For the many of Robert McCammon's fans, it couldn't be a more wonderful experience than to finally have him back writing again after such a long period of inactivity. Known primarily for his horror fiction from the late seventies to the early nineties, Mr. McCammon said goodbye to the publishing industry when they refused to accept any writing from him, except that which pertained to the horror genre. One of his unpublished novels from the early nineties (Speaks the Nightbird) eventually made it into print five years ago. This is the historical novel that first introduces Matthew Corbett to the reading public. The positive reception of this book by the reading public was nearly overwhelming and certainly encouraged Mr. McCammon to write other books with Matthew Corbett as the lead character. In fact, The Queen of Bedlam is the second book in this highly suspenseful series, which takes place in Colonial America. The author is now at work on the third "Matthew Corbett novel and has plans to write at least two more books in this new series. I just hope that I'm around to read them when they're finally finished.
Though I don't generally read historical novels, Speaks the Nightbird certainly hooked me with its dark intensity and the need for its young protagonist, Matthew Corbett, to see justice prevail at all costs. Because I enjoyed this particular novel so much, I naturally sought out the second book in the series, The Queen of Bedlam, and wasn't disappointed with Mr. McCammon's unique gift for storytelling.
The Queen of Bedlam picks up with the character of Matthew Corbett a few years after his experiences in the Carolinas, having saved a woman from being burned at the stake for the practice of witchcraft. It's the summer of 1702, and Matthew is now the clerk for Magistrate Powers in New York City. While attempting to gather enough evidence to have Eben Ausley (the head of the orphanage where Matthew grew up as a teenager) arrested for his crimes of child molestation, our young clerk gets caught up in the murders of a doctor and a successful businessman. The killings are identical, and the murderer is quickly dubbed The Masker by the local coroner and newspaper. But that isn't all. While attempting to solve the mystery behind the two murders and the identity of the Masker, Matthew is also approached by the lovely owner of the Herrald Agency to become a member of its staff of detectives, probably the first such agency of its kind in both England and America. Since Matthew is a natural born problem solver, he accepts the invitation and is eventually led to a lady in an asylum who may have the answers to his questions about the serial killer stalking the streets of New York City. Poor Matthew, however, soon finds himself over his head as he comes to the attention of an underground criminal organization that is led by the notorious and secretive Professor Fell. Matthew has information that they want, and the criminals won't hesitate to kill those closest to him in order to attain it. Our young clerk will certainly have to summon all of his strength and wisdom and problem-solving abilities to survive the ordeals that are suddenly cast upon him.
This riveting novel continues with the excellence of Speaks the Nightbird by drawing the reader into the life and times of Colonial American and early New York City. The author has a knack for making the historic details fascinating, rather than boring. One is swiftly caught up in the nightlife and dark streets of what will soon be a metropolitan city as the character of Matthew Corbett tries to catch the Masker in the act of murder. Not only that, but all of the characters that present themselves within the novel are colorful and intriguing: Lord Cornbury who likes to dress up in drag during public meetings, Hudson Greathouse who will become Matthew's mentor and teach him the intricacies of fencing and to fight with a killer's instinct, Marmaduke Grigsby who is the creator of New York City's first tabloid and has a nose for good stories, Berry Grigsby, his young red-headed daughter, who seems to always have a black cloud of doom following close behind; yet, wins Matthew's heart with her bravery and self-determination, Polly Blossom who is New York City's most famous madam, and a score of others. The story line is complex, yet it never drags and keeps the reader guessing from chapter to chapter as to what will happen next. In other words, this is great story telling, and few authors do it as good as Robert McCammon. This is also a book that will have you eager to read more of the series. I know that I didn't want the book to end and could've easily read another two-to-three hundred pages. Now, I have to wait another year before the next novel comes out. At least it won't a five-year wait!
As Robert McCammon said in a recent interview, when he felt the urge to finally write again, he wanted to create something that he would enjoy reading. This gave birth to the historical series, featuring Matthew Corbett. The author chose well and will have a new legion of fans awaiting anxiously for his next book. Highly recommended!