Sam Thornton is a Collector – he acts as a courier, collecting souls bound for hell, and ensuring they get there. He is sent to collect the soul of a young woman charged with murdering her entire family. However, Sam isn’t convinced of her guilt and says something no collector has ever done – he says no. His actions risk sparking off an epic war between heaven and hell – with the human race in between..
Dead Harvest is Chris F. Holm’s debut novel, and is a fast-paced urban thriller. Holm’s choice of protagonist is refreshing. The Collector, Sam, has seen a lot over his decades of soul collecting. His initial weariness of the world gives way to a determination to protect Kate, the young woman charged with the murder of her family at all costs – even if it means a life of eternal torment for him. His story is told in flashbacks with add insight and depth to Sam’s outlook and explain the weariness he has. His sense of what is right – the last grip he has on his humanity, and sets him out from the other Collectors we see, is severely tested throughout the story, but as we see, critical to the character’s outlook. There is a touch of the Quantum Leap about him with the body swapping shenanigans, and his honestly and loyalty quickly wins you over to what could have been a fairly apathetic or even one-sided character.
Oozing with gritty urban noir strokes, at times you can forget the fantasy element in favour of the ongoing detective story – which tonally almost feels like a pulp story from the thirties. Indeed, the murky alleys, dirty bedsits, broken characters and the flashbacks to Mob-era New York all build up an impressively real world that wouldn’t be out of place in a Pulp detective novel.
The innovative decision to cast heaven and hell as within our reality, but just the side is one that helps to ground the story. With many of the demons and angels able to ‘borrow’ bodies, such a setting helps to keep the paranoia high of who is friend and who is foe. Dead Harvest has so many twists and turns, you have no idea what is just around the corner, and keeps you turning the pages. The fantasy and crime fiction elements are intertwined so that they co-exist nicely, but the decision to limit the fantasy is a shrewd one, as when the angels and demons start to appear, you are reminded of the origin of the lead character and the supernatural world he inhabits.
Holm’s prose is slick and makes Dead Harvest an utter pleasure to read. One of my favourite books of the year to date, this thrill-ride is an astonishing addition to the Angry Robot table. At no point does the story feel like it is treading water and the sparky double act of Sam and Kate is totally sold to the reader. What really makes it is that in Sam Thornton we have one of the most three-dimensional lead characters of some time, and a palpable world for the characters to play in.
Whilst Dead Harvest isn’t doing anything new, it pitches the story and the majority of its characters perfectly. A thumping pace and a carefully constructed and taut plot keeps the reader hooked up until the end. An impressive debut by Holm, the upcoming second instalment, The Wrong Goodbye, is a must-read. A special mention must also go to the glorious retro pulp cover by Amazing15 with its Adrian Salmon-esque art. My only disappointment with the novel is the rushed ending which, although, the clues are there, suddenly comes out so quickly and resolves itself so neatly that is it a disappointment given the absolutely stellar work that preceeds it.
The Fiction Stroker gives Dead Harvest four strokes out of five: