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The Five
Robert McCammon
Subterranean Press, 518 pages

The Five
Robert McCammon
Robert Rick McCammon was born in 1952 in Birmingham, Alabama. He received a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Alabama in 1974. McCammon resides in Birmingham with his family. He retired from publishing in the late 90s, but returned to publish Speaks the Nightbird, the first book in the Matthew Corbett series. In 1985, McCammon's story "Nightcrawlers" was adapted into an episode of The New Twilight Zone.

Robert McCammon Website
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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Nathan Brazil

'The song said, keep trying, keep living in the fullness of life, keep growing and creating, because no one here gets out alive.'
This is a novel which hangs on to the SF genre by its fingernails, in the main due to hazy supernatural allusions. At heart, it is a straightforward thriller, the premise of which is a jobbing rock band, being stalked by a deranged sniper. The band are the Five, and they're portrayed as musicians, slogging away at their craft, but never quite getting the big break. Something starts going right, when a video for their latest song is commissioned for a local TV network. The problems begin when the video is broadcast, and the way it has been edited gives the false impression that the band are disrespecting the US military in Iraq. The show is seen by one Jeremy Pett, a former US Marine sniper, now a dark shadow of his former self, and on the verge of suicide. Pett believes he has been called back from the edge by death itself, and given a new mission; kill the Five. Oblivious to the danger, the band are already imploding, first with the news that their tour manager is intending to quit for the financial security of a proper job, and then the revelation that their keyboard player also wants out, intending to open up an organ restoration shop. However, it is agreed that the current tour will be finished, and Nomad, the band's lead guitarist, suggests writing one last song, to which everyone will contribute a part.

Things get a little weird when, on route to a gig, the band encounter a mysterious desert commune, which centres around a young woman doling out water to those who toil in the burning sun. The girl, met only briefly, affects each member of the Five, and their manager, in different ways. Her impact is mostly psychological and, while not exactly unpleasant, it is disturbing to some of the group. The implication is that the girl is some kind of supernatural being, and she wants them to write a song of inspiration. In part as a weapon in a vaguely defined on-going war between the forces of light and darkness. As a soldier in this war, Jeremy Pett, has been co-opted by something rather nasty, which he perceives as his old gunnery sergeant. What follows is a melancholy mixture of reminiscence from each and every band member, interspersed with rough gigs and the sniper's attempts to bump off band members. The first shooting is successful, killing one of the band outright. The local police initially believe this to have been a accident, until the facts start to stack up, and further attempts are made on the lives of the Five. Soon enough, they are joined by a veteran FBI agent, who temporarily takes the place of their injured road manager, while using the remaining members of the band as bait to draw Pett out of hiding. Interesting twists concern the motives of the FBI's man on the scene, the Five's keyboard player's obsession with a forgotten keyboard genius and his one-of-a-kind organ, named Lady Frankenstein, and the inky dark, quasi mystical, past of Stone Church, which is the mountainous location of a Five gig.

There is a lot of rambling in this novel, some of it producing thought provoking, occasionally moving imagery, interspersed with anecdotal remembrances that occasionally dragged like a Hippie tied to a bumper. The members of the Five, and those around them, do grow as the story progresses, but for me that vital spark of charisma was mostly absent. Only the old codger with his unique electric organ really came across as having star quality. Do any of the Five survive? At times, I was almost rooting for the shooter. I was also disappointed with the substance of what was made out to be a divinely inspired song. The lyric that Robert McCammon presents is nowhere near the quality of "Stairway to Heaven" or any of the other great, inspirational rock classics. I was particularly irritated by what came after the main story was done. Firstly, the author presents a brief piece concerning an anorexic young girl, sent into a downward spiral due to the death of her father, and inspired to begin the climb back to health by the Five's special song. The issue I had was that McCammon tosses in "cancer" as an easy, emotive, and complete unnecessary device. The kind of thing that authors reach for when they can't be bothered and want to grab attention. Secondly, there is a four page dedication to every rock band that has ever appeared on the author's radar! Four pages which I would have preferred to see used to explain the Stone Church thread that was left dangling, or perhaps set up the premise for a sequel. Ultimately, the story boils down to the assertion that life is not forever, and so we should all make the most of it. While that is undeniable, it takes just a line. The Five, is over five hundred pages long. In movie form, starring charismatic actors, minus all the waffle, and boasting a soundtrack by someone who can actually write rock music, it would work much better than it does as a novel.

Copyright © 2011 Nathan Brazil

Nathan Brazil
If Nathan Brazil were dyslexic, he'd be the dog of the Well world. In reality, he's an English bloke who lives on an island, reading, writing and throwing chips to the seagulls. Drop by his web site at

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