Speaks the Nightbird: A Novel

Speaks the Nightbird: A Novel

by Robert R. McCammon

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781480448469
Publisher: Open Road Media
Publication date: 10/08/2013
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 812
Sales rank: 23,026
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

One of the founders of the Horror Writers Association, Robert R. McCammon (b. 1952) is one of the country’s most accomplished authors of modern horror and historical fiction. Raised by his grandparents in Birmingham, Alabama, McCammon published his first novel, the Revelations-inspired Baal, when he was only twenty-six. His writings continued in a supernatural vein throughout the 1980s, producing such bestselling titles as Swan Song, The Wolf’s Hour, and Stinger

In 1991 Boy’s Life won the World Fantasy Award for best novel. After his next novel, Gone South, McCammon took a break from writing to spend more time with his family. He did not publish another novel until 2002’s Speaks the Nightbird. Since then he has followed “fixer” Matthew Corbett in two sequels, The Queen of Bedlam and Mister Slaughter. His newest novel is The Five. McCammon and his family continue to live in Birmingham.

Read an Excerpt

Speaks the Nightbird

By Robert McCammon


Copyright © 2002 McCammon Coporation
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4804-4846-9


Came the time when the two travellers knew night would catch them, and shelter must be found.

It had been a joyful day for frogs and mudhens. For the human breed, however, the low gray clouds and chill rain coiled chains around the soul. By the calendar the month of May should by all rights and predictions be charitable if not merry, but this May had entered like a grim-lipped miser pinching out candles in church.

Waterfalls streamed through the thick branches that interlocked forty feet above the road. The leaves of ancient oaks and elms, and the needles of the lofty pines, were more ebon than green, the huge trunks bearded with moss and blotched by brown lumps of fungus the size of a blacksmith's fist. To say that there was a road beneath those branches would be taking liberties with language: it was a canchre-colored mudhole emerging from the mist and disappearing into the mist.

"Steady, steady," said the wagon's driver to the pair of laboring nags as they pulled southward, breath steaming and skinny flanks trembling against the weight of wooden wheels through slop. He had a small stinger of a whip close at hand, but he declined to use it. The horses, which along with the wagon had been afforded him from the municipal stable of Charles Town, were doing all they could. Beneath the wagon's soaked brown burlap canopy, and behind the raw pinewood plank that occasionally fired splinters into the travellers' rear ends, were two unmatched trunks, a valise, and a wig box, all four pieces of luggage bearing scars and gouges that betrayed lives of undignified shipment.

Thunder rumbled overhead. The horses struggled to lift their hooves in the muck. "Get up, there," the driver said, with not a smudge of enthusiasm. He gave the reins a half-hearted flick, his hands protected by a pair of gray cloth gloves, then he sat without further comment as raindrops fell from the furled edges of his black, mud-spattered tricorn hat and added more soggy bulk to his raven's-hue fearnaught coat.

"Shall I take them, sir?"

The driver glanced at his fellow sufferer, who was offering to hold the reins. By no idylls of the imagination could the two be called bookends; the driver was fifty-five years of age, the passenger fresh of twenty. The older man was big-boned and had a heavy-jowled and ruddy face, with thick and bristling gray eyebrows set like ramparts over deeply cast ice-blue eyes that were as congenial as newly primed cannon barrels. His nose—as a polite Englishman might say—was well-dimensioned. A forthright Dutchman might say its owner had bloodhound in his lineage. The driver's chin was also a sturdy piece of sculpture, a square bulwark scored with a cleft that could have sheltered a small musket ball. Usually his face was scraped clean by scrupulous passes of the razor, but today the salt-and-pepper beard was making an appearance.

"Yes," he said. "Thank you." He passed the reins over, one of the many times they'd exchanged this duty in the past hours, and worked some feeling back into his fingers.

