Whispers Out of the Dust; or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax

And this concludes, for now, my look at the weird westerns of David J. West.

Low Res Scan: Whispers Out of the Dust: A Haunted Journey Through the Lost American West, David J. West, 2015.

Cover by Nathan Shumate

I wanted to like this anthology of weird western stories. It has the things I like: a series of linked stories, epigraphs opening each one, and each story purporting to be from a document. And it was obviously a work of love from West who even includes a map and purported photos of some of the stories’ location around the town St. Thomas at the center of the book and now beneath the waters of Lake Mead.

The stories take place between 1885 and 1938, and West presents them as a collection of documents he found, along with a toad statue, in a discarded trunk at a Mormon thrift store. And there are plenty of weird elements: ghosts, evil medicine men, liches, ghouls, giant Gila monsters, thunderbirds, haunted lost ruins, and spectral riders.

But I found most of the stories uninteresting to the extent I didn’t make any notes on individual titles.

Not all of the 18 stories are dull. A member of John Wesley Powell’s Colorado River party makes some disturbing discoveries in “Gods of the Old Land”. I’ve already reviewed “Right Hand Man” which features Porter Rockwell.  “The Thing in the Root Cellar” is about a household servant who tries to warn his employers of a menace lurking there. “Black Jack’s Last Ride” is about the doom that overtakes an outlaw for a heinous crime committed long ago.  A mysterious woman a man meets in a saloon turns out to be a harbinger of death in “A Rose for Dolly”.  The final story, “Bury Me Deep”, concerns activities around a notorious local man’s grave and his daughter showing up to request a favor of the narrator. She’s an interesting enough character that I’d like to see her in another story. 

The parallax on this one is provided by The Horror Review.

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.

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Cold Slither and Other Horrors of the Weird West

Review: Cold Slither and Other Horrors of the Weird West, ed. David J. West, 2016. 

Cover by Anna Stansfield

You could call this, the fourth book in West’s Dark Trails Saga, the Porter Rockwell bestiary. West even provides an illustration, usually a petroglyph, for each story. And some of those beasts (jackelopes! Tumbleweeds!) are pretty audacious choices by West.

Cold Slither” is a long and very Robert E. Howard-type story. There’s a maiden to be sacrificed, a giant snake god, and lots of action. Porter Rockwell encounters a Ute shaman who is holding a ritual and keeping a sacred fire burning to keep the Blood Gods asleep. Rockwell isn’t keen on the shaman’s suggestion that he take over the duties. And other Indians want the Blood Gods back. The gods may have demanded human sacrifice, but they kept the white man at bay too. Naturally, Rockwell gets caught up in the battle to keep the snake god Coatlicue locked up. As he notes, “Sometimes the best you do in these situations is just survive.”

Rockwell battles the quintessential American monster, the thunderbird, in “Black Wings in the Moonlight”. He’s called in to take care of the critter which has already killed and eaten several people on the banks of the Mississippi. It’s another well-done action tale.

Soma for the Destroying Angels Soul” has zombies, escaped slaves, a patent medicine salesman, and a Haitian witch doctor. Rockwell comes across a town where people have been infected by some kind of fungus. He puts paid to the troublemaker in quite an unusual way.

Rolling in the Deep” takes place after a real incident in Rockwell’s life when he cut his hair – the source of his invulnerability to blade and bullet – to provide a wig for a widow who lost hers after a fever. Rockwell finds himself shanghaied and aboard the Dagon. And, yes, Captain Quinn does seem to have an affinity for a Lovecraftian creature.

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You Only Hang Once

Review: You Only Hang Once, David J. West, 2022. 

Cover by Anna Stansfield

Things aren’t looking good for Porter Rockwell and his friend Quincy Jackson at the beginning of this novel.

The girl Emily was dragged over a cliff and into the Colorado River by Mala Cosa’s dead body at the end of Crazy Horses, and Territorial Marshal Shaw is going to use the lack of her exculpatory testimony and other evidence he’s forged, suborned, or misinterpreted to send Rockwell and Jackson to the gallows.

And Mormon leader Brigham Young, who comes off a bit prissy here, isn’t going to intervene for church protector Rockwell. The US government is still investigating the Mountain Meadow Massacre, and Young doesn’t want any impression about that the church sanctions murder. So the importuning of his daughter, aka Roxy Lejune, goes for naught.

