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4.4 out of 5 stars
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4.4 out of 5 stars
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on 23 July 2013
This is my second book by this author. Therefore it was not quite what I was expecting. However it was expertly written set in Victorian London. Great characters, the story all the way through resembled another famous story and this ties in well with the ending. Not my usual read but I am glad I did.
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on 1 April 2013
This novelette will take you about three hours to read. It is set in London in the mid 1800's where an ex soldier is released from a debtors prison by a woman who needs a soldier to protect someone. Demons abound in this well crafted story. Not a bad read.
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on 31 March 2013
Had seen quite a few negative reviews about the authors work, but decided to download a book to make up my own mind. I enjoyed Sparrowhawk and although he wasn't a very nice guy (if you enjoy romances) he did show some compassion, which didn't make him all bad. Would definitely like to see more of him in future!!!! Because of the content of the book I kinda knew where it was heading, but still kept me galloping to the end. Obviously picked a winner, cos I will be downloading more of his books....
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on 11 July 2013
This story got off to a very intriguing start, but I was a a little disappointed in the ending. I felt it wasn't up to the rest of the story, but was more of an easy way out. I would read more of his stories though.
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on 21 December 2013
I read this a couple of weeks before Christmas, which gave me an extra layer of empathy with the protagonist, a military hero unable to cope with civilian life, who spends much of his time knee deep in snow and more afraid than he is willing to admit.

Several times I thought I knew where it was going, only to be skilfully headed off down another track - often at a gallop.

I did find the protagonist's choice of horse strange, given the need for anonymity, but the rest of the book was so impeccably researched, I wonder if piebalds (black and white pattern) were a cheaper and less remarkable mount for an ordinary man in Victorian times. I also wondered how he managed to gallop through icy streets without the horse, on iron shoes, losing its footing.

Those small caveat aside, the story had me gripped and left a sigh of satisfaction at an ending I had not managed to work out.

Highly recommended.
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on 19 December 2011
Once freed from a vile debtor's prison Captain Sparrowhawk of the 16th Light Dragoons had to pay for his freedom with a strange guarding mission. Four aspects of Paul Finch's novella drew me in: authenticity of geography and history; the exquisite writing style; personal coincidences; and most of all the grim storyline fascination of apparitional ghouls from the past, and the satisfaction of finally solving the puzzle.

1843 was an interesting time in England for social contrasts and political awakening. Add this to one of the coldest winters on record and we have terrific conflict and tension. As a climatologist I know about that winter, so I was mightily impressed by the research Finch did to make the narrative real. Same with other details. He refers to toppers. My granddad was nicknamed Topper because he regularly wore one at the weekends and as a joke in the pub even though he had risen no further than master plasterer as an artisan. Later in the story, our hero was battling suicidal odds in Afghanistan (so topical). My other granddad was wounded there during the third Anglo-Afghan war in the 1920s. How did Finch know my family connections so well - hah.

Sparrowhawk is paid and instructed by the enigmatic and beautiful Mss Evangeline, who knows an uncomfortable amount of information about him. She is the key to the puzzle in this story and turns the lock iteratively with each chapter. Clever.
Also smart is the writing. Just listen to this description of Angus. `Here, an attendant was waiting, a big, raw-boned fellow with thick, red whispers and braces over his linen undershirt. The tattoos on his brawny arms indicated a military background. When he spoke, it was with a Highlands accent.' You are there with Sparrowhawk. Not only is there superb Show (as writers and editors urge on their writers) but the language is of the 1840s. We have costermongers -street sellers, `haranguing the public from their barrows, selling everything from eel soup to pigs' trotters, from lemonade to kitchen grease, from frogs, lizards and snails to rare and exotic birds, most of which would be sparrows and finches done up with colourful paint.' Finch's research is beautifully revealed in words such as that lovely harridan and breveted, right down to knowing popular tunes of the day as constables would whistle In Dulci Jubilo on their beat. Trust Finch to be aware, unlike Hollywood directors that you don't fire guns from the same place twice. I think Paul Finch must have been in the SAS, and have a time machine.
Sparrowhawk questions the veracity of what he experiences, but his brought-to-life father denies him a right to question it and to face the existing reality. Interesting philosophical stance, but it is whimsical and the probable hallucination vanishes, yet stays as a torment.

Some readers may feel that some of the narrative detail is infodump eg about the Peterloo massacre of 1819 but it is well done, and relevant to the plot. It is forgiven when a man-lion creature is described inside the terror, as having eyes that are `pits of molten gold' - I wish I'd written that.

This novella is unmissable for any aficionado of ghost, horror, and historical fiction.
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on 5 April 2011
This is a new novel, written by an author who, despite all his success with Dr. Who novels, and his BFS award winning stories & novellas, is comparatively "new" in the horror landscape. Then why the word "classic" in the title? To know the answer, you will have to read this slim book, published by the Pendragon Press.

This book deals with the experience of Captain John Sparrowhawk, ex personnel of Light Dragoon Regiment, Indian Army, and veteran of the 1st Afghan war. His personal losses (his wife is dead, and so are his newborn children), his spiritual losses (scars from the battle, in which only he had survived and countless others had died), and finally his financial losses, had landed him in hell (literally, because that is what the debtors' prison resembles). A mysterious lady clears her debt and frees her for a commission: to protect a man residing at a particular address for 3 weeks, without him being aware of his status (i.e. he is under mortal threat and is being protected). What happens thereafter is the subject of the major portion of the book, and it is quite a ride! It has its share of mystery, horror, action, character-development, and darkness (esp. in the grim portrayal of an imperial London with all its depravity, crime and poverty). But the ending (well-versed enthusiasts would be able to predict it much earlier) is a pleasant shock, nevertheless, the way this kind of book should end.

Highly recommended!
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on 31 December 2013
I was looking for a pre Christmas good old fashioned ghost story and the description of this novella seemed to fit the bill. I did enjoy the book and whilst not a 'can't put it down page turner', I did find the book very well written and the storyline and characters intriguing. Two-thirds of the way through and I couldn't wait to finish the book to answer all the questions that the book had begged in my mind. However, upon completion, many of the questions were unanswered and indeed, the final few pages posed further new questions without answers. I had to read the last few pages again thinking I may have missed something.... sadly I didn't. All that said, I'm still thinking about it a few days after putting it down - the sign of a good read. Well worth a read on a cold December night.
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on 23 December 2013
Paul Finch always has me hooked on his stories from the very beginning and this one was no exception. He recommended this as a chilling Christmas tale to get me in the Christmas spirit and he wasn't wrong. Captain Sparrowhawk had never known love and had spent most of his life at war.......would this Christmas be any different?
A Christmas tale with a twist that is captivating.
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on 2 July 2012
I've been reading a lot of Paul Finch's books recently, and this is one of the best yet. It's set in the 1840s, and concerns a soldier haunted by the horrors of his past. I don't want to say too much, but the main character, John Sparrowhawk, is released from a hideous prison and given a job in snowy London, which he thinks will be easy but which soon turns out to be a terrifying challenge. Ghosts and goblins abound, but there are human villains too. It's all set during a freezing Christmas, which is filled with holly, mince pies, Christmas trees and such. This is certainly a story to be read on Christmas Eve, though it's 40,000 words long which might give you a bit of a problem in one sitting. Also, some of the battle scenes are terribly violent, and there is a public hanging scene, which is one of the most graphic I've ever read, but all of that is to show the hardship of everyday life in Victorian times. A very enjoyable read, fully deserving of all the good reviews it has so far had.
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