Though my interests in the genre has waxed and waned at various points in my life I’ve always been interested in Westerns. Growing up the Lone Ranger and Tonto were the first Western characters to ever capture my imagination. In my teen years I discovered the Westerns of Clint Eastwood and numerous other “Spaghetti” Westerns, a genre which I still find cool today. Then in my twenties I discovered the type of Western I loved best, the “Weird Western”. Weird West tales are usually a hybrid of Western and horror stories some times with fantasy and even steam punk science fiction elements thrown in. My introduction to “Weird Westerns” came in the form of the Jonah Hex stories published by DC Comics Vertigo Imprint and the “Deadlands” Roleplaying game. Both of these properties were so rich and mixed the genres so well that to me the “Weird Western” was like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup of cool.
So I was very intrigued to discover that legendary horror writer Richard Matheson had penned a Weird Western novel titled “Shadow on the Sun”. I was familiar with Matheson’s horror writing but when I picked up the book I discovered he had penned several Western stories as well. So Matheson had background with both genres and in “Shadow on the Sun” he demonstrated a knack for mixing them together in a potent combination.
“Shadow on the Sun” takes place right around the time Indians are being forced upon reservations through out the country. In Picture City, Arizona Billjohn Finely, the local agent for the Bureua of Indian Affairs, has helped broker a peace treaty between the U.S. government and a band of Apache Indians. Shortly after the treaty is signed, two townsfolk are found savagely murdered. David Boutelle, a young southern Politician sent to town by the U.S. government suspects the Apaches have broken the treaty. Finley suspects something stranger and more sinister is going on. His fears are confirmed when a strange man comes to town; a stranger who is not exactly human.
So the bulk of the action unfolds as a mystery story as Finley and Boutelle try to figure out the truth behind the murders. Discovering the truth doesn’t take long though because “Shadow on the Sun” is a short novel and moves very quickly. Matheson doesn’t skimp on story though. The pacing of the story is incredibly satisfying.
The other aspect of “Shadow on the Sun” that made it a fun read was that it was essentially a buddy book. At the beginning of the story Finley and Boutelle don’t like each other. They’re the classic pair of mismatched heroes, but as they try to uncover what’s really happening in their town and the nearby wilderness a friendship grows. You also get the sense that the character of Boutelle, who starts of as your typical Indian hating rich city slicker, grows.
I only had two complaints about “Shadow on the Sun” and they were slight ones based more on personal preference than the quality of the writing. I thought the character behind the murders in the story was more interesting when we didn’t know who he was. I didn’t find Matheson’s back story for him to be as compelling as the one I concocted in my mind. Plus the climax of the book and the way Finley and Boutelle stopped the thing behind the murders, happened in a different manner that I would have liked. It was an interesting manner, but I would have preferred something a little more exciting.
All in all though. “Shadow on the Sun” was a fun, quick read. It also proved that Richard Matheson knows how to deftly blend the horror genre with a Western tale for a proper and compelling Weird Western.
I love crime novels. There’s just something about them that speaks to me, and for some reason I seem to really enjoy reading them in the winter. Maybe the dark, bleak weather makes a dark, bleak story even more fascinating. When it came time to choose my latest winter crime novel I chose a book with a fitting title, Tom Piccirilli’s “The Cold Spot”
It’s my understanding that Piccirilli is mainly a horror writer and that “The Cold Spot” was one of his first major attempts at a straight up crime novel. I had read one of his horror novels. I thought his licensed “Hellboy” novel “Emerald Hell” was one of the best in that series of books. So I was curious to see what Piccirilli could do with a crime story.
As it turns out he can do a lot. “The Cold Spot” stars Chase, a young thief who served as a wheelman for his Grandfather’s gang of thieves. When Chase is just a teenager his grandfather murders a member of their crew right before Chase’s eyes. It’s an experience that freaks him out and sends him off wandering on his own . After a few years he does something unexpected, he meets and falls in love with a Deputy Sheriff. Chase abandons his life of crime and marries her and tries to settle in for a normal life. Then one day Chase’s wife is taken from him by violence. That violence pushes Chase back into his old life. He reaches out to his grandfather for aid on a mission of vengeance.
“The Cold Spot” is a fast and fascinating read. A lot of that is because of the character of Chase himself. It’s interesting that Piccirilli chose to make Chase a wheelman. He’s a driver and incredibly driven. In fact the most interesting and compelling chapters of “The Cold Spot” are when you’re alone with Chase and Piccirilli lets you inside his head. Early on you’re pulled into the story as you see Chase trying to distance himself from his grandfather. Later on in the story Chase pulls you in again as you get caught up in his anger and thirst for vengeance over what happened to his wife.
Part of the reason why that works so well too is Piccirilli spends an ample amount of time developing the relationship between Chase and his wife. It’s a believable and beautiful one. You get a good sense of their devotion to each other and you understand what Chase sees in her. When she’s taken from you, you the reader, want justice as well.
Looming large over the story is Chase’s grandfather, Jonah who reminded me of an older version of Richard Stark’s/Donald Westlake’s Parker character. Like Parker, Jonah is a pretty interesting thief but his scenes didn’t feel as compelling to me as the ones with just Chase. Later on though Piccirilli gives some background on Jonah and has him do some surprising but believable things. So he was a character that grew on me.
“The Cold Spot” isn’t just a character study it contains several scenes of action and brutal violence. Piccirilli wrote these scenes very well. They rang true because they happened quickly, were messy, and had consequences for just about every one involved.
So if you’re looking for a quick fun, crime novel to get you through the winter blues pick up “The Cold Spot”. You’ll be glad you did.
From my blog stats I know fans of the CW’s “Supernatural” occasionally pop in here from time to time because of one of my posts. So I wanted to provide a link to an interview I did with one of the show’s writers/Producers. In this interview I talk with Adam Glass about the current season so far and what to expect when the show comes back tonight for the second half of the season