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Shadowhawk reviews the sequel to Chris F. Holm’s stellar debut about angels and demons and the soul-gatherers known only as the Collectors.
“The Wrong Goodbye is an unrestrained joyride that will leave you breathless by the time you are done.“ ~The Founding Fields
Having a lot of books to read is a part and parcel of life for any reviewer, irrespective of what genre they cover. There’s always another book, another audio drama, another comic, etc that you just have to read but can’t because them’s the breaks and you can only really read so much. I’ve been buried under an avalanche of books myself for the last few months, print and digital, no thanks in small measure to NetGalley (its good for you, and its bad for you!). Which is why I was so late in getting around to The Wrong Goodbye, reading it earlier this month. I had planned on reading it earlier but was unable because of the aforementioned reason. I’m glad I waited though, because reading the book set a good standard for all the books that I have and will be reading this month. Beginning the month on a high with a book like this is always a good thing.
When I reviewed Dead Harvest earlier this year, I was all praise for Chris. Dead Harvest was a debut novel that felt like it came from the hand of an experienced and long-established author. The characters were just right, the dialogue was just right, the pacing was just right, and so on, apart from a small few little things here and there. Going into The Wrong Goodbye I had all that in mind as I kept wondering whether or not Chris’ second book would impress me as much as his first, whether it would suffer from the middle-book syndrome that so many books do.
I’ll tell you right now: The Wrong Goodbye is nothing like that. I’d thought before that it would be pretty tough to top a novel like Dead Harvest but Chris has proved me wrong, and done it with fantastic style to boot.
This time around, the story isn’t noir-crime-pulp with a healthy dose of christian mythology thrown in. It is more carefree, and it deals heavily with urban fantasy elements. To be honest, I was very much expecting the former but over the course of the novel, I found that the shift in focus did work for me, just as much as the former had. It is still pulpy to a degree but we aren’t solving murders anytime soon, rather, we are on the hunt for those who have stolen a soul that Sam Thornton, our protagonist, was sent to collect. So there aren’t any big police car chases or detective-type stuff going on. Its all a big cross-country chase to put off the end of the world and make sure that Hell’s dues are duly accounted for.
Sam Thornton is just as great as ever. He still makes wise-cracks, can go from relaxed to angry in two seconds flat, can still be scared out of his wits in one, and is still the guy you want to root for. A typical good guy in atypical circumstances, circumstances involving black magic, soul-stealing, carjacking, extra-dimensional entities, and drugs. I remarked in my Dead Harvest review that Chris puts Sam through a pretty brutal meat-grinder of a plot, squeezing out every bit of awesomeness from his character. In The Wrong Goodbye he gives Sam a bit of a breather, although the tensions are no less for him. If he wasn’t already dead, Sam Thornton would keep bursting blood vessels due to multiple aneurisms. So I’m glad he’s already dead, in a weird morbidly-fascinating kind of way. If you are expecting the same Sam Thornton from the first book, then you get him. If you are expecting a more worldly and experienced Sam Thornton, you get him too. Be assured that there is plenty of growth for the character in this novel and that you won’t be disappointed in him.
If you are…. well… you can just blame the goddamn demons then.
Speaking of demons, they took more of a centerstage in this novel than the previous one. Dumas, the demon who brought Sam into Hell’s service, appears for the first time and his entry and the rest of his scenes are really memorable. I don’t want to give away too much about him, but his character and personality are par with Sam’s own. Leastwise in the wise-cracking attitude department, they could both be brothers and once you see Dumas do his own thing, its no surprise that it is he who brought Sam into the fold. Sam may hate his guts but they are both a natural fit for each other.
Then there’s Lilith as well, Sam’s handler. The woman who got exiled from Eden and become a demon, high on the sensuality scale. We see a bit more of her in The Wrong Goodbye than we did in Dead Harvest, and its nice to see a slightly different portrayal of her this time around. The fallout from Sam’s actions in the previous novel have had serious repercussions among both the angels and demons, and she looks out for him, in essence. Mostly out of self-preservation but there are hints of something more. Maybe Lilith has grown fond of Sam, to a degree. Thumbs up to one of the most fun characters in the book.
There’s also Sam’s new “sidekick” Gio. He is a Vegas hustler and mafia man whose soul was meant to go to Hell but he has instead become caught up in the conspiracy that Sam has become a helpless victim of and is trying to unravel. For most of the novel he spends his time in the body of a recently deceased, very much like how Sam spends his earthly time. Its a nice contrast to the Collector and while Chris does a decent job of that comparison, I felt that it was lacking. Gio should have been portrayed as much more freaked out over the whole affair than he does. After all, Sam is an experienced body-jumper, Gio isn’t and he had no idea that he would be walking around in a meat-suit after death, rather than being either in Heaven or Hell. That was one of the two things that I think could have been handled better.
One character that I missed in this novel was Kate from Dead Harvest. Given the revelations about her character in the book, I fully expected to see more of her in The Wrong Goodbye but sadly that was not to be. I dearly hope that she makes a comeback since I enjoyed her first outing.
The Wrong Goodbye is a pacier novel than its predecessor. It has a bit of a slow, easy start but it picks up considerably by around the third chapter and after that its in non-stop action mode and Chris’ meat-grinder begins as Heaven and Hell throw one obstacle after another before Sam, and more besides, for there are other beings in the universe than just angels and demons. One scene in particular, involving a car crash with Sam and Gio is really memorable because of how much it changes the whole playing board for them, introducing a brand new player that they couldn’t have imagined in their wildest dreams. Said character is related to the Deliverants, the actual deliverers of a soul to Hell once its buried by a Collector. We see two different types of Deliverants too in the book: crows and insects (of the beetle and roach kind particularly). There are also hints that there are more types of Deliverants. Exciting concept that I’d like to see more of!
Like I said earlier, The Wrong Goodbye is much more of an action thriller this time around rather than a noir crime pulp like Dead Harvest. The change in style certainly suits the narrative much better as the same elements would not have worked out this time around. Reading the book, I felt that Chris did a good job of writing it as if it were a standalone story, rather than a long, continuous story part of a trilogy or some such. The episodic feel works and I believe that it is another good approach to the series. The narrative certainly depend much on the reader having prior knowledge of what happened in the previous book as Chris drops hints and clues to it aplenty here.
Another thing that really worked for this novel is the theme of redemption mixed in with acceptance of one’s fate. This is represented in the main by Gio, but applies equally to Sam as well. Throughout the novel, Sam makes a very conscious effort to keep Gio’s fate from him, that he is now outside of the grace of God and really is destined for an eternity in Hell. This adds a very human touch to Sam’s character, not that he was lacking in it already, but it also enhances his relationship with Gio much in the same way as the relationship between Sam and Kate in the previous book. Gio puts up a good front when he does finally understand what his new (soon to be) life entails, and its almost heartbreaking to watch when put in the context of his blind girlfriend who is also a seer of sorts. Lots of shenanigans in the final third of the book!
Overall, The Wrong Goodbye is an excellent book and is a worthy sequel to Dead Harvest. It shows that Chris is a very consistent writer and that he can write characters with the same flair and attention whether it is a debut novel or a sequel. I expect even more goodness from him for his next book and I’m sure that he’ll deliver on it. Definitely one of the top finds of the year for me, thanks to the good folks at Angry Robot Books.