Author: Mariëtte Whitcomb
Publication Date: 24 November 2020
Available As: Paperback and e-book
War didn’t change me… Four months as the enemy’s captive did. I returned home broken, scarred, the call to combat echoing in my soul. Haunted by the deaths of my squad, a darkness festers inside me, set on vengeance.
Seven little girls died at the hands of the Angel Taker. He thinks himself invincible, taunting the police and the families of his victims with letters. If the police can’t stop him, I will. I’m not bound by man-made laws. Starting with the Angel Taker, I will hunt him and every other vile predator down. The dark web won’t keep them safe; I’m not afraid of the abyss.
I don’t care if this path destroys me, or the police realise a woman is responsible for the bodies found hanging across the city. The victims deserve freedom, and their deaths avenged.
Soon I find myself in the crosshairs of the Marcel Sniper. The worst he does – kiss me. As sure as my name is Finley D. Williams, that kiss is the best I’ve ever had.
Perhaps I’m not alone in this fight after all…
Orca is the first book in Mariëtte Whitcomb’s Finley series of thrillers. The story is told entirely through the first-person perspective of its main character, Finley Duncan Williams, a highly-trained and semi-empathetic soldier who has the uncanny ability to get into the headspace of violent killers, rapists, and sadists in order to figure out how they think, their patterns, and where they might strike next. Before joining the army, Finley strongly considered becoming a profiler and many characters, such as her Uncle Tom, a prominent member of the police department, praise her fantastic ability to see what their fully trained and highly experienced detectives and profilers miss. Crucially, Finley is also the survivor of a brutal bout of torture; captured, beaten, raped, and scarred by her tormentors, she was finally rescued and returned home to her sister, Elizabeth (affectionately known as Lizzie), only to find her parents had died and her home life had changed forever thanks to a slew of perverse criminals targeting random innocents but, especially, women.
I feel it’s important to establish some of this groundwork before delving into a review of Orca as the author certainly isn’t pulling any punches here; she describes, in graphic and repeated detail, Finley’s anger and disgust at these individuals, who she refers to impassively as “id”. Haunted by recurring dreams of the victims, Finley is unable to stop herself from trying to figure out the likes of the “Angel Taker” and the “Marcel Sniper” and, against her uncle’s wishes, quickly “goes rogue” and conducts her own investigation, immediately finding leads and gaining an insight into these killers and rapists far faster than the police. There’s a clear sense of purpose behind the author’s writing here; while Finley is relatively respectful to her uncle, she doesn’t take any crap and has no time for the red tape and procedure hampering the cops. Before long, Tom is openly discussing cases with her and allowing her access to the case files so she can continue her unique line of inquiry and, although he and many in the police department are aware that she’s assisting and actively getting involved in these cases, no repercussions are ever brought against her because she conveniently always ends up either being framed as a victim or acting in self-defence. And boy, you better believe that Finley knows how to defend herself! Not only does she rediscover her passion for Krav Maga (igniting a different kind of passion along the way), but she’s keen-eyed, is always aware of her surroundings, has exceptional stamina, durability, and hand-to-hand combat skills, and she is almost obsessed with guns. Handy with a variety of firearms, Finley always has a gun on her and isn’t shy about whipping it out at the slightest provocation or using it to defend herself; it gets a little extreme at some points in this regard as she constantly talks about how much she values a gun at her side, almost as much as she gushes over her beloved Johnnie Walker and her fancy cars.
