Chris F. Holm – The Big Reap

chrisfholm-thebigreapSam Thornton has had many run-ins with his celestial masters, but he’s always been sure of his own actions.

However, when he’s tasked with dispatching the mythical Brethren – a group of former Collectors who have cast off their ties to Hell – is he still working on the side of right?

Since the publication of Chris F. Holm’s first Collector novel, Dead Harvest, I’ve been a fan of the series. I absolutely adored books one and two and book three lived up to my expectations and more and had me once again guffawing out loud at Sam’s dry wit. For those familiar with Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, the title gives some clue of what to expect from the novel as it’s a word play off of Chandler’s book, but there are some twists Chandler himself wouldn’t have thought of. Like the previous book, The Big Reap retains the gritty, noir flavour in its story-telling, but in some places it’s actually a little darker in tone than anything that went before. 

The plot seems rather linear with Sam charged to go and take out the Brethren, a group of rebel Collectors. But it turns out to be far twistier than that. I liked the notion of the Brethren being the people even Hell can’t handle and the various members of this exclusive group we meet are suitably unpleasant. He gets to play a game of follow-the-bread-crumbs with these Brethren, being put on the trail of the next one by Lilith once he defeats his current target. The Brethren are a corrupted and twisted lot, but at the same time they’re also tragic figures, driven mad by immortality. In many ways what remained of them was less than human and it seems as if killing them was more a mercy than a punishment.

As with the previous books we learn more about Sam’s past in The Big Reap. In this story we witness his own Collection, subsequent awakening as a Collector and his first reap, which is an epic one. We also learn more about Lilith and their complicated friendship. I love that we learn more about Sam and his relationship with Lilith. She was one of the most intriguing characters in the series to me and it was great to learn more about what makes her tick and why she was set to be Sam’s handler. Through Lilith we also learn more about the way Heaven and Hell are ordered and why Collectors have to be doomed souls instead of just the Devil’s demonic minions. Holm manages to squeeze in more world-building and still give us the sense that there is yet more to be discovered.

At its heart the story told in The Big Reap is about love and what tragic lengths people will go to save the ones they love. It’s a tragic story and a timeless one. Through the events of the book the reader discovers that Sam’s isn’t the only tragic story among the Collectors and it made me curious to learn more about other Collectors. What drove them to make their deal and did they get what they wanted or did it turn out to be as much a pot of fool’s gold as Sam’s deal was? But there was also a lot of hope in the book especially in the ending, where Sam reclaims some of his humanity, which he’s been steadily feeling slip away throughout the narrative.

Of course there are characters beyond Sam and Lilith in the book, but most of them are rather secondary to the novel, except for the Brethren and some old friends who make cameo appearances from the previous books. I loved seeing where Kate had ended up and I positively cheered when Theresa and Gio made their entrance. It was great to see old friends, but I also liked how Holm worked them into the story without making it a ‘getting the band back together’-device. They come in, do their thing, and then don’t hang around to be Sam’s Scooby Gang. They have their own things to deal with, which I thought was clever, as it affords us the pleasure of seeing some great characters return, without that return infringing on the core of the narrative.

With The Big Reap Holm continues his Collector series in style. While the narrative ends at a full stop, I whole-heartedly hope this wasn’t the last we’ve seen of Sam Thornton and friends as I just enjoy his character and the tone of the series so damn much. While The Big Reap can be appreciated on its own, if you haven’t read any of the books before, I strongly suggest you start at the beginning with Dead Harvest as not only will you get far more from The Big Reap, you’ll also be in for two fantastic reads. Whatever Chris Holm writes next, I’ll be there to read it, but I sincerely hope his robotic overlords decide to get him to write more Collector books. And I’m willing to bet once you meet Sam and company, so will you.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.

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  • Thanks, Mieneke. I need to find time to get on the boat for this series. The covers are distinctive, too.

    • You definitely do, Paul! And yes, the covers are very cool and vintage-feeling.

  • I concur regarding the covers, absolutely love them.

    I also know what you mean about the plot seeming linear. It felt a bit like an retro platform game to me: level, boss, level, boss, level, big boss. Not that that’s a particular drawback, because for me these books have always been about pace, and this one barrels along like all the others.

    It took me a while to realise the extended coda at the end was probably an attempt to wrap the whole series up. Not sure it works, as there are still a ton of loose threads. But that’s good, because like yourself I wouldn’t mind if it carried on for a few more books still. Great review.

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