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on 10 March 2016
Those who know me, know I love to collect books. My house is overflowing with them, I could ski down my TBR pile. I'm an especial sucker for a series and, as such, got caught up in the buzz of buying books by the publisher of this work, Angry Robot. However, my reading habits mean that I buy a hell of a lot more than I read. I guess that will always be the case. But I have tried to make in-roads into my tottering 'to be read' mountain, including getting through the ever-increasing Angry Robot titles.

So I pulled down Chris Holm's Dead Harvest, the first in his Collector series. It's one of the more striking AR designs (and most of their covers are bloody excellent, I can tell you), and the blurb on the back was very enticing; speaking of Soul Collectors, of a possibly innocent soul targeted for collection, of angels and demons, and a brewing war between the two. All good stuff. I was expecting maybe something like the film Constantine, maybe a bit of The Prophecy. What I didn't expect - but was pleasantly surprised by - was the very strong noir tone and the break-neck pace of the writing.

Sam Thornton is a collector of souls; of those who have been marked for special attention by committing one transgression or another, thus damning their eternal souls to an eternity of torment in hell. Yet when he is dispatched to collect the soul of a young woman, Kate, something causes him to doubt - for the first time - that her soul truly is responsible for the brutal murders of her entire family. Going on instinct, he decides to 'rescue' Kate from the hospital where she is being held and go on the run until he can figure out what's going on; only problem is, he is being pursued by both angels and demons, his boss isn't at all happy with him, and the body he's currently in won't last too long...

I thought this was a pretty damned entertaining start to what is currently a three book series (no idea of there'll be more). Whilst it isn't quite up there with the greats - in my opinion - it's still a solid read, well written, conceived and paced. The decision to set it in first person - form Sam's point of view - is a great one as it gives you that sense of immersion and immediacy that works best for this kind of story. It also sits well with the noir sensibility, and means we are only able to know what Sam knows. Sometimes this restrictive narrative style can feel frustrating, but the driving prose and almost non-stop action keeps you from drifting down this route.

I also liked the conceits that Chris puts in his story. For a start, the nature of the collectors (yes, there's more than one, and we'll get to that) is that they are themselves collected souls who have been given, essentially, a job offer; spend eternity collecting other damned souls, or go to hell. Seems a no-brainer, but Chris deftly builds a strong sense of weariness within his main character, a through-line that suggests that an eternity (or as long as Sam's been doing it, at any rate) doing a work that is abhorrent and distasteful might in itself be a kind of hell. Being that these collectors only become so after death, they then are forced to possess other people's bodies; this is the most distressing part for Sam, that he is forced by circumstance to inhabit, to violate the minds, of other people. Luckily, he is able to possess the bodies of the dead, yet this presents its own set of problems. As for how Sam became a collector, this is presented as an occasional back-story peppering the main narrative. It worked really well for me, as you come to learn about Sam's previous mortal life at the same time as becoming more engaged with him on his desperate flight, and skirmishes with demons (and, indeed, with angels). Chris doesn't flesh out his mythology too much in this book; rather he tantalises and offers hints of what has gone on between the two opposing forces, and it's not always as black and white as you'd think. Then there's Sam's boss, Lilith; yes, Lilith. I suspect her history and role will become more prominent in future books.

The developing relationship between Sam and Kate is the main driving force in the book - other than the ongoing flight itself - and I liked that it didn't seem quite like a stereotypical romantic sub-plot. Rather, Sam seems to be more protective of Kate because he feels an almost paternal instinct for her; I also think that it's a way of redeeming himself for events that occurred in the past, and this is where the intertwining of the main narrative and the flash-back sequences really work.

Of course, a book like this wouldn't be complete without a great antagonist and even amongst the demons and other powerful beings, we have another collector; the ironically named Bishop. Bishop is the polar opposite of Sam, a collector who revels in his role because he thinks he is doing the work of the Almighty; his clear insanity allowing him to feel absolutely no guilt whatsoever at the tasks he carries out. He's a great creation and all the more disturbing for the ability of collectors to jump into any body they so wish. In fact, it's a truly terrifying concept and one that is depicted very well in a number of set pieces.

