Freedom of the Mask is another strong entry in Robert McCammon’s Matthew Corbett series.
The action picks up the cliffhanger from previous installment The River of Souls. It’s 1703 and an amnesiac Matthew is en route to England in the hands of a madman determined to deliver Matthew to his mortal enemy, crime kingpin Professor Fell. Matthew’s partner/mentor, Hudson Greathouse, picks up the trail of the missing young man. Hudson and Berry Grigsby, Matthew’s love interest, make the perilous Atlantic crossing themselves.
Matthew arrives in England accused of murder. He finds himself in several progressively worse prisons before events plunge him into London’s seedy underworld. Matthew deals with Mother Deare, one of Fell’s deadliest and most grotesque lieutenants, and becomes enmeshed in the crusade of Albion, a masked vigilante killing criminals released by corrupt judges. A vicious, demon-obsessed new rival for Fell complicates matters.
Matthew lands in Fell’s twisted private village for a long-awaited confrontation. A betrayal sparks a deadly melee that upends Matthew’s world and forces him into an uneasy devil’s bargain.
McCammon’s Colonial era adventure series remains a winner. The author gets a lot of mileage from dropping his hero into a variety of desperate situations that require his ingenuity to survive. McCammon has done a good job over several books of building up Matthew and revealing different facets of his character. By the end of Freedom of the Mask, the author has pushed his lead into some startling new territory that casts him in a different light.
Mask covers a lot of ground, but it’s tightly plotted and progresses in a logical fashion. McCammon does nice character work with many of the supporting players. Mother Deare emerges as more than just another stock villain and the elusive Fell finally steps into the spotlight to strong effect. McCammon taps his background in horror storytelling for some macabre touches and psychological twists that keep the proceedings lively. New characters that make a strong impression include Rory Keen, a gang leader wrestling with pangs of conscience, and William Archer, a “hanging” judge with a profound impact on Matthew’s situation.
Freedom of the Mask is the sixth installment in the series and by this point, the story is heavily serialized. The action picks up directly from its predecessor and events from prior entries are crucial to the present story. That makes it an impractical entry point for new readers, who really need to start with at least Book 2, The Queen of Bedlam, if not the original, Speaks the Nightbird.
For fans already in the tent, Freedom of the Mask is a rewarding journey that pushes the overall story ahead in dramatic, twisty fashion and provides a strong spotlight for the saga’s complicated hero.