An amazing tale of heartbreak when the treachery becomes too much to bear


A River of Crows 

Shanessa Gluhm 

TouchPoint Press, April 18, 2023 

427 pages  

Paperback, ISBN 978-1-956851-58-8



“It was cruel how tears never ran out. How the body was capable of producing them forever and ever and ever.” 


Parents and other adults are supposed to protect and nurture children, not use them as pawns or as a means to an end.  A River of Crows by Shanessa Gluhm is a profound glimpse into a family’s disastrous spiral into betrayal, manipulation, and death. In 1988, twelve-year-old Sloan Hadfield and her ten-year-old brother, Ridge, are growing up in a typical household. Two parents, Caroline and Jay, and two kids, Sloan and Ridge, live in a modest home in a small Texas town. Nothing extraordinary about this family until the lies, hidden for years, spill forth and shatter the façade, resulting in a flood of tragedy, secrets, and mental degeneration. 


Gluhm delivers an amazing tale of heartbreak when the treachery becomes too much to bear, culminating in bitterness and revenge that harm both the guilty and the innocent. A major plot twist slowly begins to build as early as the prologue, with the entire truth and ultimate retaliation eventually revealed to both the characters and the readers much later. How could everything go so terribly wrong in such a seemingly happy household?  


In A River of Crows, the tone is often bleak and distressing but never uninteresting. The overall pace is moderate, allowing the reader to settle into Sloan’s third-person narrative about the events in 1988 and the current events in 2008. A few chapters later, however, the story switches, providing a peek into her mother Caroline’s feelings and justification and ultimate confusion and despair. What is a mother to do when her husband has secrets and is then accused and convicted of killing their son? How is Sloan supposed to cope and carry on without her little brother, with her father in prison, and with her mother mentally and physically slipping away? 


With exquisite storytelling, the author keeps the reader believing that this is a cut-and-dried story of murder and simply about a catastrophe ripping a family apart. And it is, but not without smoke and mirrors and a few red herrings –or in this case, crows– along the way. Crows play a major role in this story, both literally and figuratively. Caroline, a budding ornithologist before her marriage, tells her children many stories about crows and their behaviors and patterns. While Sloan is only mildly interested at best, Ridge is obsessed with the crows and always wants to watch them roost in the trees along the river near their home. Crows are intelligent and often seen as mediators between the living and the dead; they can symbolize transition or change as well, especially when they arrive in large numbers: a murder of crows. While a few clues point to Ridge’s drowning, the body is never found, but the crows know what happened in the river back in 1988. Other people know the truth too. As the story progresses, facts and new developments become surreal and complex and quickly unravel into a dark, cautionary tale, filled with misdirection, deception, evil, and all-consuming love.  


Shanessa Gluhm, with literary panache, expertly shows what happens when a family strays from respect and honesty, with the consequence of it all, as dark as a crow’s wing, unfurling, touching, and changing everything and everyone in its path. 


Shanessa Gluhm works as a librarian at an elementary school in New Mexico where she lives with her husband and children. It was during her own elementary days when a teacher encouraged Shanessa to write and share stories with the class. She hasn’t stopped writing since. Her debut novel, Enemies of Doves was an IAN Book of the Year Finalist in the category of first novel, an NIEA Finalist for cross-genre fiction, and first place winner in the Chanticleer Clue Awards for mystery, suspense, and thriller fiction. When Shanessa isn't writing, she enjoys reading, listening to true crime podcasts, and birdwatching.