Subterranean Press, out now
Matthew is summoned to meet Professor Fell – and the Machiavellian mastermind does not take “no” for an answer…
The fourth in Robert McCammon’s tales of “problem solver” Matthew Corbett is the most assured yet, tying up certain loose ends from the previous stories, and throwing in a wealth of new characters, some of whom are hopefully going to return to plague Matthew in the years to come.
It’s primarily a story of Matthew growing up, and realising that the world not only doesn’t function the way that it should, but that it is actually him who is being unreasonable in expecting it to do so. For much of the story, he has to take on another identity – inevitably seen through by different people at different times – and seeing the world through that person’s eyes gives him a number of revelations. There is something of the naïve about him still at the end, but he is hardened not only by what he sees, but also by what he is forced by circumstances to do.
The Professor has an unusual way of getting Matthew’s attention, and it is only to save lives that he agrees to travel south to the professor’s island hideaway – with his friends Berry and Zed ending up joining him. From thereon we’re in an early 18th century version of SPECTRE – the Professor feeling very definitely like an early incarnation of Ernst Stavro Blofeld, complete with complicated plan for world domination, highly outlandish way of disposing of his enemies (or at least their corpses), an ethnic henchman with apparently superhuman powers, and a council of fellow crooks, who live or die at his whim. Fleming fans may also detect a whiff of the novel of Goldfinger about Fell’s plans for Matthew (an element of the book not transferred to the film), while there are definite early Bond girl elements to one of the ladies whom Matthew meets.
McCammon writes the period material so well that you can be seduced into forgetting that he cut his teeth on horror – until you reach certain scenes, one of which is told with a grisly relish that will haunt you for a long time after. He’s also excellent at the action sequences: the final act of the book is told so well that you will easily see the various duels, battles, explosions and self-sacrifices that are related.
Verdict: A thrilling tale from a master storyteller. 9/10