How often have you seen the hype written on book covers that proclaim the book in your hand to be “the best this year”, “a page turner”, etc. Do you believe it? Well this time you can! The book cover boasts a quote by The New York Times Book Review which states “A masterful storyteller”. What can I say?
The protagonist in “The boy who shoots crows” is an artist who has moved from the city to rural Pennsylvania to recover from a failed marriage. She has the idea that the idyllic peaceful setting will cure her soul and prove as an inspiration to her art. The description in the novel is told as seen through the eye of an artist using a lot of imagery which enables the reader to vividly imagine the action and setting.
The renovated farmhouse where Charlotte Dunleavy has taken up residence adjoins a wooded area. The novel opens with a police officer knocking on Charlotte’s door early one early spring morning to ask her if she had seen a young boy from the area who has been reported missing. The boy has been seen many times by Charlotte as he goes to the wood to shoot crows on a regular basis. However, this time she tells the officer that she has not seen him. She does say that she saw an older boy, Dylan, spreading lime on the fields and that he left his tractor to enter the woods that day…
The police officer, Marcus Gatesman, is a widower who is immediately attracted to the lovely Charlotte. He sees her vulnerability and her fragility and feels the need to protect her from life’s dark side. And he has seen the dark side. Many years of police work coupled with the loss of his beloved wife and infant daughter in a car accident, ensure that he is well versed in the fact that bad things sometimes do happen to good people. He is a likeable chap who occasionally waxes philosophical on life, fate, and chance. The author, Randall Silvis describes Gatesman as being “softened by life’s hardness” which describes him perfectly. Charlotte on the other hand is so wounded by her ex-husband that she is unable to let herself feel anything for Marcus. Although this sounds like your stereotypical romance novel, nothing could be further from the truth.
Jesse, the missing boy, is the only child of a poor family who live in a small mobile home just down the road from Charlotte’s farmhouse. His long-suffering mother, Livvie Rankin works hard to give Jesse the basic necessities. His father drinks to excess, gambles and shows neither his wife nor his son any love or affection.
Dylan, the teenager who Charlotte inadvertently puts in a difficult position maintains his innocence. Suspicion has been established however, and the local community make Dylan’s life a misery. He is severely beaten and hospitalized. This even after Charlotte recants her earlier tale, pleading that she was suffering from a debilitating migraine that day and couldn’t really rely on her senses. In fact Charlotte is so emotionally fragile that she seems to doubt her own perceptions causing the reader to question what is true? What is not?
As the story progresses and the search for the missing Jesse remains unfruitful, Charlotte seems to deteriorate into melancholia. She doesn’t take care of herself, she has lost all interest in her art, and her despair is almost palpable. She blames herself for casting Dylan in a guilty light.
“The boy who shoots crows” is unlike previous thrillers I have read where you turn pages wondering if what you deduct might be true. It is an astounding literary psychological thriller where I found myself turning pages feverishly hoping that what I was afraid of wasn’t true… The ending of the novel is one that will remain with me for years to come. Highly recommended!