The Short Version: Miriam Black is changing. Having discovered that a life saved needs a life taken, she has been killing those who would kill the people she touches. This is all well and good until she ends up in the Florida Keys and touches a businessman who dies with a note pinned to his chest that says “Hi Miriam.” So now she needs to find a killer who knows her – and who knows what she can do…
The Review: This one took a hot second to settle in. For a minute, it felt almost like backsliding, like Miriam had regressed in the time between (reading) Mockingbird and this one. She ended that book heading South, towards her mother… and we pick up this one about a year later, in Philadelphia (in a section hilariously titled, for those of us from that area, Filthadelphia). She’s been living rough in every sense of the term and seems to be drifting a bit, spiritually – into a very dangerous gray area, as evidenced by the Federal agents interrogating her in the present-tense interludes of the novel. She’s been killing, is the thing. Actively going out and killing people, people who would otherwise be committing the murders she sees in her visions. Like a slightly more targeted and somewhat less psychopathic Dexter Morgan.
And I have to admit that it took me a second to be okay with that, conceptually. Miriam has never been a good person, for sure, but she never seemed like somebody who could kill in cold blood – and, thankfully, Chuck explores this inner tension over the course of the novel. But it was a jarring beginning and one that seemed to put Miriam back a step on the arc we’ve been traveling with her. It also took a little while for the plot (the “solve a murder before it happens” of the tagline) to kick in and I was wondering where/why Miriam was spinning wheels where she was. It wasn’t bad, because frankly I don’t think even Miriam grocery-shopping or doing taxes could be bad (although whether or not she would ever actually do either of those things is valid), but I just felt like it was a moment I’d already seen.
Soon enough, though, Miriam is blasting her way down to the Keys – a trip I’ve only done once, long before I was old enough to truly enjoy Key West, but one that I remember very well: Bahia Honda, Marathon Key, the Seven Mile Bridge… these are places I vividly remember even having only been there the once going down and then coming back. Wendig’s punchy and short styling really pops here, including a great one-sentence chapter that’s just fun. And once Miriam does touch this businessman who was interested in paying to see how he dies… well, the shit hits the fan real fast.
It makes sense, retrospectively, to see these first three Miriam Black novels as a trilogy of sorts – originally published by an indie press and with no guarantee of further writing, The Cormorant might’ve even given off that impression when readers first came around to it a while ago (despite the ending, which definitely has a “Miriam Black will return” vibe). And so it makes sense to see Miriam’s past coming back to haunt her – and not just a past but a past that we, the reader, are first-hand familiar with. I was surprised, pleasantly, by the reveal (I won’t spoil it here) and even more surprised by… let’s call it the context.
Because we’ve learned about Miriam’s gift and about the gifts of others like her – and we’ve seen Fate, that mysterious force, beginning to align itself against her in various ways. But now, you really get a sense of the universe aligning itself to straighten her out, sort of like how the universe bends itself against Jake as he tries to stop Oswald in 11/22/63. The ripples are too great to think “if I hadn’t done X, then Y wouldn’t have happened” anymore – it’s too complex now. Miriam has disrupted the very order of things and so now that order wants to disrupt her. Wendig has done a really great job of building this out over the course of three books and I’m impressed that he’s still left lots of questions hanging out in the air for the upcoming three books.
Like what the deal is with Miriam and birds. THE BIRDS, you guys. I absolutely adore that development and the way it expands the world so far beyond what Chuck has allowed us to see so far – but it also makes me so deeply curious, because it still is so shocking and unexpected even in the context of these novels. The “WTF?!” of it all makes my head spin and I struggle to even talk about it – maybe because it might be one thing too far for a reader on the fence to grasp at first but also because I don’t even know how to quite explain it beyond the surface description. Honestly, I sometimes don’t even remember it when describing these books or thinking about them and then get pleasantly surprised all over again. I bet Miriam digs that.
Rating: 4 out of 5. There’s not much else I can say without delving into spoiler territory, really, so I’ll wrap it up by saying, again, that I’m damned happy to have Miriam Black in my reading life. This one got off to a rocky start, like fishtailing out of a parking lot, but Wendig brought it back under control smoothly and then took off like he pressed the nitro-boost button on the gear shift. Nobody else is doing urban fantasy quite like Wendig does it in these books – and he’s only getting better, as a writer and as a storyteller. I’m told, too, that the next three books will all bow in the space of a year starting… early next year? Which is a long damn time to wait – but I have the feeling that Wendig will come through.