After reading West’s “A Manuscript Found in Carcosa” and “The Haunter of the Wheel”, I wanted to read more of West’s fiction with Porter Rockwell. The latter story is part of West’s Cowboys & Cthulhu series, and this story seems the first in the series.
Review: Let Sleeping Gods Lie, David J. West. 2019.
When three Chinese miners show up at Porter Rockwell’s saloon one night, they are in a hurry to abandon their diggings around the camp of Murderer’s Bar. One of them is dying. They want to trade a “dragon bone” and a book for a horse and wagon. They found working them their claim on the putatively haunted Scorched Devil Ridge. Rockwell trades them a cart and mule for the goods but not before the Chinese mention the Old Ones and hungry ghosts, and that, in two nights, the stars will be right.
Well, the group doesn’t get far on the trail to Sacramento. They are found dead on the trail by two sometimes comical characters – though courageous enough — Zeke and Bowles. For that matter, the night watchman at the saloon is killed too.
And they won’t be the last killings Rockwell, employee Jack, faithful hound Dawg, and the fearsome Bloody Creek Mary will have to contend with. The question is are they just the depredations of the local Mountain Hound gang or something far stranger?
This one has more the feel of the traditional western than “The Haunter of the Wheel” with Rockwell spending almost as much time battling outlaws as a menace from the past linked to Zealia Bishop’s and H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Mound”.
Of course, the mysterious Mr. Nodens shows up, always willing to provide hints to Rockwell but no actual help. Sasquatches do too.
With this story, I place West in the top tier of weird western writers along with Aaron B. Larson, Joel Jenkins, and Sam Kepfield.
West’s short novel gives him more room to develop a story than Larson’s short Haakon Jones tales. He’s more prolific than Kepfield who favors alternate histories and fantastic takes on real events though West’s series character, Porter Rockwell, is also drawn from history. Both Jenkins and West bring the Cthulhu Mythos into their weird westerns.
While there is plenty of gunplay in this novel, and well-done gun play it is, this isn’t a cartoonish version of the Old West. Porter Rockwell was really living under an assumed name – after all he was wanted for an attempted assassination of a Missouri Governor – in the camps of the California gold rush and running a bar. The numerous Indians, Chinese, and whites in the story aren’t the product of a tedious and tendentious fixation on “diversity” in characters but the historical reality of the time. As extreme as some of the non-Mythos action seems, it’s well within historical plausibility – not that West skimps on the Mythos action and awe.