The younger man's lean, long-jawed face had courted more candle glow than sunlight. He was thin but not frail, rather sinewy, like a tough garden vine. He wore square-toed shoes, white stockings, olive-green breeches, and a short, tight-fitting brown jacket made of cheap kerseymere over a plain white linen shirt. The knees of his breeches and the elbows of his jacket had been patched at least as often as the older man's clothing. On his head was a dun-colored woolen cap, pulled down over finely textured black hair that had recently been cropped close to the scalp to combat an infestation of lice in Charles Town. Everything about the younger man—nose, chin, cheekbones, elbows, knees—conveyed the impression of sharp angles. His eyes were gray, flecked with dark blue, the colors of smoke at twilight. He did not urge on the horses nor spank them with the reins; he only intended to guide. He was if anything a stoic. He understood the value of stoicism, for already in his life he'd endured such trials as might break someone who did not.

As he worked his hands, the older man mused that if he saw fifty-six after this ordeal then he should put aside his vocation and become a Samaritan in thanks to God. He was not cut from the crude frontier cloth. He considered himself a man of taste and refinement, an urban denizen ill-suited to pierce this wilderness. He appreciated clean brickwork and painted fences, the pleasing symmetry of manicured hedges, and the solid regularity of the lamplighter's rounds. He was a civilized man. Rain was down his neck and in his boots, the light was fading, and he had but a single rusty saber in the wagon with which to protect their belongings and their scalps. The village of Fount Royal lay at the end of this mudtrack, but that was cold comfort. His task at that place would not be a gentle one.

But now a touch of mercy! The rain was tapering off, the sound of thunder more distant than before. The older man thought that the worst of the storm must be moving over the ocean, which they'd glimpsed as a frothy gray plain through brief breaks in the forest. Still, a nasty drizzle continued to sting their faces. The hanging folds of mist had curtained the treelimbs, giving the forest a phantasmagoric pall. The wind had stilled, the air thick with a swampy green smell.

"Carolina spring," the older man muttered, his husky voice carrying the melodic accent of well-bred English generations. "There'll be many new flowers in the graveyard come summer."

The younger man didn't answer, but inwardly he was thinking that they might perish on this road, that a stroke of evil could befall them and they'd vanish from the face of the earth just as Magistrate Kingsbury had vanished on this same journey not two weeks ago. The fact that wild Indians haunted these woods, along with all manner of savage animals, was not lost on his imagination. Even with its lice and plague deaths, Charles Town looked like paradise compared to this dripping green hell. The settlers of Fount Royal must be insane to stake their lives and fortunes on such a territory, he'd decided.

But what now was Charles Town had itself been wilderness twenty years ago. Now it was a city and a thriving port, so who could say what Fount Royal might become? Still, he knew that for every Charles Town there were dozens of other settlements that had been devoured by misfortunes. Such too might be the eventual fate of Fount Royal, but at present it was the physical reality of someone's hard-worked dream, and the problem there must be tended to like any problem of a civilized society. But the question remained: why had Magistrate Kingsbury, en route from Charles Town to Fount Royal on this same—and only—road, never reached his destination? The older man had supplied a number of answers to the younger's inquiry—that Kingsbury had run afoul of Indians or highwaymen, that his wagon had broken down and he'd been set upon by beasts. But though the older man had the nose resembling a bloodhound's, it was the younger man who had the bloodhound's instinct. Any lingering scent of a question was strong enough to keep him pondering in pale candle glow long after the older man had retired and was snoring in his bedchamber.

"What's that?"

A gray-gloved finger pointed toward the mist ahead. In a moment the younger man saw what his companion had spied: the pitch of a roof off to the right side of the road. It was the same dark green and wet black as the woods, and might be as ruined a place as the trading post at which they'd expected to rest the horses and break bread in early afternoon, but instead had found only charred timbers and collapse. But there on the roof before them was a pretty sight: a stone chimney flying a flag of white smoke. The mist moved, and the rough-hewn lines of a log cabin took shape.

"Shelter!" said the older man, with exultant relief. "God's grace on us, Matthew!"

