I’ll never forget the first time I saw Alfred Hitchcock’s horror movie The Birds (1963). In the early 1970s, I was just a kid when it played on TV one night. The din of thousands of squawking birds on the wing grew as they approached, hovered, darkened the sky, then attacked and killed their human victims. It creeped me out!
Where were my parents, you might ask? I don’t know. My usually diligent mother must have been out that night. I must have watched it with the babysitter.
Fun fact: supposedly, Hitchcock used over 3000 real birds and $200,000 worth of mechanical birds to create the scenes. Check out more trivia on The Birds here.
Reading A Murder of Crows by Anita Klumpers brought The Birds to mind, but fortunately, not because of multiple human victims. In Anita’s novel, the crows are gathered at the time of one particular murder. Other crows show up intermittently, taunting by echoing the ominous caws of that fateful day.
Why is a group of crows called a murder? No one explanation suffices, since some are based on superstition and folk tales. One notion is that crows, as scavengers, are an omen of death because they circle above battlefields, cemeteries, or anyplace where they anticipate death. Also, back in the old days, people commonly gave groups of animals colorful names. Some make perfect sense, and others are just plain fun:
- a gaggle of geese
- a business of ferrets
- a school of fish
- a skulk of foxes
- a band of gorillas
- a tower of giraffes
- an army of frogs
- a bloat of hippopotami
- a cackle of hyenas
- a smack of jellyfish
- a bask of crocodiles
- a stench of skunks
- a knot of toads
- a crash of rhinoceroses
- a zeal of zebras
Check out the whole list of animal groupings here.
Learn more about crows on this PBS special from 2013.
Anita Klumpers’ genre of choice centers on romantic suspense. Her novels include Winter Watch, Hounded, and Christmas Passed. Her title Buttonholed is a jump into contemporary romance—the first of her books without a murder. It was featured on my Journey to Imagination blog in 2020.
A Murder of Crows takes us back to the realm of romantic suspense.
On a video call, Paulina Deacon watches her friend follow a frenzied murder of crows through the woods. Moments later, Pauli is horrified when John stumbles upon three men and is murdered. In fear for her own life, she drives until she finds herself in the small town of Briar, Wisconsin. She reinvents herself as Polly Madison and is quickly hired to work doing odd jobs at a rehabilitation clinic.
Hal Karlsen has poured his life in to the Briar clinic helping people with addictions. When Polly arrives with her secrets, he is equal parts irritated and intrigued.
Terror follows Pauli to this small town and grows stronger each day as she finds her place in the tiny, welcoming community. Slowly, she begins to open up to Hal. As they work together to uncover exactly who is after her and why, their friendship deepens.
He pledges to keep her safe. She swears to protect the clinic. But can either live up to those promises while the danger increases daily? And will those murderous crows drive her mad before they figure it all out?
No time is wasted in this novel’s opening pages. Call 911! That’s what Pauline Deacon—AKA Pauli—does after witnessing a murder via a phone video call. John’s murder. The man she’s been smitten with the past few months.
The buzz and flapping of frantic crows follows her. Not literally, but she can’t escape the terror of John’s violent death amidst the crows in rural North Dakota. And she can’t stop driving because somebody’s tracking her. Before she knows it, she’s whipping through Minnesota and beyond, thrust into the small town of Brier, Wisconsin, twenty miles off the beaten path. She has to stop sometime. Might as well be here where nobody should be able to find her.
Incognito as Polly Madison, she finds herself working at the Sweetbrier Clinic, a rehabilitation clinic for people with addictions. Fortunately for Pauli—and for the clients’ protection—privacy and seclusion are paramount here. No problem for Pauli. Anonymity and privacy are what she needs most.
And then there are crows . . .
At Sweetbrier, Pauli finds community in a quirky cast of characters comprised of staff, clients, and townsfolk. Each one is distinct and likable, easy to visualize. There’s Marigold—large and in charge, youthful Davey, Gordie at the cafe, and celebrity Lydia Fontaine.
And of course, Hal Carlson who runs the clinic. Hal—with a name that Pauli associates with seasoned farmers. His incessant yet endearing irritability rivals a kid who fell asleep too early and missed Santa coming down the chimney. Every year.
Pauli is appointed the teacher of a running class and a knitting class. Her previous jobs as a substitute teacher and soccer player lend themselves to this.
