Download high-resolution image
Listen to a clip from the audiobook
audio pause button
0:00
0:00

The Gathering

A Novel

Read by Lorelei King
Listen to a clip from the audiobook
audio pause button
0:00
0:00
A detective investigating a grisly crime in rural Alaska finds herself caught up in the dark secrets and superstitions of a small town in this riveting novel from the acclaimed author of The Chalk Man.

The Gathering is an incredibly exciting novel, tightly plotted and brilliant tense, with an atmosphere you could eat with a spoon.”—Stuart Turton, author of The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

In a small Alaska town, a boy is found with his throat ripped out and all the blood drained from his body. The inhabitants of Deadhart haven’t seen a killing like this in twenty-five years. But they know who’s responsible: a member of the Colony, an ostracized community of vampyrs living in an old mine settlement deep in the woods.

Detective Barbara Atkins, a specialist in vampyr killings, is called in to officially determine if this is a Colony killing—and authorize a cull. Old suspicions die hard in a town like Deadhart, but Barbara isn’t so sure. Determined to find the truth, she enlists the help of a former Deadhart sheriff, Jenson Tucker, whose investigation into the previous murder almost cost him his life. Since then, Tucker has become a recluse. But he knows the Colony better than almost anyone.

As the pair delve into the town’s history, they uncover secrets darker than they could have imagined. And then another body is found. While the snow thickens and the nights grow longer, a killer stalks Deadhart, and two disparate communities circle each other for blood. Time is running out for Atkins and Tucker to find the truth: Are they hunting a bloodthirsty monster . . . or a twisted psychopath? And which is more dangerous?
1

It would be wrong to say that life had passed Beau Grainger by.

Beau Grainger had ambled along steadily, without excitement or drama (for the most part), but also without bitterness or rancor. He had always lived in the small Alaskan town where he had been born and saw no reason to move elsewhere. Most places became familiar after a time, like most people.

He had loved two women and married one of them. They had raised three children and seen them make their way in the world. A fourth they had buried before the infant could take his first breath. Funny how that was the child Beau wondered about the most. We always hanker after what we can’t have. Human nature.

Beau had lost his wife, Patricia, to dementia ten years ago and she had been dead almost three years now. By the time she passed, Beau had finished mourning the woman he loved and buried a stranger.

Now, in his seventy-ninth year, Beau had a few good friends and few regrets. And that is really the best a man can hope for as he starts the final lap of life. That, and a swift and painless death. Beau was content. Or as content as anyone truly can be. But even a man like Beau, not given to introspection or sentimentality, had days when he thought too much.

Today was one of those days.

His joints ached, which they did sometimes in bad weather. His coffee tasted bitter, and not even a shot of whiskey helped. TV held no interest and books failed to distract him. He couldn’t settle.

Beau wandered around his living room. Small and snug, with worn leather armchairs and a large, open fire. Above it hung Beau’s trophies.

Beau was a hunting man. He loved nature, but he also loved the thrill of the kill. To be a good hunter took patience. And Beau had plenty of that. Watching, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. To truly know another beast is to look into its eyes as it dies.

Beau moved closer to the heads. Three of them, mounted on solid wooden stands made for him by Cal Bagshaw (dead almost a year now from throat cancer).

Beau stared into their glassy eyes, ran a finger over their pale, dry skin and around their sharp white teeth.

“Bite me,” Beau whispered, and chuckled. But a whisper of cool ice still drifted across his neck.

Okay, Beau-boy. But remember, the first cut is the deepest.

Beau backed away, and then told himself not to be such an old fool. He turned to the window. Black clouds bristled on the horizon. The white snow undulated like a vast frozen sea. A storm was coming, something foul on the air. Beau had smelt that smell and felt that chill before.

They were back.

It was about to begin again.


2

The cab driver was a talker.

Great.

