Review: Six-Guns Straight From Hell 2, ed. David B. Riley, 2014.
This weird western anthology isn’t as good as its predecessor, but it’s full of acceptably entertaining stories.
I didn’t say I remember the stories as being good.
I finished this book in November, and, when I went back to make my notes on them, I found only three that I remembered.
But I had a lot going on in my life then, so that may account for my memory deficiency. I do remember the book being acceptably diverting at the time.
So, let’s start with the ones that didn’t stick in my brain after five months.
Vivian Caethe’s “The Feast of Hungry Ghosts” features Pinkerton agent Beatrice Jones dispatched to Rock Springs, Wyoming in 1885. (Yes, Rock Springs is a real place, but I have no idea how much of the background is based in history.) Like a lot of Pinkerton work, there’s labor problems involved. To bust a strike of railroad workers, Chinese laborers are brought in, and the workers kill them. That’s where the hungry ghosts come in. The story is a bit predictable in stereotypes. Displaced union members, evidently, get no sympathy when replaced by foreign scabs. And Jones is helped by a local Taoist priestess. The story is a bit too long though Caethe does some interesting things with the ghosts at the end.
“Brown and the Lost Dutchman Mine” from J. A. Campbell is, of course, another adventure with ghost hunter Elliott and his dog Brown. Here Brown gets to have conversations with a local lizard. Like most of the stories I’ve read in this series, I didn’t hate it, but I’m also not a fan.
Sam Knight’s “Uncle Benjamin’s Triple ‘T’ Tonic” is a dark, Bradburyesque story. Protagonist George is a bullied and put upon scrawny boy of ten. His mother, a prostitute, died, and another prostitute adopted him. Traveling patent medicine salesman Uncle Benjamin and his sidekick Charles Whitcomb, supposedly an ex-slave, offer a tonic that will give you what you most want – if you pay all you can afford. He even offers a guarantee and says he’s not leaving town until the customers are satisfied. George knows what he wants, but Uncle Benjamin won’t sell. And then the man that killed George’s mother returns to town …
Jason Andrew’s “A Dream of a Country Cottage” is a traditional ghost story that kind of breaks the rules of the weird western in its setting: post-WWI Baton Rouge. Its hero is another Pinkerton agent. He works for its paranormal unit, the Omega Watch. (This story may be related to Andrew’s “The Dead Man’s Hand” in Frontier Cthulhu. However, I didn’t make any notes on that anthology – though I remember it being good. I will not, however, practice blogger due diligence and walk down to the basement to check that book.) Agent Heller investigates a possible haunting hampering the renovation of a plantation house.
It’s the old-gunfighter-whose-tired-of-killing story in Kenneth W. Cain’s well-done, if a trifle too long, “Hired Hand”. Trouble is, there’s a whole lot of zombie-like people, infected by a fungus, that need killing.
I actually did practice a bit of due diligence with Kit Volker’s “Another One”. It seems part of the same series as her “Smoke People”. Its hero, a black lawman, drags people into Judge Parker’s court in Oklahoma Territory. This is an entertaining and mildly humorous story about said lawman running into enough vampires that he packs two guns – one loaded with lead bullets and one loaded with silver bullets. I thought the ending was too obscure. Or maybe I just missed the joke.
As for the three memorable stories, there’s Dakota Brown’s “The Life” which plays with reader expectations in a story about a female vampire passing as a cowboy. Things mostly work out until she runs across a Mexican vampire.
David Boop’s “The Tale of Uji the Griot” throws a bunch of stuff together in a pleasing mix of humor and action. Uji is a traveling entertainer from Africa who gets involved with the widow of future Indian chief and protecting her and her son from another band of Indians who happen to be shapeshifters. There was a bit too much on the power of song and story – collecting them is the whole reason Uji traveled to America. I’m dubious about that sort of thing which is why, of course, I spend countless hours talking about stories on this blog.
Most memorable was another Lone Crow story, “Blood for the Jaguar”, from Joel Jenkins. This one takes place right after his “Old Mother Hennessy”. Bounty hunters Six-Gun Susannah Johnson and Lone Crow are on the trail of one Spider Crawford. Along the way, they encounter a mysterious temple, and we learn about Susannah’s unrequited love for Lone Crow and her relationship to Crawford. After reading this one, I went and bought the two collections of Lone Crow stories which I’ll be reviewing at a future date.
Nothing bad here even if most of the stories aren’t particularly memorable. Still, if you’re looking for a collection of weird westerns, it’s worth a look.