I’ve read a lot of weird westerns lately. Most of them were, like this one, from Science Fiction Trails which seems to specialize in them.
Review: Gunslingers & Ghost Stories, ed. David B. Riley, 2012.
You get exactly what you would expect from the title: stories combining gunfighters and ghosts.
The majority of these 11 stories go past acceptable and into being memorable or well-done examples of typical ghost story motifs.
A couple of the standout stories were from series.
Joel Jenkins “Old Mother Hennessy” features his Indian bounty hunter Lone Crow. Here his partner is Six-Gun Susannah, a very quick draw with a gun if not a very good shot. In tracking down the vicious Hennessy boys to their mountain lair, they come across the graves of their victims. At the end of the trail is the beautiful and witch Mother Hennessy, the worst of the lot. As is usually the case in the Lone Crow series, Jenkins effectively mixes credible gunplay, magic, and characterization. Here Susannah pines away, in her unrequited love, for her partner.
Laura Givens “Chin Song Ping and the Hungry Ghosts” is a follow up to her “Chin Song Ping and the Fifty-Three Thieves”. Ping is a charming character given to romantic impulses and possessing equal parts of naivete, ignorance, and cunning. Here he gets involved hauling dynamite, and he and his partner camp for the night in the infamous Donner Pass. What better place to find hungry ghosts? And a band of Mexican bandits complicates things.
Henry Ram’s “Gentleman Caller” continues the story of necromancer Potbury in the Wyoming town of Name Pending. As usual in this series, brothel owner Mrs. Broadhurst and her greedy and transparently hypocritical schemes to exploit Henrietta, one of her employees, provides most of the humor. Here that means renting Henrietta out to a weird guy dressed in 17th century garb that shows up one stormy night.
Kit Volker’s “Smoke People” isn’t part of a series but is an effective tale of a black bounty hunter bringing an ex-Confederate soldier back to Fort Smith in Arkansas. They camp in a deserted sawmill town where spirits are out for the soldier’s blood.
“Mountain Man” from Jack Howard is a blackly humorous story about how things change. A trapper hasn’t been to town in a really long time, but he decides it’s time to cash in the bounty on the 25 Chinaman heads he’s saved up. But it’s 1920 …
Typical ghost story motifs are well used in two stories. “The Empty Holster” from C. J. Killmer has a marshal saved from death by a gang of outlaws. His savior disappears leaving only his revolver behind. The title “Avenged” by Kenneth W. Cain says it all in a story about vengeance taken on an outlaw gang.
I’m not sure if Adrian Ludens’ “Ghost Soup” is a good story because I’m biased. It’s set in the Chinese tunnels beneath Deadwood, South Dakota. Being from the area and actually having been in the remnants of those tunnels, I’ve long thought someone should use them in a weird western. The story also has appearances from historical figures Seth Bullock and Preacher Smith. The plot involves a nasty demon that’s been locked up in a “papal enclosure” in the tunnels, a demon that the locals turn to for help with another problem.
J. A. Campbell’s “The Saloon of Doom” is another in the series about ghosthunters Elliott and his dog Brown. The series doesn’t annoy me, but I’m not a huge fan either. This one has a haunted saloon and a lot of talk between narrator Brown, the other dogs in town, and a cat.
Darla Upchurch’s “Forever in Oro” was moody and acceptable, but the story of outlaw Tasch returning to Oro after ten years to put a necklace in the grave of his love Kit, killed by a lawman’s bullet meant for Tasch, didn’t do a lot for me.
I do think Dana Bell’s “The Ruins” had a good start with an engaged woman from Boston’s upper class joining an archaeological dig with her brother in the Utah of 1892. She is not looking forward to her arranged marriage. But I think the woman’s motives behind her final, drastic action are too underdeveloped to make the end credible.