In the rich mythology of spectral and macabre lifeforms, a ‘fetch’ is a wraith-like figure, conjured from the ether to resemble a person and take on aspects of that individual’s life. The idea of “body substitution” is a fictional conceit that has intrigued many writers eager to explore the storytelling possibilities of characters who are, in reality, ghoulish substitutes for the original humans. It’s a concept that has provided the inspiration for tales as different as The Invasion of the Bodysnatchers and The Stepford Wives.
Soon after Big Finish first began working on new adventures set in the world of the supernatural investigation team of The Omega Factor, the company became aware of other genre novels that the show’s creator Jack Gerson had also written. Introduced to these works by his daughter, Big Finish were immediately impressed and, learning that there were no audio book versions of these works, set out to rectify that omission. In 2014, Big Finish had released an audio book version of Gerson’s Omega Factor tie-in novelisation, voiced by Louise Jameson, and have now followed up with readings of The Evil Thereof (voiced by Barnaby Edwards) and The Fetch (presented through the mellifluous tones of Carolyn Seymour).
Set in the world of the higher echelons of the British civil service, and amidst the political bustle of Westminster and the Cabinet Office, The Fetch is an increasingly unnerving tale of doppelgängers, clones and identity theft. Career civil servant Alistair Matheson is a loyal government official. He finds his comfortable and ordered life overturned when he spots a man in London’s Oxford Street who is his spitting image. As this mysterious figure begins to insert himself into Matheson’s life, he is first unsettled and then alarmed. He is clearly being targeted for a reason. After a “co-incidental” lunchtime encounter in a city eatery, he determines to uncover the truth behind the mirror-image face he finds looking back at him.
First published in 1993, The Fetch was set in the contemporary world of its own times. Almost a quarter-of-a-century later, it has become a modern historical tale. As Matheson takes on the role of detective, his efforts at espionage, deception and reconnaissance unfold in a world without CCTV, computer networks, digital footprints or indeed the internet. In an analogue era, meetings in city centre cafes occur without the watchful eye of dozens of digital cameras tracking the comings and goings. None of the diners are carrying smart devices, pinging their owners’ geolocation to a web of mobile masts. So Matheson has to investigate “in person”, wearing out his shoe leather, asking questions and chasing down possible leads.
As he learns more about his would-be impersonator, discovering that he goes by the name of Gilbert Martin, he enlists the sceptical support of his new lover Margaret. As the pair follow a mysterious trail, which leads through a psychiatric hospital and to an isolated moorland retreat, the body count begins to rise. As events take a more supernatural turn, the contradictions of Matheson’s life loom large. His promotion is fast tracked following a colleague’s untimely demise, and he is saved from a brutal attack by street muggers. A visit to a derelict London residence, and the outcome of a chaotic séance, convince Matheson that dark forces are involved in the conspiracy surrounding him, and hint at the awful possibility that Martin’s real identity may be the worst manifestation of evil imaginable.
Seymour’s reading of Gerson’s prose is simply superb. A performance of complete conviction (that never flags at any point throughout the eight and a half hour running time), Seymour voices the book’s range of characters with impressive confidence. She is just at home with the clipped tones of the officious bureaucrats and politicians as she is with the voices of the oddball, the outsider and the outright disturbing characters that populate the fringes of Matheson’s fast-unravelling world. Seymour invests Matheson with a soft Scottish burr that quietly slides in and out of his speech (just as it would for an aspiring ex-patriate, eager to advance his position within the Westminster ‘bubble’). Under Helen Goldwyn’s pacey direction, Seymour voices the drama’s chilling and distasteful moments with such restrained finesse that she could clearly bring just the gravitas required to narrate ghost and horror stories.
As events spiral out of Matheson’s control, he is somewhat slow to recognise the seriousness of the risks that now threaten him (senior civil servants not being famed for their imagination). When he finally decides to defy those attempting to control him, he finds himself facing some unexpected, and potentially life-changing, consequences. Gerson takes time to set up his atmospheric story, and the endgame of The Fetch is similarly unhurried, even as it remains edgy and disquieting throughout. This makes for a textured, evocative and absorbing listen, which forgoes cheap shocks in favour of immersive storytelling.
JACK GERSON - THE FETCH / WRITER: JACK GERSON / DIRECTOR: HELEN GOLDWYN / READ BY: CAROLYN SEYMOUR / PUBLISHER: BIG FINISH / RELEASE: OUT NOW