Reviewed by Scott A. Johnson
Written by Brian Keene
Published by Leisure Books
Brian Keene has been called a lot of things. From a virtuoso writer to the next Stephen King. Through it all, the man’s stories keep the majority of people shivering in their seats. His latest offering, A Gathering of Crows, is no exception.
The story begins in a quiet little one-road town out in the country when five crows land and transform into murderous men in black. From there, readers are treated to one horrific death after another, narrated with reptilian glee with every drop of blood. Arriving on the scene is Levi, a former Mennonite whose faith now leans more toward the occult and mystical energies, though he still looks Amish and drives a buggy. It is Levi’s task, charged by God, to stop the crows before everyone in the town is reduced to ash.
A Gathering of Crows is full of Keene’s signature grotesqueries, from the exaggerated forms of the crows to the horrific ways in which people die. Not a single person, animal, or age group is exempt from his ghoulish rampage, which is part of what makes this book work so well. Because no one is safe, Keene is able to throw the reader off balance and gives the reader a real sense that if even the children aren’t safe, the reader isn’t either. It’s a tough trick to pull off, but one Keene handles with a deft hand.
Character-wise, they are well developed for the most part. Even the tertiary characters, who exist for the sole purpose of being mutilated in a couple of pages, have a backstory and their own little quirks. However, a few of the secondary characters, who figure more prominently to the story, come off as flat. It might be because the main character, Levi, appeared in two previous books, but there are several places where the reader is left wondering why he does what he does and where he came from. We get that he’s on a mission from God and that he has arcane abilities, but much of what he does is without explanation or emotional content. On the other hand, the character of Donny, an Iraq war vet who has come home just long enough to bury his mother, is a wonderfully drawn character, full of uncertainty and angst.
If you’ve never read a Keene novel, this one is a good place to start. Less brutal here than in some of his books, but more so than most on the market, Keene knows how to horrify, disgust, and frighten but still manages to hook his readers and drag them screaming along for the ride.
4 out of 5
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