Meet Sam Thornton. He collects souls.
Sam’s job is to collect the souls of the damned, and ensure they are dispatched to the appropriate destination. But when he’s sent to collect the soul of a young woman he believes to be innocent of the horrific crime that’s doomed her to Hell, he says something no Collector has ever said before.
Two of my favourite TV shows of seasons long past were Dead Like Me and Reaper. Both of these shows dealt with characters who collected souls, though one was actually already dead, George from Dead Like Me, while the other, Sam from Reaper, was still alive, but due to a deal his parents made, he was a bounty hunter for the Devil, who retrieved souls escaped from Hell. So it isn’t much of a surprise that when I read the above blurb for Chris F. Holm’s debut novel Dead Harvest, I was immediately captivated, not to mentioned drawn in by that awesome, awesome cover! Unlike Dead Like Me and Reaper, however, Dead Harvest isn’t a comedy; it’s a dark, hard-boiled, thriller of a book that manages to combine urban fantasy and crime seamlessly. That being said, there are some really funny lines in the book as well.
Dead Harvest has a great concept, a collector of souls with a conscience in a world where angels are pitted against demons, but angels aren’t the nice guys either. The plot was interesting; I didn’t figure out whodunit until the end of the book and even then I was a bit surprised and discovered I’d missed some of the clues. Sam spends the novel both on the run and investigating who set Kate, his collectee, up and why. This causes the breathers the characters receive to never last very long and make the book very hard to put down.
Sam is a fabulous protagonist. He’s a collector of souls, not because he wanted to be, but because he has to be. I loved that we got Sam’s history as well and that it was relevant to the plot in the present, not just as an explanation how he came to be a collector, but in further ways that I won’t go into to avoid undue spoilerage. Because Sam is technically dead, he gets around by possessing the bodies of others. This body switching is cool and I like that Sam is a good guy, in so far that he only picks dead bodies to take over, not just because the living blabber too much, but because he doesn’t want to hurt them. Of course, the road to hell is paved with good intentions and during this book he’s put in the position where he has no choice than to occupy a living body and we get a closer look at why he doesn’t like doing so. The scene in which we first see him selecting a new body is funny, with him buying a paper from the city he needs to go to and opening it to the obit page, bemoaning the fact that so often it only contains octogenarians who died in their sleep.
Sam is surrounded by an interesting cast of secondary characters, first and foremost of whom is Kate. She of the doomed soul Sam refuses to take, because he believes she is an innocent. Her character is as skilfully drawn as Sam’s, maybe even better as Sam is a rather straight forward lead – a good guy forced into a bad job – where Kate kept me guessing throughout the book. Sam is convinced she’s innocent, but some of the others, both angels and demons sow doubt in the mind of the reader and Kate doesn’t help her case at times. So I was never quite sure of her and the further along we got, the less sure of her I became and the more I started to analyse everything she said and did to try and figure her out. Another important character is Anders, who becomes Sam’s assistant in keeping Kate safe. I liked how his seeming schizophrenia turns out to be nothing but a sensitivity to the other plane in which demons and angels exist and he truly sees things others can’t, he isn’t having hallucinations. One last character I wanted to mention, just because I really liked the reference is Lilith. She’s Sam’s handler, giving him assignments and checking up on him, but I loved that she was the legendary Lilith, meant to be Adam’s first wife, but kicked out of Paradise because she had a mind of her own. Holm is merciless on his characters, the amount of damage Sam has to take is frightening and he doesn’t hesitate to kill of characters either, some of which really made me sad. But it also gave the book an intensity that said ‘trust no one’ and nothing is as it seems.
Dead Harvest is a phenomenal debut novel with a cracking plot and amazing characters, easily the best one I’ve read so far of this year’s crop and it has set the bar high for those who are to follow! I can’t wait for the second book, The Wrong Goodbye, which is due out in November. Do yourself a favour and go read Dead Harvest, it’s worth every penny and every second, you won’t want to put it down until you’ve finished it! Dead Harvest is due out from Angry Robot Books on February 28th in the US and Canada and on March 1st in the UK and the rest of the world.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.