By this time, the relationship between Roxy and Quincy has firmed up into true love for each other, and Roxy takes steps to bust Quincy out of jail, and Rockwell manages his own escape.

Hearing rumors of a new criminal gang in the area, he heads for Montezuma City, the ruins of an ancient civilization of giant white men. There he’ll meet criminal mastermind Iblis and Emily, who isn’t dead after all.

In Montezuma City, Rockwell will encounter earthquakes, the Haunter of the Abyss, and make new allies.

This one is probably my least favorite of the three Dark Trails Saga novels. Perhaps that’s because it’s the shortest, and the escape scenes didn’t interest me as much. Again, though, West provides some good characters, and it was nice to see the development of Roxy’s and Quincy’s relationship.

Additional Thoughts with Spoilers

The backstory, delivered by Iblis, of Montezuma City evidently was inspired by a bit of Mormon folklore, specifically the Gadiantons. West also says it was inspired by Robert E. Howard’s El Borak (which I’m not familiar with) and the claims by one Cyclone Covey of a “Roman Jewish colony in America”.

Crazy Horses

Review: Crazy Horses, David J. West, 2017. 

Cover by Anna Stansfield

There’s a lot less lead thrown about in this sequel to Scavengers, but I liked it more.

It’s a pursuit story with Porter Rockwell and friends Roxy Lejune and Quincy Jackson both the pursuers and pursued.

At the end of Scavengers, Rockwell’s blood brother Chief Redbone showed up asking for Rockwell’s help after Mexican slaver Matamoros, who survived the carnage at the lost Spanish gold mine, kidnapped Redbone’s daughter.

That carnage produced 63 missing people in the Thorn massacre, and Territorial Marshall Brody Shaw thinks Rockwell had something to do with that. Brody wants to see Rockwell hang, and, as we see, he’s not above forging evidence to produce a conviction. Shaw’s hatred of Rockwell goes back to New York State when Mormon founder Joseph Smith stole Shaw’s flock away.

So, Rockwell and friends are pursued by Shaw as they pursue Matamoros through the desert around the Colorado River. They’ll encounter some of the women Rockwell freed from Matamoros in Scavengers after the slaver killed their husbands and raped them. One girl, Emily, stows away with the Rockwell party as they travel down the Colorado to follow Matamoros.

There’s a lot to like here. There is the Uninvited, a vampiric entity who appears as an old man seeking camp fires, the final showdown between Rockwell and Matamoros, and the bloodbath at the lair of Mala Cosa. He’s a sorcerer Matamoros needs to redeem himself with, and the price of redemption is Redbone’s daughter.

This one ends on a grim note.

Scavengers

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.

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Six-Gun Serenade

Several reviews of weird westerns from David J. West are coming up.

Given their stats, my weird western reviews are about as useful as a lame mule dying of thirst in the desert. They don’t look capable of carrying their weight much longer. I’m tempted to put a bullet through their head. We’ll see if water shows up.

Review: Six-Gun Serenade, David J. West, 2017.

Cover by Go On Write

This is a teaser anthology with just two stories and an excerpt from a West novel which I’ll be covering in the future.

In “Six-Gun Serenade” it’s 1868 in the border of the Wyoming and Utah Territories, and chemistry teacher Amsa Davison finds himself playing host to some unsavory men in his house.

Led by Caleb Landforth, an Omar Khayyám spouting man who claims to also be a spiritualist, they are on the trail of treasure: a lost Spanish gold mine abandoned when the native slave labor rebelled and killed the Spanish there. They are confident they’ll find the mine but need Davison to assay any gold taken.

Meeting the rest of Landforth’s crew, Davison finds there even worst bad men when they expect apart from the cook and a couple of others. Then there’s Warner, a long-haired gunfighter with the steel blue eyes of a natural killer. It doesn’t take long, of course, for it to be revealed that Warner is none other than Porter Rockwell, a favorite character of West’s for his weird westerns.

And there is a bit of weirdness here since Landforth really does have psychic powers which lead him to the mine. But it’s also no surprise that Landforth has decided that he won’t need Davison for long.

It’s a engaging story that doesn’t hang around long enough to wear out it’s welcome, but I can’t say it’s particularly memorable.

The Money Light” was supposed to be included in West’s collection of linked stories, Whispers Out of the Dust, but ended up not being included for length reasons.

It’s a pleasant enough ghost story full of what I call faux Western dialogue – laconic and humorous, but I doubt people in the real American West talked that way.

