From My Bookshelf: Featuring Robert McCammon and Paula McLain


By Lynn Willoughby

Speaks the Nightbird by Robert McCammon
McCammon didn’t write anything for ten years or so.  I have read several of his and they are macabre, ironic, often weird thrillers.  I love them because they are complex, often with a very unexpected conclusion.  This one did not disappoint, plus there was lots of history.
The setting is in the very southern states, maybe what today is Tennessee or South Carolina.  The year is 1699.  It is the eve of a new century which holds unlimited potential.  If only the citizens of Fount Royal can get past the string of tragedies plaguing their new town.  The endless rain, the lunatic preacher, the rotting fields, illness, murder, obscene dreams and visions in this puritanical community must be the curse of a witch!  That would be Rachael, they believe. She must be executed.
Here we come to the arrival of the protagonist, one Matthew Corbett, clerk for Magistrate Issac Woodward, who has traveled from Charles Town to try and sentence the witch. There is much damning testimony – enough for Woodward to sentence Rachael to be burned at the stake.  Matthew, however, believes she is innocent and has a few days – once HE gets out of prison, to prove it.  Yes there are lots of evil goings on in this small settlement.  Yes, there are villains aplenty and everyone, it seems, is running away from an unsavoury past.  No one is who they say they are and there is madness in the very air.
McCammon does a remarkable job  of making us feel the mood of Fount Royal, and there is no doubt that we are in the colonial era.  The ever present rats are creepy, medical practices are, well, medieval, food, living conditions, chamber pots and gaols are vile!!
I enjoyed this book very much and am glad McCammon is back.
  • Boys Life
  • Swan Song
…………..and several others
Circling the Sun by Paula McLain
Beryl Markham has lived her entire life in Kenya.  In the 1900’s her father trains race horses and she grows up on horseback.  Her best friend is a Kipsigis boy and she spends a lot of her time with him and at his village, especially after her mother leaves when Beryl is four. As the book goes on and Beryl breaks free of a disastrous marriage at age sixteen she becomes a horse trainer herself – shocking white society.  Not only are women NOT paid as trainers, but they certainly don’t ride astride! When Beryl’s horses begin to win races and make money for their owners, they are all yanked away from her and turned over to male trainers.
The decadent, gin drinking, wife swapping, cocaine snorting group at The Club don’t want to be associated with “her type”, yet they all seem to have scandals of their own. Eventually Beryl comes into contact with Karen Blixen (Out of Africa author), who takes Beryl under her wing. Meanwhile, Blixen’s lover – Denys Finch Hatton – safari guide to the rich and famous, including Royalty, is attracted to Beryl and a complex love triangle begins.
The writing is excellent in this book, the characters are well depicted and somewhat familiar-flaws and all, and the setting is spectacular.  It was a very different time in a very new country.  Ivory was openly poached, lions shot for their trophy heads, and the location of herds of animals were hunted by plane.
I enjoyed this book very much.  There is a lot of history, which I love, and the research done on real people was fantastic.  I would love to see the real Beryl in today’s world!
  • The Paris Wife
Who Knew?
The Gypsy Moth airplane was made of wood, had two seats and fabric covered wings which folded up to allow owners to store them in much smaller hangars than similar sized planes.