After reading Chris F. Holm’s short story collection 8 Pounds, I knew he was freakin’ good, but he still had to prove it in long form. Here’s what he came up with to convince us:
A novel titled DEAD HARVEST.
He used to be Sam Thornton; for the past sixty-five years, he’s been a collector of souls. When someone’s time has come, the Collector takes the soul away, sends it to Heaven or Hell while the body dies.
But when he is sent to collect the soul of Kate MacNeil, a young woman who has just murdered her entire family and thus needs to literally go to Hell, the Collector doesn’t follow orders. ‘Cause something’s wrong. The girl’s soul is still pure, which means that she can’t be a murderer. Or is she?
With no time to think it through, the Collector decides to take the girl away and hide her while he tries to figure everything out and hopefully prove her innocence. But no Collector has ever done that before. Even if the girl is innocent –and it’s not clear yet if she is or not-- it’s not a Collector’s job to change a decision from the higher (or lower, in this case) instances; this will surely be seen as an act of rebellion, and could result in a war between Heaven and Hell, which in turn could cause the end of the world.
Dead Harvest is packed with action scenes peopled with cops & medics, demons & angels, and it delivers at break-neck pace. Yes, some necks are broken too. The story slows down a few times with necessary flashbacks to tell the reader a bit more about Sam and the events that lead him to this most unusual job. From the get-go the reader is pulled into the story because Holm doesn’t try to convince anyone, he just tells a story. A very entertaining one. To his credit, he also never tries to impress by pulling tricks; he doesn’t push the reader towards dead ends where he’d pull a rabbit out of a hat, or a deus ex machina to save his protagonists. Everything that happens is explained and follows the logic of the plot. In addition to being a soul collector, Sam can also get around, or 'travel', incognito by borrowing someone else's body; one of many of Holm’s freakin’, brilliant ideas. Sam Thornton is the new Repairman Jack.
Not since reading John Connolly’s debut novel Every Dead Thing have I encountered a writer’s debut that so successfully combines crime fiction and the supernatural. Even if Holm’s book falls more into the latter category, while Connolly’s books fall more into the former, this is not an easy task to pull. Chris F. Holm (I’m sure the F stands for “Freakin’”) will be a successful writer mainly because he makes the effort of creating something original; something that pushes the limits of genres while tipping the reader’s comfort zone into a vast, unknown place where nothing is predictable nor taken for granted.
Dead Harvest's ending was satisfactory, except for the fact that it had to end. I’m all ready for The Collector: Book 2, The Wrong Goodbye. November 2012. In time for my birthday. Wink wink.
You can follow Chris F. Holm on Facebook, Twitter @chrisfholm, and on his website/blog.