It was a fairly new structure, which explained why it hadn't been marked on the map. The nearer they got, the stronger was the smell of freshly axed pinelogs. Matthew noted, perhaps ungraciously, that the cabin's builder had not been the most skilled nor neatest of craftsmen. Copious amounts of red mud had been used to seal the cracks and chinks in crooked walls. The chimney was more mud than stones, spitting smoke through its fissures. The roof sat at a precarious angle, like a tilted cap on the head of a blowzy drunk. The cabin was unadorned by any paint or decoration, and the small narrow windows were all sealed by plain plankboard shutters. Behind the cabin was an even more slovenly looking structure that must be a barn, beside which stood three swaybacked horses in a fenced enclosure. A half-dozen pigs snorted and grumbled in the nasty mire of a second pen nearby. A red rooster strutted about, followed by a number of wet hens and their muddy chicks.

A stake had been driven into the ground beside a hitching rail. Nailed to the stake was a green pinewood placard with the words Tavern Ye Trade scrawled on it in thick eggwhite paint.

"A tavern too!" the older man said, taking the reins from Matthew as if his hands could speed them to that hitching rail any faster. "We'll get a hot meal tonight after all!"

One of the horses back by the barn began nickering, and suddenly a shutter opened and an indistinct face peered out. "Hello!" the older man called. "We're in need of shel—"

The shutter slammed closed.

"—ter," he finished. Then, as the horses made their last slog to the rail, "Whoa! Hold up!" He watched the shutter. "Inhospitable for a tavern-keeper. Well, here we are and here we'll stay. Right, Matthew?"

"Yes, sir." It was said with less than firm conviction.

The older man climbed down from his seat. His boots sank into the mud up to his ankles. He tied the reins to the hitching post as Matthew eased himself down. Even losing two inches to the mud, Matthew was taller than his companion; he stood ten inches over five feet, an exceptionally tall young man, whereas his companion was a more normal height at five feet seven inches.

A bolt was thrown. The cabin's door opened with dramatic flourish. "Good day, good day!" said the man who stood on the threshold. He wore a stained buckskin jacket over a brown shirt, gray-striped breeches and gaudy yellow stockings that showed above calf-high boots. He was smiling broadly, displaying peglike teeth in a face as round as a chestnut. "Come in and warm y'selves!"

"I'm not certain about it being a good day, but we will surely enjoy a fire."

Matthew and the older man scaled two steps to the porch. The tavern-keeper stepped back and held open the door for their entry. Before they reached him, both wished the pungence of the pinewood was stronger, so as to mask the appalling smell of their host's unwashed body and dirty clothes. "Girl!" he hollered to someone inside the tavern, just as Matthew's left ear got in the path of his pewter-melting voice. "Put another log on that fire and move y'self quick!"

The door closed at their backs and gone was the light. It was so gloomy in the place that neither of the two travellers could see anything but the red glimmer of fitful flames. Not all the smoke was leaving through the chimney; a duke's portion of it had made its home in the room, and hung in greasy gray layers. Matthew had the sensation of other shapes moving around them, but his eyes were blurred by smoke. He felt a knotty hand press against his back. "Go on, go on!" the tavern-keeper urged. "Get the chill out!"

They shuffled closer to the hearth. Matthew banged into a table's edge. Someone—a muffled voice—spoke, someone else laughed and the laugh became a hacking cough. "Damn ye, mind your manners!" the tavern-keeper snapped. "We got gentlemen among us!"

The older man had to cough several times too, to relieve his lungs of the tart smoke. He stood at the flickering edge of the firelight and peeled off his wet gloves, his eyes stinging. "We've been travelling all day," he said. "From Charles Town. We thought we'd see red faces ere we saw white."

"Yessir, the red demons are thick 'round here. But you never see 'em 'less they wants to be saw. I'm Will Shawcombe. This is my tavern and tradin' post."

The older man was aware that a hand had been offered to him through the haze. He took it, and felt a palm as hard as a Quaker's saddle. "My name is Isaac Woodward," he replied. "This is Matthew Corbett." He nodded toward his companion, who was busy rubbing warmth into his fingers.

"From Charles Town, do y'say?" Shawcombe's grip was still clamped to the other man's hand. "And how are things there?"

