Dead in the West (review)

by Bill Ward on February 8, 2009

in Book Reviews

With the sun kicked out and a gold doubloon moon rose in its place -- a moon that shone down with a bright, almost unnatural hue on Mud Creek and the surrounding countryside -- the nightwalkers began to walk.
  • Title: Dead in the West
  • Author: Joe R. Lansdale
  • Genre: Weird Western/Horror
  • Year: 2005 (1986)
When the Reverend Jebidiah Mercer rides into the shit town of Mud Creek, East Texas, he's a man full of doubt, guilt, and whiskey. But he's also pretty sure he's the Lord's Avenging Angel, and that he's in Mud Creek for a reason. He finds it in the form of a possessed Indian shaman and a horde of living dead in Joe R. Lansdale's Dead in the West -- subtitled 'A Zombie Western' -- a short book that's one part Pale Rider, one part Night of the Living Dead, and one hundred percent Lansdale. Dead in the West is a gory dime novel of a book, a celebration of the archetypes of the western that just so happens to take those archetypes and stick them in a blender along with the splattery thrills of zombie horror. The premise is straightforward -- troubled loner and man-of-God drifts into town right as all hell breaks loose. The hell comes in the form of some black magic revenge from a wronged Indian shaman -- a villain not without the reader's sympathies -- who curses the town after the townsfolk hang him and horribly kill his woman. The Reverend, more shootist than preacher, is the only man in town that has a chance of stopping the evil that threatens to overwhelm it. Like anything by Lansdale, Dead in the West is a showcase for his unique style that blends the surprising, the vulgar, and the absurd into something that cannot be put down. Leaner and more pulpish than even Lansdale's hardboiled thrillers, Dead in the West's narrative pounds relentlessly forwards, spurs jangling, toward a bloody climax in the form of the classic zombie siege. Combined with this economy of language is Lansdale's gift for the original metaphor, a gift that really shines when detailing the nauseating or terrible, and thus we have brains bursting from skulls like 'puked oatmeal,' dead bodies 'piled up like dog turds,' and a zombie attacking a man by 'biting plugs out of his face like a chicken pecking grit.' It's wonderful stuff. And, though it is short and taut and aswirl with archetypes, Lansdale manages to create interesting characters just the same. The Reverend in particular is a man haunted by sin, miserable with self-doubt. He finds love and purpose in Mud Creek, but also loss. Overall, Dead in the West is a short but sweet showcase for Lansdale's talents, at turns creepy, nauseating, and just plain fun.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

K.C. February 8, 2009 at 1:00 pm

Cool review, Bill.

I am a Landsdale fan, Bubba Hotep is a gas, but I haven’t seen this one. Thanks.

Ryan Harvey February 12, 2009 at 4:08 am
Bill Ward February 14, 2009 at 8:01 pm

Thank you Ryan — I’m honored, especially to receive it from you.

KC — good luck finding Dead in the West, my advice would be to try ebay. Nice to know you’re a fellow Lansdale fan.

NewGuyDave March 6, 2009 at 6:49 pm

Bill,
Sorry to hear that you’re losing your excitement to blog. I’ve enjoyed your posts, reviews, and generally keeping in touch. I wish you the best in your time of uncertainty.
Take care,
Dave

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