Barbara guessed he didn’t get a lot of business this time of year, so he was hungry for company. He lived alone. Probably always had. His heavy beard and food-stained shirt, plus the odor of BO, suggested long-term “don’t give a shit.” Not that she was suggesting a man needed a woman to take care of him. No, sir. But everyone needed someone to make an effort for. Without that, you got used to your own stench pretty quickly. She should know.

The driver’s name was Alan, according to his license. “Call me Al,” he had grinned. “You know, like the song.”

Barbara had nodded and smiled. “Yeah.”

She hated that song. She wasn’t so hot on the silver cross and rosary beads dangling from “Call Me Al’s’ rearview mirror either. But to each their own.

For the next few miles, she batted away the endless questions: First time here? Yes. Sightseeing? Yes. A lie, but it led to him giving her a rundown of the best tourist attractions in the area, which was pretty short yet somehow still kept him occupied for the next thirty miles or so.

The scenery swished by in a breathtaking gust of ice and snow. And it was breathtaking stuff, Barbara supposed. If you liked snow, forests, mountains, more snow, more forests, more mountains. Pretty. Sure. But get lost out there and you’d be a frozen corpse within minutes. Not so pretty.

She fought back a yawn. An early flight from New York to Anchorage, a nerve-shredding air taxi to Talkeetna and now an hour-and-a-half drive along the snowy AK-3 highway to her destination. Man, why had she agreed to this?

“You’re our best forensic detective,” Decker had told her.

“What about Edwards?”

“Family commitments, which you don’t have.”

“So I draw the short straw because I’m single and childless.”

Decker had leaned forward, stubby hands splayed on his desk. He was a short, stocky man with a Friar Tuck ring of black hair around a bald pate and a face that looked like he was permanently in the middle of a minor cardiac event. He’d been Barbara’s boss for over ten years, and she still wasn’t sure he knew her first name.

“You want me to pay you a compliment, Atkins? Tell you you’re better than Edwards? Our foremost expert in the field.”

“That would be nice, sir.”

Decker had glared at her. “Your flight is booked. Don’t forget your garlic.”

He turned back to his computer, indicating that their conversation was over.

Barbara stood. “Great, sir—should I cook them some dinner?”

“Good that you know your place.”

She had smiled. “Sir . . . ​with all due respect, you’re a real asshole sometimes.”

And then she had walked out without looking back. On reflection, her sunny, easy-going nature might also be why she was being shipped out to Alaska.

“So.” Al was staring at her in the rearview mirror. “We don’t get so many tourists stopping in Deadhart. I mean, we get a few of them Goth types; they all like to take a picture of the name, you know? But most don’t stay long. Most head on back to Talkeetna. You plan on doing that?”

He had her sussed, Barbara thought. Never underestimate a cab driver, even out here. They saw all of humanity in the back of their cars. They knew how to read people.

“Maybe,” she said. “I’ll play it by ear.”

Al nodded, cleared his throat. “I just thought . . . ​you might be heading that way because of the boy.”

Barbara felt herself tense. The local police department had been instructed to keep news of the death quiet for the first forty-eight hours, until she arrived to make an assessment. It didn’t do to stir up trouble too soon.

“What boy?” Barbara asked carefully.

Her eyes met Al’s in the mirror. The silver cross danced and dangled.

“The one that got killed,” he said.

Okay. So word had already got out, and if Al was chatting to his customers about it, that leak was pretty much a flood. Barbara just needed to know how far it had spread. Could she sandbag it? She debated. Best to be up front. Or at least appear to be.

“You got me.” She sighed. “I’m here about the boy. What have you heard?”

She gave Al a little half-smile. He had been smart. Outwitted her. Now, she was giving him a chance to show how much more he knew.

“Look.” He lowered his voice a little, even though it was only the two of them in the cab. “I know you want to keep it quiet. I’m not a gossip, okay?”

“And I thank you for that, sir.”

“I only mentioned it because my sister, Carol, she lives in Deadhart, see.”

“I see.”

“And she told me about the boy—and that some specialist detective was flying in.”

“Right.”

