Book Review: “Crow Bones” by Nicola McDonagh

This short story collection came recommended to me by Lorinda J. Taylor, so I knew going in it would be good. And it lived up to my expectations. The stories are all weird, unsettling, at times disturbing, at other times very funny. In short, an excellent blend of moods.

Each story is based on a famous painting, including works by Chagall, Picasso, and others. A neat concept which leads in interesting directions, and allows for new interpretations of famous pieces.

My favorite story in the collection was probably “The Gift,” which is a classic tale of a vengeful spirit, a concept that I love. I also greatly enjoyed the story from which the collection takes its name, a disturbing blend of sci-fi and horror that evoked A.C. Flory’s Vokhtah in its detailed portrayal of an utterly alien society. “Corden’s Coral Phase” was also a highlight, with the entertaining banter between its characters gradually revealing their personalities.

The description of this collection on Goodreads says, “If you like authors such as Philip K Dick, Edgar Allen Poe, Ray Bradbury, P.G. Wodehouse, Annie Proulx and Franz Kafka, then Crow Bones is the anthology for you.”

I can definitely see the influence of Poe and Bradbury. (To be clear, I’m talking Bradbury at his best, i.e. Something Wicked This Way Comes.) I didn’t pick up the Wodehouse influence so much, maybe because the subject matter, even when it is humorous, is more off-kilter than “Plum” would usually do. But it is well-written, and to that lineup above I would add two more names that it brought to my mind: Harlan Ellison and Ambrose Bierce. It has that same dark mood that characterized their works, and frequently the sardonic edge as well.

These stories are probably not for everyone, as their grimmer elements may deter some readers. But if you like dark, weird fiction, and the fact that you’re reading this blog is a strong indication that you probably do, then you should absolutely check it out.

[Audio version of this post available below.]


  1. Thanks for the review! I found the stories impressive, too. My review is on Amazon and Goodreads. You might want to check out the author’s series of unusual mysteries starring Leo Katz (the author publishes them under the pseudonym Nik Grybaski). For maximum effect, start with v.1: Black Danube rather than the prequel.

    1. I don’t understand WordPress. This comment wouldn’t post, so I put up the following and when I hit “post comment,” they both posted. So I apologize.

      1. No need to apologize; WordPress does weird things sometimes, especially when links are involved. Thanks again! 🙂

  2. Thanks for reviewing this book! You can see my review on Amazon on Goodreads. I also really liked “The Gift.” You might also enjoy the author’s series of Leo Katz mysteries, published under the pseudonym Nik Grybaski. I recommend starting with v.l: Black Danube rather than the prequel.

    1. I think you’ll like it. It’s dark, but not outright horror; more just… unsettling, at times.

      1. Agreed…And I thought ‘The October Country’ compilation was the most ‘Bradbury’ and then this cropped up.
        As the old Eddie Cochran song went ‘Hey man. That’s something else,’

  3. Thanks for the mention, Berthold. 😀 Sorry to be so late to the post, but I’ve been obsessed with images not words lately; my brain seems to be a serial monogamist. 😉
    I need to replenish my reading material now so I’ll check ‘Crow Bones’ out.

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