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Book Review- Shadow on the Sun

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.

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