“You’re obviously from out of town, I don’t take many folks to Deadhart and, no offense, but you look like law.”

Did she? Barbara knew she was no beauty queen. Short with a barrel waist, thick legs and a nose that could sniff out a good steak from fifty paces. Solid. That was how people often described her. Good old solid Barbara. And getting solider by the day since she turned fifty. Age might bring wisdom, but it also brought indigestion and elasticated pants.

“Well, yessir. Well spotted. But I’d appreciate it if you didn’t mention it to anyone else.”

“Oh, absolutely. You think you’ll be here long?”

They were climbing now. To her right, steep hills bristling with dark spruce and spindly birch. To her left, the ground dropped further and further away. She could see the glint of water in the distance. The Susitna River. Barbara swallowed. She didn’t like heights. Or water.

“Well, I guess it depends on what I find,” she said.
“C. J. Tudor is getting better and bolder with every novel, and the bar was pretty high to start with. The Gathering is an incredibly exciting novel, tightly plotted and brilliant tense, with an atmosphere you could eat with a spoon.”—Stuart Turton
 
“C. J. Tudor is a genius. The Gathering kept me on the edge of my seat to the very last page. . . . A tour de force!”—Ava Glass

“My first vampire book but it definitely won’t be my last! Really enjoyed The Gathering, a chilling and claustrophobic story set in the snowy wilderness of Alaska.”—B. A. Paris

“Vampires, or ‘vampyrs,’ roam the earth—and provoke heated political debate—in this wildly imaginative supernatural thriller from Tudor . . . This frostbitten procedural is a bloody good time.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)
© Bill Waters
C. J. Tudor is the author of The Drift, The Burning Girls, The Other People, The Hiding Place, and The Chalk Man, which won the International Thriller Writers Award for Best First Novel, the Barry Award, and the Strand Critics Award for Best Debut Novel. Over the years she has worked as a copywriter, television presenter, voice-over artist, and dog walker. She is now thrilled to be able to write full-time, and doesn’t miss chasing wet dogs through muddy fields all that much. She lives in England with her partner and daughter. View titles by C. J. Tudor

About

A detective investigating a grisly crime in rural Alaska finds herself caught up in the dark secrets and superstitions of a small town in this riveting novel from the acclaimed author of The Chalk Man.

The Gathering is an incredibly exciting novel, tightly plotted and brilliant tense, with an atmosphere you could eat with a spoon.”—Stuart Turton, author of The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

In a small Alaska town, a boy is found with his throat ripped out and all the blood drained from his body. The inhabitants of Deadhart haven’t seen a killing like this in twenty-five years. But they know who’s responsible: a member of the Colony, an ostracized community of vampyrs living in an old mine settlement deep in the woods.

Detective Barbara Atkins, a specialist in vampyr killings, is called in to officially determine if this is a Colony killing—and authorize a cull. Old suspicions die hard in a town like Deadhart, but Barbara isn’t so sure. Determined to find the truth, she enlists the help of a former Deadhart sheriff, Jenson Tucker, whose investigation into the previous murder almost cost him his life. Since then, Tucker has become a recluse. But he knows the Colony better than almost anyone.

As the pair delve into the town’s history, they uncover secrets darker than they could have imagined. And then another body is found. While the snow thickens and the nights grow longer, a killer stalks Deadhart, and two disparate communities circle each other for blood. Time is running out for Atkins and Tucker to find the truth: Are they hunting a bloodthirsty monster . . . or a twisted psychopath? And which is more dangerous?

Excerpt

1

It would be wrong to say that life had passed Beau Grainger by.

Beau Grainger had ambled along steadily, without excitement or drama (for the most part), but also without bitterness or rancor. He had always lived in the small Alaskan town where he had been born and saw no reason to move elsewhere. Most places became familiar after a time, like most people.

He had loved two women and married one of them. They had raised three children and seen them make their way in the world. A fourth they had buried before the infant could take his first breath. Funny how that was the child Beau wondered about the most. We always hanker after what we can’t have. Human nature.

