Speaks the Nightbird by Robert McCammon

Speaks the Nightbird, Speaks Robert McCammon! The novel ‘Speaks the Nightbird’ celebrates McCammons’ return to the big publishing game after nearly a decade of silence when his contract with the previous publisher was terminated, and what a lovely celebration it it.
The novel that is classified as a historical mystery is actually a book that defies and expands the constraints of this genre. This is the third McCammon’s novel that I have read, and he is yet to disappoint me. This delightful novel for me reveals McCammon’s Southerness. I live in the South, and as an immigrant I do see many things I personally strongly dislike, but the South McCammon loves is the genteel South, the South of a true colonial style. Do not be confused – he does not show the South in the romanticized, biased way – slavery and bigotry, evangelical loud proselytizing and duplicity, humid unbearable climate with the swampy terrain, all these ingredients are there, but the narrative itself and the way people and places are described and shown conveys the unmistakable feeling of finesse and refined gentility of the old Colonial South.

The mystery per se is not a brilliant mind-boggling puzzle, and the suspect is clearly identified by the narrator quite early in the novel although his guilt and his role of a culprit are questioned throughout the novel. The quest to find the truth, on the other hand, reveals the deeper verity and other ugly discoveries. The seemingly ideal community eventually drops all the pretenses and turns into a nest of wasps. This image is only accentuated by the actual nest of wasps in one of the households with the most vitriolic and poisonous housewives literature has ever offered.

This plot-forming mystery eventually turns into a gruesome travesty, an orchestrated performance of malicious mind. And again, the troupe of actors underlines and spices up this idea of travesty, performance, duplicity, and double identities. If this is not enough for a doubting reader, the book that is constantly being read by our protagonist, Matthew Corbett, is about theatrical performances in England. The mystery of witchcraft turns into the mystery of murders, greed, and envy. It also challenges many of the characters to question their values and even question God. It also surprisingly forges the goodness in people in whom this goodness is present even if they dislike each other. I think namely this feeling of respect of other people, even disagreeable, gives this books this elusive feeling of gentility.

As any good book, it is not only an entertaining story, it is a story about painful losses (both present and past), redemption, forgiving love, and an unobtrusive social commentary. The passages about the slaves were among the most powerful ones in the book, and although these passages were not tremendously instrumental in the plot development, they are still very memorable.

The review would not be complete without the remarks about the narrator. I listen to the audio book, and sound-wise, it was a brilliant performance. Edoardo Bellerini manages to convey the inflections of many characters, both male and female; likewise, he relays the ambiance of multiple settings: the tavern, the official dinners, the jail, the untamed landscape, everything seems virtually tangible in this audio version.

What’s the conclusion – if you read the historical mystery for the sake of the mystery and the brilliance of human deduction, this book might disappoint you. If you look for a read about emotional maturity as a rite of passage for a young gentleman, about the journey of self-discovery, love, and loss, and revaluation of your personal stand, if you want to learn about the multicultural perspective during the early days of colonial life, if you enjoy patient and pleasant reads, this is the book for that occasion. I know one thing for sure – the next book in the series will be purchased as soon as possible


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Filed under Book Review, Historical Fiction, Historical Mystery, Mystery

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