Sunday, April 22, 2012

Blackbirds Coming Home to Roost

Chuck Wendig
Angry Robot Books
3 May 2012
320pp B-format paperback
£7.99 UK

24 April 2012
320pp mass-market paperback
$7.99 US $8.99 CAN

24 April 2012

This is a novel that will most likely appeal to fans of Joe R. Lansdale.  It's a high octane ride through the dark recesses of humanity, a smashing blend of noir and the supernatural that combines the best of classic crime novels with downright genuine creepiness.

I absolutely loved it.  With one small exception.

That exception being the level of profanity, which is extremely high.  There comes a point above which I will put a book down if the profanity level reaches it simply because I'm trying to tune out the language to the point I can't focus on the story.  This book passed that point, and not only did I keep reading, but I turned the pages as fast as I could.  I'm making an issue of this because I want you to understand how good the writing was to make me keep reading.  I can name on one hand the number of writers I will knowingly read who works contain that level of profanity.  Chuck Wendig is now numbered among them (as is the aforementioned Mr. Lansdale).

Part of the appeal is the voice Wendig uses to tell his story.  More on that in a bit.  In case you aren't familiar with the plot, here's a brief summary.  Miriam Black has a special ability, the ability to see how and when a person will die.  All it takes is a brief touch of skin on skin, a brushed elbow, a tap on the shoulder.  And it happens.  Completely involuntary.  As you can probably imagine, Miriam likes to wear layers.  Seeing all the ways people die can get to you after a while.  Miriam, like a blackbird, is a scavenger.  She uses her knowledge to be present when people die alone so she can go through their pockets for loose change.  And loose bills.  And loose credit cards.  And anything else that might be useful.

One night Miriam meets Louis, a long haul trucker who gives her a ride and gets her out of a tight situation.  When she shakes his hand, she learns that he'll die a violent, painful death at the hands of someone else in one month.  And that she'll be there to witness it.  So she tries to run.  In doing so, she meets Ashley.  What Miriam doesn't know is that Ashley is a con man who knows there's something unusual about Miriam, although he doesn't know exactly what.  He just knows that he can use her in a scam, one which will eventually involve Louis, and so he's been following her.  What Ashley doesn't know is that there are people following him.

Bad people.  Very, very bad people.

The thing that made this book so refreshing to read was the voice Wendig used to tell it.  It's by turns sardonic, funny, bleak, compelling.  And, yes, as I've already stated, profane.  It was only a few pages before I was caught up in the narrative, and then it was like literary crack.  I couldn't get away from it.  Before it's over, Miriam will have to face some things about herself, none of them pleasant, most of them consequences of the choices she's made through the years.  All the chickens coming home to roost, although in this case they're blackbirds.

And the humor.  I loved the humor.  It was gallows humor at its finest, subtle and dark and a perfect fit, from the chapter titles to the dialogue to the point of view.  The humor was needed as a counterpoint to all the times Miriam touched someone, or had someone touch her, and saw how they died.  There are a number of ways to die, most of them unpleasant.  Maybe it says something about me and my state of mental health, but I found this one of the most fascinating aspects of the book.

While this one may not be for everyone, it's one of my favorites for the year.  Read the excerpt below and see what I mean. The book hits stores here in the states the day after tomorrow.

The sequel, Mockingbird, is due out at the end of August.  It's going to be a long summer.


  1. I'm definitely a Lansdale fan so I'll have to have a look at this.

    1. I suspect this one will be your cup of tea, Charles. Let me know what you think.

  2. I haven't read horror heavily for a while, but this year there seem to be a lot of titles sneaking onto my wishlists. This might be another.

    1. You should consider it, Paul. The book isn't long and moves fast. I finished it in less time than most of what I've been reading has taken. It was well worth the time invested.