Death’s Head Press, a relative newcomer to indie horror publishing, has started a series of books called “Splatter Westerns”, releasing one per month or so right now. First, we had Wile E. Young set the tone with THE MAGPIE COFFIN, doling out brutal carnage across the old west. And the second effort–this one from Mr. Ennenbach and titled HUNGER ON THE CHISHOLM TRAIL–shines brightly as the perfect mix of the western and the horror story. In fact, it isn’t even so much a balance between western and horror, it’s a western story that involves a supernatural creature, and it hits on all points.
In 1872, weary cattle-drivers driving up to Kansas from Texas are looking forward to some respite at the sleepy town of Duncan, which is located in what would later become Oklahoma. Along the way, they encounter a beast of legend–the Wendigo–and carnage ensues. Meanwhile, drifter Karl Beck is being held in Duncan by the sheriff so that he can sort out some minor business. Duncan is bustling along, the brothel and saloon readying for the cattle-drivers. Little do they know of the carnage that has happened on the plains, and what even then was headed their way.
This novel, Ennenbach’s first, hits the ball out of the proverbial park. There is a very large cast, which rounds out the old west nicely with nuanced characters and a really wonderful setting. All of the characters are well-developed and engaging, and quite varied. The main character, Karl Beck, is a particular treat (and I hope we get to see more of him down the road!). The dialogue is crisp and the action is fast and mean. The author isn’t known for being a horror writer, but he sure managed to tell one hell of a brutal tale here.
The plains, to use a cliche, run red with blood. The monster is vicious and wicked, even chilling my spine with the very few words it speaks throughout. The thought put into this story, the characters and their relationships, all of it culminates in an epic western tale of terror that leaves gore streaked across the pages and had my heart racing.
It ALSO manages a rather brilliant sense of humor throughout.
Easter eggs abound with references to many in the indie writing community, so if you’re a part of it or know some who are, you may pick up on those. It also features one of the most cinematic action scenes I’ve read in recent history. I don’t want to spoil it, so I won’t, but that monster can hop!
This book is a home run on all fronts. Great characters, terrific pacing, chilling scenes of terror, and characters you can really root for. I loved every second of it, and I think you will, too. M. Ennenbach has penned a beautiful, heartfelt, thrilling look into the old west, and gives us a twist unlike any other western I’ve ever read. Being the author’s first novel, I cannot WAIT to see what he has in store next! This is hands down one of the very best books I’ve read this year, and it should rocket straight to the top of your TBR pile.
Giddy up, partners. This one’s a winner. Get your copy here.