Thursday, July 10, 2014

Book Review - River of Souls

River of Souls – Robert McCammon

In the space of three months the majority of my favourite authors have all or will have released new books. John Connolly's book was excellent, Stephen King's didn't disappoint and hopefully Joe Abercrombie's will meet expectations. None of these were as eagerly anticipated as Robert McCammon's new Matthew Corbett book.

The blurb:

The year is 1703. The place: the Carolina settlement of Charles Town. Matthew Corbett, professional 'problem solver,' has accepted a lucrative, if unusual, commission: escorting a beautiful woman to a fancy dress ball.
What should be a pleasant assignment takes a darker turn when Matthew becomes involved in a murder investigation. A sixteen-year-old girl has been stabbed to death on the grounds of a local plantation. The suspected killer is a slave who has escaped, with two family members, into the dubious protection of a nearby swamp. Troubled by certain discrepancies and determined to see some sort of justice done, Matthew joins the hunt for the runaway slaves. He embarks on a treacherous journey up the Solstice River, also known as the River of Souls. He discovers that something born of the swamp has joined the hunt...and is stalking the hunters with more than murder in mind.
What follows is a shattering ordeal encompassing snakes, alligators, exiled savages, mythical beasts, and ordinary human treachery. The journey up the River of Souls will test Matthew's courage, commitment, and powers of endurance. It will also lead him to a confrontation with a figure from his recent past, which will alter Matthew's life, setting the stage for the next installment in this compulsively readable series.

I read some reviews that mentioned they were disappointed with the short length of this entry in the series (it is roughly half the size of the normal length of the other books), this never bothers me. A story should be as long as it needs to be. In McCammon's capable hands you know you are getting quality. Having said that, when the writing is this good you do greedily hunger for more.

River of souls sees a rather bruised and battered Matthew Corbett recovering from his rather harrowing encounter with the nefarious Professor Fell. There are job opportunities available for him to solve but none of them provide any interest for our young problem solver. In the end, he is forced to take a mission to Charlestown to accompany a young lady to a ball and inevitably this seemingly mundane mission turns out to be more complicated and introduces him to Magnus Muldoon in the process.

Matthew decides to stay on in Charlestown to recuperate but whilst he is there a murder occurs and Matthew is unable to resist investigating. After some initial probing Matthew is unable to accept that the man accused of murdering the girl's life is really to blame. The residents of Charlestown are offered a reward if they hunt down the slave incorrectly accused of the murder and so Matthew faces a race against time to find the slave and his family before they are murdered.

The pursuit takes Matthew and Magnus Muldoon up the River of Souls which permits Robert McCammon to flex his imagination and create an eerie atmosphere that only he can produce. Deadly encounters with wildlife, feral tribes and even a mysterious supernatural entity are all encountered, topped off with some excellent characters.

Matthew is as resourceful, yet vulnerable as ever. He takes an absolute battering in this novel and despite displaying unwavering determination, you never get the sense he is in control or that he will prevail.

Magnus Muldoon is an excellent character even if he resembles a more primitive Hudson Greathouse. After such a despicable introduction McCammon makes you root for his character as if he had been an ever present favourite. Considering the short length of the book this is certainly no mean feat and exemplifies McCammon’s skill with characters.

There are weaknesses: The story arc actually ends quite a bit before the end of the book making the plot even shorter; the last few chapters are quite obvious and seem a bit too contrived in a series that never relies on such tropes and the appearance of one character is so coincidental it is almost comical.

Having said that, the result of these coincidences is one hell of a good cliff-hanger. This all sets the next book up perfectly.

Overall, when River of Souls is good, it is some of the best writing in the series to date. The short length (I know I sound hypocritical) do tarnish the novel slightly and the coincidences at the end are a little far-fetched.

My rating: 8.8