It’s a real pleasure today to join the blog tour for Ravens Gathering by Graeme Cumming, published for kindle in 2012, and in paperback by Matador in February 2017. You may remember that I’ve already shared my review of this book – and still laugh about Graeme’s (just slightly concerned) “it’s very different from your usual” when he followed me on Twitter and realised the books I tend to read. But I’ve never really had a problem stepping outside my comfort zone, and I’m so glad this book enticed me to the dark side – I thought it was just wonderful.
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 an extract to share:
In the darkness of his bedroom, he wondered for a moment whether the drums had just been part of a dream. Then he heard something familiar from downstairs. The rhythmic rattle of a latch hitting a strike plate. It was the sound his mother regularly complained about when he came in from playing and didn’t close the door properly. Someone had left a door open, and it was swinging back and forth in the night air.
Sitting up in bed, he rubbed the sleep from his eyes. In truth, the sleep was illusory, the pause an unconscious effort to give him a moment to rein in his emotions. And those were wide and varied, covering a range that ran from puzzlement to fear.
He realised it must be the middle of the night. The only illumination was the faint glow of a nearby streetlamp through his curtains. So why would his parents leave a door open?
His bed was close to the window, so he pushed the bedclothes back and knelt up, leaning forward to lift a curtain to one side. The street was deserted. Looking to the left, he saw no sign of life. To the right, there was barely enough light to see anything. Just one streetlamp 50 yards away, then nothing.
He had hoped a quick look outside might explain everything, but it didn’t. Now he had to face the prospect of getting out of bed and negotiating the darkness of the house. And the first thing he had to concern himself with was the crocodile under the bed.
Heartbeat a little faster? A few goosebumps maybe? Just you wait… it’s an absolute pleasure to share my review again.
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.
Do give this book a try – I promise you won’t be disappointed. Enjoy your tour, Graeme…
About the author
Graeme Cumming lives in Robin Hood country. He has wide and varied tastes when it comes to fiction so he’s conscious that his thrillers can cross into territories including horror, fantasy and science fiction as well as more traditional arenas.
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.