Freedom Of The Mask by Robert McCammon (book review)

August 16, 2017 | By | Reply More

Robert McCammon has been turning out horror-slash-dark fantasy novels since the late 1970s, mostly standalone works but, in recent years, with the accent on the continuing use of certain characters within their own discrete worlds. Such is the case with ‘Freedom Of The Mask’, the sixth book to feature Matthew Corbett, a 17th century sleuth of sorts investigating paranormal activity in Colonial America.

This is, of course, the era of the Salem Witch Trials, but instead of such events being manifestations of religious fervour or mass hysteria, unnatural forces are definitely at large in Corbett’s world. There are mortal wrongdoers as well, cultists, witches and whathaveyou, as well as all the expected crime and brutality you’d expect in the American Colonies at this time. But for ‘Freedom Of The Mask’, McCammon has Corbett removed from his home and washed up, metaphorically speaking, in Newgate Prison in London, charged with murder.

Of course, horror writers have always enjoyed writing stories involving ‘everyman’ characters pitted against demonic forces and the deranged humans that aid them, all the way through Lovecraft’s Dr. Henry Armitage in the ‘The Dunwich Horror’ right back to Van Helsing in Stoker’s ‘Dracula’. Corbett definitely fits into this tradition, but he’s also an action hero who’d be entirely at home in a Hollywood blockbuster or, perhaps more fairly, a dark and gritty HBO series. But if he resembles, in many ways, a cross between Lumley’s Harry Keogh and Fleming’s James Bond, the 17th century setting really sets him apart. McCammon plays the setting up to the hilt, with all its colour, grime and all-too-often cold-hearted religiosity, while giving Corbett plenty of opportunity to engage in both physical action and mental challenges of various kinds.

At over five hundred pages, it’s not really a surprise that there are multiple sub-plots running throughout the book, beyond Corbett’s friend, Hudson Greathouse, trying to find him and Corbett himself needing to prove his innocence before he’s sent to the gallows. Drug running, kidnapping and sedition all crop up, together with a slightly more than cameo role for Daniel Defoe, famous today as the author of ‘Robinson Crusoe’, but at the time banged up in Newgate for illegal pamphleteering.

The flip-side to all of this is that there’s just so much going on, it takes a bit of effort sometimes to keep up with everything. Some of the sub-plots only just avoid feeling like filler and there’s certainly a leaner, sharper story in the book that could have been told in half as many pages. Fans of the series will probably enjoy all that McCammon puts on offer but for someone new to the series, like this reviewer, the book might not be as easy a read as it should be.

Neale Monks

August 2017

(pub: Subterranean Press, 2016. 530 page deluxe limited hardback. Price: $26.95 (US). ISBN: 978-1-59606-775-2)

check out website: www.subterraneanpress.com

Category: Books, Fantasy, Horror

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