by J. Albert Barr
The Murder of Elliot Crow is the debut novel from Edmonton, Alberta-based writer, A.R. Shanks. The hard-copy book was independently published in April 2018. Ms. Shanks' novel can be described as one from the fantasy/adventure genre, and may be filed under YA fiction, though it does feature some straight-up adult situations, dark themes bordering on the existential, moments of moderately bracing violence, and evinces "adult-oriented language flourishes" from one specific character, which is merely suggested by the author using asterisks as a suitable substitute, keeping in mind her predominately-targeted readership, and perhaps contemporary notions of those easily offended or "triggered".
As is clearly indicated in the novel's title, our titular protagonist, Elliot Crow, is a very intelligent and sensitive, but self-conscious, socially-detached and inhibited teenager of about 14 years of age who appears to have been "murdered" in the first chapter by a complete stranger who mistook him for the intended target of his knife - Elliot's older brother Caspar:
"The sadist twisted the blade into his gut and his whole body exploded with pain until that was his entire world. For one strange moment, all the colors of all the surrounding world appeared far more vivid than he could ever remember them being. As though his life until that point had been ventured through while he was half-asleep."
Prior to this disturbing episode we see that Elliot is living a rather dull and mundane, contemporary existence, not really committed to family participation, now that he has entered adolescence and seemingly developed a generally typical teen-angst phase. His mother, interestingly enough, is a goth (much to Elliot's embarrassment) who runs a book-store that specialises in magic and occult books. Elliot's father, on the other hand, is more straight-laced and relatively conservative by comparison to his wife, proving, in this instance, that "opposites do attract". He is a reasonably successful writer who had instilled in his son a literary sensibility, while Elliot's mother provided him with much of his imagination and creativity; all of which are lost on Elliot because he sees them as abnormal, and he just wants to be "normal". Elliot's relationship with his brother Caspar is muted and distant, and he has only one apparent friend named Sam, who is far more socially-engaged and adventurous, though not very bright.
As Elliot passes out from the stabbing, he suddenly finds himself in an exceedingly strange place or world or realm. Did he indeed die and then passed into an afterlife, albeit one that resembles little of the one more generally imagined? He's not at all sure of what has and is happening to him, but he seems driven by the great desire to somehow communicate with, or send a warning to, his brother Caspar, who will most likely eventually meet a similar fate to Elliot's.
Elliot begins his other-worldly adventure in this seemingly magical realm, where physics is only allowed a partial admittance, by first encountering the "domain of Time" itself, a formidable presence before young Elliot, who assumes, initially, that he/it must be Death incarnate. Time, having asked Elliot if he had "anything unresolved in [his] life. Anything left undone", then charges him to seek out an acquaintance of Time's, whom he cannot go to himself, because "Those with responsibilities cannot leave their domain". Time wants Elliot to deliver a package to one Trinket Deadlock, and it is he who will guide Elliot through his tasks in exchange for a chance to warn his brother of his impending doom.
Trinket Deadlock is a wholly jovial and unrelentingly positive "father figure" who's constant companion, the foul-mouthed, bellicose but reliable, Gear, help Elliot to achieve his goals, but at a necessary distance, for it is Elliot himself who must enact the challenges ahead of him in order to make it back to his own realm by proving his ultimate allegiance to his family, and to also find within himself courage and heart and purpose and a new appreciation for life in general, both his and others.
Extracting much inspiration and influence from Alice in Wonderland and the Harry Potter series, Ms. Shanks' wonderfully entertaining and genuinely insightful and empathic novel is chock full of great action sequences, vividly detailed and executed with exciting, fast-paced prose. Her characters are well-drawn and dimension-filled, running the gamut of human emotion, strength and frailty. The novel is replete with whimsical wit and delightful humour, and its themes of family bonds, teamwork, self-discovery, consequences of reality through a fantastical purview, psychological and emotional buoyancy, made for one terrifically fun and intelligent read! I highly recommend this most excellent novel!
* You can find copies of A.R. Shanks' novel at Amazon.com. And her second novel, A Child Named Loveless, is now available as well at Amazon.com!