For me, the scariest kind of book is one that has a subtle creepiness to it. You know something has happened, something is going on—you’re just not sure eactly what.
I love those kinds of books! And I recently found a great one by Jenni Mills, called Crow Stone.
Crow Stone is the story of Kit Parry, a young woman who is an engineer. She makes a living working on various freelance projects, quite often with archaeologists. Her fascination is with the underground world that few people see. Caves and mines scare her, but they pull her into their dark passages; she can’t stay away.
Kit has been asked to come to Bath, England, to help on a project. The town sits atop old stone quarries which are becoming more and more unstable. There is a very real danger of collapse, with the threat of homes and shops sinking into the earth. It has been decided to fill in the quarries before that happens, and Kit would be the chief engineer on the project. It’s a big job, and would only add to her prestige in her field—but she hesitates.
Kit grew up in Bath. Her mother left when Kit was only two-years-old. The story Kit hears in bits and pieces from the townsfolk is that her mother ran off with a soldier, leaving Kit behind to be raised by her father. The summer Kit turned 14 was a hard summer; we know something terrible happened to her, and we know that she was taken away from her home and her father. But Kit has worked hard to bury those memories, and is not ready to share them with the reader. The more she thinks about this project, the more she decides that filling in the quarries will be the perfect way to bury her past—once and for all.
The author slowly reveals Kit’s past and present with alternating chapters; first in present day Bath, where she must work in a male-dominated field with superstitious stone miners, and a site foreman that she had a crush on as a teenager; and then we get a glimpse into that fateful summer when Kit (then known as Katie) was 14. We meet her (questionable) friends, and her father who is by turns loving and violent. As the story builds, the tension grows and the mystery of exactly what is going on grows, too.
This is the type of book you should sink into. There are lots of details about mine engineering and urban archaeology – two topics I knew little about. The author describes being lost in an underground cave, and does a wonderful job of creating tension and anxiety. It’s not a fast-paced book, but I had a very hard time putting it down. The possibility of Kit and her friend Martin – a professor of archaeology – finding an old site once used by Roman soldiers to worship Mithras and trying to save the site before the quarries are filled in gave the chapters set in the present day an exciting urgency, while the chapters set in Kit’s past were ominous and filled with a creepy tension. There is no supernatural or paranormal element here; all the ugliness revealed is very human and very tragic because it is so real. This was a first novel, and I’m looking forward to reading more from Ms. Mills.