"The Five", by horror meister Robert McCammon, is the eponymously titled story of a minor league 5 member (plus a road manager) rock and roll band. The Five is one of hundreds or thousands of similar struggling acts, driving from gig to gig in a Ford Econoline van ("the Scumbucket") pulling a U-Haul trailer with their equipment and instruments. No roadies or guitar or amp techs, they do pretty much everything by themselves, in a constant battle against fatigue, lousy venues, tight expenses etc., all for the love of the music. They play, like all musicians, because they have to play. That's what they do.
Shortly after releasing a self-produced video of their new song and embarking on a short tour of a dozen or so mostly Southern cities, both the road manager, George, and the keyboard player, Terry announce their plans to leave the band after the current tour ends. At the same time, a psychotic PTSD vet sees the video and is enraged at the antiwar sentiments and begins stalking the band.
There is very little of the type of horror of "Swan Song" that catapulted McCammon to fame here (little, but not none). Rather, this is a psychological drama and character study of love, death and rock and roll. We get the backstory of every band member, all of whom have very distinct personalities and voices. We get to see how and why they ended up at 20-something playing in The Five (for all of them, the latest and greatest in a series of different bands that they have all been playing in since they were kids).
I quite liked the novel, especially the characters. THere was plenty of tension, and scary bits, despite the paucity of supernatural horror. What little supernatural stuff there was, was done exceedingly well, and at times I was reminded of (sorry folks) the writing and pacing of Stephen King, much as Swan Song echoed a little bit of "The Stand" for me.
The novel is moderately light on the technical aspects of the music, and I'm pretty sure that McCammon is himself a fan but not a musician. In one place he has one of the characters wanting to insert a "B-sharp" in a song. Even casual musicians among you you will recognize that there is no such thing (there is only a half-step between B and C so a B-sharp would be a C). And while there are sound checks for their small gigs there is no description of the band setting up and breaking down for each gig, which is probably the most back-breaking and unpleasant part of being in a minor league band. And no mention of who keeps the guitars intonated and changed the strings, or fixes the amps when they fry. But this lack of verisimilitude will probably not be noticed by non-musicians and did not detract greatly from the excellent writing, characterization and dialogue.
If you are a fan of Robert McCammon, you'll most likely enjoy this. If you ever dreamed (or did) play in a small-time rock and roil band as I did, I think you'll like this too. I know I did.