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Blackbirds: (Angry Robot): 1 by Chuck Wendig
Review by Drew Bittner
Angry Robot Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780857662293
Date: 03 May 2012 List Price 7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK /

Most of us don't know (or necessarily want to know) the minute and manner of our deaths.

Miriam Black knows.

With a single touch, she can tell you when and how you die. And it's knowledge that is absolutely destroying her.

In Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig, Miriam is on a journey of slow-motion suicide. She sleeps with random strangers, smokes like a chimney, drinks like a fish, and has the most risky lifestyle--hitching rides at truck stops, keeping on the move--imaginable. Settle down? Never. Just touch a hand here or there, maybe profit from it once in awhile (if the touched dies right after, what's a girl to do?), and move on.

That's until a couple of unlikely men enter her life, and a couple of unlikely hitmen seek to end it.

Ashley is a charming young guy with the face of an angel and the heart of a snake. He figures out Miriam's gift and plans ways to exploit it, starting with Louis, a truck driver who befriends Miriam and offers her help. Miriam knows Ashley's fate--far off in the future--but Louis' horrifies her; in thirty days, he will die with a knife through the eyeball, calling her name.

Miriam knows from bitter experience that she cannot change what happens. Nothing she has tried has changed the fate of anyone she's touched--and she has tried. But now, with the improbable duo of Frankie and Harriet on Ashley's trail, and then incidentally on her own, Miriam's choices start to shrink by the hour. Once the ghastly Mr. Ingersoll arrives, it may in fact be too late....

Wendig is a visceral streetfighter of an author, pulling no punches and drawing the reader into his world by a fishhook to the eye. Miriam is a stark, hostile and deeply wounded soul, whose struggle for redemption is a race against her own suicidal tendencies. She's an astounding character, full of contradictions, by turns compassionate and cruel, and one of the best new characters I've read in a long, long time.

For "wrong choice boyfriends", Ashley might take the cake. He casually uses and abuses people, shafting them to the limits of his small mind and cunning imagination, and when he latches on to Miriam, he thinks he's struck the big time. Only thing is, he's wanted for something he saw--and then did--that affected a hairless albino druglord with a supernatural fixation. His agents, Frankie and Harriet, are appallingly effective at wringing confessions from their victims, and slowly but surely draw closer to Ashley and Miriam.

Louis, the sacrificial lamb in this story, is a truck driver whose personal life is lonely and miserable. He befriends Miriam, though that's much harder than it sounds, and it's his kindness that propels Miriam through much of the book. She will not let this good man die, if she can help it, and she must discover whether fate can be denied or not.

Wendig has created a fantastic character and sent her through harrowing experiences. I cannot wait for the next installment. (One quibble, though: Chuck, it's Garden State TURNPIKE, not Expressway. Geez!)

Highly recommended.

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