Thursday, October 11, 2012
100 Books #95 - Chris F. Holm's THE WRONG GOODBYE
Stop me if you've heard this one. Boy meets corpse. Boy tries to harvest soul from corpse. Boy finds out that someone else already took it. Boy is in big, big trouble. There is no girl. Nor is there a spoon.
It's not even been two months since I read and enjoyed the first book in Chris F. Holm's Collector series, Dead Harvest, so the fact that I was eager to return to it says something, either about what else I've been reading (*cough* too much Dark Tower) or about how much I liked that first book, or both.
Let's say "both."
The Wrong Goodbye is not merely another adventure for our beleaguered soul-collector, Sam, though it would seem like such at first as he slogs through rain-washed jungles of Columbia to gather up the mean, mean soul of one Varela, drug kingpin, power broker and all around bad guy. But then the problem kicks in, and it's a doozy: someone else got there first. Someone who left behind the nastiest crime scene, maybe ever (especially if you don't like insects*). Someone who absconded with Varela's soul and carved a "hey buddy, we have to talk" message to Sam into Varela's corpse.
Before we know it, Sam, victim of a bait-and-switch, is traipsing all over the U.S. in the company of a dead low-level mobster who has been shoehorned into the fat old body of "the sausage king of Chicago" (wink wink) hunting down the guy who stole the soul and left the message. Along the way, we learn a bit more of Sam's incredible backstory, but where in Dead Harvest it was all about how he got to be a Collector, in The Wrong Goodbye the backstory focus is on his early Collecting days, during which he broke a lot of really important rules. Which is to say that even before the near-apocalyptic events of the first book, Sam has been on a lot of supernatural radars, none of them friendly.
Sam and his mobster-cum-sausage king** encounter quite a lot of genuine horror in this book, all of it dealt with extremely effectively. An extended scene exploring a decrepit sanitarium in the New Mexico desert evokes shades of every nightmare you've ever had, and every horror game you've ever had to play with the lights on (Fatal Frame, I'm looking at you) -- while, get this, simultaneously making the reader feel sorry for the demons hanging out there. It's all very complicated and I don't want to spoil it but man, it's a bravura performance Holm has done, there, and worth the price of the book alone.
But wait, there's more! Like two dead guys who are animating two other dead guys' bodies having an argument over whether one is to be allowed to smoke indoors. Giant evil mega-demons quoting The Big Lebowski. A weird carjacking of a vehicle so beautiful even a non gearhead like me can appreciate it. An action-packed final third that riffs on and builds from the action-packed final third of Dead Harvest and turns it all up to eleven -- until comes a twist ending that, even if you did see it coming, is a pretty satisfying payoff.
And through it all, we have Sam, still trying, despite his damned and undead status, to be a decent guy, to do the right thing, to keep the world from being completely destroyed. Again. Because he's Sam, a guy who went into perdition out of pure and selfless love, and who, yes, is bitter about it, but has not given up the struggle to stay good even so. I heart Sam, I really do.
All of this makes for very good, page-turning fiction. One might think she knows where all of this is heading, but one might be wrong. Or not. Either way, very enjoyable.
And yes, there is obviously going to be at least one more Collector book, to which part of me says, jeeze, how many times can one guy save the world, but to which the rest of me says, hey, Sam's a lot more likeable than Buffy...
*And speaking of insects, if you have a phobia about them, this book is going to scare you silly. There are swarms of giant, angry insects -- The Deliverants, who accept and pass collected souls along to Hell -- dogging Sam's every step through this one. They want their two dollars, you guys. A lot.
**Coo, that sounds a bit naughty, doesn't it?