February 26, 2013

Rabid Reads: "Mockingbird" by Chuck Wendig

Mockingbird
392 pages
ISBN 0857662333 
Buy it on Amazon.com 

When I read Blackbirds last year, I thought that was a pretty grim book in spots. Well, Mockingbird makes the previous Miriam Black novel look like a lighthearted romp. As lighthearted a romp as you can have in New Jersey, anyway.

After saving Louis the long-haul trucker's life in the last book, the first time she's ever used her precognitive ability to do that, it winds up that they didn't ride off into the sunset so much as into a Jersey trailer park. Miriam didn't have much of a life to begin with, but at least it wasn't boring her the way working as a checkout girl in a grocery store is. Then one day she snaps and goes off on her boss, the same day a gun-wielding maniac strolls into the store. Miriam never would have known if she hadn't grabbed her boss's arm so she could get a glimpse at how the ol' gal was going to die.

Following that cacophonous episode, Miriam realizes she is fed up and has to get out of that place, but Louis doesn't want to see her go. Instead, he convinces her to use her ability to help people, starting with a friend of his who is convinced she is dying of cancer. After meeting the hypochondriacal teacher, Miriam catches a horrific vision of a girl student's murder when they bump into each other. And it's not just one student at this girls school, either. There's a serial killer on the loose.

Miriam Black isn't a hero, and at times in the book is just outright unlikable. Flawed don't quite cover it. Of course, you'd have issues too if you saw when and how people died the first time you touched them. It's a bit of a Dead Zone idea that really gets pushed to the limits, even further in this book than in the last. You wouldn't think an author could get that much mileage out of it, but Chuck Wendig makes it look easy.

There are events in the novel that felt a little by-the-numbers at times. By that, I mean certain scenes felt more akin to a prime-time mystery series like The Mentalist or the like, than the hard-nosed relentlessness I'd expect from a Miriam Black novel. Still, seeing her actually grow as a character, become even more fleshed out, along with Louis and his unrequited love for her, these things were what really propelled the story along for me.

The tension builds up to a point where it gets a little bit ridiculous towards the end, then makes a quick swerve to a riveting ending. Maybe I like this book so much--though not quite as much as Blackbirds--is because it stands out so starkly from the other series in the urban fantasy genre people place it in. Of course, Wendig doesn't approach it as an urban fantasy, so there's that. Still, Miriam Black is the kind of character only Chuck Wendig could write, and god bless his scruffy butt for it.

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