Author: Chuck Wendig
Series: Miriam Black #1
Published: 24 April 2012 (USA & Canada); 3 May 2012 (worldwide)
Publisher: Angry Robot Books
Genre: urban fantasy
Source: review copy from the publisher
Miriam Black can see when people are going to die. One touch, skin on skin, is all it takes to give her a vision of exactly when and how it’s going to happen. Several years of living with this curse have made her a caustic, jaded human being, and she’s only in her twenties. She has no job, but gets by looking for people who are going to die soon, stalking them, and taking their money when they kick the bucket. It’s enough for her to survive on, and she never gets close to anyone.
Then she hitches a ride with a truck driver named Louis. Unlike most of the people she encounters in her seedy lifestyle, he’s a nice, gentle guy. She likes him, she’s attracted to him. But then she shakes his hand and sees that he will be horribly murdered in a month’s time, a moment after seeing her and speaking her name.
If there’s one thing Miriam has learnt over the years it’s that she should never get involved in people’s deaths. “It is what it is”, is her refrain. “Fate gets what fate wants,” and when she tries to prevent someone’s death she just finds herself playing right into fate’s hands. The problem now is that Louis is going to die because he tried to help her. She tries in vain to get away from him, only to get entangled with a con artist named Ashley, who’s on the run from some extremely dangerous people. Ashley puts Miriam on a path that leads straight back to Louis and his impending doom. Miriam knows that you can’t stop fate, but for Louis’s sake, she’s going to try.
One of the characters in Blackbirds remarks that Miriam is “just not who I expected”. I feel exactly the same way. Not that I ever really expect to encounter a woman like Miriam. She’s a trashy, foul-mouthed, morbid woman. She’s weird. She loves to lie and she’s very good at it. She loves to hear herself talk, and at times I couldn’t believe the mouth on this chick:
“Cut the ‘little girl’ shit, paleface. If I only have fifteen minutes, then I want whiskey. Your cheapest and shittiest. Think lighter fluid mixed with coyote piss. And you can put a shot glass down, but if you’re amenable to it, then I’d damn sure like to pour my own.”
“She hates the sun. Hates the blue sky. The birds and the bees can go blow each other in a dirty bathroom.”
But don’t get me wrong – I like Miriam and her dirty mouth. And I like the writing. Blackbirds is written in rapid, brutal prose that hits just as hard as the story it tells. If this were a movie, I’d want Quentin Tarantino and David Fincher to direct it.
There’s a lot of violence, and it’s not the slick martial arts type – it’s dirty, angry street violence, or the professional cruelty of career criminals. Miriam spends most of the novel with bruises on her face. In the first chapter a trucker gives a black eye, and that’s like a kiss compared to the beatings she endures later. She’s not some punching bag though – getting beat up doesn’t get her down and she knows how to protect herself, as she proves by kicking the shit out of a pair of hillbilly would-be rapists who attack her on the road. However, she’s not quite so lucky when she encounters Frankie and Harriet – a pair of hitmen looking for Ashley the con-artist. Frankie’s dangerous but otherwise pretty normal – for a hitman. Harriet on the other hand is one cruel, twisted bitch who enjoys causing pain the way other people enjoy fine wines or collecting antiques.
Actually, I kind of like Harriet too. There must be something wrong with me. Anyway, she isn’t even as evil as her boss… So yeah, I enjoyed Blackbirds. It’s a quick and dirty brush with the seedier side of urban fantasy. A good kind of nasty, especially if you get a little tired of squeaky clean heroes and heroines who do no wrong. And if you like it, Miriam will be back in Mockingbird, due out in September 2012.