But the idyllic setting and sweet community can’t hide her forever. After all, there’s a woods with crows nearby. And newspaper articles about a murder in North Dakota . . .
Pauli needs help, and now. So she has to trust somebody. Gradually, she opens up to Hal to attempt to untangle the mess. He in turn prods her to trust in something even greater. He invites her to chapel services.
But still, the crows gather . . .
Time is running out. It doesn’t take long for trouble to find her, even here at Briar. Plus, Pauli’s necessary reliance on new friends—especially Hal’s protection—clashes with her own desire to protect the clinic. As evil forces lurk, raising the stakes, she faces tough choices.
And the crows keep coming back . . .
Despite those nasty crows, an undercurrent of humor spices the narrative, peppered with witty lines. Here’s one, just for fun:
“If I got any more attractive,
the sun will refuse to shine for fear of competition.”
— Lemuel Prosper
Whether the sun’s out or not, the imagery shines, including the description of the amazing rehab building. The engaging storyline totes suspense and unexpected twists, dramatically building to a climax.
If you’ve read Anita’s novel Winter Watch, you’ll note a few peripheral connections with mentions of the town of Barley and the county sheriff Lemuel Prosper.
As the tale progresses, a strong faith element pervades, enough that some readers may deem the dialog preachy in a few spots. I actually smiled seeing reference to Question and Answer Number One of the Heidelberg Catechism, introducing a key relevant theme, but also a vivid reminder of my grade school catechism days. All that memorizing! But glad about it now.
Beware: multiple books exist with the title A Murder of Crows. Be sure you get the one by Anita Klumpers.
Join me for some Q & A with Anita Klumpers.
Questions about A Murder of Crows
What was your inspiration for writing A Murder of Crows?
Anita: Paranoia! I walk a bike trail near my home. Weekends and summer evenings it is busy, but during the day, I seldom have company. Occasionally, though, I’ll meet someone and if that someone else walking, I’m on high alert. You never know when someone might approach a grandmotherly-type to steal her ancient cell phone!
But it started me thinking—what if someone walking a deserted area was recording their surroundings? What if that person was attacked, and got their attacker’s face on their phone, AND had time to transmit the recording to someone before the attacker had a chance to destroy the phone?
And that’s how Murder of Crows was born.
How did you create your heroine, Pauli? How well did you know her and other key characters when you started out?
Anita: Pauli didn’t have much of a personality at first. She was just a scared woman on the run. A nice young woman who’d experienced a fair amount of loss in her life but seemed unscathed, and unaware that she needed saving—not just from physical danger, but spiritual. The more I wrote, the more I found myself rooting for her. That’s when Pauli began to develop a personality and a purpose.
Hal could absolutely not be the stereotypical handsome, muscular type. He needed a distinct personality, and from the first time he appears in the story, he was cranky, mildly irritable, but completely committed to his work and his Savior.
How did you decide on Pauli’s point of view? Did you ever consider including Hal’s or someone else’s, too?
Anita: That’s an interesting question! I’ve never written from multiple points of view. Although I enjoy reading novels where this device is used, I’ve never wanted to attempt it myself. I’ve always written from the female protagonist point of view, but at the moment I’m plodding through a manuscript written from the male’s perspective.
Did Pauli and/or other characters hijack the story or did you have full rein?
Anita: I never have full rein. Mostly because I don’t know any better than the characters what is going to happen next. I did bully Pauli and Hal by dragging them through an ever-changing plot with me, but the “bad guys” in Murder of Crows kept me on my toes and constantly switched off being the killer.
Just for fun — what would Pauli have to say about you?
Anita: She better thank me for introducing her to Hal! She’d probably wonder at my tendency toward worry and anxiety. She didn’t suffer from those weaknesses even before she was a Christian. She’d say, “Really, Anita? You’ve known since you were a child that your only comfort in life and death is Jesus? And you still give in to fears? Honestly.”
And then, because she is really a very nice woman, she’d add, “But we all have down days. Just keep trusting.”
How did you develop a suspenseful plot that relies on so many complicating factors that need to fit like puzzle pieces and remain believable? How do you keep everything straight?
Anita: I write and rewrite and agonize and ask myself how I get into these messes. I make copious notes. I develop timelines and motivation schemes and read the manuscript over and over to look for plot holes, breaks in logic, inconsistencies. And I have several trusted people read the almost-finished product. And then I rewrite. Again.