Thanks to a generous inheritance and Lizzie’s running of the family business, Finley wants for nothing; she has all the money she needs to buy properties, turn them into safehouses for victims of sexual, emotional, and physical abuse, and to kit out her home into a veritable torture chamber for her victims. With an understated ease, Finley trawls the “dark web” using a variety of assumed names, learning the depravity of her targets, and lures a number of perverted sadists to their doom. Thanks to her training, and her own personal experiences, Finley is horrifyingly adept at conjuring and crafting horrendous tortures for her victims, leaving them for days on end to suffer for their injustices until they’re begging to confess and for their deaths. Finley then offers them a choice between a slower, more painful death and a faster but no less agonising end, with her victims always opting for the former; she then spends many a paragraph justifying that she’s different from her victims, and not a killer, because she technically doesn’t kill these creeps herself. But forcing someone to kill themselves is the same as murder in my book, so often Finley came across as a bit of a deluded hypocrite, but this does occasionally tie into the narrative; Finley begins to fear her dark side, and even her family and lover are perturbed when they see how adept she is at assuming the role of a stalker and vigilante. Finley sees herself as an alpha predator, styling herself as an orca swimming among sharks, and delights in teasing them, seducing them, and dragging out their suffering; there’s no doubt that all of her victims were vicious deviants who had committed or wished to commit unspeakable crimes upon others (again, especially women) but there’s never a question that Finley has targeted the wrong person, or is going too far. Instead, she’s almost superhumanly meticulous and consistently able to predict her target’s movements; even when she’s caught off guard, she fights like a wild animal and it’s only after her actions finally catch up to her that she begins to rethink her vendetta, and even then her recovery time is largely glossed.
Finley is surrounded by some interesting characters; Lizzie is much more outspoken and outgoing, to her detriment it turns out, and is the more stereotypically “girly” of the two, encouraging Finley to dress up nice and get laid and to enjoy her life, especially after everything she suffered. Her bubbly naivety contrasts nicely with Finley’s colder, more pragmatic and weathered personality, but even this cold-blooded avenger can’t help but be swayed by her sister’s enthusiasm and enjoy a nice tight dress and a few social events. Her uncle, Tom, is the closest thing either of them have to a father and there’s a huge amount of respect between them; he admires her passion, fortitude, and incredible intuitive abilities and, while he discourages her from putting herself in harm’s way, he can’t help but rely on her as he’s at his wit’s end with the many shocking crimes sweeping the town. Finley has her fair share of passionate trysts throughout Orca; those she falls for are always ex-army, fit and field trained to be her equal. For me, there was a little too much wish fulfilment in these parts; the men she goes for almost too good to be true and that often took me out of the story a bit. Generally, Finley has a fear of commitment due to her dark side; even when she opens up to those she considers her equal, she keeps them at arm’s length and it’s not until a life-changing experience that she starts to consider settling down. Amidst this, she feels a strange and incredibly awkward lust towards the Marcel Sniper, even sharing a passionate kiss with him, all of which were elements that didn’t land for me because they didn’t really paint Finley in the best light.
However, it appears to be the author’s intention to suggest that Finley is damaged. She’s a survivor, for sure, and is written to be the most capable female protagonist ever, rarely coming up short and always bouncing back from adversity, but it’s obvious that her experiences have changed her. Although she initially fights against it, Finley comes to embrace her role as a “protector”; she sees the women under her care as in need of direction, the strength of will to fight back, and stops at nothing to target and end those who have harmed them, or others. She’s ridiculously successful in her ventures, working out her damage on numerous sickos while caught in a crossroads between becoming a full-blown killer of killers and settling down into something resembling a “normal” life. It was pretty clear to me within a few chapters that I am not the intended audience for Orca or this series; there’s an agenda behind Orca that some may find uncomfortable, but there’s also a stark truth laid bare that we live in times that are not especially safe for women. I think others, especially survivors of abuse, will find a stronger connection to Finley, her vendetta, and Orca’s themes; it might be traumatic for them to relive their suffering, but Finley offers a fantastical catharsis through having the uncanny means to track down, brutalise, and dispatch the men who would harm others. Similarly, those who enjoy a bit of whirlwind smut and seeing a bad-ass female protagonist go wherever she likes, say whatever she likes, and do whatever she likes with few repercussions may also enjoy Orca; the only thing stopping Finley is the time it takes her to find, lure, and ensnare her victims but there’s never a question of her being unsuccessful in these ventures and she’s just as driven when it comes to bedding her impossibly buff lovers. Finally, there’s a fair amount to enjoy here for those who are into violence; the torture Finley inflicts on her victims is graphic and brutal and the author doesn’t pull any punches when depicting violence. So, while it didn’t really click with me and I had some issues with the narrative, I’m sure there’s an audience for Orca and I hope that those who read it come away focusing on a positive message; that they’re not alone, there is help and support and life after abuse, and they’re fully capable of finding ways to come back stronger from even the darkest times.
If you’re interested in checking out Orca, and to learn more about Mariëtte Whitcomb and her journey as an author, visit the links at the top of the page.