Sunday, April 7, 2013

When All Hell Breaks Loose

Dead Harvest

by Chris F. Holm

Published by Angry Robot

4 Out of 5 Stars

You know those kitschy Chinese lucky cats? Yeah, well, next time you're dining at a local Chinese restaurant, you might want to pick up one, or two, or three to have on hand for when shit gets real. This is the most important lesson I learned from Dead Harvest, but you'll have to read the book to find out why.

Sam has been merrily plucking the souls of the living for decades now, with no remorse. As a Death Collector, remorse really isn't an issue. Souls need to be harvested when their hosts are ready to shuffle off this mortal coil. It's all part of the complex system that keeps everything in balance between The Maker and The Adversary, as well as the host of angels and demons that do their bidding. And, all things considered, both the holy and the damned are happy with the arrangement and don't want to do anything to tip the balance in such a way that will usher in the apocalypse.

That's why Sam hesitates on his newest assignment. When he is sent to collect the soul of Kate, a teenager guilty of torturing and murdering her entire family, Sam is shocked to discover that, as he closes his fingers around her soul, it is pure, innocent, blameless--and if there's one thing guaranteed to piss off those up on high, it is the reaping of an innocent soul by the damned. The evidence against Kate is irrefutable, but so is the spanking white condition of her soul. Until Sam can figure out the paradox, he kidnaps Kate, bringing all the forces of Heaven and Hell to bear on him.

Another reviewer compared this to one long chase scene, which is apt. The action begins on page 1 and never lets up. But it's a clever chase scene, full of quirky (if sometimes underdeveloped) characters, a fun mythology, and sharp dialogue. It's Good Omens meets Elmore Leonard. As a Death Collector, the character of Sam is a likable anti-hero, wanting to do the right thing yet managing to make a fuster-cluck out of everything. His inability to live outside of a human body (living or dead) is a twist that creates several unique problems for an essentially immortal (though certainly not all-powerful) being, and it provides interesting narrative possibilities for future books. He prefers the bodies of the recently deceased ("meat suits") because he's not hindered by the internal monologue and pesky thoughts of sharing a body with a living host. Also, if a living host is killed while he's in the body, his soul is jettisoned out and into another body, which could be nearby or on the other side of the world. Because Sam still has a conscious, he doesn't want to destroy any living vessel he's "borrowed," but circumstances don't always make his choices so easy and his aversion to danger possible.

I can't wait to get my hands on the second book (which features Sam on the cover, looking a lot like John Constantine--or is that just my imagination?). 

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