Mister Slaughter by Robert McCammon
Publication Year: 2010
Genre: Mystery, Historical (Colonial America)
Series: Matthew Corbett #3
Format: Audio (from Audible.com)
Narrator: Eduardo Ballerini
I'm going to start this review with a plea. A plea to pick up this really fantastic historical mystery series by Robert McCammon. It's one of my favorites and it most certainly does not get enough love. If you don't trust me (I mean, why would you:), trust the good people of goodreads that have collectively given this book a 4.24 rating. I can hear you arguing that ratings for books 3 deep in a series don't count - by then you've got an audience that is invested and more disposed towards enjoying the book - BUT I counter book one, Speaks the Nightbird, has an average rating of 4.10 out of 5. The point is this series is incredibly good so if you like historical fiction and/or mysteries, I urge you to check it out. And no I am not in any way related to Robert McCammon; I just really like the series and wish it got more love. My one warning would be that they are quite visceral and gruesome - McCammon has also written horror and it shows.
Now with the shameless begging over with, I can move on to gushing about the third book in the series, Mister Slaughter. It is 1702, in the fast growing city of New York, and the young protagonist, Matthew Corbett is settling into his new(ish) position as an agent with a Pinkerton type agency, Colonial America style. He and his partner Greathouse can be hired to do almost anything from solving a problem through detective work to escorting violent prisoners from one jail to the next. In this instance they have been hired to transfer Mister Tyranthus Slaughter (best name ever? possibly so) from a madhouse in the country outside of New York to the city where he will be placed upon a ship for England to be tried for murder. Things don't go according to plan.
At the start of the book, Matthew has become a bit of a local celebrity. His landlord, a printer, has published accounts of Matthew's adventure in book two (The Queen of Bedlam) and all the attention has gone to his head a bit. He is in debt because he has become a bit of dandy and he is resentful that Greathouse, older, more experienced but less intellectual, feels like he can order Matthew around. This attitude leads Matthew into making some very poor decisions which have disastrous consequences.
Matthew's journey and growth in this book is one of the more important parts of the story and it enriches what is otherwise a plain old man hunt. I have to admit that I was initially very peeved at how Matthew 's character was portrayed in the early parts of the book - I felt it was inconsistent with the Matthew from books one and two. I still think his foolishness and self-involvement was a bit overdone but the payoff in the end was worth it, in my opinion, and McCammon does his best to explain why Matthew would be acting the way he does.
While I'm going on about characters, let's talk about Tyranthus Slaughter. He is a brilliant character that is evil in a way that borders on the supernatural but human enough to remain disturbing. He is mesmerizing - the type of villain that can charm and bluff his way into anyone's trust, a master actor who can outsmart anyone he chooses. The author's descriptions of him are incredibly vivid, almost tactile and the character is provided more depth by the narration in the audiobook - I loved how the narrator voiced him. I actually was a little disappointed in how he voiced Matthew (he sounded a little too prissy) but his Slaughter made up for it one hundred fold.
One of the strengths of all the books in this series is the depiction of Colonial America and this book is no exception. McCammon has a way of bringing that time and place to life in a very matter fact kind of way. There is little to no evidence of glaring "look at all this research I did about this historic artifact or custom." The Colonial America being presented is a very lived in one that feels real and gives me a sense of what it might have been like to actually live at that time. It is very skillfully done. In this book in particular, the wilderness of New York state is explored and Native Americans are encountered for the first time in the series (I think).
The book wasn't perfect of course. Besides the above mentioned too deviant behavior of Matthew, McCammon uses a couple of literary devices or tricks a little too frequently. He ends a couple chapters with big fake out cliff hangers which came across as a little pulpy and out of the tone of the book as a whole. Also he really likes to start chapters, having skipped a big chunk of time since the previous chapter and then back tracks explaining all that leads up to the current state of events. This is a fine way of storytelling of course but it happens a little too often and is a little jarring - making me notice it when things should just flow.
FINAL VERDICT: I think this may be my favorite book yet in this atmospheric and realistic historical mystery/adventure series. I was riveted the whole way through and a particularly interesting villain as well as the journey the protagonist goes on make this installment particularly worthwhile. 4 out of 5 Stars.