Chris F. Holm – The Wrong Goodbye

Meet Sam Thornton, Collector of Souls.

Because of his efforts to avert the Apocalypse, Sam Thornton has been given a second chance – provided he can stick to the straight-and-narrow.

Which sounds all well and good, but when the soul Sam’s sent to collect goes missing, Sam finds himself off the straight-and-narrow pretty quick.

Earlier this year I read Chris F. Holm’s debut novel Dead Harvest and was totally blown away by it. I called the best debut I’d read so far this year and almost ten months later it still is one of my favourites. So my anticipation and expectations for The Wrong Goodbye were high to say the least. And while it had the same sense of humour and style I enjoyed about Dead Harvest, the feel of the book was very different, far more buddy road trip than the heroic whodunit mystery tale.

Returning to Sam’s adventures was a pleasure. Holm gives us more information about his past as a Collector and about his universe. He shows us there are rules the Collectors have to follow – no fraternizing for one, a soul can only be delivered by the Collector tasked with its taking for another – and that there are consequences when they aren’t followed, not just for the Collectors, but for their handlers as well. The thought of Shelving – putting a Collector into a body he can’t get out off until the body expires of natural causes or gain a more active consciousness, such as someone in a coma or a newborn – is horrifying and I can imagine Sam wanting to avoid that fate. Holm stresses in both his books that hell is intensely personal; no two doomed persons’ hells will be the same. This is reflected by the Deliverants, the spirits that collect the souls from the Collectors. They are different for each person as well: Sam’s are insects and Danny’s are crows, for example. With the introduction of the Deliverants and their boss, who is never truly named, as he’s more of a concept than a person, Holm moves his universe into a larger scope and creates a larger playing field for Sam and his friends. It promises and interesting conflict in the next Collector book.

Most of the humour in the book comes in the form of Holm’s characters and their dialogue. He creates great personalities, from bit players such as the poor undertaker to larger secondary characters such as Gio and Theresa. While the parts of Sam’s past that are revealed are less tragic than last time, they do explain his wariness of caring for people, and coupled with his losses in Dead Harvest, I found his reluctance to admit that he cared for Gio and Theresa compelling. Ana and Danny, the spectres from his past that return to haunt him, are very cool and sinister, they kept putting me on the wrong foot and Holm had them pulling a bait and switch I hadn’t seen coming until it arrived. In addition, the villains are delicious as well. We meet up with Dumas, Sam’s demonic maker if you will, who is slick, urbane, witty and oh so very crooked. We also meet some other demons, the ones that function more as monsters than as people, and they rock. I loved the idea of Abyzou – Abby for short – who is big and scary, with a distinct octopus-flavour, and who hunts by enthralling her victims. Similarly, you have Psoglav, a freaky dog demon, who is plain frightening in his casual use and abuse of human souls.

My one peeve with The Wrong Goodbye is that we don’t find out what happens to some of the characters. I really would have liked to know how they ended up, whether they got a happy ending or not, especially for Gio and Theresa. Then again, as happy endings aren’t really in Sam’s business, perhaps it’s best that the reader is left with hope for them. As it is, I do hope one day we’ll find out what happened to them.

In short, Holm did it again. The Wrong Goodbye is an amazing follow up to Dead Harvest, but stands surprisingly well on its own. One could pick this up without reading the first one and still enjoy the heck out of it, though you’d miss some of the depth of the character development. The story is a hard-boiled supernatural detective, which sees Sam teamed up with a buddy sidekick and kick-ass lady friend and which has a great plot, whose twists and turns are hard to discuss without giving away spoilers. In my opinion Holm has become a must-read author, as I love how his crime is salted with the supernatural.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.