This, a Netgalley ebook read with thanks, was a definite change of pace for me, both in setting and protagonist. It’s West Texas in the 1968, and our hero is Jason Crow, not long home from Vietnam where he was nearly killed in a bombing raid. He made it through – but barely, and somewhat mysteriously: he was shot in both legs, and no one knows who set tourniquets on both, which prevented him from bleeding to death … but which, because it took days for anyone to find him, resulted in the amputations of both legs above the knee. He went from all-star athlete to wheelchair-bound in no time at all, and his only sometimes small-seeming consolation is that at the urging of his father he has against doctors’ expectations learned to use prosthetics. They’re awkward and painful, and in them he is inches shorter than he used to be, but he’s upright, and the people around him are always more comfortable when he’s upright. Therefore, spared their pity and curiosity, he is more comfortable.
Then, just as Jason is headed home with the new prosthetics, his father is found dead. The police take the scene at face value and call it a suicide: his father succumbed to the stresses of trouble in his marriage and a pending IRS audit of his business and, they gently add, what has happened to Jason, and he shot himself. And Jason doesn’t buy it, adamant that it cannot be the way it looks – it had to be murder. He slowly builds support among his family and friends and his father’s friends, and slowly builds a case for murder.
Jason is the first-person narrator, a good choice. He’s not perfect, not now that he is dealing with all that he has lost and all that he has to struggle to regain – and, he realizes, not before the war when he was a football star and all around golden boy. He is bitter, of course, and highly self-conscious, of course, but beginning to regain a bit of control over his life and future, which makes his father’s abrupt death an even harsher blow than otherwise. He’s a good, solid character, angry without becoming strident and annoying, and recovering at what feels like a natural pace. As the Crow Dies is no cozy mystery, and Jason is no cozy-mystery detective, just a young man driven to find out who killed his father and why. I think the only real improvement that could be made to the narrative, which I hope happens in later books of the series, is that the reader does not need to be reminded quite so often of Jason’s legs. Of course they, or their lack, would be constantly in the forefront of his thoughts, and of course they, or their lack, would alter his every action – but nearly every page of the book saw a reference to the amputations and their effects, even if he was just sitting or lying somewhere thinking about the murder. The reminders were, to put it mildly, unnecessary, and even grew a little irritating.
My only other real complaint about the book is a quibble, really; just something that bugged me: Jason’s best friend is his soon-to-be business partner, and now his caretaker, and a more perfect creature there never was. Seriously, everyone should have someone like this in their lives, only that’s not possible because no one’s this perfect: patient, strong, funny, never-tiring … he has lived with the Crows since he was a boy because of issues within his own family, and is a better brother to Jason than Jason’s twin. I just wish that once, just once, he had lost his temper or not been exactly where he was needed at all times or … something; he comes off more as a paid retainer than a friend.
One thing is absolutely certain; I will remember this book for a gift it gave me in the form of a poem.
DEATH IS NOTHING AT ALL
Henry Scott Holland
Canon of St. Paul’s Cathedral, London 1847-1918
Death is nothing at all.
I have only slipped away into the next room.
I am I and you are you.
Whatever we were to each other that we are still.
Call me by my old familiar name
Speak to me in the easy way which you always used
Put no difference in your tone
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow
laugh, as we always laughed
At the little jokes we enjoyed together
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was
Let it be spoken without effort
Without the ghost of a shadow on it
Life means all that it ever meant
It is the same as it ever was
There is absolute unbroken continuity.
What is death but a negligible accident?
Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
I am waiting for you, for an interval,
Somewhere very near
Just around the corner.
All is well.
Nothing is past; nothing is lost
One brief moment and all will be as it was before
How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!