the author's infamous pulp crime paperbacks.  I, The Fury, published in a limited run for local newsagents way back in 1977, captured a nation in its death throes. A country in crisis, succumbing to ruthless takeover by psychopathic business magnates and corrupt, corporate combines. A wasteland where the sordid, brutal killing of a humble British worker by gangsters in a deserted warehouse near Sittingbourne could go unseen and unpunished.
            But not unavenged.
            Much has changed since The Reprisalizer's heyday, but human nature remains the same. Police will always have bad apples. Money always talks. And a thirst for vengeance always surfaces with any miscarriage of justice. Rightly or wrongly, Finch used this 'nowhere land' of the motorway as his figurative Wild West; a relatively empty (then at least) expanse of uninterrupted asphalt and tarmac, stretching for miles through a vast, industrial wasteground in which Finch's larger-than-life villains, lawmen and troubled vigilante could battle it out unchallenged by lawyers or courts. Or, in the parlance of '70s serial vigilante fiction, the proverbial red tape.
           
‘Shuter hit sixty on the slip road and rejoined the motorway, slamming his foot down hard on the accelerator. He wrestled the Allegro into fourth, veered wildly across the carriageway into the fast lane without indicating and tore ahead of the two motionless lorries halted close behind. He checked his rearview mirror. Both vehicles had braked evenly on either lane, unable to swerve for fear of ramming each other’s wheels. What was left of the lawyer adorned their front grilles and the thin space between their rear trailers…’


            In such a heightened imaginative environment, of course, artistic license still reigns. I, The Fury, while set along the uncompleted M2 of '77, still jumps geographically to serve its story, but that's pulp, sunshine. And though the names are changed, it's not hard to spot the elevated bridge restaurant at Farthing Corner Services (now Medway Services), the Stockbury Valley Viaduct, Maidstone multi-storey car park (demolished last year) and Sittingbourne's historic Paper Mill (demolished in 2010-11, soon to be replaced by a superstore and housing development).
            Like his greatest creation, Finch was as an eternal outsider. Unknown and unread beyond a small yet loyal readership of similarly anguished souls, he wrote primarily for himself, hammering out novelette after novelette for little money and even less acclaim. Nevertheless, Finch's violent imagination remained largely unshackled by the constraints of 'respectable' publishing. Thus his books were - and are - brutal kicks in the collective gut. The stories concern themselves with victims, speaking of injustice, pain and casual torment; lives lived in the gutter.
            No wonder they're popular today.
            Larger than life, perhaps, but then who would ever have thought a sinkhole could open up halfway along the M2?  

I, The Fury will be published as an ebook this Spring.

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