"Livable." Woodward pulled his hand away and couldn't help but wonder how many times he would have to scrub it before all the reek was gone. "But the air's been troublesome there these past few weeks. We've had hot and cold humors that test the spirit."

"Rain won't quit 'round these parts," Shawcombe said. "Steam one mornin', shiver the next."

"End a' the world, most like," someone else—that muffled voice—spoke up. "Ain't right to wear blankets this time a' year. Devil's beatin' his wife, what he is."

"Hush up!" Shawcombe's small dark eyes cut toward the speaker. "You don't know nothin'!"

"I read the Bible, I know the Lord's word! End a' time and all unclean things, what it is!"

"I'll strop you, you keep that up!" Shawcombe's face, by the flickering red firelight, had become a visage of barely bridled rage. Woodward had noted that the tavern-keeper was a squat, burly man maybe five-foot-six, with wide powerful shoulders and a chest like an ale keg. Shawcombe had an unruly thatch of brown hair streaked with gray and a short, grizzled gray beard, and he looked like a man not to be trifled with. His accent—a coarse lowborn English yawp—told Woodward the man was not far removed from the docks on the river Thames.

Woodward glanced in the direction of the Bible-reader, as did Matthew, and made out through the drifting smoke a gnarled and white-bearded figure sitting at one of several crudely fashioned tables set about the room. The old man's eyes caught red light, glittering like new-blown coals. "If you been at that rum again, I'll hide you!" Shawcombe promised. The old man started to open his mouth for a reply but had enough elder wisdom not to let the words escape. When Woodward looked at the tavern-keeper again, Shawcombe was smiling sheepishly and the brief display of anger had passed. "My uncle Abner," Shawcombe said, in a conspiratorial whisper. "His brain pot's sprung a leak."

A new figure emerged through the murk into the firelight, brushing between Woodward and Matthew to the edge of a large hearth rimmed with black-scorched stones. This person—slim, slight, barely over five feet tall—wore a patched moss-green woolen shift and had long dark brown hair. A chunk of pinewood and an armload of cones and needles were tossed into the flames. Matthew found himself looking at the pallid, long-chinned profile of a young girl, her unkempt hair hanging in her face. She paid him no attention, but moved quickly away again. The gloom swallowed her up.

"Maude! What're you sittin' there for? Get these gentlemen draughts of rum!" This command had been hurled at another woman in the room, sitting near the old man. A chair scraped back across the raw plank floor, a cough came up followed by another that ended in a hacking gasp, and then Maude—a skinny white-haired wraith in clothes that resembled burlap bags stitched together—dragged herself muttering and clucking out of the room and through a doorway beyond the hearth. "Christ save our arses!" Shawcombe hollered in her miserable wake. "You'd think we never seen a breathin' human before in need of food 'n drink! This here's a tavern, or ain't you heard?" His mood rapidly changed once more as he regarded Woodward with a hopeful expression. "You'll be stayin' the night with us, won't you, sirrah? There's a room right comfortable back there, won't cost you but a few pence. Got a bed with a good soft mattress, ease your back from that long trip."

"May I ask a question?" Matthew decided to say before his companion could respond. "How far is Fount Royal?"


Excerpted from Speaks the Nightbird by Robert McCammon. Copyright © 2002 McCammon Coporation. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Speaks the Nightbird 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 37 reviews.
nprfan1 More than 1 year ago
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A welcome return for a great horror writer, June 1, 2004

I have always maintained that there are three great modern American horror writers: Stephen King, Peter Straub, and Robert McCammon. King and Straub, of course, have been churning out books of varying quality for the last twenty-five years - but McCammon inexplicably vanished from the scene ten years ago and hasn't been heard from.

Until now.

