The last book I reviewed for this blog was about a medieval hangman who solved the mystery of a murder supposedly perpetrated by a woman who was then falsely accused of withcraft, The Hangman's Daughter. I read the last page, looked at my Kindle library, and chose a Robert R. McCammon book that I hadn't yet read. The first McCammon book I read, called Boy's Life, reminded me a lot of one of my very favorite author's, Stephen King. I assumed I would get something similar with Speaks the Nightbird. So imagine my consternation when I found myself reading a mystery, about a murder, that was blamed on a woman, who was falsely accused of, you guessed it, witchcraft. What exactly is the universe trying to tell me? Should I refrain from making poppets and potions? Healing the sick?
Speaks the Nightbird stars Matthew Corbett, clerk for Magistrate Isaac Woodward, who is on his way to the far flung town of Fount Royal, in the Carolina territory to hold the trial of an accused witch, Rachel Howarth. The year is 1699, and the Salem witch trials are still a fresh memory in the minds of many. Fount Royal is the dream of a weathly shipbuilder who will do anything to see his town survive. People have been fleeing ever since the murder of the minister and Daniel Howarth, husband of the accused. The town founder had one goal-burn the witch, for the sake of the town! But things are not as cut and dried as one might think. Matthew finds himself drawn to Rachel, but more importantly to his sense of honor and justice, he thinks she has been framed, meaning the real killer is getting away with murder, literally.
Well, regardless of the message I was being sent, Speaks the Nightbird and The Hangman's Daughter are not exactly the same. The Hangman's Daughter takes place in 17th century Germany, and Speaks the Mightbird takes place in 17th century America. Matthew Corbett, the main character of Speaks the Nightbird, is a well educated man who was rescued from the almshouse as a young man. The titular hangman of the other novel is an older gentleman who is a societal outcast because of his profession. But the stories end up being remarkably similar, and both shine a light into the kind of superstition and hysteria that caused innocent men and women to be burned alive as punishment for the supposed witchcraft they hypothetically practiced.
To be honest, if you had given me both Boy's Life and Speaks the Nightbird, minus the author's name, I would never have guessed that these books were written by the same person. McCammon's earlier books are mostly supernatural thrillers or horror, but he took about a decade off from publishing, and Speaks the Nightbird was the first book he published in this new genre. This book is the first in a series, of which there are at least two more. I'm looking forward to both carching up on McCammon's earlier works, and continuing the journey with Matthew Corbett and 17th century America.