First Page Critique: Finn Slew

Happy Monday! Today I’m critiquing a first page submission for a novel entitled Finn Slew which begins in Afghanistan and appears to be the start of an intriguing suspense/thriller. My comments follow.

Title:   Finn Slew

MAY, 2011, Kandahar, Afghanistan

The phone was vibrating. Again. Alive and angry, like he’d stuffed a rabid weasel in the breast pocket of his ballistic vest. If Finn was going to be shot, it was small consolation the phone would die first.

The ringer was off. Best not to draw attention on the streets of Kandahar City. If the phone squawked his two soldier escorts, front and rear, would want to shoot him before the Taliban had a chance.

The first four messages this afternoon were from increasingly higher links in the Astral Media chain of command.

The fifth, just now, was a text from his direct boss, Kate Adachi, managing editor of his home newspaper, the Vancouver Journal, the westernmost outpost in Astral’s media empire: “WTF Finn? Supposed to file from the base newser on  plans for our troop withdrawal. Major heat from head office AND our publisher. Also fm Major Cahill, at CFB Kandahar, wondering where the hell you are. Call me. Now.”

He ignored that, too.

He’d written the ‘glorious farewell’ story weeks ago, with too much emphasis, in Cahill’s view, on those allies who felt Canada was cutting and running with the job unfinished.

Not that the job will ever be finished. Ask the Brits. Ask the Soviets. Hell, ask the Afghans. 

The news conference would play out as others he’d endured. Cahill, the public relations flack at Canadian Forces Base Kandahar, would lay on what soldiers cynically called “the Full Canuck.” A visiting general with a full display of chest candy would share Tim Hortons coffee and donuts with the troops as he declared the mission an unqualified success.

There’d be a moment of silence for those killed in the service of their country during Canada’s decade in Afghanistan, and a nod to the grievously wounded. Not a mention of those tortured souls carrying the war home in a nightmarish loop of pain and fear. Soldier suicides? What suicides?

Then, off to the ball hockey rink at Kandahar Airfield where the big guy would play enough shinny for network visuals before hopping a flight home.

They’d make damned sure a dead soldier wasn’t catching a lift in the cargo hold. Don’t want to go off-message.

No more press-release journalism. Finn was chasing bigger game: misappropriated aid money, corrupt military contractors, black market trade in weaponry. That’s why Cahill’s shorts were in a knot.


I think this first page is off to a great start. I’m intrigued by the premise of a Canadian journalist investigating corruption in Afghanistan just as Canadian troops are being withdrawn. The voice of our main protagonist is strong, cynical, and determined and the short paragraphs, clipped sentences and snide comments all fit the protagonist well. This is an easy first page to critique as I don’t have much to say, except well done and I want to read more!

I have only three (relatively minor) comments:

  • The first is to reconsider the title of the book. Finn Slew (to me, at least) sounds strange and a little awkward. I think a stronger, darker title that gives a reader a better sense of the book would work better.
  • The second is to perhaps shorten the 4th paragraph as the reader gets some extraneous information here about the newspaper/media corporation that slows the pace of this first page. Something like: “The fifth, just now, was a text from his boss, Kate Adachi, managing editor of  the Vancouver Journal”  – it would be simpler and the extra information can be provided later.
  • Finally, the last line suggests Major Cahill knows the story the main protagonist is pursuing, and yet in Kate’s text he’s trying to find out where the protagonist is so I’m not totally sure if the author intends Cahill to know (and hence have his shorts in knots) or not. Maybe this could just be clarified.

Otherwise, I thought this was a terrific beginning and I would definitely want to read more. What about you, TKZers, any comments/thoughts?

13 thoughts on “First Page Critique: Finn Slew

  1. I also thought this was terrific, fast-moving, tense, just enough explanation to orient the reader and concisely sum up the situation. There’s no doubt this author will make good on his/her promise of great conflict. Loved the “rabid weasel” and that Finn’s soldier escorts would shoot him before the Taliban had a chance.

    Clare, I agree the title was a bit off-putting. At first, I assumed “Slew” was his last name. Then I looked it up–it’s defined as “a violent or uncontrollable sliding movement,” which is what Finn appears to be about to get into. Great, but unclear as currently used. Adding a possessive to change it to “Finn’s Slew” reads awkwardly b/c of too many s’s. Transposing it to “The Slew of Finn” didn’t work either. So I don’t know how to fix the title, but this skillful author is clearly capable of a minor repair.

    I’ll definitely read this when it’s published. Excellent job!

  2. Wow…really good start, writer. I am not a fan of military setting stories in general but I would definitely read on with this one. I think the Canadian journalist character feels fresh (haven’t seen that one before!) and the writing is crisp with telling details (not just donuts and coffee but Tim Hortons, the hockey photo op, the use of the slang word “shinny” for pickup hockey).

    Another thing I like about this is the sense of pacing. Notice how the writer varies the length of the sentences and paragraphs. Also nice to put that thought about the job never being finished in itals to denote we’re in deep POV with Finn.

    I really have nothing to add to Clare’s comments. Except another plea for a title that’s worthy of your story. But that will come, I trust. Titles are really hard to get right.

  3. First paragraph was great. Then it got better. I love a good war correspondent story. Big fan of Ernie Pyle! My only bump was tiny. This phrase: “If the phone squawked his two soldier escorts, …” Needs more punctuation.

  4. Great submission! I would love to read more. Wonderful voice coming through the work.
    I had two tiny nits. The phone is in the breast pocket of the vest. He never takes it out, and yet he knows who’s calling. I need that action of removing the phone and looking at the screen. Also, if you’re out on one of these town patrols, how often do you take your eyes off your surroundings to look at your phone? But he’s looked at his five times to read messages? That sort of deflates the threat of the situation. Still, this beginning had me hooked.


  5. The writing itself isn’t bad. Here are my comments:

    1. Vary the sentence structure. For example, two sentence that begin with “if” are very close together (separated by just one sentence):

    “If Finn was going to be shot, it was small consolation the phone would die first.”
    “If the phone squawked his two soldier escorts, front and rear, would want to shoot him before the Taliban had a chance.”

    2. You have two characters that both use the word “hell” on the first page. Make sure that the voice of each character is unique.

    3. The opening seems very “passive” to me. As a rule, I don’t think it’s wise to being with the protagonist getting a text message. When introducing your protagonist, you want to choose a situation that will show his essence in action.

    4. I think you should consider a different title (but unless you are self-publishing, I’m sure any publisher will take care of that for you). People choose books based on cover art and titles.

    Best of luck, and keep writing!

  6. I love this and want it in my grabby hands right now.

    I have no problem going from vibrating to messages. The interim action is inferred. Unless a bullet rings out while he is fumbling with the Fas-Tech buckle on the phone pocket, it’s not necessary.

    As with all things, the little punctuation bumps will work out in copyediting.

    I’d have to see some back cover copy to see if the title was a play on words or some other significance.

    *grabby hands*

  7. I deliberately waited a day to comment, so I could read the submission with new eyes. If I was in my favorite bookstore (Amazon) I would have stopped to look at this book based on its title. I’d want to know what it means. I think interesting titles are important, and this one is interesting.
    After reading the first five paragraphs examining the protagonist’s dysfunctional relationship with his cell phone, I would have put the book back on the shelf.

  8. This is one of the best first-pages I’ve seen on TKZ. Welll done! Love the original concept, and the world-weary voice. I want to read what happens next.

    Also a good use of slang words – I know next nothing about hockey. Never heard the term “shinny” before, but dropping the ‘ball-hockey rink’ in gave enough context for it to make sense. Nothing worse than having to look up slang words.

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