Saturday, May 11, 2013

A Review of "I Travel By Night" [by Robert McCammon]

Howdy, y'all!  It's yer friendly neighborhood Stephen King fan, back again with a review of...yet another book not written by Stephen King.

What can I say, folks?  The word "mostly" is right there in the title of the blog, so I figure I'm covered.

Anyways, we could continue dwelling on my slight lack of focus, or we could just get to the review; let's do the latter.

Here's the lowdown on I Travel By Night, the new short novel by Robert McCammon: Trevor Lawson is a gunslingin', private-detectin', badass who used to be a Confederate Soldier in the War of Northern Aggression.  His exit from that war was facilitated by a pack of vampires, one of whom (a queen vamp named LaRouge) takes a shine to him and decides to add him to the group.

A couple of decades later, Lawson is desperately trying to hang on to the final few shreds of humanity left to him; he drinks only cattle blood (except for the rare slip-up involving a drunken bum in an alley), he has a priest for a friend, and he searches for LaRouge in the hopes of reversing his state of affairs vis-a-vis not being able to walk around in the daylight.

As the story opens, Lawson is approached by David Kingsley, a man whose daughter has been kidnapped.  The ransom letter asks for $666 in gold, and demands that the ransom be delivered by someone named Trevor Lawson.

Hey, that's his name!

Something is amiss here, of course, and Lawson tells the distraught Kingsley that what's going on here is a plot, one designed to get at Lawson himself.  As Admiral Ackbar would undoubtedly intuit, it's a trap.  But Lawson agrees to take the case, and to get the man's daughter back.

And that's all I'll tell you about the plot.  This is a short novel; in fact, at 147 pages, it is arguably more of a novella than a novel.  But do distinctions like that matter?  Not particularly.  If you had two lists, one labeled "novels" and the other named "novellas," and were deciding which one to list I Travel By Night on, then yeah, it might matter.  Otherwise, not so much, and in fact I only brought it up so as to explain that if I didn't cut my plot synopsis short where I did, I risked telling you too much.  And I assume you'd rather just find out for yourself what happens once Lawson is on the case.

Wouldn't you?

That's what I thought.  You're welcome!
So, in lieu of spilling my yella guts on what happens after the first chapter, I'll tell you whether I liked the book or not.

I liked the book.  In fact, I got pretty damn close to loving it.  It's a fun vampire tale in which, during one of the better scenes, a rootin'-tootin' vampire gunslinger uses his psychic powers to bring a card-cheat low.  What's not to like about that?  Silver bullets get used to explosive effect, there's a vampire whose legs got blown off by a cannonball during the Civil War, and the nocturnal hero actually carries (Have Gun-Will Travel-style) a business card reading "All Matters Handled -- I Travel By Night."

Somebody needs to buy John Carpenter a copy of this book and mail it to him, stat.  Before basketball season starts.  And then send another one to Ryan Gosling's agent.  These are things that can happen, y'all, and really, they should happen.

Bonus points awarded for the use -- possibly the creation -- of the collective pronoun "feast" in relation to a group of vampires.  As in, "a gaggle of geese," "a school of fish," "a murder of crows," and, now, "a feast of vampires."  That's awesome, right there.  But you do not want to be approached by a feast of vampires in the manner in which somebody is approached by one in this book.  Nosir, you do not.

Points deducted for a couple of minor instances of sloppy writing near the beginning; let's agree that it is the editor's job to prevent that sort of thing.  
Points also deducted for the steep $35 price for the hardcover, which is perhaps a bit more than ought to be charged for a smallish novella-length novel.  Which is not to say that I regret paying it; I don't.  But I'd regret it even less if it'd been, oh, let's say $25.  It's worth the extra bucks; supporting McCammon is a worthy endeavor, but I do worry a bit that the price tag might discourage some folks who aren't familiar with his work, and would be likely to get a kick out of I Travel By Night.  Substantially cheaper e-book prices are available on the platform of your choice (such as the Kindle edition, currently $5.99), incidentally.

I mention those things because I'd feel a bit negligent as a reviewer if I didn't say them.  But do they matter?  Not much.  This is a highly entertaining horror/adventure/Western, one that practically begs for a sequel or two (and according to this excellent interview with McCammon, sequels are indeed on the planning board).

I'd say the odds are pretty good that if you're reading this blog, I Travel By Night is your cup of tea.

So get to drinkin', why dontcha?


  1. Spot on review Bryant. Pretty much agree with you. In some ways this felt like a toe in the water experiment for McCammon dipping back into horror. So glad he enjoyed it. Definitely up for more!

    1. Apparently, I never responded to this comment. One slights a Sith Lord at one's peril!

  2. I too liked the story, specially in audiobook, the second part to it train to perdition was not as entertaining as I travel by night but I liked it as well. Looking forward for more novellas of Trevor Lawson in audiobook ;) nice review by the way

    1. Thanks! I haven't read "Last Train to Perdition" yet. It's sitting there on my shelf, with its arms crossed and a pout on its lips.

      Along with a number of other McCammon books, too, so it's in good company! I need to get back to reading him, and soon.

  3. I finally read "Last Train From Perdition." I'm not -- for now, at least -- going to write a full review of it, but I think I enjoyed it more even than I enjoyed "I Travel By Night."

    There's a lot here to like, including a great saloon showdown and (the meat of the novella) the titular journey by train. A few very promising new characters are introduced, too.

    My only gripe: McCammon's editor seems to be asleep at times. McCammon's prose in this one is a bit iffy at times, and a few tweaks -- particularly in the punctuation -- could have helped. That's (part of) an editor's job, and his isn't quite getting that job done.

    A minor gripe, that; this novella entertained me pretty thoroughly.