Right off the bat I will have to come clean and state I’ve not read anything by Robert McCammon before. I was most certainly aware of the name, but for reasons I cannot explain he never really appeared on my reading radar. One of the reasons I started Kendall Reviews was to broaden my reading spectrum, of course I’d be sticking to the darker genres, but I’d use the blog as a vehicle to investigate new authors and sub genres. So it was with great delight that a parcel arrived from Cemetery Dance with a copy of The Listener included. What piqued my interest was that the cover said this ‘…there is no sales copy or description here to tell you how you’re supposed to feel about the book you’re about to read…’ My first experience of Robert McCammon will be completely blind.
I’m going to base my review on what information’s provided via the published synopsis for The Listener, I’m not going to say any more about the story or what happens within. The ‘say nothing’ approach of the advance I received genuinely worked, but there is enough to say about The Listener without ruining the reading experience.
The Listener is a tale set in the Great Depression of 1930’s America. Poverty is rife, people are scratching about trying to make a living and some of these methods are not strictly above-board. John Partlow is a conman, selling bibles to the families of the recently deceased he finds by scanning the obituaries. Whilst staying in a town waiting for his recently broken down car to be fixed, John finds two other con artists at work, and finds himself teaming up with them to try to pull off a scam that will earn him a share of $250,000. No more petty scams, they were going big time!
In another town, we’re introduced to Curtis Mayhew, a young black man who works for the Union Railway as a luggage carrier. Curtis carries himself incredibly well, even when faced with obvious racism, in an America where black and white do not mix. What people don’t know about him is that he is also a Listener. And this is how Curtis Mayhew and John Partlow’s paths cross.
To say anymore about specific plot points would be very wrong of me, it’s these small discoveries that really make this book a wonderful read. Robert McCammon has a writing style, that I initially found somewhat ‘wordy’ but as you get pulled deeper into the story you realise that not one of these words are wasted. The opening chapter, had John Partlow driving his old green Oakland two-door sedan towards his next con, and it’s no exaggeration that the writing was so rich, so descriptive, I could taste the dust as it blew up into the drivers window and smell the hot cars interior with the sun swollen bibles on the back seat.
Characters, even the minor players are all well written and contribute to an engrossing story. For me, Curtis is beautifully written, I loved it whenever he was on the page, he carried himself with dignity even when faced with the disgusting attitudes of the times. Curtis will certainly stand out as one of my favourite characters of any book I’ve read.
The Listener has very little slack within its enthralling 332 pages, with the final 100 pages ramping up the tension to near unbearable levels. With only a couple of very subtle moments of convenient plotting, which usually amounted to a line which I wasn’t sure was necessary in the first place and an unexplained plot point where Curtis could resolve misunderstandings easily, The Listener can only be described as a brilliant book. It triggers all the emotions with a story that embraces you.
I have read that The Listener is a good place to start reading Robert McCammon, the bar’s been set incredibly high, I can’t wait to see what else he has in store for me.
The Listener is a must read!
Star Rating (out of 5): 5*****
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