In the dark spirit of the Halloween season I’ll be taking some time to share with UTF readers a few horror flicks they may have missed and would be great to catch this October. Check out the previous instalments in the series – my reviews of The Horde and The Hills Run Red!
John Lansdale’s cult novella DEAD IN THE WEST is about Reverend Jebidiah Mercer who is a man questioning not only his own, but faith as a convention. In need of money he finds himself in the East Texas town of Mud Creek. This is a town where a vengeful act of human weakness is about to engulf the town in a horror like no other. This is the story of zombies in the old west.
“The town was dead. And the Dead Walked.”
This is a novella I have wanted to read for a long time, however was never willing to pay $30 for. I recently acquired a Kindle and while browsing came across this story again and downloaded it for $5. It was not the story I was expecting. I mistakenly believed this was going to be a tightly paced series of action set pieces with a cowboys vs. zombies themes.
What I found instead was a well constructed slow burn horror tale with a rich cast of deeply written characters. This book further confirms Lansdale as a master storyteller. His prose is basic, but powerful. As with his other works he has a taken a fun original idea, and not allowed it to stand on its own. Instead he filled in the world around his idea creating something truly unique that can be taken very seriously despite the potentially hokey sounding premise.
Reverend Jebidiah Mercer’s background story is compelling and adds a great deal of weight to each decision he makes. The interplay between him and all the townsfolk is nearly flawless. Each character is a perfect counterbalance to the other. It also is vital to note the zombies in this book are wholly the creation of Lansdale. He takes a page from the playbook so perfectly established by Romero, but does not use his rules as gospel.
When I sat down to read DEAD IN THE WEST I was ready for a rip roaring tale of zombie shootouts. While the action sequences contained were satisfying, what I found was another excellent character driven tale from an American master. Kudos to you Mr. Lansdale.
After you finish reading Lansdale’s novella, or after each chapter you should fire up your home console and play Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare. This expansion pack takes the amazing game engine and play mechanics from RED DEAD REDEMPTION and inserts new enemies in the form of the undead and various other fantastical creatures. Much like DEAD IN THE WEST it is aware of how silly its concept is and embraces its tropes while still creating a tension filled world any horror buff would love to get lost in. What can I say a good pairing of a game and a book brings out the best in each.
M.R. Gott grew up on westerns, and into Zombies