What did you have to research to make this story authentic? What’s the strangest thing you had to do or look up to create this story? (Or any story.)
Anita: I researched the behavior of crows a lot! I first tried to twist the story to have ravens be the harbingers of evil because “Unkindness of Ravens” (the collective name for those birds) would have been such a nifty title for a book. But I was committed to a North Dakota setting and ravens are too uncommon in that part of the country.
For Buttonholed, set in a fictional small southern town, I did a lot of research on duels. Research is one of my favorite parts of writing!
Questions about writing
What books have been most influential for you as a writer? Was there a book that sparked or confirmed your desire to be a novelist?
Anita: Classic novels by the likes of the Brontes, Jane Austin, Dickens, Twain and so on captured my imagination and admiration, but I knew I could never emulate them. Since I was first able to read, though, I loved mysteries. I moved from Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden to Agatha Christie. It was discouraging to admit I could never devise a complex and unusual plot with such skill.
When I discovered the romantic suspense novels of Barbara Michaels and Mary Stewart in high school, I started believing I could mix a love of writing and mystery without trying to come up red herrings and clever twists and an unexpected conclusion.
Where do your story ideas usually originate from—character, plot, setting, theme, or a combination? Share a couple of examples of how one of your stories grew from an initial idea.
Anita: Winter Watch began in a restaurant in northern Wisconsin where everyone seemed to know everyone else except my husband and I. And one young woman sitting alone reading a book. She was quite attractive in profile but when she turned to look around the room, the deformity on the opposite side of her face was apparent. I toned it down to a skiing accident scar and she became Claudia Alexander and the restaurant became Blossom’s.
A visit to Andrew Jackson’s home in Nashville gave me the idea of the duel in Buttonholed. For Hounded I based the entire story on a single line that came to me. “This funeral was so different than the last one.”
Please share something about a current project or the direction you want to go as an author.
Anita: Truthfully, right now I just want to start writing again! It’s been a tough year. An almost deadly case of Covid (deadly because of a previously undiagnosed rare from of lymphoma) and months of chemo took a lot of my time and attention.
I wonder how long I can use those as an excuse? Maybe I’m just lazy. I do have a couple of books in the works and I’m going to have to have a stern talk with myself. Both are Barley-adjacent books with some characters from Winter Watch showing up again.
Do you have any advice for aspiring novelists?
Anita: I’m not a big believer in advice. We’re all so different! I’ll share the advice I had to ignore before I could actually write a book. Everything I learned about writing said I HAD to outline my entire novel. I honestly tried and could never do it.
When I chose to ignore the advice and plow my through being uncertain of what would happen in the next line, to say nothing about the next chapter, I found myself with an entire book! Winter Watch was written as an exercise in self discipline once I graduated all my boys from homeschool. I’m still surprised that it ever got published!
Back to Laura . . . On a slightly similar note . . .
If you like small town fiction as in Anita’s stories, you might enjoy my recently re-launched novel All That Is Hidden, Though a family drama rather than romantic suspense, my story highlights the bond of family and the connections of a tight-knit community in North Carolina’s Smoky Mountains in 1968. Northern exploitation threatens as a father’s hidden past catches up to him and tests family ties. Learn more and watch the trailer here.
In June, I was named a semifinalist in Serious Writer’s Book of the Decade contest for All That Is Hidden.
Additionally, this month, All That Is Hidden won the Artisan Book Reviews Book Excellence Award.
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Anita Klumpers Bio
Anita Klumpers lives in South Central Wisconsin with her husband and shrimpy dog Trudy. She dreams of the day she’ll be able to knit a pair of socks, grow fruits and vegetables instead of weeds and clover, run in a 5K and sew like a fiend. Since she has just reached Medicare age, she better get moving on the above ambitions. In the meantime she enjoys way too much coffee, a passel of grandchildren, a never-shrinking stack of books to be read, great friends, and the exhilarating knowledge that every day she is growing in grace and nurture of her Lord Jesus Christ. Follow her blog here.
Join me next time for a visit with author Crystal Caudill.
Meanwhile, have you read A Murder of Crows or any Anita Klumpers books? Do you have a favorite? What do you like best about romantic suspense? Answer in the comments below.