And he marks his return with a different kind of horror story. At the turn of the 18th century a magistrate and his clerk ride toward a recently established village in the Carolinas to deal with a charge of witchcraft. But all is not as it seems. I won't spoil the plot except to say that if you're a McCammon fan this novel is not what you're expecting; but it's great nonetheless.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Fantastic book with many twists and turns. You will not be able to put the book down once you begin. The descriptions of the town and the characters will come alive for you and you will be cheering for the good guys! Great historical fiction.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Part Agatha Christie, part Robert Lewis Stevenson, part Stephen King, part Joseph Conrad morality tale, but written wholly in Robert McCammon's unique voice, this can only be described as a rip-roarin' good yarn. For a breathless and thoroughly entertaining read, it can't be recommended too highly.
harpchild More than 1 year ago
This was the first fictions piece I read after finishing the Outlander series, so maybe my bar was set a little too high. (If you enjoy historical fiction, the Outlander books are the best there is in my opinion.) The author of Speaks the Nightbird did an excellent job of developing each character during the first part of the book. I've read some reviews that felt he over-developed the characters, but I enjoy thorough story telling. The story had great potential until about three quarters of the way through... I got the feeling the author needed to wrap the story quickly.... like something came up or he lost interest...? It was very odd. The ending plot was very involved and the story could have had a great conclusion, but it was hastily summarized instead. The ending didn't do the first part of the book justice at all and left me very disappointed.
Guest More than 1 year ago
At the end of book one, several key issues are left unresolved. The trial ensues and the woman accused of withcraft is set to be executed. The assistant does not believe this, and sets off on his own investigation. The turns and twists in this novel are incredible. I really did know if she really was a witch, or if it was a red herring. Just when you think that you have this story figured out, the author leads you down another path, excellent as I hate trite and predictability. I read the first book in a week, bit I got so wrapped up in this book that I finished it in three days. The call of the Nightbird still haunts me.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great story and movment
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The first book on the adventures of Mathew Corbett. A fun and captivating read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This novel has it all: intelligent storytelling, action, adventure, a witch trial, a love story, mysteries galore, Indians, hateful villains, pirate treasure, colorful characters, an almost supernatural bear, and more. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and lost sleep reading it. I just ordered the sequel and hope it is half as good.
BamaProud More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. I felt as if I could "feel" the humidity and the bugs around in the thick Southern summer air. McCammon crafts such great characters that I couldn't wait to catch up with the next situation and set of characters in the next chapter. In the end it was such an AHHA moment when it all wrapped up. I loved it that while some things were not "fair" they still seemed to be "just". Great book with amazing characters. I have recommended (and purchased) this book for many of my friends and ALL have loved it. Can't wait to continue to watch Mathew Corbit grow up and mature.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Speaks the Nightbird is a turn of the century, the 17th century, novel that is more than just a story about a witch trial. Robert McCammon has brought together a profound and believable story that delves into the medical, social, and judicial system of the times. This book has a ton of twists and turns making it a definite thrill ride from cover to cover. The characters and plotlines are so well developed that you feel like you are right there in Fount Royal. Even though this book is considered historical fiction instead of horror you will not be disappointed because many of the situations and events that come about during the telling of the story, are at times very gruesome. But if you know anything about this time in American history you will understand all the hardships that our forefathers went through to make our country what it is today. If you read only one book this year, Speaks the Nightbird should be the one!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I dont beleieve there is a book by this author I did not enjoy.McCammon,is without question my favorate writer.I just finished this book (In 4 days I might add),and all I can say is,WOW!No one delivers such compelling character's ,and an amazing plot like McCammon.He is so gifted to take you on a journey with his in depth desciption and storytelling that almost confuses the reader with fantasy and reality.The mystery surrounding the plot will have you guessing to the very end.I will not go into the story ,other reviews already have.All I can say is to stop whatever your reading now,and go get this book.I only wish it did'nt take ten years to finally read it!I loved this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Nightbird is one of the few 700 page books I've read in one week; the characters, setting, story, and plot, all keep the reader engrossed in the book. This book reads like a Gothic--and at points one of the characters seems like Sherlocke Holmes. The book is set in a town called Fount Royal, outside of Charles Town. Fount Royal has had problems with a witch, and Matthew Corbett and Magistrate Woodward are called from Charles Town to try the accused witch. What seems like an open-and-shut case to Magistrate Woodward, quickly becomes much more. Matthew, the magistrate's clerk, quickly finds himself trying to debunk an enigma inside a whopper of a conundrum. This is a VERY good book!
