Hang on to your hats, people. This is a wild one.
The main character in Chris F. Holm’s novel Dead Harvest goes by many names and lives in many bodies. His real name is Sam Thornton, but that body is old news. You see, Sam is a Collector. His purgatory of a job is to collect the souls of the damned and send them to hell. He gets all sorts of special powers, but none that make his especially happy. Sam’s soul is damned as well.
The book opens with a collection—the good kind. But his very next assignment goes very, very wrong. Kate MacNeil is marked as damned, but The Collector thinks they got it wrong. Never mind the eyewitnesses to her slaughter of her entire family. So he botches the collection on purpose, something unheard of for his job.
Some collection this was turning out to be. I’d botched the job, snatched the girl, and in all likelihood become the target of a city-wide manhunt. All of which paled in comparison to the world of shit I’d be in when word got out I’d disobeyed an order. Failure was bad enough; insubordination was… I didn’t even know what.
Far as I knew, I was the first.
So the clock was ticking.
Sam and Kate are on the run from the cops and a vast conspiracy among the undead (and real dead) world. The delicate balance between good and evil is at risk, and the consequences of Sam collection the wrong soul are almost as bad as him not collecting the soul he was told to. It’s an afterlife rock and a hard place.
Good for Sam he can jump from body to body if he needs to, though he prefers to inhabit the recently dead. (They don’t complain as much or remember anything). Holm’s handling of these out-there scenes is great. You come to fully embrace the oddities.
My mind slammed into the cop’s like a freight train. He buckled, but kept his feet. His stomach clenched, threatened to purge. By force of will, I kept it down.
For a book that straddles the line between crime, fantasy, and horror, Dead Harvest gets it all right. The central mystery could be a plot easily grafted onto any large corporate scandal. It just so happens the corporation in question here is Heaven and Hell.
I will admit to being a little lost about all the rules a Collector must live by, but all was explained in good time. I actually appreciated the slow divulging of information. For such a brand-new world it must have been tempting to top load the book with all the details of this alternate universe. I also liked that it wasn’t set in some fantasy land or way in the future. Everything is here and now, illuminating a world that supposedly takes places all around us in plain sight every day.
A here and now world where Sam converses with angels. Rather cranky angels, I might add.
“So which is it? Did you come here to spare me or to save him?”
“It is a fallacy of your human perspective that it must be one or the other. Can it not be both? Or, failing that, can it not just be?”
“You’re telling me mine is not to wonder why.”
“I’m telling you to have faith in the will of God,” the angel amended.
“Faith is belief in the absence of proof. As far as proof goes, I’ve seen my share. The way I figure it, that means faith for me is no longer an option.”
“I speak not of faith that God exists, but of faith that grace lies not beyond your reach.”
“I made my choice a long time ago. Save your talk of redemption for someone who deserves it.”
His eyes danced with mischievous cheer. “Like, perhaps, the MacNeil girl?”
“So that’s what this is about.”
“Again you persist in this fruitless quest for understanding.”
“Yeah,” I said, “I’m funny that way.”
Along the way the details of Sam’s past and how he ended up a Collector are slowly doled out, but never at the expense of the main plot, which gets very twisty and dense.
A healthy suspension of disbelief is recommended for Dead Harvest, but if you give yourself over to the strange new world Holm has created, you’ll find a very likable character in a satisfying mystery. Dead Harvest promises to be Book 1 of a series. I, for one, and intrigued to see where The Collector goes next. With an imagination like Chris F. Holm exhibits in this one, we can expect anything.
Eric Beetner is the author of Dig Two Graves, Split Decision (Book #3 in the Fight Card series) and co-author with JB Kohl of One Too Many Blows To The Head and Borrowed Trouble. His award-winning short fiction has appeared in Pulp Ink, D*cked, Off The Record, Grimm Tales, Discount Noir, Needle, Murder In The Wind and the upcoming Million Writers Award: best new online voices. For more and links to free stories visit ericbeetner.blogspot.com