Robert McCammon’s The Listener

The Listener is Robert McCammon’s take on a depression-era supernatural thriller. And it does all of these things brilliantly, illustrating the time. And the desperation that would create as well as the tension of a particularly dark situation and the side effects, both fortunate and unfortunate, that certain supernatural elements can add.

The reader is started by being introduced to a Bible salesman who is very much not what he seems in a first chapter that could almost serve as a dark little short story. Further developments move for a while before the hero of the novel Curtis Mayhew is finally introduced, illustrating his unusual situation and overtime introducing his particular talent. Curtis has the ability to listen inside of his head to certain people, in a talent that is very briefly mentioned as telepathy. He is a young man of color who has overtime come to understand his circumstances, little by little. He’s good natured, relatively well read, and easily grabs the sympathies of the reader long  before he needs them.

Other major characters include Pearly and Ginger, two scammers and confidence tricksters who I think they have found their way to a life-changing score. Each of these two parties is quite damaged, and their first meeting is shown in a way that manages to both entertain and warn the reader just how unstable the two are and will be in combination.

The Listener feels often like a spiritual prequel to The Shining. I say this with full of of the earlier novel, though many will I have no doubt prefer The listener in many respects. Amusingly it is primarily one of the major elements of the ending which could prevent this from being an unlicensed prequel rather than merely a spiritual one. I should know that unlike many works that could be called such in relation to a famous piece of fiction, the listeners author Robert McCammon is in fact a contemporary of Stephen King, I’ve been published extensively in the 70’s to 90’s, and recently returning to the Forefront again with this celebrated work.

Race plays a large role in this volume, both in terms of illustrating the different situations and modes of life that many of the characters find themselves in the, as well as serving to move the plot and inform the reader’s opinion on characters. These details range from the way a young man of color was expected to talk all the way up to the horror thick instances of racial violence and lynching. Indeed, economic issues playing a part adds to this, with the different reactions of a person of color to relative poverty and a set of white criminals to similar concerns helps to illustrate their different moral outlooks.

The moral out it’s themselves bring to mind the literary fact of parallelism and storytelling devices, and how the Arthurian Knights are referenced to in this story due to Curtis reading Thomas Malory’s work during it. As a result the question of heroism is put into the reader’s mind quite easily, and the particular motivations of Curtis throughout the story become clear, to the point he brings them up directly in his own internal monologue.

I am personally in possession of a first edition hardcover of this volume, however eBooks and audio books may also be available depending upon where one wishes to procure them. The cover is relatively abstract mostly a shade of gray, and while it is a aesthetically pleasing, some will undoubtedly enjoy evermore photographic covers of some of the UK Editions.

Overall The Listener is one of the best supernatural suspense novels I have read in a long time. It makes excellent uses of both its characters and it’s time. To create attachment and build tension, and uses its thematic ties extremely well. This volume will appeal to fans of historical novels, strange fiction, and thrillers to name a few. The Listener is, appropriately, subtitled as a novel of suspense, and manages to begin ramping it up before the main conflict appears. While certain things about the premise are familiar they are used expertly. Heartily recommended.

(Cemetery Dance, 2018)

About Warner Holme

Born in the mid-south and keeps getting dragged back there. Warner Holme is well studied in fantastical and mysterious fiction.