Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I've always been a sucker for stories that bend the space-time continuum a little bit (or a lot). Whether it's the Old Testament story of the sun staying up in the middle of the sky for 24 hours in a row while Joshua defeated the Amorites, the incessant wandering of the soul of Sam Beckett in "Quantum Leap," the daily stresses of Gary Hobson, who woke up every morning on "Early Edition" to a newspaper that would tell him that day's coming tragedy, so that he could stop it in time, or even Bill Murray's confinement within Groundhog Day, it always interests me to see what authors do -- and how characters end up responding -- when the rules of time change.
And so when I saw Chuck Wendig's paperback "Blackbirds" on a "Recommended" stack at the local library, I had to pick it up. Miriam Black, his main character, can tell when someone is going to die just by touching them. She envisions their death and knows the day and the hour. Mind you, she cannot intervene; somehow the system knows that she's coming, and so her interference in the fate of that person ends up being the cause of their death.
Not a happy way to live. She's taken off to the roads, wandering as a modern-day hobo. A con artist named Ashley notices her odd behavior -- meeting up with strange people just before they die. She tries to save them, but she can't. But she can't stop trying. And so she takes up -- briefly -- with Ashley, but at the same time, she sees the death of a kind trucker named Louis. The twist: she is present at his death scene, as he calls out her name.
Ashley, unfortunately, has irritated some meth dealers. Not just your average East Texas-gas station kind of dealers, but the ones who are psychotically involved in the maintenance of product and profit. Ingersoll practices the sort of cruelty that makes Jigsaw seem a bit like Fred Rogers, and he has gathered two lackeys, Harriet and Frankie. Harriet is on board with Ingersoll's clinically cruel hatred of the world, but Frankie still has one foot planted in reality. At the end, though, it is the way that Miriam deals with Ingersoll -- and with the reason that she gained the ability to see death in the first place -- that gives the story its interest and intrigue.
The plot glides along like a police car on the oil slick that James Bond used to be able to send out behind his racer with the push of a button. The punches come so quickly that, when redemption comes, you almost miss it. Funny how life is like that.
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