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Speaks The Nightbird (2003)
Fiction Review by The Mortician

Speaks The Nightbird (2003) Robert McCammon used to be one of the top bestselling horror novelists in the 80's and 90's, right alongside Stephen King and Dean Koontz. Unexpectedly, he dropped out of the scene in 1992 after releasing GONE SOUTH. Rumors swirled as to why McCammon, author of such gems as SWAN SONG, BOY'S LIFE, and STINGERS quit the biz. The truth was, he felt pigeonholed in the horror genre and the publishers were weary of marketing his newest tome, an epic 'historical fiction' novel set in 1699 Carolinas.Why the publishers had a problem with this book is beyond me, and finally, after 10 years, McCammon has seen fit to have his book published, first as a 1,000 page hardcover and now as a two volume mass-market Pocket Books duo, available everywhere.SPEAKS THE NIGHTBIRD is a brilliant novel that echoes all of McCammon's past novels and is indeed a work of dark fiction. It deals with an accused witch in the time period of the Salem Witch Trials and a magistrate and his clerk who must go to the burgeoning town of Fount Royal, NC to decide whether Rachel Howarth is a witch, subject to burning at the stake if found guilty.The story is told through the eyes of the magistrate's young clerk, Matthew, as the evidence is given. A preacher and Rachel's husband have been murdered in gruesome fashions. Three realiable townspeople have witnessed Rachel in unlawful carnal acts with demons, including a young schoolgirl. Is she a witch?Told in painstaking detail to the time period, including the dialect of the era, McCammon paints a story that is relevant still today: one of innuendoes, gossip, preconceived notions, prejudices, and lies, all fueled by selfish people and their own desires. Then there's the issue of houses burning down as more and more people leave the town for greener pastures. Pretty soon Fount Royal will not exist...Although the magistrate is convinced that Rachel is guilty, Matthew realizes that something ain't right and begins his own investigation before she burns. What he discovers is that quite a few townsfolk have motive to want to frame Rachel for the crimes.There's a womanizer who is having illicit affairs with all the married women in town, a blacksmith who has a sick fondness for animals, a mayor that will do anything for money, a doctor that harbors murderous secrets from his past, a rat catcher who isn't what he seems to be, and a preacher who is the biggest hypocrite who ever walked the planet.The more Matthew investigates the possibilities, the more dead bodies start to pop up in the dwindling town. He races against time to expose the motives of the true killer or killers who might have framed this 'witch'...Thought provoking, engrossing, powerful, and entertaining are just some of the terms that come immediately to mind when reading this book. I have no idea why publishers turned their backs on McCammon when he presented this book to them ten years ago, for it is without a doubt one of his best works. While not exactly out-and-out horror, the entertainment level is just as exciting as one of his bestsellers like MINE. There's never a dull moment in this book and the detailed descriptions of the era, the language of the time, and of the characters are absolutely riveting. It's obvious that McCammon researched this book to the maximum and threw in everything he learned along with the kitchen sink---and it really works. You are transported to the era when Britain ruled the colonies, before we became the United States. Details of the land, the medicine procedures, the Indians, and the fears of the time enhance the story so that it's very believable. I was also extremely satisfied with the end revelations of the mystery aspect of the story and how everything concluded. Not since the mystery of the murders in McCammon's BOY'S LIFE were solved was I this mesmerized by a whodunnit storyline.If you're looking for something a little different told by a master spokesman of the dark fiction genre, you cannot do better than SPEAKS THE NIGHTBIRD. It is truly an epic masterpiece written by one of America's most talented writers, Robert McCammon. Welcome Mr. McCammon back, and let's hope that he continues to let his work be published despite his dissatisfaction with the publishing business. I know he has another novel completed about a traveling Russian play, so bring it on! For more info go to www.robertmccammon.com.
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