Crime Fiction with a Twist: Guest Post by Chris F. Holm

Regular readers of this blog have seen my name come up a time or two. Scott’s been kind enough to shine a light on my Collector series – comprising Dead Harvest, The Wrong Goodbye, and The Big Reap – which tells the tale of Sam Thornton, who’s condemned to collect the souls of the damned at hell’s behest, thanks to a devil’s bargain he made to save his dying wife.

What you might be wondering is how the hell an urban fantasy series snuck its way onto a mystery blog.

The fact is, my background’s in crime fiction. My short stories have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s and Ellery Queen’s, Needle and Thuglit – I even, much to my surprise, wound up reprinted in THE BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES 2011. Truth is, I sort of fell into this fantasy thing by accident – and if you ask me, what I’m really writing is crime fiction with a twist.

I don’t know about you people, but when I’m drifting off to sleep, it’s not uncommon for me to have scenes running through my head – stories trying to be told. A writer’s affliction, I suppose. Anyways, one night while I’m lying in bed, my thoughts turned to an image of a man chain-smoking outside a busy Oxford pub, watching the jollity inside through the window while he shivers on the darkened street. He’s specifically interested in one man – a writer of some renown, who’s celebrating with friends after a reading. When the pub shuts down, and the patrons are ushered out into the street, the smoking man falls in behind the writer, who makes his way with drunken care down the sidewalk.

When the writer ducks into an alley to take a leak, the smoking man follows, clearly determined to do the writer harm. And at this point, I confess, I didn’t think much of the scene. It seemed predictable. Crime-fic 101. Maybe the writer had slept with the smoking man’s wife, or run afoul of some two-bit gangster. Maybe he’d stolen the smoking man’s story for his own.

But then, a funny thing happened. I suppose I tipped further toward unconsciousness, because instead of simply shooting or strangling the writer, the smoking man reached his hand into the writer’s chest and yanked free his soul while telling him, “Sorry – it’s nothing personal.” At which point my eyes flew open, and I rushed downstairs to my office to get down everything I could remember.

In the days that followed, I began asking questions. Who was that man? Why did he take the writer’s soul? What did he mean, it wasn’t personal? And the answers led me to create Sam Thornton, a decent man who, thanks to an unfortunate set of circumstances, winds up a hitman for hell.

Sam’s world is yanked straight from classic crime pulp – picture angels in trench coats driving Crown Vics, and fedora-ed demons running speakeasies, and you’ve got the gist. And in the middle of it all is this poor damned sap still trying in vain despite his circumstances to do what’s right.

Is it fantasy? Sure. But it owes more to Chandler and Hammett than to Tolkien. Maybe that’s why Scott and company have been so nice to me.

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Copies of Chris F. Holm’s books are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

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