October 9, 2012

Rabid Reads: "Dead Harvest" by Chris F. Holm

Dead Harvest (The Collector Book One)
by Chris F. Holm
Angry Robot Books (2012)
381 pages
ISBN 085766218X
Available via Amazon.com

Sam Thornton is a Collector. No, not the "Market Warrior" kind. Sam is basically a repo man for the underworld, plucking souls from the living when it's their time to die. He's kind of like a flatfoot, menial version of the Grim Reaper. And it's when Sam is tasked with collecting the soul of an accused murderer that his conscience and better nature finally bubble back to the surface of what remains of his humanity.

I enjoy urban fantasy, especially when it has noir-ish elements mixed in, and Dead Harvest has 'em by the bowlful. Sam smokes with impunity, leaving piles of spent coffin nails in his wake while waiting for his marks to show up. His taskmaster counts as the ultimate femme fatale, Lilith. And he has a healthy disdain for just about everything in existence. So, it's no big deal that the next person whose soul requires collecting is a teenage girl named Kate, presently incarcerated for the grizzly torture and murder of her little brother and parents.

The job should be a piece of cake. The souls Sam collects are tainted or damaged in one way or another, corrupted by some aspect of evil, so they essentially deserve to have their lives ended. But when Sam tracks down a freshly perished body to inhabit--did I not mention Sam is a disembodied soul in his own right?--and tracks down Kate, he is overwhelmed by the fact that he sense no evil in her. As far as he's concerned, there's no way Kate could have committed those atrocities. She's been setup and Sam takes it upon himself to not only find out who, but protect Kate from the tug-of-war between Heaven and Hell that is underway as each side seems bent on her death.

The book is equal parts murder mystery and cat-and-mouse chase. Sam and Kate contend with each other nearly as much as with the unseen forces pulling the strings start to unleash Hell in order to collect Kate's soul. And when they're not on the run, with demons and police and an even more powerful Collector named Bishop on their heels, Sam and Kate try to piece together just what happened to her and why.

While I thought the relationship built between Sam and Kate was done remarkably well, and the action is very engrossing at nearly every turn, the broader aspects of this world felt too vague for me to really appreciate. God and the Devil are kept as abstract ideas, the same with Heaven and Hell, despite the close nature they play with the current of the story. Sam's world is really kept at arm's length, and it's through flashbacks to his final days leading to his initiation as a Collector, where his motivations are revealed. The book's ending is satisfactory to a point, but I get the sense that the second book in the series, The Wrong Goodbye, will be the place I go to for any hope of getting a clearer picture of Sam's world.
CymLowell

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