THE FIVE by Robert McCammon
Robert McCammon’s The Five took me by the throat and wouldn’t let me go until I’d turned the final page. It is hands down the most gripping novel I’ve read so far this year. Notice that I didn’t say what genre the book reflects. I’m not sure where I’d categorize this one because the story offers mystery, suspense, and more than a hint of fantasy dipped in horror. The novel is a confection, a thing made up of many parts – just like the band featured in the story, and you can’t separate one of them without causing all the others to fall to pieces.
The plot, on the surface at least, is fairly straight-forward. The band known as the Five are on their last legs. They’ve been together for three years but just haven’t hit the successes they were hoping for. All of the band members – Nomad the bad boy lead singer, Ariel the songwriter and lead guitarist, Terry the keyboardist dreamer, Berke the edgy lesbian drummer, and Mike the bass player who’s shredded his life and doesn’t know any other way – stand up on the pages as the story progresses and become real people. The jacket copy gives away the suspense story about the band becoming the target of a psychopathic ex-soldier, but that tension isn’t what truly kept me turning the pages so much of the time.
I wanted to know more about the people, and I wanted to see how their situation about staying together was going to turn out. For a long time, the killer is kept off the pages – never far, but out of the way and on a back burner – but the narrative flow turns constantly, revealing characters’ backstory and all the roadblocks in their paths.
The horror aspect of the novels spins around gods and devils for the most part, but all that is kept off-stage. The whole time I was reading the book, I really expected a more heavy-handed approach at some point, and I felt certain I would be disappointed if it happened. McCammon pulled that tension off brilliantly, though, because he kept that battle between good and evil between the lines, absent almost, but never completely out of mind.
The narrative is heavy with music background and history, and I figured that would be dry, but it wasn’t. I read that information quickly and easily, and it all had to do with the development of the characters as well as the unfolding plot. The writing is smooth and sure, and never fails to be completely gripping. Despite the simple nature of the plot, the author throws curveball after curveball into the mix, and I was swept away with how intricately everything fit together.
Normally I have trouble with a writer who head-hops, who jumps from one point of view to another in a scene, but McCammon does that a lot in this book and I never once stumbled. The characters were too real, and I was truly interested in learning what they thoughts of the twists and turns and setbacks they faced.
I read McCammon a long time ago when he first started writing. Then he walked away from the business for a time. I’m thrilled that he’s back and I really can’t recommend this novel enough. After 520 pages, I was physically fatigued and emotionally drained from keeping up with this rollercoaster ride of imagination.