Beau had lost his wife, Patricia, to dementia ten years ago and she had been dead almost three years now. By the time she passed, Beau had finished mourning the woman he loved and buried a stranger.

Now, in his seventy-ninth year, Beau had a few good friends and few regrets. And that is really the best a man can hope for as he starts the final lap of life. That, and a swift and painless death. Beau was content. Or as content as anyone truly can be. But even a man like Beau, not given to introspection or sentimentality, had days when he thought too much.

Today was one of those days.

His joints ached, which they did sometimes in bad weather. His coffee tasted bitter, and not even a shot of whiskey helped. TV held no interest and books failed to distract him. He couldn’t settle.

Beau wandered around his living room. Small and snug, with worn leather armchairs and a large, open fire. Above it hung Beau’s trophies.

Beau was a hunting man. He loved nature, but he also loved the thrill of the kill. To be a good hunter took patience. And Beau had plenty of that. Watching, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. To truly know another beast is to look into its eyes as it dies.

Beau moved closer to the heads. Three of them, mounted on solid wooden stands made for him by Cal Bagshaw (dead almost a year now from throat cancer).

Beau stared into their glassy eyes, ran a finger over their pale, dry skin and around their sharp white teeth.

“Bite me,” Beau whispered, and chuckled. But a whisper of cool ice still drifted across his neck.

Okay, Beau-boy. But remember, the first cut is the deepest.

Beau backed away, and then told himself not to be such an old fool. He turned to the window. Black clouds bristled on the horizon. The white snow undulated like a vast frozen sea. A storm was coming, something foul on the air. Beau had smelt that smell and felt that chill before.

They were back.

It was about to begin again.


2

The cab driver was a talker.

Great.

Barbara guessed he didn’t get a lot of business this time of year, so he was hungry for company. He lived alone. Probably always had. His heavy beard and food-stained shirt, plus the odor of BO, suggested long-term “don’t give a shit.” Not that she was suggesting a man needed a woman to take care of him. No, sir. But everyone needed someone to make an effort for. Without that, you got used to your own stench pretty quickly. She should know.

The driver’s name was Alan, according to his license. “Call me Al,” he had grinned. “You know, like the song.”

Barbara had nodded and smiled. “Yeah.”

She hated that song. She wasn’t so hot on the silver cross and rosary beads dangling from “Call Me Al’s’ rearview mirror either. But to each their own.

For the next few miles, she batted away the endless questions: First time here? Yes. Sightseeing? Yes. A lie, but it led to him giving her a rundown of the best tourist attractions in the area, which was pretty short yet somehow still kept him occupied for the next thirty miles or so.

The scenery swished by in a breathtaking gust of ice and snow. And it was breathtaking stuff, Barbara supposed. If you liked snow, forests, mountains, more snow, more forests, more mountains. Pretty. Sure. But get lost out there and you’d be a frozen corpse within minutes. Not so pretty.

She fought back a yawn. An early flight from New York to Anchorage, a nerve-shredding air taxi to Talkeetna and now an hour-and-a-half drive along the snowy AK-3 highway to her destination. Man, why had she agreed to this?

“You’re our best forensic detective,” Decker had told her.

“What about Edwards?”

“Family commitments, which you don’t have.”

“So I draw the short straw because I’m single and childless.”

Decker had leaned forward, stubby hands splayed on his desk. He was a short, stocky man with a Friar Tuck ring of black hair around a bald pate and a face that looked like he was permanently in the middle of a minor cardiac event. He’d been Barbara’s boss for over ten years, and she still wasn’t sure he knew her first name.

“You want me to pay you a compliment, Atkins? Tell you you’re better than Edwards? Our foremost expert in the field.”

“That would be nice, sir.”

Decker had glared at her. “Your flight is booked. Don’t forget your garlic.”

He turned back to his computer, indicating that their conversation was over.

Barbara stood. “Great, sir—should I cook them some dinner?”

“Good that you know your place.”

