Let’s start this one off with a different tack; let’s have an image:-
I think that’s a lovely cover. Reminiscent of 1970’s textbooks whilst also looking tremendously pulpy and noirish. Which is exactly the type of thing Chris Holm is going for with this one. It’s on the Angry Robot imprint, a Nottingham book publisher who tend to publish genre fiction, this fits right into that. I’ve read a few Angry Robot books at this point, 2 by Adam Christopher and another by Lauren Beuke, all three were very good and this is no exception.
First Lines:- “Light spilled through the window of the pub as I watched them, casting patches of yellow across the darkened street but conveying no warmth”
Not a bad intro as these things go I think, it’s pretty redolent of place, but beyond that there’s not much to go on. That said within a few lines we get to the crux of the matter in a very short chapter, and I’ve chosen not to write anymore of the beginning for fear of spoilers. So, yes, it’s not great as opening lines go, but the caveat is that it’s more of an opening chapter rather than just opening lines, and to reduce it to such really isn’t that helpful.
Thoughts :- Ok, so the premise of the plot is that the main character Sam, is a collector. He collects souls of the damned, literally reaching in and taking them. As you might imagine he’s possessed of other powers too, for example he can inhabit the bodies of both the living (or what he calls meat suits) and the dead; which he prefers as the dead don’t really think. As the book begins we find him chasing a particular soul only to discover that he’s not sure it deserves to be taken, and that’s were the book takes off.
It’s well written and it’s a page turner, as these books tend to be, or at least are described as being. As I said at the beginning the pulpish looking cover is highly accurate. The book is meant to reflect 30’s (I think) detective novels so we get a tough, no holds barred, narrator who smokes and talks in a gritty way, but it doesn’t feel too much like pastiche, it fits very well. The antagonists are well drawn too, baddies yes, but they are for the most part demons who inhabit a morally grey area, a great idea as it happens because it leaves the reader with a sense of not knowing which characters to trust, something that is centrally important to the novel itself. It’s an accomplished book too, it uses a flashback narrative to relate how Sam became a collector, but manages to tie that in to the present without being convoluted. It’s big strength for me though, is that despite the fantastical plotlines the book is set in the urban now, and for the most part it’s almost believable, so that instead of being a fantasy/sci-fi novel with an urban setting, at times it’s an urban city novel which just happens to have a touch of fantasy about it.
Sadly it’s also one of its weakness, or it is for me. See the book follows some of the tropes of a blockbuster action movie, one of which is that there must be some sort of huge action set piece. There’s a few in this one, but the main one with the helicopter is just ridiculous and highly unlikely. I know that it’s something that should be expected in a fiction novel, and you’ve got to be imaginative and all that, but when the author has done a great job of keeping to a real life setting, and using a real attention to detail in the rest of the book, this set piece just served to pull me out of the story in a highly disappointing manner.
It didn’t ruin the book though, because it pulls off something which quite a few other authors writing in this kind of genre don’t, and that’s to have a strong ending. It’s a fairly open ending because there are (almost inevitably) sequels to come, but it does tidy up any loose ends and feel enormously satisfying at the end.
It’s a fine achievement for a first novel, and if you want to read something a bit different then this is definitely for you. For once the quotes in the book are right, it really is a page turner and it won’t take you long to read it. It’s a fun, well written, different take on the detective novel and as such it’s well worth a go. I for one will be reading the second and third volumes just as soon as I can.