Of course, it's not perfect. Whilst I enjoyed the writing, there were a few occasions where I had niggles, though most of these were related to people 'shooting each other looks'; it's a personal thing, but something I've come to really dislike over the last couple of years, though in the context of this noir-ish book, it just about works (still niggled me, though). I also felt the ending was just a little bit contrived, and did jar me out of the story somewhat. I won't say what it is for fear of spoiling, but I'd have preferred it more if the nature of Kate had been...different than what it turned out to be (you'll know what I mean when you read it...).

But besides that, I did really enjoy the book and I'm really looking forward to the next two instalments (as they sit there, on my shelves, looking at me...). Great stuff, and I also can't wait to read Chris's crime/thriller novel, The Killing Kind.
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on 6 May 2012
Dead Harvest is a dark urban fantasy. The book is interesting because it manages to be thoroughly supernatural and yet keep the fantastical elements to a minimum by casting heaven and hell, angels and demons, into everyday landscapes and people. By that I mean, the world is portrayed as we know it, with the souls of the fallen and blessed dwelling in individuals. Thornton `borrows' bodies to undertake his collections. Holm writes in an assured style with engaging prose. The contextual material is well thought through and conveyed and Thornton's back story is nicely told. The characters have enough depth for the story to work but, except for Thornton, are fairly sketchy and a little under-utilised - it would have been nice to find out a bit more about Anders and Pinch, for example. The plot is nicely structured and tugs the read through the story. The first two thirds I thought worked very nicely. The latter third seemed a little rushed, transforming into a kind of caper, and the believability factor, which even in fantasy is calibrated, dropped - Thornton and Kate repeatedly manage to escape encounters in which they really should have perished and the timings felt a little off. It seemed as if the story had slipped from indie production to Hollywood blockbuster, although it's fair to say that in the right hands Dead Harvest would potentially make a good movie. Overall, an enjoyable read that excels on premise and contextual construction.
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on 13 May 2012
I sat and read this in two evenings due to a) the wife being out - hence the television stayed off, and b) I found it hard to put down.

First things first: it's written in the first person. If that gives you the shivers - probably best to back away now!
Second things...second. If you have viewed and enjoyed the film "Constantine" then chances are you'll enjoy this book. There are many similarities - but the plot is better and Keanu doesn't feature.

I've seen/read quite a few tales of the eternal struggle between Good & Evil being played out in the earthly realm. This is definitely in my top 10. I liked the character of Sam Thornton, finding him to be immediately likeable and progressively more interesting. I enjoyed the gradual reveal of his back-story via flashbacks interposed within the main story-line.

Chris Holm made the peripheral characters pretty light-weight, sacrificing depth for plot velocity. I have no issue with being given only hints at a character's past as I quite enjoy unchaining my imagination to fill in the blanks. Being in the first person - lots of exposition would have (In my not-so-humble opinion!) slowed things down considerably, making it a very different book.

The criticism I have is directed against the final third of the book. The pace hits light-speed, and for me, it seemed like Chris H. crammed his A2 sized vision on an A5 page. There were a couple of moments where I fell out of my totally engrossed state thinking "hmmm, I'm not sure, even with my 'willing suspension of disbelief', that I believe it...". Once where a scene was just *too fantastic* and the other where the timings of events didn't add up. I agree with another reviewer who mentioned it seemed to get a bit 'Hollywood'.

