Friday, October 23, 2009

Forgotten Books: Baal - Robert R. McCammon

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.


Unknown said...

Yes, I'd say it was time for you to read They Thirst, even if you didn't like Boy's Life as much as I do. I'm glad McCammon is writing again, but I'm not sure I'll ever have the energy to read those massive volumes.

Ali Karim said...

I've read all Rick McCAMMON'S work and they hold up well indeed

Excellent peice


Charles Gramlich said...

They thirst is my favorite McCammon. I also very much loved his collection of short stories, Blue World

Scott Cupp said...

Echoing the good words about THEY THIRST. I think BOY'S LIFE was McCammon's attempt at a Ray Bradbury novel. I really like it a lot, as well as most of his other stuff. THE WOLF'S HOUR was fun indeed.

Ed Gorman said...

I liked but didn't love Boy's Life. I guess my spiritual pulpiness forces me to prefer They Thirst, a truly great horror novel, and Mystery Walk, another stunner. I also agree that Blue World is packed with fine fine stories. I've never been sure why McCammon quit writing horror at the top of his game. He's free to do it. But I will miss the follow up suspense novel to Mine that never got written.

Anonymous said...

I remember in 1980 buying "The Night Boat" when I passed a paperback rack and was blown away by the cover. My first McCammon novel and my favorite.

Bill Khemski

Anonymous said...

Ed, speaking of pulpiness: his novel, STINGER, is about as much B-movie fun as one can get out the written word.

My favorites are SWAN SONG, WOLF'S HOUR, BOY'S LIFE and BLUE WORLD. Ah heck, STINGER'S probably in there somewhere, too.

~ Ron C.

Chuck Wendig said...

If it's of any interest, I log my rankings of McCammon's work --

I cannot recommend his new work enough. Most of the way through Mister Slaughter, and it's excellent.

Dark, too. Grim, bloody, very disturbing.

-- c.