Terry Weyna’s review of Dead Harvest, by Chris F. Holm, certainly intrigued me, and when I came across the book with its clever 1940s cover, I had to get it. Then it was “strap in, and keep your hands inside the vehicle at all times,” as I devoured this fast-paced, convoluted thrill ride.
Sam Thornton is a Collector, a damned soul who is sent back to earth to collect other damned souls and deliver them to Hell. His handler is a beautiful demon named Lilith — yes, she’s that Lilith — who gives him a simple assignment. He is to collect the soul of a teen-aged girl in New York who is guilty of the torture murder of her entire family. There isn’t any doubt that she did it. She cut her mother’s throat in full view of the police who broke in to stop her. Sam figures this is a quick and easy assignment, yet he is literally stunned by the blinding purity of the girl’s soul when he touches it. The rules say that an innocent soul cannot be delivered to Hell, but how can this girl Kate be innocent? Sam and Kate go on the run. Both demons and angels want the girl dead, and her unrestrained violence towards demons makes Sam doubt himself at times, especially when demons themselves are telling him that she has him fooled.
The action is nearly nonstop as Sam and Kate try to evade the NYPD, demons, angels and everyday muggers. In the best detective noir tradition, Sam is lied to and doubled-crossed by informants and colleagues. As Sam struggles to keep Kate alive and work out the puzzle of the murders, Holm also unfolds the poignant story of how Sam became a Collector. Sam’s fall from grace, related by Sam in an unsentimental manner, is tragic because he is a good man in a desperate situation, manipulated into doing evil.
Kate never read like a teenager to me. I would put her age at twenty-six or twenty-seven just from the way she speaks. It doesn’t matter. She’s the damsel in distress, the Dame with a Problem, and her age isn’t important to the story. Holm stays true to detective noir throughout the story and burnishes it with Sam’s dry, sardonic first-person delivery. He gets extra points from me for coming up with the most unusual and innovative demon-killing weapon ever.
I was left with a few questions about the world-building after I put the book down, but they never occurred to me while I was reading Sam’s battle with a demon in a crowded antique warehouse or walking with Kate and Sam through the ruins of Grand Central Terminal, victim of an angelic attack. The book held my interest and made me stay up too late to finish it. Brian Vander Ark reads Dead Harvest for Brilliance Audio. His voice was a bit too young for the world-weary Sam, but he has a good sense of drama and pacing, and he did a fine job with the other characters; Pinch, Anders and Kate. He gives Lilith a wonderful, sinister purr. Audio book readers should enjoy this interpretation.
Holm’s title (a take on Hammett’s Red Harvest) and the title of the upcoming book, The Wrong Good-bye, conveys his commitment to supernatural noir. Bring on Book Two! I don’t want to wait.