Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Book 6 of #15in2015
One of the many ways you can categorize urban fantasy is whether it leans toward the fantasy stakes or crime stakes. Is the character on a quest to recover the ancient fang of Curlique before The Bad Guy can use it to take control of the were-lions of Little Rock? Or has someone you care about gotten into debt to/stolen something from/slept with the wife of A Very Bad Person and need to be saved?
Or, is this going to be a story about a threat to the succession of some made-up organization of magical beings, or is it going to be a search for the truth behind the death of a single person?
Both of these are fictional conceits, of course, but one is not grounded in the concerns of real people and one is, and I suspect you can tell by the tone of my comments which I prefer.
BLACKBIRDS falls into the crime-stakes end of things, and I’m glad of it. Premise: The first time Miriam Black touches someone, flesh to flesh, she knows how they’ll die. Then, one day, she touches the hand of a truck driver who helped her out of a tight spot and discovers that he’ll die in one month, while saying her name.
Aside from some vision/dream sequences that might be advice/harassment from Mysterious Entities, that’s it for the fantasy elements. The rest is lifting wallets, roadside harassment, blackmail, a mysterious suitcase, and criminal psychopaths.
Miriam herself is profane and damaged. Not only does she have this awful gift, but she knows that she can’t prevent the deaths she foresees; any attempt to save the doomed person only ensures events will play out as prophesied. Throw in an abusive childhood and you have a cynical fatalist who lives like a vulture. She never kills people, but she’s nearby when they die so she can lift their cash.
And of course the events of the novel destroy all that.
The tone is very gritty, a sort of rural noir that almost reminds me of JUSTIFIED (without the dialog). It’s a powerful story, especially if you’re a fan of low thrillers, which I am. Good stuff.