by Chuck Wendig
Angry Robot Books (2012)
Like a few others who have had the chance to get their paws on an advanced review copy of this book, my interest was spawned by the captivating artwork on the cover from Joey Hi-Fi. That, and the pitch. Miriam knows how and when people will die just from a simple touch, but when she sees one man's death as a particularly violent one that has him call out her name, her life veers on to a collision course with that very moment that is destined to happened in mere weeks.
Oh yes, my interested was peaked. But did the book deliver?
In a word, yes. Two words? F--k yes!
In the months leading up to the book's release, I'd read some previews that squeezed this book into the urban fantasy category. That's quite a reach, considering there was no real focus on the setting, which is a sprawling road trip of seedy motels and blood-spattered crime scenes. It's light on urban, and I'm not even sure you could say it has a whole lot of fantasy beyond the divinatory aspect, but the story has an otherworldly quality that puts it in league with novels like Neil Gaiman's American Gods and movies like Christopher Nolan's Memento. What fantastical elements exist are heavily outweighed and outshone by superbly drawn-out characters.
Miriam Black (and get used to seeing "black" appear in many forms throughout the book) is not a hero, far from it. She's world-weary nomad with no one in her life, distancing herself from the few she cares about, and scavenging off of the rest of us. She's an outcast that makes ends meet by finding some poor sap who is about to meet their maker, after a touch of hands or elbows or whatever, then takes whatever cash and trinkets she can use before moving on down the road. It's when she meets a surprisingly earnest trucker named Louis, and finds out he's going to be murdered thirty days while calling out her name, that Miriam's already desperate life becomes truly dire.
The ideas of fate, destiny, choices and coincidences that carry their own consequences all get a time to shine in this novel. Miriam's through trying to change things from happening, though. She did that with some heartbreaking results, so she forces herself to stand idly by as Louis carries on obliviously towards his untimely end, all while contending with a conman with a briefcase and the vicious criminals who want that briefcase back.
Miriam is a strange blend of callousness and utter rawness, and the two sides of her personality seem to constantly war with each other, especially when her own choices seem to play right into whatever fate has in store. It's a great internal struggle she goes through, accentuated by the occasional interludes of an interview she gives to a young man looking to tell her story. It's all paced so well, and the runaway train feel of the story is done to near perfection. I want to find fault with the novel somewhere, but nothing springs to mind. The damned thing is about as immaculately gritty and unrelenting, while avoiding nihilistic venom, as a guy like me could ask for. I have a feeling this one will be on a lot of summer reading lists this year.