Review: Scavengers, David J. West, 2017. 

Cover by Nathan Shumate and TheChunkyDesigner

This is the first book in West’s Dark Trails Saga of weird westerns featuring, of course, Porter Rockwell. 

If you want a western with plenty of lead being slung about, this one’s for you.

It starts out with Marshall Rockwell pursuing Ferdie McGurdie, a horse (and pie) thief. It seems it’s not just the law that wants McGurdie but also the Cottrell gang and the strange German Reverend Mort who has allied himself with US Cavalry Captain Thorn. McGurdie managed to get the secret of a lost and reputedly haunted Spanish gold mine from an Indian shaman.

The Cottrell gang gets the drop on Rockwell and stakes him out to die in the desert sun with a defector from their gang, Quincy Cuthbert Jackson. (Rockwell spends a fair amount of this novel either disarmed or in captivity.) They are rescued by the very attractive Roxy Lejeune, possessor of what seems to be a cursed – but very luck for her – faro deck.

Rockwell isn’t very believing of McGurdie’s tale when he catches up to the fugitive, but he comes around eventually. If nothing else, he’s bringing the Cottrell gang in for killing his horse and leaving him to die. Quincy and Roxy, very interested in the tale of treasure, join him.

By novel’s end, the scavengers after that treasure will include a Mexican slaver gang, very annoyed Indians, Thorn’s crew, and the Cottrells. It’s an unsentimental story of brutality and survival.

The action is almost non-stop and it’s well-done, but the novel’s best feature is that interplay between Roxy, Rockwell, and Lejeune. It’s clear that Roxy is hiding some secret about her identity. Quincy is a black man and former member of the US Colored Troops, educated with a big vocabulary he likes to show off and resentful of any insinuation that he, always a free man, was ever a slave. Thrown together in adversity and saving each other’s lives, Roxy and Quincy have a tempestuous relationship between her secrets and the problems of a black man and beautiful white woman contemplating a life together.

Besides the inherent weirdness in Rockwell, blessed by Prophet Joseph Smith with an invulnerability to blade and bullet, Reverend Mort is something of a diviner with, of all things, flaming donkey heads. He’s also formed a cult by drugging into compliance Thorn’s troops and members of a town. There’s also two Indian trackers with psychic powers. There is a genuine sense of a haunted setting with ruins of some Indian settlements (perhaps the so-called Ancients or the Anasazi) encountered as well as, of course, that fabled gold mine itself.

I appreciated, since it seems forgotten in many western stories I’ve encountered, that West has a European immigrant to the west in the sinister Thorn.

And, while they’re bad men, the minor subplot involving two of Thorn’s men, Thin-Man Johnson and Breed, had a certain poignancy. Friendless in the world except for each other, they are a luckless pair. Breed, who seems to have left an Indian reservation after perhaps encountering a demon, is the smarter one, but he always defers to his partner’s not-so-smart plans.

However, I could have done with less of two sodomite members of the Cottrell gang. It’s a self-contained novel, but it leads directly and immediately in its epilogue to the next Dark Trails Saga novel, Crazy Horses

3 thoughts on “Scavengers

  1. Bookstooge November 10, 2022 / 12:54 pm

    I’ve never tried weird western, but maybe some day.
    Thanks for the heads up concerning the cotrell gang…

    • marzaat November 10, 2022 / 12:57 pm

      It’s dedicated to Robert E. Howard (I’m assuming that’s who “Mr. Howard” is) so that gives you a sense of the plotting. The Howard influence is more pronounced in the third novel, You Only Hang Once.

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