Things haven’t shaken out Sam Thornton’s way for quite some time. Driven by desperation and good intentions, Sam made a very bad decision many decades ago. And you know what they say about good intentions.
Yeah, the road to Hell.
Thing is, Sam didn’t make it all the way down that road, but got detoured into Purgatory and shanghaied into eternal employment as a soul collector. If your time has come and the powers that be have marked you for damnation, it’s Sam’s job to remove your soul and send it on its way to hell.
It’s a rather unpleasant experience for both parties.
Things go from unpleasant to unheard of, however, when Sam is assigned to collect Kate MacNeil’s soul. At first blush is seems like a no-brainer since the young woman was caught red-handed, literally, having just butchered her family. Slaughter three people, go to Hell. Makes sense.
So imagine Sam’s surprise when upon attempting to collect Kate’s soul he’s met with an outpouring of purity so overwhelming he’s convinced she didn’t commit the crime; she’s been improperly marked for damnation. However, one does not simply refuse to collect the assigned soul. It’s never happened in the history of, well, ever. Failure to collect Kate’s soul is sure to seriously piss off the denizens of Hell who’ve claimed it. On the other hand, improperly sending a pure soul to Hell for damnation could touch off a war with Heaven.
Unwilling to concede there’s nothing that can be done about the situation, Sam takes Kate on the run until he can figure out a way to appease the demons without enraging the angels. Of course Sam and Kate also have to stay one step ahead of the humans who are after them. You know, the police who are convinced Sam helped a cold-blooded murderess escape from the psychiatric until of the hospital where she was under police guard. Oh, and there’s also the little matter of a replacement collector – a sort of spiritual relief pitcher – who’s been sent to get done what Sam has refused to do. If he can pull it off, Sam will have saved an innocent soul and done something no collector ever has. If he fails, well, it probably means an all out war between Heaven and Hell and global Armageddon for humanity. Either way, Sam’s about to make history.
Those who’ve read author Chris Holm’s accomplished work in the short story format are well-aware of how talented a writer the man is. He’s been an Anthony Award nominee, a Derringer Award finalist, and his collection, 8 Pounds, made numerous best of the year lists, including mine. And despite all that, I was still completely blown away by the tour de force that is Dead Harvest. In the hands of a less skilled author an attempt to mesh as many different genres as are represented in Dead Harvest would undoubtedly have ended up a jumbled, rudderless mess. Not so here. No, Holm takes a pinch of fantasy, a little supernatural, a dash of hardboiled crime fiction, and blends them into a pitch-perfect adventure in a way that is nothing short of authorial alchemy.
While undoubtedly burned-out, jaded, and world-weary – not to mention damned – Sam also somehow manages to still recognize and appreciate the goodness left in humanity, and feels obligated to find a way to keep them from becoming collateral damage in a war not of their making and over which they have no control. He’s also just damn stubborn, and tired of being Purgatory’s mindless errand boy, which makes him a great underdog to root for. Similarly, Kate is not just some helpless human caught up in events but demands, much to Sam’s frustration, to take an active role in helping Sam find a solution. Along the way they encounter an array of angels, demons, and oddities whose motives and allegiances they must continually question if they’re going to get through this mess with their souls intact.
Yes, in Dead Harvest Holm has created a character and reality that are amazingly engaging and ripe for additional exploration, which is why it’s so exciting to know there are two sequels yet to come. And they can’t get here soon enough to suit me.
Dead Harvest (ISBN: 978-0857662170) will be released by Angry Robot Books on February 28th.
And be sure to read Chris’s guest post, “Hell is ‘Round the Corner.”