Mills, Jenni - 'Crow Stone'
"Corax the Raven - the messenger of the gods. Just when you think life is on track, along comes a socking great bird, squawking news of a divine quest. My advice is, shoot the bloody thing..."
The quote at the start of CROW STONE hinted at something with a very dry, quirky sense of humour and it definitely delivers, together with good characterisation and a tremendous, taut, tense and frequently disturbing plot.
Katie was a little girl in Bath, living with her overbearing father, her mother left them when she was only a toddler. In many ways, Katie's a normal teenager - she watches the teenage boy who lives over the road through the curtains; she's under pressure to keep up her results at school; and her friends are obsessed with clothes, boys and parties. Katie's a little different though, a bit withdrawn, obviously missing her mother - her love is archeology - she fascinated by the fossils that are found around Bath and by the ancient stone mines that have been dug out under Bath.
Twenty years later and Katie has grown into Kit, now a mining engineer, back in Bath and working with the team that are trying to shore up those very same mines before there are major collapses. She's always denied her connections with Bath, but the status of the mines and her past in the area get complicated when Katie discovers something that seems significant from an archaeological point of view. She must call in her best friend, Professor of Archeology, Martin, and together they have to get into an off limits area of the mine to check out the discovery.
The possibility of a much sought after Roman Mithraic temple is not the only secret that the mines hold, and Kit is struggling with being back in Bath, let alone finding that the teenage boy has grown up into the foreman of the works. But what was it that happened all those years ago, where is Kit's father now, and why did her mother leave her?
CROW STONE covers Kit's life as the teenage Katie in alternating chapters with the current day. There's a slow burning, gripping, building tension that comes with this approach. This is not a book where a crime happens upfront, instead, something has happened in the past, something is happening in the present and the reader rapidly learns the details of either event. What holds both of these threads together is Kit. She's a fabulous, engaging character, sometimes full of attitude and confidence, sometimes doubting and unsure of herself. There's a lot that has obviously happened in Kit's life and she's handling it in the only way she knows how.
Along with Kit there's a well drawn cast of supporting characters, Gary the young boy over the road and now foreman, Kit's dearest friend Martin, the creepy site archaeologist Dickon and the miners who are horrified to have a woman underground.
CROW STONE was one of those books that you opened, read the first chapter and settled down for the ride. It is a first novel for Jenni Mills, and you can't help hoping that there's lots more to come.
Review reprinted with the kind permission of the author.
Karen Chisholm, Australia
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