With this short story, I discovered a tale with what seemed to be an overused premise erupt into something far creepier than I’d ever expected.
The Concept: C+
A sweet young couple and their adorable little cat move into a new home, which the husband becomes convinced is being watched by swarms of creepy, telepathic crows.
It’s not the most original horror premise out there, but the author’s blurb made it sound just eerie enough that I figured it was worth a shot. I didn’t know this when I started reading, of course, but it’s not the beginning that makes this story special—it’s the deliciousness of the ending.
The Execution: B+
How exactly does one go about trying to make a horde of crows give a reader chills in a world in which Hitchcock’s The Birds is so well-known? Huston gives it a surprising amount of justice, buffeting the reader expertly back and forth between scenes of cute banter between Danny and Rebecca and scenes of bewildering avian menace. The tonal whiplash from the idyllic romance and the inexplicable dread serves to emphasize the crescendo of sinister elements in the story.
The Writer’s Voice: B
Huston can certainly turn a phrase, and he clearly has a knack for spookiness. There were a few little things that bothered me—a few overused words and a lack of delineation between official narration and direct thoughts of the narrator, for example. But the first-person narration helped smooth over a lot of those minor quibbles, allowing me to get into Danny Jackson’s head and feel his dread.
The simplistic, sometimes awkward phrasing to represent the telepathic communication of the crows was a nice touch, as well, adding to the confusion and the creepiness.
The X-Factor: A
The ending, the ending, the ending. The ending! It’s all about the ending! I was interested as I read, and my interest grew steadily as the situation escalated, but during those last few pages I was reading so fast I kept accidentally skipping lines.
It’s not a perfect ending, I suppose, but it was so messed up and so unexpected that it hit me pretty hard. It has to take a good amount of skill to pull off such a great twist in the conclusion of such a brief story, but Huston demonstrates that he’s up to the task.
The Sentence for Murder: B+
This is a quick sample of tautly wound horror. It starts off as nothing earth-shattering, but I’d be surprised if A Murder of Crows doesn’t surprise you in a few ways by the time you finish it.