Freedom of the Mask
by Robert McCammon
Cover Artist: Vincent Chong
Review by Mel Jacob
Subterranean Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781596067752
Date: 31 May 2016 List Price $26.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK
A tour de force by Robert Cameron, the Freedom of the Mask is both enthralling and disappointing. At 530 pages it delivers action, history, and danger. The writing is first-rate and the historical background of Colonial American and London in the early 18th century is impressive. However, the novel ending is not the end of Mathew Corbett's adventure, but only the beginning of a new one.
Mathew Corbett, a problem solver (private detective), works for the Herrald Agency in New York, a bustling Colonial city. He was sent to Charles Town to pursue inquiries, but failed to return. Now, his friend Hudson Greathouse is determined to find him. Berry Grigsby, the love of Mathew's life, insists on accompanying Hudson when he heads to England to find Mathew.
Meanwhile, Mathew, unaware of his own identity, has been captured by a henchman of the evil Dr. Fell and is being transported by ship to England. Previous encounters with Dr. Fell have made Mathew his mortal enemy. A terrible storm besets the ship and a struggle ensues to keep it afloat. Mathew begins to recover bits of his memories and kills his captor when the storm washes the man overboard, and Mathew severs the rope to which the man clung.
Accused of murder, the crew imprisons Mathew. When the ship makes port in England, he is charged with murder and sent on to London. There he has a hearing before a strict judge and is assigned to Newgate prison, a hell hole. When the other prisoners begin to assault him, a masked man suddenly appears and threatens them. After that they leave Mathew alone.
Much of the novel depicts Mathew's struggle to survive and gain his freedom. When the masked man sets him free during a trip to a new prison, Mathew struggles to keep an appointment with him. However, he is attacked and captured by a local Whitechapel gang. The gang members force Mathew to become one of them.
He learns the gang is a distributor for White Velvet, a drug-laced gin that leaves victims crazed for more and eventually kills them. He tries to learn more about the supplier of the poisoned gin, and gradually discovers some of his old enemies, including Mother Deare, a confederate of Dr. Fell, are behind it. He also struggles to keep his appointment with the mysterious masked man.
The novel picks up speed and races to an exciting, but disappointing climax. McCammon has published six Mathew Corbett novels as well as other works of horror and fiction. Meticulous detail about the early 18th century will bore casual readers, but for McCammon's followers, the novel offers a great deal. The quixotic characters are well drawn and their personalities and ambitions drive the action. He offers an engrossing experience for those who love history with touch of evil.