When Robert McCammon returned to the publishing scene in 2002 with Speaks the Nightbird, his fans rejoiced. And although McCammon made it clear that historical fiction was what he was happy to focus on, I think we all held out hope that some day he’d return to the kind of straight-up horror he’s so good at.
With I Travel By Night, his new release from Subterranean Press, it’s safe to say that day has finally come.
Meet Trevor Lawson. Once upon a time he was a respected member of his Alabama community – a lawyer, husband and father who signed up to fight for his beloved South in the Civil War. He did so knowing that he might lose his life, but never suspected that he might lose his humanity, instead. But that’s exactly what happened when, in the aftermath of a vicious, bloody battle between Southern and Northern soldiers, a group of strange men and women descended on the dead and dying and began to feed. Some were drained, while others – Lawson included – were kept and turned into something dark, hungry, and not quite human.
This sequence is one of many in the book in which McCammon proves he’s still got his horror chops. His descriptions of Lawson’s mind-reading abilities and the way a creature of the night truly experiences the dark are also arresting and beautiful. This is McCammon at the top of his game, no matter what genre label you apply to it.
Years after being turned, Lawson is approached by a man named David Kingsley. Kingsley’s daughter Eva has been kidnapped, and he’s received a ransom note demanding money for her safe return. The note also demands that Kingsley seek out Lawson and have him deliver the ransom. Lawson knows it’s likely to be a trap, but helping people for money is what he does, and he agrees to handle Kingsley’s problem as best as he can.
The specified drop-off point is a town called Nocturne, a reportedly haunted place that was long ago absorbed into the Louisiana swamps. As Lawson begins his journey to find the town, McCammon mixes many of the elements of a good Western (saloons, pistols with worn grips and deadly accuracy, fights over card games, etc…) with many elements of a good vampire novel (foggy nights, sharp fangs, and copious amounts of bloodletting). It’s fun to watch McCammon twist these elements, as well as the nature of vampirism itself, so that they are still recognizable but come off as fresh and inventive. The author also demonstrates his considerable mastery of researching and incorporating period elements into books like this, while practicing the necessary restraint to prevent such details from bogging down the story’s pace.
The open-ended nature of the book’s conclusion makes it clear that McCammon is angling for a series here: we’ve got a quest unfulfilled (although at least one big baddie dies in gorily satisfying fashion), an adventurer with a renewed sense of purpose, and a support team in place. I, for one, would love to see the character continue. I Travel By Night is a thoroughly entertaining introduction to Lawson’s world, and I’d love nothing more than to revisit it in the future.
Purchase I Travel By Night by Robert McCammon at Subterranean Press.
Blu Gilliand is a freelance writer of fiction and nonfiction. He covers horror fiction at his blog, October Country, and contributes interviews to the Horror World website. Follow him on Twitter at @BluGilliand