Low Noon

Review: Low Noon: Tales of Horror & Dark Fantasy from the Weird Weird West, ed. David B. Riley, 2012.Low Noon

There’s a lot of strange and dangerous places in the weird west, and editor Riley assembles his usual reliable gang of writers to give us a look.

Mesilla in Arizona Territory is a nice town. It’s even got a town character: Old Man Foster. He comes to town once a month, drinks his whiskey, pays for it in gold, and leaves. Except Old Man Foster doesn’t seem to be a likeable old coot. More than once someone followed him home to find out about where he gets his gold. They’re never seen again. Emily Crawford, a talented artist, comes to town looking for her vanished fiancé. Naturally, she and Old Man Foster are going to meet, and Don D’Ammassa’s “Drawn Out” ends on a mysterious note with much revealed about Crawford and Foster’s true natures but not all.

Mysterious Dave Mather, who he last heard about in this blog when he was hanging around with Wyatt Earp, is on the “Trail of the Brujo” in a story by Matthew Baugh. The Brujo’s soul is the body-switching survivor of a man Mather’s famed ancestor Cotton hung once. A couple of centuries of living and sadistic pleasures have started to lose their luster, but the Brujo just can’t check out. His soul belongs to the Devil, and he doesn’t intend on dying. Mather and the beautiful madam of a Dallas brothel join forces to combat the Brujo. A memorable and entertaining story.

Lyn McConchie’s “Before All This Modern Stuff” ain’t for the squeamish. This biter-bitten tale starts with a rancher having an Indian family killed on his land, follows him through his life, and ends in an unexpected place.

As Riley says his introduction, there’s a couple of bad boarding house stories. (The stories are good though.)

J. Killmer’s “Feeding Pluto” has a brother and sister cannibal team. But they feed the wrong guest to their pet gator, Pluto.

I’ve always appreciated how Sam Kepfield builds real history into his stories. Here the Burnetts who kill their guests in the Kansas of 1870 in “Hell Home on the Range” are based on Kansas’ own “Bloody Benders” from the same period. But I doubt the Benders were doing séances like Layla Burnett. And séances might be a problem if you have a bunch of bodies buried around the farm.

As always in the Potbury the Necromancer series, there’s a lot of humor in Henry Ram’s “A Quarter Past Death”. The Calhoun gang ride into Name Pending, Wyoming Territory to take revenge for their youngest member being humiliated by Nat McGrue, a local gunman. Things don’t go as planned, though, when they find out McGrue is a client of Potbury’s meaning he is (or was) a dead man.

Joel Jenkins’ “The Five Disciples” tells how bounty hunter Lone Crow met his future partner Shotgun Ferguson. That was back in San Francisco when Ferguson was just another bounty to collect and one also sought by five Chinese bounty hunters imbued with some of the powers of the Five Chinese Immortals. Like a lot of the Lone Crow stories, the action is well done and there’s a bit of an ethical and spiritual element to the story.

Another series character that often shows up in Riley’s anthologies is Kit Volker’s Molly Kincaid. In “Art Lessons”, her photography business has been slow so she picks up money tutoring an odd boy.

David Boop’s “The Temptation of Darcy Morgan” has some nice humor and Noqoìl the Gambling God shows up to play some faro dealt by the lovely Darcy. The stakes? Riches for everybody in Drowned Horse or enslavement for everybody. I thought it a bit too long, especially in the descriptions of the final game, and that it had a bit too much fairy tale type plot machinations I don’t normally care for.

And, since you need a haunted mine in an anthology like this, we get Jackson Kuhl’s “Realgar”. A man tries to reopen an abandoned man. That might be a mistake since it was abandoned after the previous owner killed his family, flooded the mine, burned his will, and killed himself. This one has a clever, gruesome, and unexpected end.

Riley himself gives us “A Walk in the Woods” featuring his long running character Grumpy Gaines, Texas Ranger. We learn that Grumpy has a nice side line in faked restaurant receipts for his expense account, but, as always, he finds himself running into some vampires – and wondering if he should even bother mentioning this sort of thing anymore in his official reports.

The strangest and weirdest story, “The Judiciales”, comes from John Howard. Carlos Blackman, lawyer, jewel thief, embezzler, and murderer, finds himself in a Mexican jail. Carlos keeps blacking out with a local magistrate reminding him of some new crime when he wakes up. And who, exactly, do the ten Pinkertons on Carlos’ trail work for? Howard definitely doesn’t neatly wrap this one up in the end.

This one’s hard to find. The ebook is out of print, but you can still find pricey trade paperback copies, and it’s worth a look for the weird western fan.


More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

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