Death Most Definite by Trent Jamieson is a book I’ve been looking forward to reading, for many reasons. Firstly, and this does count for a lot, anyone that knows him will tell you that Trent is one of the nicest guys in spec fic, and I have to agree. He’s also a brilliant writer, with over 70 short stories published, and he’s taught at the prestigious Clarion South writers’ workshop. So this is a nice guy with some serious writing chops. I’ve enjoyed a lot of his short fiction and wanted this, his first novel, to rock. I’m pleased to say that it rocks hard.
At first I was slightly perturbed as it’s written in first person present tense. That often works well for short fiction, but I find it quite tiresome in novel length work. Also, the author is totally locked in to one single, current point of view. This can make it hard to tell a compelling story. Jamieson doesn’t struggle with this at all, however, and spins a rollicking good yarn.
Another reason I really wanted to enjoy this book is because it’s an urban fantasy thriller, which is the genre of my own novels, so I clearly have a passion for that particular niche. And it’s about Death. Capital D. The dude himself as well as the concept. Jamieson cites in his Acknowledgements that he has been influenced by the great Death writers before him and that Death Most Definite is “a fusion of my love for Fritz Leiber, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Deaths.”
Gaiman and Pratchett are two of my favourite authors and there’s no doubt they’ve influenced my own writing. So it’s becoming pretty clear why I really wanted to like Death Most Definite. And I really did like it.
The story opens with Steven de Selby in a foodcourt in Brisbane. Steven is a Pomp, a conduit for dead souls to pass from this realm to the Underworld. It’s a family business – his mother and father are Pomps – and that’s the way they like it. In the foodcourt Steven spots a dead girl. Before he has a chance to decide what to do about that – after all, it’s not new to him – she tells him to run and people start shooting at him. So begins a crazy chase all over Brisbane. Steven soon learns that someone is trying to upend and take over the Australia Regional death business, one of thirteen regions in the world. In the process, they’re killing off Pomps left, right and centre and setting loose Stirrers, evil, hate-filled souls that occupy the bodies of the recently dead and make zombies seem like an easy alternative. Steven has to figure out what’s going on while desperately trying to stay alive.
This is a masterfully constructed yarn, whizzing along at a furious pace for the entire book. It’s a thriller in every sense of the word, with strange allies and double crosses, explosions and car chases. And all that good stuff is wrapped up in some absolutely solid world-building, creating an Australia where the business of death is managed on a daily basis by a corporate machine.
The story has some great twists, some fantastic character building and some truly inspired locations and events. When Steven visits the One Tree I was gobsmacked with the terrifying beauty Jamieson managed to create. This is a real page turner, and I don’t shy away from the cliche. This book deserves it.
Death Most Definite is the first in a series, with the second volume, Managing Death, out this month. Put it on your Xmas list.