Top positive review
One person found this helpful
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.