Helldorado and Other Tales of the Weird West

It’s the final – for now – book of the Dark Trails Saga.

Low Res Scan: Helldorado and Other Tales of the Weird West, David J. West, 2021.

Cover by Anna Stansfield

Helldorado” is a sequel to the first three novels of the Dark Trails Saga. Porter Rockwell is reunited with Roxy Lejune, Brigham Young’s headstrong, runaway daughter and her man, Quincy Cthubert Jackson as they travel to California after the events of You Only Hang Once. It’s something of a short novel taking up almost a third of the collection, and has lots of gunplay and death. Rockwell is summoned by a friend to get  involved in a classic western conflict – a landwar. His friend, Havenbrook, has actually found one of those lost Spanish gold mines that this series is so full of. The trouble is another man, Carswell, wants it to. And Mormon piety and comradeship isn’t going to stop Carswell from hiring lots of gunfighters to get his way. This one mostly plays out like a regular western with the introduction of a supernatural element fairly late. And the shadow of the Mountain Meadows Massacre on Rockwell’s reputation is also a factor

West puts introductory notes at the beginning of the stories, and the one for “Bad Medicine” explains it serves as an epilogue for the Rockwell novel Let Sleeping Gods Lie. Since it was written for an anthology of straight westerns, the weird elements of that novel are very obliquely allued to. The story is based on a real historical event: a shooting competition between Rockwell (aka James Brown) in this California mining camp and a man named Stewart. At stake is a $1,000.

Sundowners” has Rockwell far afield from his usual range. He’s in Mexico to deliver a package, but – against warnings – he stops for the night at a town whose inhabitants lock themselves in every evening. Not that that protects them from rampaging insanity. Rockwell decides the problem just may be a sacred relic in the town’s mission

The Tears of Nephi” is a steampunk Porter Rockwell story, but I don’t think it quite works plotwise. It’s not the steampunk elements at fault – West does a good job with Rockwell and steampunk in his #Savant series. It’s the motives behind the kidnapping of a blind girl who Rockwell, at the request of Brigham Young, wants rescued.

Under the Gun” put me a bit in mind of Dan Simmons Black Hills, David J. West. Both stories are weird westerns staring on the Custer Battlefield. Here a young Indian boy, Moon-Wolf, picks up a possessed revolver that speaks to him and wants to be called George. It also demands a lot of people being shot while conceding the boy will only have the gun until a greater warrior picks it up. Soon Moon-Wolf is renamed Man-Killer-Wolf by his tribe, and his uncle and Rockwell are determined to put a stop to the trail of bodies the boy and gun leave behind.

The Electric Apostle” is an oddity in a couple of ways. First, it’s star is Nikolai Tesla and not Porter Rockwell. Second, it was written for the Mormon alternate history collection States of Deseret. The story is a eulogy for Nikolai Tesla after his death in 1946..

Having been recruited to help resist a Pacific coast threat by an undisclosed undersea abomination, Tesla was introduced to Mark Twain, Levi Strauss, and saint Orrin Porter Rockwell. Along their journey to the South-Pacific city of R’lyeh, Rockwell taught some basic gospel principles to Tesla, who was intrigued by the notorious gunman and his unorthodox devotion to the new dispensational religion.”

West’s notes says this alludes to an event in, at the time of this book’s publishing, to a Cowboys & Cthulhu novel he was in the process of writing – presumably Old Gods New Tricks which I haven’t read yet. In this history, Tesla attends and eventually teachs at Brigham Young University and marries.  Not only does he invent the AC system for transmitting electricity in this world but also a “worldwide wireless communication” technology that facilitates Mormon missionary work. He also creates a Peace Ray and gets involved in the Philadelphia Experiment.  Farnsworth, one of the inventors of tv, seems to be a Mormon tood and friend of Tesla. I found it mildly amusing but, especially in the details of Tesla’s family life, a bit too Mormon-centric for my tastes.

This is a low res scan because I’ve aleady reviewed three of the stories in it:  “Six-Gun Serenade”, “A Manuscript Found in Carcosa”, and “The Haunter of the Wheel”.

Despite “The tears of Nephi” and “The Electric Apostle”, I found this a strong collection of weird western stories, particularly for those with an interest in the Cthulhu Mythos.

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