In the Hour of Crows: A Novel

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Release Date: 
June 4, 2024
Reviewed by: 

“In spite of the earlier wanderings throughout the story . . . Elmendorf provides the reader with an engaging story that is hard to put down, and satisfying at the end.”

“In the hour of crows. When the day is no longer and night is not yet.” Two sentences that set the tone for Dana Elmendorf’s novel In the Hour of Crows.

Set in the Appalachia area of Georgia, the story begins with Weatherly, a ten-year-old being dragged to the burial of two babies by her evil grandmama. Weatherly vomits up Sin Eater Oil, a poison created in her body whenever she is drawn to save a dying life. Weatherly is a “Death Talker,” and that is her gift in life—to save the dying.

But there are rules that go along with this difficult task of death talking: “If you tell someone the secret scriptures, your gift is gone. You can only pass it to someone of the opposite sex. If you die with your gift, it disappears forever. You can’t talk the death out of someone twice. And you can’t save your kin.”

The story jumps forward 14 years and Weatherly is known for her gift throughout the Appalachian countryside, called upon with frequency to save the dying. Those around her understand and accept this gift. Grandmama is a wicked woman who practices her evil recipes; Bone Layer is not a family member, but might as well be for his attachment to Grandmama. Adair is Weatherly’s cousin and her best friend. Although Adair dies early in the story she revisits Weatherly throughout.

And then there is Rook—the boy/crow, a Soul Walker, who has been part of Weatherly’s life for as long as she can remember, although the others in her family do not know him. Is he real or part of her imagination, she often wonders as she thinks, “There’s something about our touch that feels deeper than anything I’ve felt before. It’s like we’re part of each other That day forever bonding us. A Death Talker and a Soul Walker.”

The town’s mayor, Stone Rutledge, is initially charged with Adair’s death, but in a small country town, with a friendly judge, Adair’s death is determined to be an accident and Stone is acquitted of any involvement and goes free, much to Weatherly’s dismay.

It’s at this point that the characters tend to wander into and out of her story making it at times difficult to follow. And yet the thread begins to form as Weatherly is determined to prove Adair’s death was no accident and not to let Stone get away with murder.

One afternoon, Weatherly is called to the Rutledge mansion to save Ellis, Rutledge’s son, and yet she does not succeed in this challenge. Weatherly is bewildered by the fact that for the first time, she is unable to save the dying. Her bewilderment turns to fear when Stone Rutledge’s body is discovered hanging from a tree—suicide or murder? The sheriff believes it is murder, and Weatherly is the prime suspect.

As the story progresses, Rook appears to help Weatherly move through her grief and fear. It should be noted that Elmendorf has created a strong character in Rook, and his relationship with Weatherly is believable, in spite of it being somewhat unreal.

New characters enter the story. Adair’s boyfriend, Davis, experiencing his own grief at losing his love, begins to help Weatherly in her drive to prove that Adair’s death was murder. Raelean, Weatherly’s friend who knows nothing about Soul Walking or Death Talking, is drawn into the investigation. Both friends share their anguish and curiosity with Weatherly as the search for the truth continues.

Lorelei Rutledge, Stone’s daughter and Ellis’s twin sister, and Gabby, Lorelei’s demented aunt, throw more clues into the story—muddying the water or clarifying the truth? The reader will wonder.

Elmendorf sets enough clues, foreshadowing, and red herrings to keep the reader guessing: a small red suitcase, a square tin box, and a tooth key play a part in solving this riddle.

Davis and Weatherly do not give up until the truth is uncovered and Adair’s soul is put to rest.

But if the reader thinks that solving the murder is the end of the story, they still have an Epilogue to read . . . along with a box of Kleenex.

In spite of the earlier wanderings throughout the story that tend to make the story initially difficult to follow, Elmendorf provides the reader with an engaging story that is hard to put down, and satisfying at the end.