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.
Chuck Wendig is a funny guy. If you follow him online, read his advice to writers or line up to be punch-lined by his twitter feed, you know he’s a funny guy. And in Blackbirds, as he introduces you to Miriam Black, heroine of the new series of horror-noir novels that bear her name, the balance between razor-blade drama and gallows humour is incredibly satisfying. But it’s a ruse, a seduction, leading you into somewhere much darker. Somewhere unrelentingly black.
By now you’ve probably read enough reviews to understand the premise; Miriam Black sees your death when she touches you, and she’s grifting her way across dustbowl USA plying a con that’s actually the real deal. It’s a nice twist on the hustler story from the get-go, and the aimlessness of her hustler life is elegantly and economically established early on. From here, her random encounter with a man who’ll die with her name on his lips leads her into collisions, rather than meetings or encounters, with the blackest, starkest bunch of psychopaths I’ve read in a long time. Other reviewers have repeatedly highlighted the harsh language, the unforgiving way the violence is written, the barren world Miriam has trapped herself in, and these are truthful observations. I said from the beginning that the charming anti-heroine routine only leads to somewhere really dark; Miriam’s early self-possession is systematically attacked by events, to the point where you’re genuinely convinced that hope is the disease that you yourself will die of. Black by name…
So for most, a taste for black is probably what will bring you to this book, and your dislike of it will likely turn you away. The latter choice, however, would be a shame, because this is an exceptional book. Written in spare, edged language, it is a masterclass in control. The tags of profanity and gore – and Wendig’s own humorous persona – might suggest a book that is more pulpy than this one is, one that relishes its own cool. In fact, this is an extraordinarily personal book, voiced from a place of real dread and delivered in a style and at a pace that you just can’t teach; Wendig was born to do this. The lean prose does not lack for startling imagery, or beautifully detailed focus, and the swearing and violence aren’t hip; they’re never anything but truthful to the horror of the situation Miriam is in. Structurally brilliant, the plot never releases you, and the switch-ups and beats are near flawless. It doesn’t race, or didn’t for me; it was too visceral for that kind of speed. Rather, this is a book that puts a very strong arm around your shuddering shoulders, and escorts you down a dark alley without room for argument.
Will you die there? I know a lady who knows. And I absolutely loved her.