Ali Karim review of THE QUEEN OF BEDLAM

This review of Robert McCammon's The Queen of Bedlam is by Ali Karim and was done for Shots eZine. It can be found on that site here. Thanks to Ali and Shots for allowing it to be reprinted here.

The Queen of Bedlam by Robert R McCammon

Reviewed by Ali Karim for SHOTS Magazine

Under no circumstances be put off by the thickness of this new work from Robert McCammon, because it is a delight to lose oneself in this all-engrossing narrative. Trust me when I say that there is not one superfluous word between its covers. I rejoiced when former "horror-writer" Robert R McCammon returned to our bookshelves with his novel Speaks the Nightbird in 2002. He changed pace and style from his former works (which combined horror with a mystery element), to a historical thriller set in the 1700's, featuring the young legal clerk Matthew Corbett. When I finished Nightbird I knew that Corbett would return and he does so in style with Queen of Bedlam. Although helpful, it is not necessary to read the preceding work because the new book is self-contained and packs a literary punch. Bedlam is a creepy tale set at the time when New York City had a population that was in the thousands, and split between the Dutch and English settlers with a vibrancy that foretold its importance in the newly evolving America. Under the pen of McCammon it was also a very dangerous place.

Bedlam contains many complex plot strands, a plethora of colourful and well-defined characters that intersect with young Corbett's life leading to a terrifying hunt for a serial-killer named "The Masker". During this journey Corbett discovers a whole lot more about himself, swordplay and life.

Corbett is working for a magistrate, Nathaniel Powers, but soon finds himself turning detective for the Herrald Agency as a junior investigator in this fledging private investigations firm. The novel's style reminded me of my own youth, when I devoured the tales of Holmes and Watson on the prowl in foggy, gas-light London. In fact if you enjoyed the work of Conan Doyle, you'll love this novel.

The title's "Queen" does not feature until much later and is a mysterious and unidentified old woman locked away at a mental institution that the Herrald Agency send Corbett to investigate. McCammon adds to the brew Eben Ausley, the pedophile Headmaster who abused many of Corbett's friends at the orphanage that raised him, and who now resides in New York. The problem is that the serial killer (The Masker) and Ausley are destined to meet and the results will be death.

The beauty of McCammon's prose coupled with his meticulous period research, the array of surreal characters that follow the twisting narrative makes this novel so damned exciting. It is remarkable how McCammon manages to weave all these plot-strands and characters into a tapestry that is as exciting as it is beautiful and leads to a virtuoso climax which I just didn't see coming.

Queen of Bedlam is a dark gift for readers tired of the "same-old / same-old," and McCammon leaves no doubt that Corbett will return. I get the feeling that despite his reputation as a horror-writer of the 1980s boom (in that genre), it will be the Matthew Corbett mystery books that he will be most fondly remembered for. This is the work of a master novelist and it must not be missed.

- Ali Karim

Ali Karim is an industrial chemist, freelance journalist and book reviewer living in England. In addition to his being a regular January Magazine and The Rap Sheet contributor, he's also the assistant editor of Shots, and writes for Deadly Pleasures, Crime Spree, and Mystery Readers International magazines. Karim is an associate member (and literary judge) for both the British Crime Writers' Association and the International Thriller Writers. He's currently working on a violent existential thriller.
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