BLACKBIRDS (Miriam Black #1)
By Chuck Wendig
PUBLISHER: Angry Robot
RELEASE DATE: 3rd May 2012
FORMAT: Paperback, 358 pages
GENRE: Urban Fantasy
Miriam Black knows when you will die. Still in her early twenties, she’s foreseen hundreds of car crashes, heart attacks, strokes, suicides, and slow deaths by cancer. But when Miriam hitches a ride with truck driver Louis Darling and shakes his hand, she sees that in thirty days Louis will be gruesomely murdered while he calls her name.
Miriam has given up trying to save people; that only makes their deaths happen. But Louis will die because he met her, and she will be the next victim. No matter what she does she can’t save Louis. But if she wants to stay alive, she’ll have to try. (Goodreads)
Meet Miriam, young, foul mouthed, chain smoking and a psychic, although her one psychic talent is to see the death of anyone she touches. She keeps a diary of all these fatalistic visions and then travels the country from depressing hotel room to greasy spoon to witness the final moments of the victims life – and then pick their pockets afterwards.
It all seems smooth sailing for the nomadic misfit until she hitches a ride with Louis. Louis is a nice guy and this fateful meeting changes the course of Miriam’s life when she sees the vision of Louis’s death and he whispers her name. She has only a month to figure out how someone she has never met would call to her in their final moments.
BLACKBIRDS isn’t for the faint hearted. Miriam isn’t very nice and not very likeable but her character is engaging nonetheless. Miriam is not quite broken but she is definitely damaged and her sad, lonely past is revealed in random chapters where she is being interviewed by Paul, the nephew of someone whose death she foresaw. You almost feel sorry for her when you learn of her teenage pregnancy, and the guilt she feels of the part she played in the suicide of the baby’s father. However, she then picks Paul’s pockets when he dies after leaving her interview and your sympathy wanes. You also discover how Miriam is haunted by the one death she tried to stop, of a young boy with a red balloon. Miriam decides from that point on that she is the witness to fate and by trying to interfere she just consigns the person to their death anyway. The imagery of the red balloon is used through the novel and is very reminiscent of the 1956 short film The Red Balloon and it is unclear whether this was intentional or just a useful plot device.
Death and danger are never far away from Miriam as she finds herself on the run from the con artist Ashley, who wants to use her talents to find his next mark and finally from the uber bad guy Ingersoll who wants her to join his nefarious organisation. Wendig keeps the tension high and the weirdness higher by having Miriam pursued not just by Ashley and the mobsters Harriet and Frankie, who are working for Ingersoll the mob boss, but she is also haunted by the ghost of the tortured Louis. Miriam starts to dream about the red balloon and of Louis who has been horrifically maimed with missing eyes covered by black electrical tape and erupting with maggots. In her dreams this tortured Louis soon becomes her torturer and scenes from her past are played out with macabre results. She finds it difficult to escape Ghost Louis who starts to cross over from her dreams to her waking life to taunt her about her inability to save the still living Louis.
Individual chapters are devoted to the backstories of the supporting characters, Ashley and Harriet, which are written from their point of view, but oddly not Louis whose past is revealed only through dialogue with Miriam. However, it’s the character of the mob boss, Ingersoll, which is the most chilling especially with regards to his plans for Louis and Miriam.
The backdrop may be urban fantasy but the story is pure thriller with Wendig keeping the reader guessing whether Miriam will save the day.
I really, really enjoyed this book and could barely put it down. Although Miriam is in no way likeable she is enigmatic and you are kept guessing how the story will play out. Wendig has a unique writing style and the use of ‘interview’ chapters brought out Miriam’s back story without requiring dialogue or interplay with the other main characters. Wendig keeps up the pace of the novel throughout and created characters that while you may not like very much you are still rooting for them in the end. I am interested to see how Wendig will keep this pace in future novels.
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