‘The Queen of Bedlam’ by Robert McCammon

  For the many fans of Robert McCammon, it couldn’t be a more wonderful experience to finally have him back again, writing after such a long period of inactivity.
  Known primarily for his horror and suspense fiction (“Baal,” “They Thirst” and “Boy’s Life”) from the late ’70s to the early ’90s, McCammon said goodbye to the publishing industry when they refused to accept any writing from him outside the horror genre. One of his unpublished novels from the early ’90s, “Speaks the Nightbird,” eventually made it into print five years ago. This is the historical novel with horror overtones that first introduces Matthew Corbett to the reading public. The positive reception of this book was nearly overwhelming and certainly encouraged McCammon to write other books with Matthew as the lead character. In fact, “The Queen of Bedlam” is the second in this highly suspenseful series, which takes place in Colonial America. The author has just now finished his third novel in this fantastic series, “Mister Slaughter,” though it hasn’t been sent to the publisher as of yet. 
  As I said in my review of “The Terror” by Dan Simmons, I generally don’t read historical fiction. “Speaks the Nightbird,” however, hooked me with its dark intensity and the need for its young protagonist, Corbett, to see justice prevail at all costs. Because I enjoyed that so much, I naturally sought out the second book and wasn’t disappointed with McCammon’s unique gift for storytelling.
  “The Queen of Bedlam” catches up with Matthew 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 now the summer of 1702, and Matthew is a 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 hero 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 deaths and the identity of the Masker, Matthew also is 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 eventually is led to a lady in an asylum who may have the answers to his questions about the serial killer stalking the streets of his 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 they want, and the criminals won’t hesitate to kill those closest to him to get it. Our young clerk will have to summon all of his strength, 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. The reader 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.
  All of McCammon’s characters are colorful and intriguing: Lord Cornbury who likes to dress up in women’s clothes during public meetings; Hudson Greathouse who’ll become Matthew’s mentor and teach him the intricacies of fencing and how 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, the young red-headed daughter of the newspaper man, who seems to always have a black cloud of doom following close behind, yet manages to win 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 novel’s story line is complex, but it never drags and keeps the reader guessing from chapter to chapter. In other words, this is great story telling, and few authors do it as good as 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 novel to end and could’ve easily read another 200 to 300 pages. Now, I have to wait another year before Book Three comes out.
  As McCammon said in an interview, when he felt the urge to finally write again, he wanted to create something unique … 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 waiting anxiously for each upcoming novel.

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