Back in the Eighties, I was a big fan of horror writer Robert R. McCammon and read about half of his books. His werewolf novel, THE WOLF’S HOUR, is hugely entertaining, and his poignant and nostalgic novella, “Night Calls the Green Falcon” (which you can find in the excellent collection BLUE WORLD) is one of my all-time favorite stories by any author.
Then McCammon stopped writing horror and produced a couple of odd, unclassifiable novels, BOY’S LIFE and GONE SOUTH, which I liked but not nearly as much as I liked his other work. Then he retired from writing, and I never got around to going back and reading the earlier books of his that I’d missed.
Which brings us to BAAL, McCammon’s first novel, originally published in 1978, which I just read as the opening shot of my attempt to catch up on the unread McCammons. It’s the story of a cult leader, who may or may not actually be an ancient demon, and the three men who oppose his rise to worldwide power: an elderly professor of theology, a Russian/Eskimo hunter who claims not to be a shaman (although the other Eskimos say that he is), and a mysterious individual known only as Michael (no fair guessing who he really is, although of course you will, and of course, you’ll be right).
This book has some major problems, particularly with the pacing, which may well be because it was a first novel, after all. The entire first half is just set-up, and it’s pretty much of a slog to get through. One of the major characters isn’t even introduced until the final section of the book. So why am I recommending it? Because the plot finally gets going in the second half, and the last eighty pages or so are really good, giving the reader a taste of the full-throttle action that would dominate some of McCammon’s later novels. There are also several genuinely creepy scenes that are very effective, and the ending is a good, satisfying one.
In recent years, McCammon has come out of retirement with a couple of extremely long historical mysteries. I have both of them and will get around to them, though they may have to wait until I have more time to devote to reading. In the meantime, I plan to continue catching up on his earlier novels. I mean, good grief, Bill Crider recommended THEY THIRST, McCammon’s vampire novel, to me nearly thirty years ago, and I still haven’t read it. I need to remedy that.
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