Sunday, November 25, 2007

Read: The Queen of Bedlam by Robert McCammon

I had run to the library before the holiday closing because I had a line on a Cuba book I wanted to read. So, I'm browsing when I see, can it be? Yes! There is a new Robert McCammon book. McCammon had disappeared from the stacks for quite a while. After his Gone South in which the main character has cancer and takes refuge in the swamps and his disappearance, I was truly worried. I needn't have been. A new interview with the author makes clear that he was just fed up with the business.

And now he's back in the game. Originally a horror writer, McCammon began to move away from the genre in his Boy's Life, one of my personal favorites. By the time Gone South was published in 1994, he was already in a new mode. His next book, Speaks the Nightbird, which I somehow missed, was not published until 2002. When I picked up The Queen of Bedlam, I was surprised to find that it was the second in a series about the young, erstwhile law clerk, Matthew Corbett and is set in the New York City in the Colonial Era.

Corbett is a delight of a character, a former street urchin and orphanage survivor, who had the good fortune to run into a magistrate who took him under his wing and made him a law clerk. He is at the same time intellectually sharp, emotionally vulnerable, and self-consciously stuffy as he navigates the ways of the gentler folk. McCammon successfully conveys the social mores and societal mindset of the time, as young Corbett insinuates himself into a murder investigation and embroils himself in a much larger conspiracy. In the process, he learns a few things about his place in the world.

As Corbett unravels the mystery at the heart of the book, we get a glimpse of the world that was New York City, way before it was the Big Apple. It's fascinating to see it as it was in the 1700's, its physical and political landscape. And the cross-dressing Royal Governor is not be missed.

I was a bit intimidated by the length, 645 pages, but McCammon in any genre is an excellent writer. After a slow start around the holiday, I couldn't put it down. My only complaint is that it ended the mystery but hinted at another. I hate that after reading so many pages. And the book set in Cuba? Somebody had beat me to it.

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