Guest More than 1 year ago
It¿s been ten long years since Robert McCammon¿s last published book, but I¿m happy to say that the author is finally back in full form with SPEAKS THE NIGHTBIRD, a novel that tackles the injustice of the witchcraft trials in Colonial America and how one young man dares to resist the mob mentality in order to save the woman he loves. It begins in 1699 when Magistrate Isaac Woodward and his clerk, Matthew Corbett, are called to the small town of Fount Royal, which is on the coast of the Carolinas, to investigate the accusations of witchcraft and murder against the beautiful Rachel Howarth. She has been accursed of killing her own husband, Daniel, and the Reverend Grove, as well as having sexual intercourse with the Devil, and causing the slow demise of the community. The town¿s people are ready to lynch Rachel, but Magistrate Woodward uses the power of his position to insist that a fair trail takes place before anything is done to the woman. As the witnesses are called forth during the days ahead, each one describes in explicit detail how they saw Mrs. Howarth in the throes of passion with her supposedly dark Master. Woodward firmly believes that the witnesses are telling the truth, but young Matthew begins to suspect that there¿s someone else behind the scenes¿someone who¿s pulling the strings of the local town¿s people, intent of destroying Fount Royal and making Rachel the scapegoat to divert attention from his evil plans. When Rachel is sentenced to burn at the stake, Matthew¿s left with only a few days to prove her innocence and to find out the identity of the real murderer. SPEAKS THE NIGHTBIRD clearly surpasses any of Robert McCammon¿s earlier novels in sheer scope and craftsmanship. In fact, I consider it to be his crowning achievement in the field of fiction. Unlike his previous work in the horror genre, this is a historical novel of grand proportions (729 pages of small print) that delves into the hardships of day-to-day living during Colonial times, along with the fears and superstitions that caused many people to behave in the most hideous manner toward their fellow brothers. Mr. McCammon takes us into this desolate world, creating a murder mystery of such complexity that the reader is kept on his toes in a futile effort to guess who the killer really is. One can¿t help but be delighted in the multitude of characters that come alive within this story, each with their own uniqueness, perversity, and hidden agendas. It isn¿t long before you realize that almost everyone living in the town has something to hide and a strong reason for wanting Rachel to be convicted. Of course, it¿s Matthew Corbett who¿s the real star of the story as he quickly makes the journey into manhood, trusting his own instincts for discovering the truth and refusing to give up when faced with the impossible, believing in the power of justice and love. But, is he strong enough to take on the whole town and risk being burned at the stake with Rachel? SPEAKS THE NIGHTBIRD is a true masterpiece of literary fiction that¿s filled with nail-biting suspense and hard-hitting intrigue. This is the kind of novel that¿s sure to keep you up till the wee hours of the night, turning the pages in a hurried frenzy to find out what happens next. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A worthy read full of intrigue and emotion.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Once again the reviews led me to a great read by one of the finest story tellers you'll find. What a great talent. The main chacters are well described and your heart will race along with there experiences. Twists galore.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Outstanding historical fiction - one of the best I have read. Looking forward to reading more books by this author - Highly recommended!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed Speaks the Nightbird. This is the 1st novel I've read about Matthew C. And I am pleased to learn Robert McCammon has (I believe) written 2 more w/this character. Not the supernatural I was expecting, but I forget all his works are not supernaural horror. The author may have topped out w/A Boy's Life and/or Swan Song, but this early American novel (1600/1700 ) at 690 some pages is well worth the read with young man Matthew as the hero.
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JeffreyC More than 1 year ago
Gives a good history of a Witch Trail in NC. Very detailed and a great read!
Mouser More than 1 year ago
This is the kind of book you find once in a while that makes it worthwhile to read the mediocre stories. It gives you a good feel for the setting and well developed characters. It provides mystery, human weaknesses, romance, suspense, history, good and bad characters. Well, it has everything you'd want in a great read.