Robert McCammon's latest novel, The Five, is about the final tour of a rock 'n' roll band, and it is not an easy set of gigs. Murder and mayhem and a supernatural horror besets The Five, and their stops on the "knife and gun" circuit of venues are hard, but train-wreck-can't-look-away fascinating.
I don't think McCammon is a musician, I didn't hear that dime drop, but he obviously loves music and has done his research. The list of bands he thanks at the end runs two-and-a-half pages.
Stephen King offers a cover quote and calls it McCammon's best novel ever, and it is.
McCammon, whose Boy's Life won the Bram Stoker and World Fantasy awards in the early 1990's, has a dozen other well-received F&SF and horror books to his credit. He stopped writing novels couple years after Boy's Life, and the reason he gives is that his publishers were trying to keep him in the the horror slot when he wanted to try something different.
I get the in-between-the-lines sense he told them to fuck-off-and-die. I know the feeling.
This is different, and a great read, and it's from a small press, which makes me wonder. Maybe he didn't want to go back to Big Pub. Maybe he did, but they didn't want it. If the latter is the case, they missed a bet.
The book is long, and my only cavil with it is that people are apt to find it talky in places. McCammon has something he wants to say, and he says it, and sometimes, the soapbox being dragged into place interrupts the flow. But the characterization is rich, the milieu fascinating, and the book is about something, so what he wants to say is worth hearing.
There's the surly lead guitarist, pissed-off at the world. There are the hippie-chick earth-mother with a golden voice and writing chops; the bassist who has played everywhere and who has the groove; the keyboardist who can strip the instrument down and fix it blindfolded ; the jock lesbian drummer whose solos blow the roof off; the burned-out road manager. They all have hard rows to hoe and this isn't something you are going to see as a network TV movie of the week, it would be a hard R-rating for language and violence.
You do get a great sense of who these people are, where they came from, why they are there, and the trials they face and changes they undergo are harsh and enlightening.
Thanks to Tom Dupree for pointing me at this one.
Four-and-three-quarter stars out of five.