Wakening the Crow by Stephen Gregory– Oliver Gooch has a wife named Rosie and a young daughter named Chloe. He used to work in the mobile library, but that closed, so he’s opened a bookshop in the converted church where they live, in a suburb of Nottingham (Robin Hood statue and all), called Poe’s Tooth Books. Rosie works at a school during the day and Oliver and Chloe happily putter around their newborn bookstore, a fire crackling in the hearth, keeping the bitter cold outside at bay. Every now and then, if Oliver is feeling restless, he takes his quiet, perennially smiling daughter out on their boat, The Gay Lady, to explore the icy waters that run under the city.
That sounds rather quaint, and it is, except for a few unusual things about their arrangement. The church (which they actually share with a next door tenant), and Oliver’s relative career freedom, was bought with settlement money from an accident that left Chloe brain damaged. Rosie longs for the belligerent, sometimes shockingly mean, mouthy little girl that Chloe once was while Oliver makes quite clear to readers (but certainly not Rosie) that he loves the quiet, angelic Chloe that she is now, and is terrified of the return of the girl she once was. He’s easily able to recognize this, but it’s also something that’s caused him no small amount of guilt.
More about Poe’s Tooth Books, though… You’re probably wondering about the name, and that’s really the crux of this book. Oliver was given a tooth by a shop owner that claims it belonged to a very young Edgar Allan Poe. Oliver’s not quite sure if it actually is Poe’s tooth, but he’s certainly willing to use it to attract people to the shop, and constructs a shrine for it as the shop’s centerpiece. The tooth, however, seems to be a harbinger of a certain amount of darkness. For example, there’s the tatty crow that has come to inhabit their house, and who is also strangely protective of Chloe. There’s also an insidious dread that has crept into their family, in Oliver’s interactions with his wife Chloe, and in the marked increase of his drinking. Then there are the dreams; haunting, hallucinatory, and featuring a young man who seems to be missing a tooth…
Wakening the Crow is a very weird book, and it manages to avoid a rigid story construct. There’s not really a clear start, middle, or end. It’s not a “discover the menace and vanquish it, saving all mankind” sort of thing, although I suppose you could count Oliver’s procurement of the tooth as a sort of “beginning.” Rather, it’s a very insular study of one man’s unraveling, and the darkness that he harbors inside of himself. It’s also about the power of belief, and the bonds of family, and things get pretty bad for our boy Oliver. But, as dark as things get, and they do, the book ends on an oddly hopeful note, bringing the narrative right back from the brink. I’m ashamed to say that Wakening the Crow is my first book by Stephen Gregory, but it definitely won’t be my last. This is gothic horror at its finest and if you love dark fiction (especially anything and everything Poe), don’t miss this.