Shadowhawk reviews Dead Harvest, the first novel in the adult paranormal crime fiction Collector series, written by debut author Chris F. Holm.
“An engaging novel that quickly pulls you in, Dead Harvest, has one of the most interesting and unique takes on an ages old conflict of biblical proportions. Not to be missed.” ~The Founding Fields
It is surprising how something as basic as an author who is friendly and talkative and approachable on social media can change your opinion about their work. Originally, when I got all the Angry Robot eARCs in December last year, I wasn’t planning on reading Chris’ Dead Harvest. The artwork didn’t really interest me any and neither did the back-of-the-book blurb. They both kind of seemed really high-level in getting me interested. But following Chris on twitter and having some brief and often random conversations with him about a variety of things really changed me around. I thought why not give it a try, its not like the other Angry Robot titles I have read so far this year have failed to impress me you know. So I picked it up again and started reading it.
And I have to say, I was really impressed with it.
Paranormal and Crime fiction isn’t really one of my preferences. I mean, its all either too real-worldy for me or too other-wordly. I’ve tried a lot of novels like that over the years and have never been really impressed with them any. Dead Harvest has definitely changed that around for sure. Now I’m willing to explore the two genres more, which in a cynical way, is going to end up increasing my reading load for the year and the next, not that they needed any help to begin with. My goodreads shelves are proof of that.
Anyway, what really struck me about Chris’ writing is that it is simple and straightforward with no unnecessary embellishments. His prose and narrative in general are quite easy to get into. Perhaps that is because the novel itself is written in the first person. Perhaps not.
All I can say is that Sam Thornton is a very intriguing character all around. All the characters are portrayed well, with Sam and Kate being amply fleshed out in all the right ways. Tortured characters make for great stories in my opinion and Dead Harvest really validates that for me. You can’t help not liking either of them. They are flawed in spades and yet they are believable. They are real people, pretty much like you and me. They just got the really bad end of the stick and the world just keeps spitting in their faces every chance it gets. Authors who put their characters through the meat grinder are some of my favourite authors. Glad to have Chris join that list.
For me, what really sets the “good guy” protagonists apart from the regular chaff is when they are not all goody two-shoes, but they also have a certain rough edge, a particular callousness to them. You won’t really get that from either Sam or Kate until you move in further into the novel, but it is there. Those parts add to the enjoyment of the reading experience and make it all a complete package.
Add to that the fact that Chris writes some really engaging scary characters, such as Bishop, one of Sam’s (sort of) co-workers. From the first description of him you know that things are gonna be bad from then on. And you aren’t disappointed. If you can imagine the T-1000 from Terminator 2 and put him to work as a collector of souls of sinners, your expectation and view of Bishop wouldn’t be far off the truth. Not much.
And the same goes for some of the villains in the novel. They do inspire a certain dread in the reader and they aren’t run-of-the-mill bad guys either. There is actually a certain depth to them and that is good. An appreciable touch to their characterisation that I rather liked.
The pacing of the novel is pretty much right on the money too. The opening chapters can be a little slow but they don’t bog you down with any unnecessary dialogue or description or anything else. You just have to keep turning the page and read on to see what’s going to happen next to Sam, Kate and their various accomplices over the course of the novel. And the plot picks up really quickly too as the action happens pretty much all over the state of New York. Lots of car chases, foot chases, hand-to-hand fights and what not. The sheer variety in the action scenes is one of the surprisingly great features of the novel.
World-building is something else that Chris gets right here. With a surprising economy of words, Chris brings London and New York (in two separate timelines) to alive in a way that only a fast-paced action thriller can. With flashbacks aplenty, we are given a lot of insight into New York of the past and of the future. The particular “world” created by Chris is also very much alive and distinct too.
The story itself was something of an unexpected surprise. Dead Harvest is about angels and demons, heaven and hell, sinners and non-sinners. Definitely not the impression you get from a pass-by reading of the back-of-the-cover blurb or the artwork itself. While reading the bits dealing with angels and demons, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Phillip Pullman’s great characterisation of them in the His Dark Materials trilogy. Those are some of the most enjoyable novels I’ve read (although I really didn’t understand that I enjoyed them when I read since that was a good ten years or so back). The way that Chris works them into the narrative and the dominating plotlines and the way he ends the novel just make you hungry to see more of these angelic and demonic characters.
With all the intensive reading I’m doing this year (the 200 challenge that me and Bane of Kings are taking a part in), its nice to have some variety, real variety in what I’m reading. Dead Harvest definitely fits into that slot because it is so different from what I usually and have read this year. It is paranormal, it is detective, it is adult (in a non-sexual way), it is crime, it is noir, it is biblical and kinda also a little bit of horror and historical, depending on how you view certain parts of it. Adult is kind of a catch-all genre division that works for a LOT of different fiction genres but again, I don’t usually read actual adult fiction. I wouldn’t really call some of the Warhammer 40,000 or Warhammer Fantasy fiction adult fiction on quite that level, at least not as compared to most other novels. Hope that makes some kind of sense.
Essentially, and not to belabour the point, Dead Harvest is about as different as it gets for me and it has peaked my interest in crime fiction when all is said and done and read.
With everything that Chris has got right in Dead Harvest, it is quite hard to believe that this is a debut novel. It pretty much echoes my feelings for Adam Christopher’s Empire State or Anne Lyle’s The Alchemist of Souls, both also from the great guys at Angry Robot.
So would I recommend this novel? Oh hell yes I recommend this novel. I had massive fun reading it and following Sam and Kate on their troublesome adventures and I can’t wait for the sequel to come out. Chris has set the stage quite nicely for The Wrong Goodbye. Somewhat ominous isn’t it? The novel has ended on a high and it looks like the stakes are gonna get even bigger in the next installment. And that’s all fine and dandy as far as I’m concerned.