I can’t believe that it was four years ago that I re-read Robert McCammon’s first two novels and reviewed them here.  In that time I read both Night Boat & They Thirst (his 3rd and 4th books respectively), I could’ve sworn I reviewed them as well but I can’t find them so “Oh well”!

I’m back into McCammon and just re-read Mystery Walk, one of the first of his books after the Wolf’s Hour that I can remember reading.  It’s been years since I read this and I can clearly remember being pissed at the HBO show ‘Carnival” for (at this time I thought ) ripping off this book.  I still feel it was a slight rip from it but I can see how much I didn’t remember of the book.

A young man is born from a Indian shaman-esque stock and is able to let the souls of the dead that can’t find peace finally shed this mortal coil.  Another young man, the son of a preacher is found to have healing powers.  These two men and their families become intwined in a battle that is only the beginning, as an ancient evil “shape-changer” is after them both.

The fist third or so of the novel is the young life of Billy ( the one with the power to put the dead to rest) and his family (KKK member father, and Indian mother whose family line has the powers that Billy now has).  This is really my favorite part of the book, how the father, with his religious beliefs deal with his wife and his son having powers that he deems ungodly.  The revelation that he’s a KKK member and how the town deals the family is devastating when you realize that Billy father is, in truth a good man.  It takes time and patience after reading how he loves his son and his inner struggle with everything going on to finally realize that while, yes he does horrible things from our post civil rights POV but can still have pieces of good in him.  My only wish was that RRM took a little more time to deal with this and some domestic violence issues that his characters deal with.  My only thoughts are a) that wasn’t the story he was telling, b) being it was published in ’83, Robert more than likely wrote it before he hit 30 so maybe these things weren’t in the forefront of his agenda, c) he doesn’t actually care about those issues or he’s a minsogynstic racist (note – I do not believe C to be true).  My only hope is that he would deal with these issues differently 30 years later.

The second third (ish) introduces and deals with the preachers’ boy (Wayne) who can heal the sick and looks at again the relationship between father and son; father dealing with powers and truths he doesn’t truly want to be honest with and the oncoming battle between the two boys and it’s origins.  I felt that more time was given to Billy’s young life and travels than what was given to Wayne; not that his story was uninteresting, it was.  I just didn’t feel it was equal.  However I did enjoy how Billy’s relationship with his father was wrought with tension and the trajectory there in contrast to how Wayne’s relationship with his dad became tumultuous after a certain life changing event occurs.  It’s not written on the nose but is brilliantly done.

The final act is the meeting of the two boys and the final battle.  The big bad (ancient evil – a McCammon hallmark) is given no origin and while most of the time I rail against things with no origins I’m beginning to see that that is not what Robert cares about, he’s not in the business of creating creation myths about his monsters/heroes/mystic themes) just telling the stories that have those elements as fulcrums.  I noticed it now after reading this and his most recent The Border.  I can’t wait to see if I can back this thought up when I re-read the rest of his catalog.

Overall I still enjoyed Mystery Walk.  Out of his first 5 novels this is my favorite and I think the starting point at which he begins to really find his rhythm and the shape of things to come.  That said, Baal is number 2 (out of the first 5).