Robert McCammon,
I Travel By Night
(Subterranean Press, 2013)

Trevor Lawson is a problem solver. If the six-gun on his left hip doesn't fix it, the six-gun on his right hip will.

If neither works, he always has supernatural strength, rapid healing and long, ridiculously sharp fangs to fall back on.

Set in the days of the Old West but situated in the southern town of New Orleans, I Travel By Night packs a lot of story into a novella less than 150 pages long. It seems to set the stage for a series, too -- I hope so, because Lawson and his apparent new sidekick, Ann Kingsley, are a fascinating team.

Lawson was turned after falling on the field at Shiloh during the Civil War. For decades he has resisted the urge to turn evil and become fully undead -- hinging his hopes on the vampire queen, LaRouge, who turned him. Legend has it that draining her will restore him to fully human -- although it also might cause him to age rapidly, too. He doesn't know, and he doesn't much care. He just wants to find her and put an end to his half-life.

Ann hooks up with Lawson after her sister is captured by a gang of swamp vampires and used as bait. The setting of their confrontation -- a palatial town named Nocturne, swept by a devastating hurricane and sinking back into the fetid swamp from which it was carved -- is perfect for the denouement.

The book is extremely well written, both in Robert McCammon's careful character development and in his use of highly descriptive, atmosphere-rich prose.

The music was becoming more frantic and ragged. Within the chamber that stood before them, candles burning on wall sconces illuminated the figures at this demonic festival, their shadows thrown large upon the moldy green walls. To the tune of vampire musicians playing two fiddles, a bass violin and a pair of tambourines, the gathering danced and whirled across the rot-stained boards, some moving so fast they were only ghostly blurs. ... The women in their dirty gowns twirled and the men in their mud-stained suits pranced back and forth. Eyes that sparked red in the light of the flickering tapers were aimed quickly in the direction of Lawson and his charge, and just as quickly averted.

McCammon paints colorful pictures. He has a master's touch when it comes to the story's more gruesome elements, too, such as this sudden end to one menacing fiend who runs afoul of a single silver bullet, sanctified by a helpful priest, from Lawson's gun.

The vampire's long blonde hair caught fire and sizzled away in a matter of seconds. Her face rippled and turned black as it burned. She clutched her throat as if recalling the moment of her turning, and as she spun around and around in a mad and agonized parody of the dance her eyes sank inward and burst into black pools that bubbled and smoked before they became dried craters, her burned facial features imploded, and her head began to wither like a grape left out in the blazing sun. From the ruin of the mouth and the collapsing throat came a piercing scream of rage. ... With the passage of four more seconds, an empty green gown stained dark with old blood fell upon a pile of ashes and a pair of ashy brown shoes.

As praiseworthy as this book is, many potential readers will balk at the price -- Subterranean Press lists its "deluxe hardcover edition" at $35, while Amazon currently sells it for $25.20. Either price is hefty considering the number of pages. (Kindle readers, rejoice -- just $5.99.)

Lawson's business card reads "All Matters Handled -- I Travel By Night." The conclusion leads neatly into the possibility for more, but a series of novels seems less appropriate than a collection of short stories, with maybe another novella or two.

Let's see what this man can do.

book review by
Tom Knapp

15 June 2013

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