#Review: Ravens Gathering by Graeme Cumming @GraemeCumming63 @matadorbooks

By | February 7, 2018

If I’ve been stepping outside my comfort zone a little recently, today I’ve carried on walking and found myself in a totally unfamiliar place – and unexpectedly found I rather liked it there. I’m reviewing Ravens Gathering by Graeme Cumming, published for kindle back in 2012, and in paperback by Matador in February 2017. I’ve had the real pleasure of meeting Graeme at a couple of book events, and when he asked if I’d consider reading and reviewing his book, it seemed only polite to say that I would. I even bought my own copy – it’s always something nice to do when you’ve met someone, I think – and added it to my long reading list. Graeme’s been in touch now and then – no pressure, just a chat, and he’s often good enough to share my reviews – and slowly his book rose to the top of my pile. He was always a bit cagy about the genre – I assumed a thriller, didn’t read other reviews, and dived in. And when he mentioned again – seeing I was reading – “it’s very different from your usual reads”, I did begin to wonder quite what I’d let myself in for…

As she let her gaze drift around her, she saw that there were more birds. Perhaps a dozen or so, perched among the trees that stood on the edge of the clearing. And yet more were arriving, swooping down through the gap overhead and landing on branches that overlooked them. The birds weren’t threatening, yet the sight of them all coming together in this dark and isolated spot was unnerving. Tanya reached a hand out towards Martin, and was relieved to feel him take it. She felt him move in behind her. After the uncertainty she’d experienced with him in a similar position only a few moments ago, she recognised the irony of her reaction. His closeness offered security.

“You know what they are, don’t you?”

A stranger’s arrival in a small village coincides with a tragic accident. For the Gates family in particular it’s more than a coincidence, but unease increases following a brutal attack. As tensions rise, a dark past returns to haunt them and others, while newcomers to the village are drawn into a mystery with terrifying consequences.

And only a select few know why the ravens are gathering.

I have to say that this book was quite a ride. After a fairly comfortable start, with clues about what was to come gently dropped and barely noticed, the entire book changed direction shortly after the halfway mark, everything became very uncomfortable indeed, and I found myself clinging on for dear life but totally committed to the story. So, what exactly was it? Yes, it is a thriller – undoubtedly it could be described as a psychological thriller if you close one eye and ignore a few other key elements. There’s police procedural here too, really well done, with a clever shift of viewpoint and focus. There’s horror too – yes, I know I don’t “do” horror, but it crept up on me. What’s more there’s a touch of science fiction too, and a whole lot of that supernatural stuff that I don’t usually touch with a bargepole. So what was it? Heavens above, I have no idea – but I do know how very much I enjoyed it.

Let’s take a step back for a moment into the more comfortable territory, nearer the start. We could almost be in Emmerdale – the pub, the post office, the church, vicarage, graveyard, the new houses being built, the outsiders like Ian and Tanya finding it difficult to be accepted. The character establishment is absolutely excellent, and their proliferation no problem at all, as we’re introduced, get the views of others, and feel that this is a community, a group of individuals, that we’re really getting to know. And then comes the stranger – who isn’t a stranger at all, but causes fear to so many, and for no apparent reason. It’s not fear he arouses in Tanya – but that’s a whole other thread of the story, and so well done.

The story isn’t told from a single viewpoint, and that’s really cleverly done – sometimes shifts like that make a reader uncomfortable, but that’s exactly what you’re meant to be. Very cleverly, the author cranks up the tension – using those shifts of viewpoint – but you never really feel you’re being manipulated. If you reach a certain point in this book and you’re still invested in the story – and I defy you not to be – then all the strange twists that come thereafter will carry you forward, and you won’t want to put the book down before it ends (and I speak from experience).

