Deadman’s Road by Joe R. Lansdale (book review)

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‘Deadman’s Road’ is a collection of five stories featuring the gun totting Reverend Jedidiah Mercer as he rides from town to town to battle evil in the guise of werewolves, zombies, kobolds and other Lovecraftian monsters. This is a western-themed horror novel which the description on the back of the book says also contains ribald humour. I’m not sure I agree with the humour bit.

The Reverend Jedidiah Mercer is not a humorous person. He’s not happy with his calling or with his god. This makes him surly with the people he meets along the way but, then again, most of the people he meets tend to come to a grisly end. His horses don’t fare to much better neither.

The book opens with a brief section titled ‘The Reverend Rides Again And Again And Again And Again’ where the author Joe R. Lansdale gives his thoughts on the collection of stories. It’s interesting but I was keen to get my teeth into the first story, which is also the longest, ‘Dead In The West’. This is actually a good story to start with as there’s a good introduction to the Reverend which goes some way to explain why he is the way he is.

We do see a softer side of the Reverend’s character, thanks to a young lad and the local doctor’s daughter, Abby Peekner. The Reverend saves the lad from a beating which the boy’s father seems to give out quite liberally. He makes Doctor Peekner’s acquaintance as they both investigate a man who they watch die in the street in mysterious circumstances.

The icing on the cake is provided by a reanimated Indian who’s made a pact with a demon. He’s a very tough test for the Reverend. I liked this story for its introduction to the Reverend and the epic shoot-out at the church. The ending was a bit of a surprise but in some ways does set the trend.

The next story is ‘Deadman’s Road’ is a shorter piece being 26 pages against the 134 for the first story. It might be shorter but it’s got its fair share of horrors. The Reverend stops for a rest at a shack he comes across on his way. Inside, he meets the resident old guy who’s also entertaining a deputy sheriff, Jim Taylor, and his prisoner, Bill Barrett. The deputy is keen to get the prisoner back to his local town jail but this means they travel down Deadman’s Road.

Unfortunately, this road is reputedly haunted by a ghost who has been cursed by an Indian. According to the old-timer, he’s not a friendly ghost which gets the Reverend interested. He decides to accompany Taylor and Barrett to see if there is any truth in the local legend.

The other three stories in this collection are: ‘The Gentleman’s Hotel’, ‘The Crawling Sky’ and ‘The Dark Down There’. These are all shorter tales numbering 28, 34 and 30 pages respectively. I must admit that by the time I had read ‘The Gentleman’s Hotel’, I was starting to see a pattern develop in the plots. The Reverend will travel to a new location which has, in its vicinity, a monster. He must overcome the monster, usually with some difficulty. The problem with these stories being set in the West during the cowboy era is there isn’t a lot of room for introducing something different in the Reverend’s approach to the problem. He’s got his pistols and his rifle so he either shoots someone or thing or uses the guns as clubs. Occasionally, he uses his bible but this is only occasionally and not in an offensive fashion.

Any one of the five stories would be a good contribution to a collection of Lovecraftian themed horror stories. By themselves, they are rather good tales it’s just that read together as a collection you start to see the plot similarities in each story. You can also have a good guess as to what the Reverend is likely to do as there is very little variation.

If you’re a fan of the Reverend then you are going to buy this book as one of the stories is brand new and another one has not been included in a collection before. For the rest of the people out there, I’m not so sure.

Andy Whitaker

July 2016

(pub: Subterranean Press, 2010. 271 page deluxe hardback. Price: $40.00 (US). ISBN: 978-1-59606-330-3)

check out website: www.subterraneanpress.com

Category: Books, Horror, MEDIA

About the Author ()

I live in deepest darkest Essex where I enjoy photography, real ales, walking my dog, cooking and a really good book. I own an e-book reader which goes with me everywhere but still enjoy the traditional paper based varieties. My oriental studies have earned me a black belt in Suduko and I'm considered a master in deadly Bonsai (there are very few survivors).

Comments (1)

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  1. EamonnMurphy says:

    Honest review, Andy. You’re about right. I like Joe Lansdale’s stuff but I recall some story about the Reverend and I wasn’t wild about it. I’ve read some darn good fantasy wild west tales in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and I think the general idea is fun. Lansdale can be very brutal though. Not for the faint-hearted.

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