Tuesday, January 26, 2016

A demonic western

Hell's Bounty

By Joe R. Lansdale & John L. Lansdale

Publisher: Subterranean Press

Pub: February 29, 2016

Rating: 3 & 1/2 out of 5 stars

I like my westerns weird. Zombie action. Deals with devils. Silver bullets. Demon horses. Hell's Bounty has all of that and then some. This supernatural yarn by the Lansdale brothers reads like a whirlwind of bullets and brimstone. It is a delightful menage of pulp western and Weird Tales horror that is over too quickly and begs for a re-read.It is also a sugary supernatural confection for the mind with about the same lack of nutrients, but let's face it. Man cannot live on prime rib and artichokes alone.

Smith is a bounty hunter and not a very nice person to put it mildly. He is in the town of Falling Rock to apprehend a criminal dead or alive. While he gets his man, dead, a run-in with a vicious hombre named Trumbo Quill and a miscalculation over the length of a dynamite fuse sends him straight to Hell. However, Hell's bartender Snappy (guess who?) has a deal for him. Smith is to return to Falling Rock and take on Quill who has now been possessed by the demon Zelzarda and is planning to let loose The Ancient Ones on unsuspecting Earth. It appears even God and the devil are no match for Lovecraftian evils.

Smith is sent back to Earth, now a year after his death. The rest becomes the grit in the tale with Smith teaming up with the survivors of Falling Rock and a few helpers from the underworld. Quill is the now demonic heavy who is guarded by smart-ass ghouls. It is pretty much non-stop action but the Brothers Lansdale occasionally slows it down to reveal a story of personal growth and redemption. After no anti-hero is worth his weight in silver if the hero part doesn't tip the scale at least a little bit.

This short novel screams pulp and Joe R. Lansdale is probably the most pulp oriented of the contemporary writers of horror, mystery and western. He has been delving into western quite a bit lately and this one takes me back to one of his first supernatural westerns, Dead in the West. It is both a throw-back and an improvement with colorful descriptions and sharp witty dialog that moves the story like a hellbound train. Yet even with the clear redemption angle, it something feel too pulp. His latest western oriented novels, noticeably The Thicket and Paradise Sky, are some of his best work with themes to rival the dense literary canons. Lansdale is at his peak. Yet Hell's Bounty feels a little like a pit stop, a fun excursion in the pits of Western BBQ Hell. But it is a hell of a lot of fun. So that is how I recommend you read it, like a roller coaster ride before the main event. Pulp Lansdale is great. Lansdale at the peak of his career with a message among the fun and horror is greater. Even with the redemption theme, the most message you will get from Hell's Bounty is don't go to Hell and carry a lot of silver. So enjoy Hell's Bounty, but think of it as an appetizer before the vast bounties of the Landsdale universe to come. Three and a half stars.

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