She had smiled. “Sir . . . ​with all due respect, you’re a real asshole sometimes.”

And then she had walked out without looking back. On reflection, her sunny, easy-going nature might also be why she was being shipped out to Alaska.

“So.” Al was staring at her in the rearview mirror. “We don’t get so many tourists stopping in Deadhart. I mean, we get a few of them Goth types; they all like to take a picture of the name, you know? But most don’t stay long. Most head on back to Talkeetna. You plan on doing that?”

He had her sussed, Barbara thought. Never underestimate a cab driver, even out here. They saw all of humanity in the back of their cars. They knew how to read people.

“Maybe,” she said. “I’ll play it by ear.”

Al nodded, cleared his throat. “I just thought . . . ​you might be heading that way because of the boy.”

Barbara felt herself tense. The local police department had been instructed to keep news of the death quiet for the first forty-eight hours, until she arrived to make an assessment. It didn’t do to stir up trouble too soon.

“What boy?” Barbara asked carefully.

Her eyes met Al’s in the mirror. The silver cross danced and dangled.

“The one that got killed,” he said.

Okay. So word had already got out, and if Al was chatting to his customers about it, that leak was pretty much a flood. Barbara just needed to know how far it had spread. Could she sandbag it? She debated. Best to be up front. Or at least appear to be.

“You got me.” She sighed. “I’m here about the boy. What have you heard?”

She gave Al a little half-smile. He had been smart. Outwitted her. Now, she was giving him a chance to show how much more he knew.

“Look.” He lowered his voice a little, even though it was only the two of them in the cab. “I know you want to keep it quiet. I’m not a gossip, okay?”

“And I thank you for that, sir.”

“I only mentioned it because my sister, Carol, she lives in Deadhart, see.”

“I see.”

“And she told me about the boy—and that some specialist detective was flying in.”

“Right.”

“You’re obviously from out of town, I don’t take many folks to Deadhart and, no offense, but you look like law.”

Did she? Barbara knew she was no beauty queen. Short with a barrel waist, thick legs and a nose that could sniff out a good steak from fifty paces. Solid. That was how people often described her. Good old solid Barbara. And getting solider by the day since she turned fifty. Age might bring wisdom, but it also brought indigestion and elasticated pants.

“Well, yessir. Well spotted. But I’d appreciate it if you didn’t mention it to anyone else.”

“Oh, absolutely. You think you’ll be here long?”

They were climbing now. To her right, steep hills bristling with dark spruce and spindly birch. To her left, the ground dropped further and further away. She could see the glint of water in the distance. The Susitna River. Barbara swallowed. She didn’t like heights. Or water.

“Well, I guess it depends on what I find,” she said.

Reviews

“C. J. Tudor is getting better and bolder with every novel, and the bar was pretty high to start with. The Gathering is an incredibly exciting novel, tightly plotted and brilliant tense, with an atmosphere you could eat with a spoon.”—Stuart Turton
 
“C. J. Tudor is a genius. The Gathering kept me on the edge of my seat to the very last page. . . . A tour de force!”—Ava Glass

“My first vampire book but it definitely won’t be my last! Really enjoyed The Gathering, a chilling and claustrophobic story set in the snowy wilderness of Alaska.”—B. A. Paris

“Vampires, or ‘vampyrs,’ roam the earth—and provoke heated political debate—in this wildly imaginative supernatural thriller from Tudor . . . This frostbitten procedural is a bloody good time.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Author

© Bill Waters
C. J. Tudor is the author of The Drift, The Burning Girls, The Other People, The Hiding Place, and The Chalk Man, which won the International Thriller Writers Award for Best First Novel, the Barry Award, and the Strand Critics Award for Best Debut Novel. Over the years she has worked as a copywriter, television presenter, voice-over artist, and dog walker. She is now thrilled to be able to write full-time, and doesn’t miss chasing wet dogs through muddy fields all that much. She lives in England with her partner and daughter. View titles by C. J. Tudor