This is a review of the 2007 book 'Crow Stone' by Jenni Mills. I picked this book off a charity bookstall as it had an interesting front cover and reading the promising synopsis which promised 'The darker the past, the deeper the secrets,' I was hooked from the start.
What is it about?
The book combines a modern archaeology project where mines and subsidence are threatening the foundations of local schools and houses with a coming of age era novel, dipping between Katie or Kit, the protagonists' past and present.
Stone Crow quarry has a mysterious past and there is lots of local folklore about the boys who went missing in there in the 60s to a local tramp who kept his collection of cameras in the hidden passageways. The miners are a bit superstitious when underground and Kit as mining engineer has to work out the best way to protect the sites of archaeological interest against making the foundation of the village above safe. Add in the interest of the bat expert who has to look after this protected species, the creepy lead archaeologist, the sexy foreman and Kit's archaeology lecturer friend and you've got a really interesting set of characters to play with.
What interested me more were the chapters that dipped into Kit's past, when she was 14 years old and starting to find boys interesting, her friends bitchy and the mystery of why her mum abandoned her when she was a toddler. Her father is trying to bring her up as a single parent but she is wary of his angry streak that ignites at the slightest issue. Despite her difficult home life, Kit is doing really well at school and collects ammonites from the fields when they have been ploughed. Her childhood is full of the stories from disused Stone Crow quarry and she is fascinated by the place, especially when all the known entrances are blocked up to prevent people getting lost down there.
I do quite like watching programmes on archaeology like TimeTeam and so have a mild interest in the subject but I really felt this book brought the subject alive. In the earlier paragraphs, Kit is potholing with her friend in a flint mine, gaining illegal access to the mine by picking the locks and getting a bit stuck in one of the passageways. Early on we scent danger in these underground warrens and this just builds and builds as the book progresses. The disturbing parts of Kit's past are merely hinted at in the first few chapters and the full picture is revealed only at the end of the book. The relationship between Kit and the men in the book is fascinating. We know she has a troubled past with her father but then she opts to work in an industry that is dominated by men. She has issues over trust and is upset when the miners don't seem to like or respect her. Her theories and ideas are laughed at by most but fortunately listened to by those who count.
The portrayal of Kit's would-be boyfriend Gary is really evocative and he does come across as strong, silent and sexy. He is patient to Kit and even waits out his belief that she is in a relationship with a degree of integrity. He supports Kit when she is upset and fragile and bides his time for their own relationship to bloom.
Dickon, the aptly titled archaeologist from the mining project is strange and stares at Kit, brushing up against her when he gets the chance and his suck up attitude to her grates on you as the book progresses. He's one of those people who just give you the creeps for a reason you can't quite put your finger on. The fact that Kit gets to share an office with him gives her plenty of chance to confirm her thoughts about him.
Martin, Kit's best friend is really a partner in crime with Kit. They egg each other on, pushing the boundaries in their explorations and land themselves in some really dangerous situations.
Price and availability
This book is available on Amazon for Kindle at £4.99 or in paperback format for £5.92. Or if you fancy a swap, my copy is the only copy currently on the readitswapit website.
I was surprised at how easily the lead character, with all her experience left herself with low batteries and inadequate gear for exploring unknown mine territory. The constant threat of the roof caving in created tension but surely a spare pair of batteries and a camera at all times was essential when on the trail of an original Roman temple? Having said that, there was lots of tension due to the unknown territory and the darkness of the mines helps to imagine what it would really be like down there. I did enjoy reading this and tore through the book to find out what happened. The book had the makings of a thriller movie with a bit of a whodunit theme too and the had the touching visits to the past which broke up the mining bits and made the story a lot more interesting with more context to Kit and her character. A recommended read in my opinion.