Skip to main content

Review of "Wrong Goodbye" by Chris F. Holm

I finished Chris F. Holm's pulp paranormal thriller 'Wrong Goodbye' this week, the impressive second novel in his 'Collector' series. I had the pleasure of catching up with Chris this summer at Readercon and I have to say this is the writing, foremost, of a committed story-teller. In that, I mean, Chris has a tale to tell and he goes about the business of telling it with style and authority.

If you haven't read the first novel in the series: 'The Dead Harvest,' I suggest you do so, but it isn't strictly speaking necessary in terms of understanding what's going on in the plot. The anti-hero of the series is Sam Thorton, a 'Collector,' a disembodied spirit capable of leaping from one body to the next in pursuit of condemned souls to cast into Hell - basically an infernal repo man. Not the most sympathetic of protagonists but like all the best noire archetypes, the road to his particular hell was paved with good intentions.

Not that Chris's stories waste a lot of time being mopey. Starting with a bang in the steamy jungles of South America, Sam walks into a double-cross at hands if an old friend, Danny Young. Danny lifts a soul Sam was assigned to harvest, an act that puts Sam in very hot-water with the powerful forces he works for. Sam has no choice but to set off on a chase for Danny and the missing soul before it's his own turn to be collected.

What I appreciated most about 'The Wrong Goodbye' is how the swift brutal prose in his first book has begun to mutate into something far more chatty and atmospheric in his second. 'The Dead Harvest' was a pulp crime thriller, 'The Wrong Goodbye' is a pulp road movie. The best I can do to describe it is the first book was like Reservoir Dogs after a script consult by Kevin Smith; this book feels like Tarrantino channelling some Bill Bourroughs on his way to film "On the Road." The first book was all business, the second takes the time out to chill with its appealingly scruffy characters. In the later sections especially, I think Chris really makes the sordid locations come to (un)life with ghoulish skill.

I'd like to see more of that honestly in the next novel. 'The Wrong Goodbye' found a way to weave a great number of disparate locations and literary motifs into one coherent vision. The set-piece inside what amounted to a demon's crack den was pure Lovecraft fan service. The 'amoral pilgrimage' vibe of the second act reminded me of Hunter S Thompson without ever slipping into pastiche. I'd like writing that takes me places I can't visit. So my question is what other places, people, and set-ups The Collector' series can claim its own.
Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Review of I Wish I Was Like You by S.P. Miskowski

Even 23 years later, I remember 1994 and Kurt Cobain's death. I experienced that moment as a kind of inside out personal crisis. I felt ashamed by his death. As though his exit in someway indicted my own teenage miseries. "I wish I was like you," goes the verse in 'All Apologies,' "Easily amused." I felt as though a check I hadn't remembered writing had just been cashed. 


SP Miskowski's book, named after the first half of that line, is in the words of another reviewer, a novel that shouldn't work. The narrator is unlikeable, unreliable, and dead. The plot is almost entirely told as a flashback and long sections of the novel concern the inner processes of the writer. The daily grind to summon up enough self-esteem to carry a sentence to its logical conclusion is a real struggle, people, but it ain't exactly riveting.

But the thing is, this novel works. It is one of the best things I've read all year and a real achievement in weird ficti…

What I Read in 2017

The third in my series of year-end lists is literature. As in past years, I've divided this post into two categories: Novels and short stories. Each of these stories made 2017 just a bit brighter for me and I hope this list includes at least a writer or two new to you.


Novels:
I Wish I was You by SP Miskowski: This was the subject of a review earlier this year. The way I feel about this novel, the tragedy of a talented person crippled by anger and regret, transformed into a monstrous avatar of wrath, has not really left me. Beyond the perfection of its prose and its preternatural subject matter, I feel like this is one of the best evocations of the mid-nineties I've seen published. There's something about this book that lingers with me long past the concerns of its plot and characters. I guess what I'm trying to say is this work moved me. 2017 would have been a lot dimmer if I hadn't read this work.New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson: Robinson writes next-level sp…

Review of "Pretty Marys All in a Row" by Gwendolyn Kiste

Part of the reason American Gods works is that it offers a kind of reward to folk lore mavens and religious study majors. Do you have a working familiarity with obscure Northern European mythologies? Are you able to describe what Neil Gaiman got right and what he fudged a bit in terms of the Egyptian religion? Then the guessing games of that novel - just which Middle Eastern Goddess is this? - magnify its other charms. 
"Pretty Marys All in a Row" by Gwendolyn Kiste (released by Broken Eye Books), is a novella for people, like me, who are waiting impatiently for the next season of Bryan Fuller's show. It's not set in that universe, certainly, but approaches the question of folklore from a similar perspective. Namely, that myths have a definite, physical explanation and your knowledge of such things will expand your enjoyment of the work. In the case of Pretty Marys, the stories are urban legends and nursery rhymes about young women. The main character, Rhee, is named…