When someone mentions Chuck Wendig, there are a couple of things that come to mind. “Whiskey-imbued soupcatcher-wearing penmonkey master of the profane” is number one.
Miriam Black is number two.
Being able to see how and when people die has always meant Miriam is more on the strange side than not. Now she’s on the move, having graduated from “thief” to “killer.” When she gets a call from a man in Florida willing to pay her thousands of dollars simply to tell him how he dies, she figures, “What the hell.” What Miriam doesn’t count on, however, is that her vision of his death shows him dying by another’s hand—and on the wall written in blood is a message just for Miriam. With her past catching up to her, Miriam has to face down someone who seems to be perfectly anticipating her every move, striking down anyone she’s ever come close to.
It’s a game for keeps.
A frame that’s a perfect fit
Both Blackbirds and Mockingbird had interlude chapters which helped fill out some of the world and portions of Miriam’s history. In The Cormorant, the feel of these chapters changes, becoming more of a framing story than interludes. This shift is due largely to the characters who have detained Miriam for questioning—no, for interrogation. For the first time, I actually cared about these characters for who they are as opposed to simple vessels for the storytelling. Wendig has done a bang-up job with these characters who could have simply been window dressing, giving them lives and purposes of their own, and from there to the interlude chapters themselves.
Speed limit? What speed limit?
This third installment of Miriam’s tale has a driving plot.
… No, really. She spends a lot of the time driving.
Okay, all joking aside, the pace Wendig sets with this book is harried. Frenetic, even. And yet, the pace is probably as close to perfect as an author could get for this particular story. It’s like the guys who break the four-minute mile: you have to hit each marker at just the right moment or else the end result is lost. And compared to the plot pacing of the first two novels? Blows ’em out of the water. They were good plotlines, don’t get me wrong, but when I started my read of The Cormorant, I could barely remember any of the particulars from the first two books. And such a distinct lack of remembrance for me can often be attributed to plot pacing and how the various marker points in any plot are hit.
This book, though? Hell, I’d have to expend some serious effort to forget.
The Miriam I’ve been waiting for
Miriam Black, up until this point, has been a very self-focused character. She’s always looking out for number one, in a very fuck-it-all kind of way. This isn’t to say she is two-dimensional and doesn’t run a gamut of emotions. Because that’s not true; all one has to do is look at any of the sequences where she interacts with or thinks about Louis, her trucker sometimes-lover.
But there’s only so much screw-everything, avoid-the-world that one can do before one has to turn around and face things. And in The Cormorant, that’s exactly what Miriam discovers she has to do. Not only that, but it’s finally a book in which Miriam has to face the reality that she cares about more in the world than just herself and Louis (when she needs something from him). This Miriam has layers. She has layers in spades. It’s the Miriam I’ve been waiting two books to see, and I wasn’t disappointed.
Why should you read this book?
If this is your first time with Miriam, The Cormorant can stand on its own quite well; there are only a few layers you’ll miss if you haven’t read Blackbirds and Mockingbird. As always, if you find yourself sensitive to profanity in gratuitous amounts, you may want to look elsewhere, because the vulgarity of the protagonist is one of the staples of the series. If that doesn’t bother you overmuch, or if you’ve been with Miriam from the beginning, read this book. With exquisite character development, a prime example of how framing stories should fit the way they’re supposed to, and a plot that strings you along behind a racing ’67 Chevy Impala speeding down the highway until you’ve been run ragged, The Cormorant is a gloriously gritty and foul-mouthed high-octane ride that cements Wendig as the miscreant master of his genre.