Things start out with protagonist Saul Reynolds killing, in a card game, the Ferguson brothers who accuse him of cheating. (Spooner, Reynold’s friend, was the one actually cheating.) Given their reputation, the town is certainly not sorry to see the Fergusons dead, and Reynolds goes with the Ferguson bodies to their mother’s house. 

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Memento Mori

My look at West’s #Savant series concludes.

Review: Memento Mori, David J. West, 2020. 

Cover by Warren Design

Most of the plot revelations were taken care of in the preceding #Savant book, In My Time of Dying. About half of this story is a chase with Elizabeth Dee and bodyguard Porter Rockwell trying to rescue John Dee from Count Germain. And John isn’t going to be offering much aid remotely to Elizabeth this time since he has been almost completely silenced and immobilized by Germain aka Edward Kelley, Dee’s old associate.

The story starts around Cheyenne with Elizabeth and Porter Rockwell attacking a train to get John Dee back. It will end in the Liberty County Jail in Missouri – a place Rockwell knows all too well since he spent – as he did in our timeline – many months imprisoned there.

Along the way we get cameo appearances by Crazy Horse (who fights a duel with Rockwell) and the James Gang and a special guest villain appearance by Helena Blavatsky.

There’s mayhem aboard trains and steamboats, and Rockwell will once again get to use those prototype pistols John Browning gave him.

This story is darker, moodier than its predecessor since we get some flashbacks to violent episodes in Rockwell’s life. (I wonder if one particularly strange one is a recap of another Rockwell story West has written.)

Another winning weird western from West, and I look forward to the third installment of the #Savant series.

In My Time of Dying

I liked the fourth installment of the #Savant series enough, “A Manuscript Found in Carcosa” in Tales of the Al-Azif, that I decided to check out the first installment in the series. (The crosshatch in the series title makes sense in terms of the story, but I wonder if there also isn’t some Twitter marketing ploy at work.)

Review: In My Time of Dying, David J. West, 2019. 

Cover by Deranged Doctor Design

If my reviews of West’s work seem a bit short compared to others, it’s not just because his stories are in the novella or short novel range. It’s because they are well-done modern pulp, and part of the enjoyment of a good pulp story is usually the plot twists and turns and the set action pieces.

And there’s a lot to like here in terms of plot.

Our story opens not in the American West of 1875, where most of it takes place, but in the Himalayas in 1874. In a mountain fortress, a group called the Knights of St. Germain have a prisoner, and they’ve had him a long time. His name is John, an emaciated figure of skin and bones chained in a dungeon as he has been for many a decade. He is a sort of reservoir of lifeforce, constantly recharged by mysterious forces and then drained by Count St. Germain. Or, at least, that’s what he calls himself now. John knows him under his old name, Edward.

Certain readers will no doubt tumble on to whom these two men are, especially since our series heroine is Elizabeth Dee. But, for those who don’t, I won’t spoil West’s slow reveal.

John is a man of formidable resources, an ability to dominate wills, and he makes a break from the fortress – by flinging himself off its high walls.

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Home on the Strange

My look at David J. West’s Cowboys & Cthulhu series concludes.

Review: Home on the Strange, David J. West, 2021

Cover by Carter Reid

A wagon train is wiped out by Indians leaving only Hannah, a girl, alive.

Captain Brady, newly out of West Point and sorry he just missed the action of the recently concluded Civil War, leads a cavalry troop to bring the Indian leader, Crazy Snake, and his men to justice.

Porter Rockwell serves as their scout. As a Mormon, he’s suspected of collaborating with the Indians.

And then, around the sinister outcropping of rock called the Pulpit, sentries begin to be picked off at night.  

It sounds like the elements of a typical western except it’s not because this is another in West’s Cowboys & Cthulhu tales. There’s something in the Pulpit besides hostile Indians. And there’s a voice in Hannah’s head who is giving her advice that she and Rockwell will need to drive the enemy in the mountain off.

This is another winning entry in the series, and it is the closest yet to a classic western plot. It’s got the humor and well-done action of other stories in the series. It’s classic pulp adventure in the Mythos tradition and a good weird western whose many surprising delights I will spoil with no further plot reveals.

There are some nice scenes out of the main action like when Rockwell meets Tanner, an old acquaintance of his who knows firsthand the secrets in Pulpit.

And it was nice to see Wovoka, the Indian prophet who inspired the Ghost Dance, getting a mention.