The Queen of Bedlam
Early 18th century New York is a raw and unformed place. Young law clerk Matthew Corbett is trying to make his way, but is unable to let go of his quest to expose the evil doings of Eben Ausley, the director of the orphanage where he spent his youth. He is very quickly distracted from his purpose, though, by the fact that there is a murderer at large who strikes three times in a very distinctive way, carving a pattern around the eyes of his victims so that he earns the nickname “The Masker.”
In the meantime, Matthew’s intelligence and diligence are noticed by his employer, who recommends him to the business of a newcomer to town, Katharine Herrald. Mrs. Herrald’s agency solves problems—in fact, it’s the first private detective agency in New York. Through his association with Mrs. Herrald and her associate, Hudson Greathouse, Matthew begins to learn the arts of self-defense, and becomes further embroiled in a dangerous plot involving a diabolical criminal called Professor Fell. Most mysteriously of all, everything appears to lead to an elderly lady who has remained imprisoned in her own silence in a sanatorium near Philadelphia.
The complicated plot is well developed in this long novel, and the setting is convincingly authentic. Yet one can’t help but feel disappointed that McCammon opted for easy readability over authenticity. The anachronisms of expression become more and more numerous as the novel continues. Despite all that, the breathtaking ending is effective, and will reward the reader who makes it through all 645 pages. And McCammon leaves us with the distinct impression that there will be sequels.