Series: THE COLLECTOR
Plot Type: UF
Ratings: V5; S1; H2
Publisher and Titles: Angry Robot
Dead Harvest (2/2012)
The Wrong Goodbye (9/2012)
Sam's Brethren assignment affords the author the opportunity to indulge in a plethora of detailed descriptions of each Brethren monster and each locale, sometimes to the point of overload. It also gives Holm a platform from which to rage against the crimes of humanity: war, greed, climate change, media celebration of criminals, beauty pageant moms, and so forth. These mini-diatribes added little or nothing to the drama of the story. In fact these two story elements—the monster twist and the cultural sermons—are, unfortunately, an authorial affectation that actually interrupts and thus weakens the plot.
This assignment puts Sam in a position in which he is forced to jump into living bodies rather than into the newly dead ones that he usually chooses. As Sam learns to appreciate the perks of the living over the dead, he begins to wonder if he is losing his humanity—particularly when some of his meat-suits lose their lives. At one point, Sam thinks to himself, "I kept telling myself it was on account of access or some other necessity, but the fact is, the Sam of old would have found another way. When it comes right down to it, taking living vessels was...easier than it used to be. Less hand-wringy. Maybe my heart was growing harder. Maybe something inside me had given up....Whatever the reason, it troubled me, but not enough to stop. That alone was enough to make me wonder if I'd lost something fundamental to what made me me." (p. 157)
The plot begins as a straightforward journey for Sam: a march from one villain to the next, with brief scenes with Lilith in between. Then, at the very end, the author reaches back to book 1 and book 2, both for characters and theme (of friendship). Sam says, "Credit [them] for showing me I was not alone. That I was better with friends by my side." (p. 324) (I can't tell you the identity of "them" because that would be a spoiler.)
An additional perk of this book is the inclusion of four "Then" chapters, which followed Sam from the end of his human life through his rebirth as a Collector and the completion of his first assignment, which involves a major personality of WWII. (Remember, Sam became a Collector in 1944.) We learn all the details of his deal with the demon, Dumas, and we witness Sam's first encounter with Lilith as she teaches him the basics of being a Collector.
Once again, Lilith emerges as an enigmatic figure with an extremely complicated history. She appears in all of the "Then" scenes, in the connecting scenes between the Brethren tales, and as the star of the compelling resolution scene. The ending is fascinating and completely unpredictable, although parts of it are entirely improbable—but then this is fantasy so how could anything be improbable? I'll just say that parts of the final Brethren battle verge on the use of a deus ex machina, and that usually means that the author has painted himself into a corner and must grasp outside the plot for a means to rescue the hero—and the story line.
In an essay that is included at the end of book 2, the author discusses the series as it relates to noir fiction and explains the connections between his writing and that of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, whose classic titles he "subtly twisted to suit my own nefarious purposes": Hammett's Red Harvest and Chandler's The Long Goodbye and The Big Sleep.
In this book we are introduced to the legendary Brethren, a group of nine former Collectors who managed to find a way to break away permanently from their forced servitude to Hell. Unfortunately, the spell they used to make their escape caused worldwide devastation, so they are not looked upon kindly by either Heaven or Hell. In the next book, Sam will get up close and personal with all nine of the Brethren.
All in all, this book is stronger than book 1, which had to spend a lot of time in world-building and early character development. Now, we have an in-depth picture of Sam and his driving need to be one of the good guys. The supporting characters in this book are terrific, particularly Gio (the dead mobster) and Dumas. The Texas oilman started out to be interesting but wound up as the stereotypical grizzled old man with a heart of gold. The ending is a soft cliff hanger that puts Sam in a position of being transported to an unknown destination, and I'm looking forward to finding out where he's going next. Click HERE to read an excerpt from The Wrong Goodbye.