Genre: Harboiled/Urban Fantasy
Order Dead Harvest
Other Chris F. Holm Books Reviewed:
8 Pounds: Eight Tales of Crime, Suspense and Horror (2010)
"Sorry," I told him. "It's nothing personal."
I yanked it free then; that light, that life. Gray-black and swirling, it cast long shadows across the alley, and its song rang bittersweet in my ears. Of course, if anyone had happened by, they're have seen nothing, heard nothing. No, this show was just for me. For Gardner, too, perhaps, though even I couldn't be sure.
Writing genre fiction is like running across a football field spiked with land mines. At any moment, you can make a wrong turn and start being mediocre, write clichés and end up with a story that doesn't deserve to live. It's not the hardest thing to write, because of its formatted nature, but genre is perhaps the hardest thing to write well. Those who go the distance usually balance out the clichés and make them play in their favor or like Chris F. Holm, go Doctor Moreau on us and create hybrids out of two different species. DEAD HARVEST is what happens when The Big Sleep meets Dracula 2000. A lonely outsider takes on seemingly superior forces, who also happen to be supernatural, mythological creatures who dwell our streets. Replace vampires with angels and demons and you've got something truly unique, that both taps into rich literary traditions and primal anxieties of mankind. Did I mention it was really good? Because it is.
Sam Thornton is what you call a "collector". He's a damned soul, in charge of reaping souls away from the sinners and sending them to hell. He secured that position for himself a long time ago, when he was still human. Sam's been doing this job for about sixty years, so he's as jaded as one gets. Given the job to collect the soul of Kate MacNeil, who slaughtered her whole family, he pulls back at the last possible moment, because her soul is pure and beautiful. Something's not right and if a pure soul is condemned to the depths of hell, the balance of things is going to be disrupted and things will go haywire for mankind. So ultimately, the fate of everything that exists lies on his decision but no one in the afterlife likes a disobedient collector. It's catch-22 for Sam, so there's only one thing left to do. Run for as long as it takes to figure this out.
I've said it before here and in the social media, Chris F. Holm's pen reminds me of Stephen King's. Take note, fans of the legendary writer, you may have found a new champion in Holm. DEAD HARVEST tells the story of the afterlife and the power struggle in between good and evil, from the point of view of...well...basically a bureaucrat. Holm created a brilliant mythology, where both sides are trapped on Earth among humans, but are standing right outside of their line of sight, explaining how sometimes there are moments of unexplainable grace or horror, leaking into out everyday lives. They are quick sights of heaven or hell. Knowing that the collector's adventures are a trilogy, this is a really cool setup for volume two and three, coming up. The two adversarial forces of heaven and hell represent two extremes in the spectrum of human nature, but there is this intangible that dictates their actions, power. It's the first time I read about power represented like this wild, volatile idea that not even the highest virtue can control. Genre fiction doesn't always carry this kind of reflection, but it's always satisfying when it does.
"I can't. Whatever's going on here, your soul's not mine to take. My job is to collect the wicked, the corrupt.The taking of a pure soul is forbidden - the result would be catastrophic."
"We're talking some serious End of Days shit here, Kate."
"Oh," she said. her eyes no longer met mine; she seemed suddenly fascinated with a spot between us on the floor. "OK, then. But if I'm makes for collection and you can't collect me, whee does that leave us?"
DEAD HARVEST is crossover fiction done right. By mixing the elements of many genres, Chris F. Holm gained a unique, untapped angle on every single one of them and ended up creating a 100% original story. The novel reminded me of an old table-top role playing game I used to play, called Demon: The Fallen, from White Wolf. The sprawling plot sure could've kept players riveted for many weeks, not unlike for Holm's Angry Robot Books stablemate Chuck Wendig's novel BLACKBIRDS. The sequel to DEAD HARVEST, titled THE WRONG GOODBYE, is coming out in a few weeks and expect me to visit my local bookstore when it does. Holm's sense of scope can only translate well to a broader story and Sam Thornton has the potential to develop as DEAD HARVEST only hinted at a few aspects of his inner life. If you're shopping for a hot new series, look no further.