Sam Thornton*, Soul Collector. That would look pretty good on a business card, wouldn't it? Sam was a pretty normal bloke, low on cash and trying to provide for his sick wife, when he made a bad deal. The kind of deal where his end of the bargain leaves him doomed to walk the earth for eternity collecting the souls of the damned. His latest assignment is to collect the soul of a girl who murdered her family, but he senses something's off. For the first time in recorded history, a collector refuses to perform his duty. Sam's refusal could lead to a full-scale war between heaven and hell, but if he collects an innocent soul, war would break out just the same.
Dead Harvest is a heady blend of a whole lot of different genres. Filed under "urban fantasy", it contains elements of hard-boiled fiction, fantasy, horror, white-knuckled thriller (fighting on a helicopter!), and a bunch of others that I could probably pick out on another reading. In fact, there are certain elements of Sam's story that follow the path of the classic Hero's Journey. I read a lot of crime and thrillers and no supernatual books, so I was wondering how wobbly I'd get if Holm got deep into the soul collecting aspects. There are sections that get pretty heavy with demons and possession, but Holm handles these elements with aplomb. The world he created has a definite set of rules, which we are slowly made aware of through the story.
A stumbling block for a lot of debut authors, at least those who made their bones writing short stories, is thinking too small. Their first novels feel like padded short stories. That's not the case here. Holm created a world that feels real enough and a story epic enough that you have a hard time believing this is his first published novel. He's also unafraid of deploying his prodigious vocabulary or descriptive prowess ("Light spilled through the window of the pub as I watched them, casting patches of yellow across the darkened street but conveying no warmth.") in service of advancing the story.
I've mentioned Chris Holm on this blog before, and I'll reiterate that I think he's a fantastic writer. Check out any of the short stories he's had published online or the first couple chapters of Dead Harvest over at Criminal Element, and I think you'll agree with me. Dead Harvest is available now and the second Collector book, The Wrong Goodbye, will be available in October 2012.
*I tried to figure out why I liked that name so much until I realized it was an amalgamation of the names of hard-boiled legends Samuel Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Thornton Chandler; a fact confirmed at least once by Holm in his avalance of pre-release interviews.