Tuesday, November 19, 2019

The Kindly Dark, by J.B. Toner

"The Kindly Dark," by J.B. Toner, in A Murder of Crows, edited by Sandra Murphy, Darkhouse Books, 2019.

Each story in this book features a term of venery, which is the fancy word for a collective noun for animals.  I guess that makes this the title story.

In ten years of reviewing stories have I ever chosen one with an animal narrator?  Probably, but I don't remember doing so.

Let's begin at the beginning, shall we?

No bleakness is complete without a crow.  A ruined church, a barren moor, a graveyard by a grey and empty sea; without the brooding shadow of a solitary rook, their desolation lacks its full potential.

Okay, Mr. Toner, you have my attention.  What are you going to do with it?

He is going to introduce us to his narrator, a bird named Quick of Lurkwood Murder.  He is fast, but getting older, and his peace has been disturbed because Father McReady has installed a safety light at the door of St. Bernadette's Church, blotting out the comfortable dark of Quick's favorite resting spot.  The wire cage around the light is too strong for Quick to break.  Can he find another way to restore the darkness?

Anthropomorphism isn't for all readers, of course, but Toner's tale is rooted in two factual characteristics of crows, among the cleverest of birds: their ability to recognize those who have done them good or ill, and their willingness to mob a raptor.
I debated whether to review this story, not because of the birdy narrator, but because of its questionable crime content.  The only crime is a case of avian vandalism.  But hey, it's in a book of crime stories and it's a beautiful tale, so that's good enough for me.

When I reread a story immediately it is usually because of a trick ending.  In this case I reread it simply because the writing was such a delight. 

Here is Glint, leader of the Murder, preparing for the caper:


"Here, sir."  Knock was as big as a raven, our strongest fighter. An old scar marked his breast, and his left wing was white as bone.

"Will the raptors fly on such a day as this?"

A wry note entered Knock's voice.  "Only the boldest and the dumbest."

"Perfect.  Ready your team."

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