Thursday, February 23, 2017

Deadman's Road (2010) by Joe R. Lansdale

Deadman's Road (2010) by Joe R. Lansdale, containing the following stories: Dead in the West (1986); Deadman's Road (2007); The Gentleman's Hotel (2007); The Crawling Sky (2009); and The Dark Down There (2010). Texas horror, Western and thriller legend Joe R. Lansdale gifts the horror reader with the collected adventures of Reverend Jedidiah Mercer here. Mercer stalks the Post-Civil-War American West in search of monsters to lay a beating on. The stories are ultraviolent and often bleak: the body count is high for friends and foes of Mercer alike. 

One could almost imagine Robert E. Howard smiling down (or up) at these stories as a bleaker, Western take on his 16th-century monster-fighter Solomon Kane. Mercer's religion is even darker than Kane's -- his God is no God of mercy, and Mercer does his bidding because he really has no choice in the matter.

Dead in the West: Lansdale's short novel introduces Mercer and about as much of his back story as we get. Conflicted about serving God, hitting the bottle hard, Mercer finds himself dropped unwillingly into a battle against zombie-vampire things raised against a town by the Native American shaman the town murdered. Dead in the West was meant to be a movie -- and it would make one gore-soaked Western.

"Deadman's Road": Mercer is now more sanguine in his monster-fighting duties, this time against a burrow-living zombie with a thing for bees. Mercer's problems keeping a horse alive continue through to the end of the collection. So, too, the terrible meals he's stuck eating in almost every adventure, described lovingly and in great detail by Lansdale.

"The Gentleman's Hotel": A pitched, weird battle against Undead Werewolves, sort of. Mercer's attempt to keep his horse alive does not go well.

"The Crawling Sky": A Lovecraftian whatsit haunts a house, and a well. Say goodbye, horse.

"The Dark Down There": Kobolds enslave silver miners. Explosions follow.

In all, a highly enjoyable collection that makes for a fast-paced, ultraviolent read. Makes the version of Christianity seen in Stephen King's The Stand seem like a happy circle singing "Kumbaya." But the horrors come razor-wrapped in grim good humour, often Mercer's. Highly recommended.

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