"A room without books is like a body without a soul." - Marcus Tullius Cicero

Monday, 24 September 2012

The Five by Robert McCammon

The Five follows the eponymous rock band and their manager as they complete what looks likely to be their final tour together. The group unwittingly attract the attention of a war veteran - Jeremy Pett - who left the Iraq war physically unscathed but mentally disturbed; offended by The Five’s portrayal of American soldiers in one of their music videos, Jeremy endeavours to put his sniping skills to good use by bringing an end to the rock group for good, one band member at a time, with the encouragement of his imaginary pal, Gunny.

This unusual premise for a horror novel immediately sparked my interest, especially since I had heard great things about McCammon’s older works such as Swan Song and Boy’s Life. However I did not enjoy The Five very much and was left dissatisfied by it for various reasons.

First of all, the characters are really lacklustre and flat. The male members of the band do not have very distinct personalities and are more or less very stereotypical rockers, and there is little else that defines them. By contrast the two female members - Berke and Ariel - are polar opposites and are portrayed as a clich√© angry butch lesbian and sweet, dreamy, hippy-type respectively. These bland, cookie cutter personalities dominate the book, and as the characters did not feel very real I didn’t much care what happened to them and I found it difficult to become involved in their plight.

In addition to the main sniper plot, there is a spiritual element to The Five that might interest some readers. This aspect begins when the band meet a weird girl at a well giving out water to blackberry pickers, and afterwards they feel compelled to write a group song and then it all develops from there, but it was not fully fleshed out, fell flat and wasn’t very well executed. What it built up to made it seem as though the author was perhaps trying to make his novel deep and philosophical, but it didn’t quite work and I could have done without this part - it felt as though the author couldn’t decide whether he wanted to write a realistic story or a supernatural one so it ended up being an odd mixture of the two which didn’t quite work for me.

On top of these negative points, my main issue with The Five is its length. My hardback copy is 520 pages, which is way too long in comparison with what actually happens in the story and at times it was a struggle for me to get through. McCammon clearly loves music, which in itself is certainly a positive thing, but he quite regularly writes long paragraphs just listing bands or describing every last tiny little detail of a particular keyboard which only true music fans might find interesting, but even then it is overdone. I suppose this aspect of the novel fits with the rock ‘n’ roll theme of the book, but it isn’t necessary to have it dominate the narrative as it takes the reader away from the story. Furthermore, at the end of the novel after the main story has concluded there are 50 pages or so of unnecessarily lengthy ‘after-story’. McCammon works hard throughout to give his characters some life by every now and then going off on long tangents about each person’s back-story - the problem is that they have no bearing on the plot and fail to add any substance to the band members; these digressions feel like padding and only exacerbate the already slow pace of the novel.

Despite my grumbles, there are some positives to The Five. Firstly, McCammon can write really well and I am looking forward to reading some of his older novels because of his obvious talent as a writer. Secondly, McCammon does a terrific job of highlighting the devastating effects fighting a war can have on a person and explores the extreme psychological consequences of this. He is very sensitive to the feelings of war veterans in his execution of the story, and I found it quite touching as well as an interesting and unusual topic to tackle in a horror-thriller novel. In addition, the novel is very much about the extent that you follow your dream job (in this case, a successful rock band) before you abandon it for stable and secure work - something I’m sure many people in the arts will be able to relate to.

I had been eager to read this novel for some time, but the pace was slow and the plot was drawn out, it featured a weak supernatural element and bland stereotyped characters - all of which led The Five to be a disappointing venture for me. Some good editing would probably have boosted my enjoyment, and although it is by no means a bad book and I can appreciate its appeal, it was deeply dissatisfying and was not for me personally. However if you enjoy thrillers with a supernatural touch, love rock ‘n’ roll or music in general and don’t mind plots that progress slowly then you may enjoy The Five.

Rating: 5/10


  1. Have you read They Thirst by McCammon? I read it not too long ago and really enjoyed it. I haven't read The Five yet, and might put it off for a while after reading your review lol!

    1. No I haven't read it yet, but it's on my to-read list! 'The Five' was my first McCammon and I have heard great things about his older novels so I think this was partially why I was so underwhelmed by 'The Five'. I'm still eager to read his other books though as he is a very skilled writer - maybe I'll try 'They Thirst' next.