Underlife, by Robert Finn

Snowbooks was once one of my Small Press Week (II) entrants; when I checked their website the other day, ambulance they had several free short stories and a novel, patient so I downloaded the novel and read it — obviously this one. It’s apparently a prequel to Mr. Finn’s other publications by Snowbooks, which I haven’t read (yet). About himself, he says that he has always lived in London, and that he became a writer to justify his owning of the smallest and most stylish laptops. Due to a relatively common name, I can’t find much else about him, but he very much likes his publisher (always a good sign) and has two books other than this one published with them.

Clipper is a thief, in that way where he normally picks pockets and steals purses, but in a moderately classy way — on the (London) Underground, and wearing a suit. His mentor used to be a man named Gary, but he recently disappeared. Anyway, one day he found the perfect woman for him — an American girl named Rachel, with whom he just clicked. However, the cops appear to be chasing him, so he runs away. Will he ever see her again? And will the cops catch him? Why are they after him in SWAT gear, anyway?

There are only four main characters in the story: Clipper, Rachel, Warren, and Kieran. Clipper is our hero who’s sort of an anti-hero; his real name is Matt, and he’s sort of chafing at the whole thief thing, especially without Gary and after having met Rachel. Rachel, on the other hand, is a former bank employee who was also chafing at her job — she felt she was being a thief — and is in the process of moving back home to live with her mother on her horse farm. Warren is the bad guy; we don’t see much from his point of view, but it’s obvious that he’s got some sort of advantages in strength and healing that are most likely technological.

Kieran is another anti-hero of sorts; he certainly isn’t a good guy, being that he apparently used to run houses of prostitution and drug rings. However, he’s sort of decided to get out of the whole racket, and he attempts to get free, with interesting results. He barely appears in the current events, but his backstory is incredibly important to the story as a whole. The limits in the character cast are also echoed in the limited space in which the book takes place; the majority of it, not counting flashbacks, is in the last car of a subway. We first meet Clipper and Rachel outside the subway station, but we’re down in the confines of a car before too long.

At only a little over 100 pages, it might be more of a novella, but in any case, it’s a free Creative Commons download. I believe it’s generally considered a suspense novel, but it has spec-fic elements (weird technology) and I guess his other works are called “occult thrillers.” I haven’t read many of these kinds of books before, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy this foray into a different realm. While the author pretty much always tells us things rather than showing them, that seems to have been an absolute stylistic choice. His writing was tight, and he managed to keep the suspense up until the very end, tying things together in a relatively neat bow. (Okay, the action was pretty messy, but the plot was neat.) I’d recommend this, definitely; it’s free, it’s there, and it’s a fun way to spend an afternoon. 4/5 stars.

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