This isn’t a book for the faint-hearted – there’s absolute evil here, and some shocking scenes, but there’s kindness and goodness too, and that balance is well maintained. The tension and suspense is sometimes unbearable – but it doesn’t stop the author focusing on the finer detail, making sure you have the full picture, before things are ramped up another few notches, and then a few more. If I have a criticism, it’s of that very attention to descriptive detail – every scene is lingered over, creating a photograph, maybe a film set, when you’d sometimes like to get back to the action. But that slow exposition really works – without it, that atmosphere created might be just a little too much, and the shocks more lacking in explosive impact.

My reading hasn’t always been on the lighter side – in my younger days I did have a flirtation with early Stephen King, Dean Koontz, James Herbert.  Had they lived in Nottinghamshire, this is a book any of them could have written, and been proud of. When I walked out this afternoon, I felt very uneasy seeing the dark shadows of birds in the trees – and that feeling isn’t going to go away any time soon. Quite an experience – and a thoroughly excellent read.

About the author

Graeme Cumming lives in Robin Hood country, and has spent most of his life immersed in fiction – books, TV, movies – turning to writing his own during his early teens.

With his interests in story-telling sparked by an excessive amount of time sitting in front of a black and white television, his tastes are varied. Influences ranged from the Irwin Allen shows (Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Lost in Space, etc.) to ITC series (The Saint, The Champions, Randall and Hopkirk (deceased) and so many more), so the common theme was action and adventure, but crossed into territories including horror, fantasy and science fiction as well as crime and espionage.

This diverse interest in fiction continued with his reading and his discovery of the magical world of cinema. As a result, his stories don’t always fall into a specific genre, but will always maintain the style of a thriller.

When not writing, Graeme is an enthusiastic sailor (and, by default, swimmer), and enjoys off-road cycling and walking. He is currently Education Director at Sheffield Speakers Club. Oh yes, and he reads (a lot) and loves the cinema.

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17 thoughts on “#Review: Ravens Gathering by Graeme Cumming @GraemeCumming63 @matadorbooks

  1. cleopatralovesbooks

    What a superb review Anne, you’ve definitely sold the book to me although I suspect it’s more obviously dark in places than my preferred ‘line’

    Reply
    1. Anne Post author

      I suspect it might be – there were times I felt distinctly uncomfortable, and (now I have read some reviews!) I know not everyone entirely liked the way the story developed. But I really do recommend it…

      Reply
  2. shelleywilson72

    Wow, what a brilliant review, Anne. I’ve had Graeme’s book on my TBR pile for far too long – time to crack open that spine! (Of course, you do realise I’m now going to be hearing the Emmerdale theme tune playing in my head as I start reading) 😉

    Reply
  3. Sue Featherstone

    Like you, I’ve met Graeme and had this on my TBR pile for quite a while. Just bumped it to the top. x

    Reply
  4. Anne Post author

    Thanks all – it languished on my reading pile for a long time too, but I hope you’ll be as impressed by it as I was…

    Reply
  5. Graeme Cumming

    Thank you, Anne, for a terrific review. I have to admit that, as I became more aware of the books you were reviewing, I did consider suggesting you not bother as it seemed so completely different from your normal reading. It just goes to show that you should never make a judgement about what will appeal to a reader. I know it doesn’t neatly slot into a genre, so I’ve probably been less confident about promoting it than I should have been. Your comments here have been a great boost.

    Reply
    1. Anne Post author

      If I’m totally honest, I surprised myself with this one – there’s a comfort in reading “the usual”, but it was good to try something so very different. And great story telling, strong writing, well drawn characters can be found where you least expect them at times – this book was really excellent. Thank you for not trying to put me off…!

      Reply
  6. Pingback: How I Steeled Myself and Got A Fantastic Review - Graeme Cumming

  7. Sherri Matthews

    Wonderful review, congratulations Graeme! And yes, I really will read Ravens Gathering as soon as I possibly can. Psychological thrillers are my thing, and if I was keen before, now I’m hooked thanks to Anne’s review and also loved your bio – we obviously watched the same black and white! Great to meet you Anne, thanks to Graeme’s FB link 🙂

    Reply
    1. Anne Post author

      Good to meet you Sherri – and I hope you’ll enjoy it every bit as much as I did…

      Reply

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