That said - I will definitely buy the second in the series and I'd recommend it to anyone with an interest in this sort of material.
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on 13 October 2014
This started well - a Collector is sent to harvest the soul of a young girl who had tortured and killed her family. No question she was guilty - she was caught in the act - but the Collector realises something is badly wrong with the whole setup and they go on the run. I enjoyed the first part.
As mentioned by other reviewers it turns into a Hollywood film - but not in a good way, as it's just a non stop chase scene which got less and less convincingly likely. I got bored and started skipping through.
For one thing the Collector may not be human, but the 'meat suit' he's wearing is, and we're asked to believe he could keep going with the amount of damage he sustained, with practically no sleep, food or rest? No, not really. Not exactly a spoiler: he has a fight with a demon and felt 'something snap' in his arm. Shortly afterwards he's climbing a fire escape with two good arms. Really? The dialogue is terribly clichéd, and the 16 year old girl doesn't talk or act like one. Also distracting was the annoying overuse of 'atop' and 'horrid'.
Anyway, sorry, I won't read the next book. I wouldn't say to avoid this one, it just isn't my taste.
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VINE VOICETOP 1000 REVIEWERon 29 February 2012
Before I say anything about the content of "Dead Harvest" I'd like to compliment the terrific cover - complete with printed grime - which reminded me of the classic Penguin crime of the 1950s or 60s (though those were green - perhaps copyright wouldn't allow that!). It really does look like a well read paperback you might pick up at a jumble sale or in a second hand bookshop.

But what about the story? I was in two minds here.

On the positive side, it's an absorbing story of supernatural evil colliding with two very different lives - Sam, the Collector of the subtitle, whose role is to harvest souls and send them somewhere rather warm, and Kate, Sam's latest "commission", who's suspected of slaughtering her family.

Something is wrong, and nobody - be they demon or angel - will give Sam straight answer. As a concept, this transplant of the down at heel PI to a supernatural setting must be a winner, especially when - as in the second half of the book - the story proceeds with almost non stop action and leads to a satisfying and thrilling conclusion.

However, I was less sure about the first part, which seemed a bit slow to get going, and rather weighed down by explanations. Given the peculiar nature of the setup, Holm obviously needs to get across to the reader the abilities (and limitations) of his Collectors, demons, angels and other participants but for me, the flow is broken rather too often by scenes where Kate says "But why can't you just do [whatever]" and Sam then takes a page or two saying just why. Especially when some of these rules seem fairly arbitrary.

Once all this has been established, things do, as I said, move on a lot more quickly and it does all begin to make sense, of a sort, so I wouldn't want to make too much of this. It's a promising start to a series, and I was especially taken by the way that Holm weaves Sam's life history into his current predicament, making him a character who seems pyschologically (and theologically!) credible.

Overall, very enjoyable, if I could I might rate this 3 and a half stars rather than 4 but I still regard that as a good rating, especially for a first book. I'm looking forward to the next book, of which an extract is included.
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on 27 October 2013
Dark Harvest could have been an excellent novel. It is an original concept and contains some nice moody writing. But for me the fundamental failure of the book was the plot. The motivation of the characters was weak and lacked depth and hence the plot seemed forced at many places. The main issue I have, however, is with the turning point in book; there is a random piece of luck or coincidence which then empowers the main character. This 'find' is never explained and struck me as lazy writing - (warning plot 'such as it is' spoiler) it seems the author is basically not sure how to get out of the situation where the all power demon is going to destroy the place so he sticks a magic jar in handy reach of the hero -- this magic jar fragment helps said hero survive the rest of the book. There are so many other sophisticated ways the hero could have become empowered - but no the random magic item is used. It does mean I will not be reading any more of his books even if the writing gets better.
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on 28 November 2012
I was looking forward to reading this from the other reviews and it didnt disappoint. I finished it in a couple of days. Highly recommended!

Incidentally, another reviewer compared it to Constantine (the movie) but it reminded me of the original (the graphic novel).
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on 21 December 2012
Excellent first book in New series that concentrates on a character call Sam who is a soul collector. The story is very well told with plenty of noir elements, setting is New York can't wait to download and read the next book.
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on 4 March 2013
... on the undead concept. Aggressive, exciting writing from a new (to me) writer for a niche publisher that takes care with it product; the cover caught my eye and the contents did not disappoint.
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on 29 April 2014
Great premise and started off well. Turned into one long chase sequence and the noir elements took a bit of a back seat. Very abrupt ending felt contrived.
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