I tend to find Iain Banks a bit of a dodgy author. Some of his books are great ( The Wasp Factory , Walking on Glass) and some are contrived verging on the mediocre ( I think that Whit is the worst offender here) Thankfully The Crow Road is on of the better novels.
Essentially this is a family saga told (mostly) through the eyes of young adult Prentice McHoan. After the death of his grandmother (and an opening sentence which has been quoted from ad nauseaum) Prentice decides to dig into his family roots and uncover some secrets which have been bothering him for a long time, the top priority being Prentice’s Uncle Rory’s disappearance.
As Prentice starts investigating his past starts to become clear and slowly he does find out about his Uncle’s disappearance. In the process though he has to go through the deaths of some more family members in order to grasp his roots clearly.
The Crow Road is a slang for death and there is a fair number of corpses in the novel but, say unlike, The Wasp Factory, each death reveals something new to both Prentice and the reader. Mind you there’s life and love as well , which is what keeps a family going. By the end of the novel Prentice learns about his own role within the McHoans and the two their families he’s connected to the Watts and Urvils.
I have to admit that I did tackle this novel back in 2005 and I didn’t like it at all. I found dry and lacking the grotesqueness of The Wasp factory or Complicity but after this re-read I found it to be quite addictive and, best of all it’s not a novel where you can predict the outcome ( which is one big fault with Banks’ later novels). Although I wouldn’t suggest this one as the first Banks, The Crow Road is definitely one of his strongest to date.