Speaks the Nightbird


I  have read a lot of McCammon, almost all of it pre-21th century. In fact, McCammon stopped writing in 1992 and didn't return to writing until 2002 when this novel was published. The author is always entertaining. However his earlier works were often derivative. So much so that there was was a rather cruel joke going around in the horror fan circles of early eighties...

Q: What is Robert McCammon's next novel?
A: Stephen King's last novel.

In my opinion, his best novel before 2000 was The Wolf's Hour which itself was a pastiche of werewolf tale and World War II adventure books.

But I guess a ten year hiatus did him good because 2002's Speak the Nightbird, which has just been reissued as an ebook by Open Road Media, is quite original and is now my favorite McCammon novel. It is a historical mystery novel set in Colonial America, the Carolinas to be specific, in the year 1699. Magistrate Issac Woodward and his young clerk Matthew Corbett travel to a struggling town for a trial of an alleged witch. The town of Fount Royal is slowly deteriorating due to what the townspeople feel is the work of witchcraft. The young woman in question is charged with the murder of her husband and the town's minister. What follows is a long (800+ pages) but always fascinating mystery. This is one of McCammon few non-supernatural novels and the first mystery I've read by him. He seems to relish the genre, filling the story with close calls, red herrings, amusing detours, and a feeling of dark suspense. He catches the times well using accented dialogue sparingly, just enough to set the mood but not too much that it loses the reader. Matthew Corbett is the "star" of the tale and he is quite the budding detective. Highwaymen, Indians, lost treasure, and one very nasty bear all make this a rather rollicking adventure. I'm sure there may be other mystery tales set in Colonial America but this is the first one I've seen and it felt quite original. I understand the author wrote two sequels featuring Matthew Corbett. I will be sure to put them on my "To read" list.