At first glance, FEARnet may seem like an odd place to review a book like The Providence Rider. After all, it's more of a historical thriller than a horror novel. There's no sorcery, no supernatural trappings, no lurking creatures or silent serial killers to be found.
But that doesn't stop Robert McCammon's new novel (the fourth in his series about Colonial-era "problem solver" Matthew Corbett) from being as horrific and suspenseful as the paperback novels the author turned out during the "horror boom" of the 1980s. The work he's doing here is a reminder that horror need not be restricted to stories concerned with vampires, werewolves or demonic possession. Sometimes, McCammon reminds us, the acts committed by mere flesh-and-blood mortals are horrific enough.
As Rider opens, Corbett is still reeling from the events of the previous novel, Mister Slaughter. (A note: while it certainly adds greatly to the experience, it's not necessary to have read Slaughter, or any of the previous Corbett adventures, to enjoy Rider; McCammon does an excellent job of bringing new readers up to speed.) Normally full of youthful exuberance and curiosity, Corbett has become withdrawn and paranoid, unreachable even by his closest friends and mentors. It doesn't help matters that he's begun to receive some unwelcome attention from a notorious underworld figure known as Dr. Fell, a criminal mastermind who is looking to expand his empire into the fledgling country that is Colonial America.
Fell seeks Corbett's attention first through an invitation to dinner with a couple of the kingpin's New World constituents; when that doesn't work, mysterious fires are set around Corbett's New York haunts, with his name appearing in paint on buildings close to the infernos. Under close scrutiny from local law enforcement, Corbett's hand is forced, and he is compelled to undertake an overseas journey to confront Dr. Fell on the criminal's private island. Upon his arrival, Corbett is given a new identity and a new mission – help Dr. Fell identify and stop a traitor in his organization. When Corbett balks at the unwanted assignment, Fell threatens to exact a heavy price from the people the young man loves.
Fell is as horrific a creation as any McCammon has unleashed on his readers, a man driven to impose chaos and destruction on the world around him. He has no problem enlisting an adversary to help him achieve his goals, and even less issue with wielding innocent people as pawns to make others do his bidding. Fell's ultimate plan – a weapon of mass destruction – is a threat we can all relate to, and the cold, calculating manner in which the man sets his destructive course is as chill-inducing as any creature of the night.
As always, McCammon uses copious amounts of research to bring the era to life, while displaying a deft hand that doesn't sacrifice momentum for the sake of a history lesson. Matthew Corbett's world continues to grow wider and more colorful with each book, and the same can be said for the cast of characters surrounding the young man. McCammon is in this for the long haul, and even as he brings this particular adventure to a satisfying conclusion, the groundwork is laid for future volumes.
The character of Matthew Corbett has exhibited much growth and transformation as the series has progressed. He's a bright light in a dark world; an honest and capable man trying to make his way in a world that is often chaotic and lawless and violent. Fans of adventurous novels that celebrate the good that men are capable of, while refusing to shy away from the bad they often do, should snap up The Providence Rider and its predecessors right away.
The Providence Rider is available now from Subterranean Press.
The author's official website.
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.