Originally published in Baryon 88
Speaks of the Nightbird
River City Publishing, 676 pages, $29.95, ISBN: 10880216620
reviewed by Jim Brock
In that great explosion of horror books following the advent of Stephen King, Robert McCammon was one of the best. His books had the requisite titles and covers of all the King wannabes but the writing offered so much more—at times even more than King. Later on, McCammon proved himself more than just a horror writer—he proved to be quite a novelist with such works as Boy's Life and Gone South.
Speaks the Nightbird is by that novelist. It is McCammon's first new published work in ten years. It is historical suspense with trappings of the supernatural. The extent of the latter is a puzzle throughout. The title itself fails to do the book justice, but I will not. If you trust or have any regard for my opinion, take my word that Speaks the Nightbird is a damn good novel.
Set in the Carolina colony of 1699, in a settlement south of Charles Town known as Fount Royal, the book's many threads include murder, witchcraft, hidden treasure, greed, and ambition. The wealthy Englishman who founded the town plans for it to be a seaport to surpass Charles Town. His plans are being thwarted by two murders—a minister and a farmer. The farmers wife is an exotic beauty of Portuguese descent who is branded a murderess and a witch. Magistrate Isaac Woodward is summoned from Charles Town with his clerk Matthew Corbett. It is hoped the magistrate will immediately condemn and have executed the witch and thus sooth the concerns of the citizens who are deserting the town in large numbers.
The magistrate falls ill and his clerk attempts to aid him and seek the truth to the dire happenings. Is it truly witchcraft? Who could doubt it? After all, this is 1699. This is Robert McCammon. But if not, how was such an intricate and convincing case devised. To what lengths will Corbett go for the truth—and for love? The horrors of everyday life at this time in history were enormous. The extra horrors the author adds on are crushing. It is one thing to know the truth and yet another to prove it. Can the young clerk face down the danger, solve the mystery, and survive it all? Speaks the Nightbird becomes a page-turner about twenty pages in. It is extraordinarily engaging with full characters and skillful plotting. As Corbett investigates the case, the reader investigates right alongside because the evidence and the puzzle are so gripping. Ten years is a long time to wait and I truly hope this book gains the tremendous audience it deserves.