Review: The Gathering by C.J. Tudor

cover of The GatheringThe Gathering by C.J. Tudor
Ballantine Books (April 2024)
Reviewed by Dave Simms

Full disclosure here: not a vampire fan, because most fiction and movies aim for the tried and true tropes rather than injecting new blood into the subgenre. Once in a while, a novel changes that view. The Gathering is one of those, an enjoyable, left turn of a blood-sucking story that can make the reader forget about the bad stories.

C.J. Tudor has become a major force in recent years. From The Chalk Man to the stunning The Burning Girls, she has developed into one of the finest modern thriller writers. Her deft touch with dialogue and fully-fleshed out characters separates her from much of the pack.

The Gathering takes place in an alternate timeline where vampires are real and coexist with humans, with a bit of friction and discrimination. Vamps as the oppressed? Sure. Bring it. At this point, the beings mostly behave and are protected by law, but when they step out of line, a culling can be called.

Alaska is a perfect setting in its isolation. Deadhart, even better. The murder of a young boy has the small town on edge and aching for a culling, something that hasn’t happened there for 25 years.

Barbara Atkins is flown in to solve the murder and keep the townspeople from prematurely raging against the mostly peaceful vampires who exist on the periphery of society. She’s a behavioral specialist for the vamps, which doesn’t sit well with most of the people. The mayor and former sheriff, both who give her some aid, are great foils for Barbara and soon develop into crucial parts of the novel. Another, the leader of the church in town who thinks the creatures are an abomination against God. Those are the basics — then it gets interesting. The interplay and hidden histories between the 673 townspeople of Deadhart and the Colony begins to deepen and tighten. Is it a vampire or something else? Is a cull the best move? Or is something much worse simmering in the town?

Tudor plays with her readers by lulling them into a sense of security with the likable characters juxtaposed with the claustrophobic setting. She keeps the secrets just beneath the surface, leaking a detail here and there, playing fair, but enjoying the twists and turns that elevate The Gathering from a simple trope to something layered and different from most vampire novels.

As usual with Tudor, this one is recommended and a class in thriller writing.


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