Speaks the Nightbird by Robert McCammon
“I just want some time to be a father!” With these words, in 1992, after a barrage of criticism for his work “On the Way South”, Robert McCammon slammed the door and left the world of literature. It would seem that being a writer is not like being an actor or musician, just sit at home and write… But no. There are contracts, there are deadlines. These are things in which it is impossible to fit art. Sometimes you can’t fit your family into those things. Having begun to write what you need instead of what you want, in the time frame you need instead of what you would like, Robert “Rick” McCammon realized that he was no longer enjoying his writing, and having bid farewell to literature, and more importantly to contracts and deadlines, he retired… But not for long. The voice inside forced Rick to sit down at the typewriter, and page after page, slowly writing, bringing his novels to perfection. Thus in five years “The Village” appeared. A novel about the war, which was, however, sent by Rick to trash… The sad news was seen as the final point in the career of one of the best-selling writers of the eighties… But the author’s desire to write is not lost, and when no one waited any longer, five years later, “Speaks the Nightbird” appears on the shelves…
The year 1699. A new century, a new era is just around the corner… But in spite of all the mad progress, people are still the same… Magistrate Woodward and his clerk, Matthew Corbett, arrive in the small settlement, Fount Royal. Their task is to trial the witch… But, the young clerk doesn’t believe in her guilt, believing that behind the misfortunes and murders in the town is quite a specific person of blood and flesh, and not the “charms of an evil witch.” As Corbett begins to dig into the case, he begins to find more and more skeletons in the closets of local residents that no one could even suspect…
Genre and Atmosphere
“Speaks the Nightbird” was the first novel for McCammon, known primarily as a master of horror, where he opens up the unfamiliar detective genre, but does so skillfully that most writers of the genre can only envy. Of course, considerable experience in the mystical role helps to build an unprecedented, creepy atmosphere on the pages, filled with filth, blood, lust, envy and anger. The world in which everybody are enemies is so real and thought out that at some point you stop seeing the thin line between the book and reality, sinking into events head-on.
The story itself unfolds slowly and unhurriedly, leading Matthew Corbett down the wrong path and making the reader feel as if he is treading on the threshold, eagerly peering through the keyhole.
Near the middle of the book, when most of the lines have been dropped, the choice of “who is the villain?” remains not so huge. But, what’s surprisingly, unlike most detectives, this makes the book even more interesting. Learning more and more about the inhabitants of Fount Royal, without noticing it,
you “eat up” page after page. And let the name of the villain at the end is not surprising, his motives remain unclear until the last pages.
The characters in the book are written perfectly. Each, I emphasize, each character has, if not the story, then its own character, its own characteristics. And yes, this is something that will be sorely missed in all the sequels of the Corbett series. Even the daughter of Showcomb, whose description fits into a couple of pages, has her own character and mood here.
In one episode, Woodward tells Matthew a story with a very sad ending: about a night bird that beckons night after night after night… only now, for Matthew, the witch is the night bird. The nightbird’s voices are an obsession to prove everyone wrong. To save her life… and to prove to the world that he, Matthew Corbett, is worth something! Looking at the history of the writing of “Speaks the Nightbird”, it becomes quite clear that writing was the voice of obsession that, despite its failures, kept McCammon from giving up writing forever.
“Speaks the Nightbird” is, in my opinion, Robert McCammon’s best book to date. The novel plays with all possible genres like dice, building a work of unparalleled suspense and atmosphere, recommended for reading not only by fans of the author, but also by fans of detective, mystery or just quality prose.