The Claws of the Crow
Ruth Wissman | Warner Books | 1974 | 158 pages
Essentially a three-person character study in a single location, The Claws of the Crow builds suspense by asking how well we know those close to us, although there is little little doubt where the early suspicion leads—two black-clad, cemetery-visiting, gray-haired old spinsters? W-I-T-C-H-E-S!
Raised alone by her two elderly aunts, sixteen-year-old Althea Ingram yearns to be free of the suffocating confines of the only home she has ever known, a decaying old mansion in an overgrown lot formerly surrounded by orange groves. Since the sudden departure of the family’s young housekeeper, the only person with whom Althea shared an emotional affinity, Althea grows to resent the domineering presence of her aunt Veda, and scorns the passivity of her sickly aunt Lydia, who seemingly cowers under her sister’s intimidating presence. A series of strange discoveries leads Althea to fear for Veda’s sanity, and for her own safety.
Furtively returning from a rare late night out, Althea overhears Veda chanting behind the door of a room on the second floor of the house, a room that has always been locked. Accompanied by the aroma of a strange incense, Veda seems be reciting some sort of secret incantation, performing what must be a kind of occult ritual. Determined to investigate further, Althea later searches the house for a key to the locked room. In the cellar, she discovers a loose brick in the masonry, revealing a secret hiding place with a curious object inside—a waxen figure with gray hair, with a women’s handkerchief tightly wrapped around its chest. Curiosity leads to horror as Althea discovers a second hidden figure—a wet and moldy male doll, battered and beaten, that immediately recalls her late father, who was killed when his automobile crashed into a river.
Slowly becoming convinced that her aunt is not delusional, but actually wields occult powers, Althea resolves to escape from the growing web of Veda’s sinister plans, but not before uncovering the dark secrets hidden in her family’s past, as well as those buried in the back yard. Disappointingly, Althea’s ultimate confrontation with Veda doesn’t reflect the growing realization of her own innate abilities, and Althea must rely on the support of her neighbor’s friend, Bruce, to come to her rescue—confirming the bewitching nature of dreamy college good looks and a motorcycle.