Written by Chuck Wendig – One of the great things about crime fiction is how varied it is. Golden age cosies sit alongside modern thrillers. European police procedurals and American private eye novels fight for space on the shelves of your local book store. The genre is strong enough to support any number of different books. One recent trend has been the blending of genres, and Blackbirds mixes horror, the supernatural, and noir to great effect.
When we meet Miriam Black she is waiting for her latest mark to die. Miriam has a gift you see… well, actually it’s more of a curse. A single touch of skin on skin and Miriam knows how you will die. The first time this happened Miriam foresaw the death of a young boy. Her desperate attempts to save his life only sealed his fate. That kind of heavy can make a girl bitter. And cynical. So now Miriam avoids any meaningful friendships, and attaches herself to strangers, waiting for them to die. Once they’ve had their fatal stroke or seizure, Miriam pockets any cash and perhaps a credit card or two, and carries on down the road.
Unfortunately for Miriam, her skill doesn’t go unnoticed. For small time con man Ashley, Miriam is his get-out-of-jail-free card. Having ripped off the wrong people, Ashley is trying to unload a suitcase of methamphetamine but has absolutely no idea of how he’ll do it without being caught by two of the scariest hitmen in all of fiction. A classic noir character, all Ashley’s big dreams have left him in over his head. Having seen Miriam in action, and trailed her for some time, Ashley has pieced it together and blackmails her into working for him.
Meanwhile Miriam has foreseen the death of trucker Louis Darling and it’s not a pretty one. Louis will go out hard, a butcher’s knife through both eyes. Just before he’s killed, he calls out her name. Miriam is paralysed by the choice: should she try to save Louis, or should she run and put as much distance between them both in the hope that saves him. Fate, and Ashley, have other ideas.
This book has so many positives. The concept is original but so clever it made me wonder why no one had thought of it before. The characters are brilliantly drawn, particularly Miriam. Such a life must have psychological consequences, and the author deftly describes her descent into psychosis. The pacing is great throughout. We start with a bang and the book never slows down. It may seem bizarre to say that a book where heroine is haunted by visions of the recently deceased is fun, but it is. Wendig has the skill to write Miriam as sassy and sarcastic, without cheapening her experiences. You feel the guilt that is slowly crushing her.
Joe Lansdale, Dave Zeltserman, Tom Piccirilli, and Norman Partridge are all great writers who blend crime fiction with horror and the supernatural. With Blackbirds, Chuck Wendig deserves to join them on that list.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars