Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Book Review: West Texas

Book Review: 'West Texas' by Al Sarantonio

3 / 5 Stars

‘West Texas’ first was published in hardcover in April, 1991 by M. Evans and Company; in 2001, Stealth Press released another hardcover version. This mass market paperback was issued by Leisure Books in February 2006. A followup novel, ‘Kitt Peak’, that also features the ‘Thomas Mullin’ character, was published by M. Evans in 1993.

I am familiar with Al Sarrantonio’s novels and short stories in the horror genre ('Moonbane', 'The Man with Legs') so I was interested to see what he could do with the western genre.

‘West Texas’ takes place in the late 1880s and is centered on Fort Davis (in modern-day Jeff Davis county), and the nearby Davis Mountains. The war with the Apaches is past, although concern over possible raids by disgruntled renegades keeps the Fort’s personnel – which includes a detachment of Buffalo Soldiers – from becoming too indolent.

The novel’s opening chapter makes clear that this western features a deranged Serial Killer, akin to those peopling the novels of Thomas Harris (‘Red Dragon’, ‘Silence of the Lambs’, ‘Hannibal’). 

When a Senator’s son goes missing, expert tracker Thomas Mullin – recently dismissed from the Army and the Buffalo Soldiers – is hastily recruited by the dissembling Captain Seavers, the Fort’s commander, to conduct a search and rescue mission.

As Mullin investigates the trails and campsites of the mountains, he comes across multiple graves, indicating that the killer has been operating within the Davis Mountains for some time.

But a killer loose in the Davis Mountains isn’t the only problem confronting Mullin, for there are signs that the Mescalero Apaches are assembling in the hills for a major assault on Fort Davis. Can Mullin stop both the killer, and the Mescaleros, in time to save his comrades in the Fort ? 

In my opinion, ‘West Texas’ comes across well enough as a western novel; however, it gains little from the inclusion of the serial killer trope. At times, the ‘mind of the serial killer’ exposition, as well as the florid presentation of the ‘eerie land of death’ that serves as his hunting ground, are a distraction from the narrative. Take, for example, this purplish passage: 

……..Coming out of the hailstorm, out of the bizarre lightning flashes amidst a rain of ice stones, out of the booming thunder banging off the mountains, it sounded like the wail of an angel – or devil. A high, pained, faraway screech of pain, it sounded like the storm had ripped a hole in heaven itself to let the cry of an agonized creature through.

To its credit, the closing chapters of ‘West Texas’ settle more firmly into a traditional western narrative, and the denouement settles the plot threads in a convincing manner.

Summing up, if you are looking for an offbeat treatment of the western theme, and are willing to overlook some overly melodramatic passages, then you might like ‘West Texas’. At 181 pages of large-font type, it’s a quick read.

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