Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce
Here at borg.com, we’re fans of Westerns. And ghost stories. But we haven’t truly appreciated just how much fun they can be together—until Holly Messinger’s lively debut, The Curse of Jacob Tracy, and a prequel novella, The Romance of Certain Old Bones.
Messinger’s books fit in nicely alongside Dead Man’s Hand (reviewed here), Bone Tomahawk (reviewed here), and Dragon Teeth, reviewed recently here, and will appeal especially to fans of All-Star Western’s hero Jonah Hex. Set several years after the Civil War, The Curse of Jacob Tracy follows the title character, a Confederate veteran cursed with the ability to see the dead. A former seminarian, Trace is lying low as a cowhand and trail boss, and doing his level best to stay away from hauntings. He’s joined in his adventures with longtime working partner Boz, his indispensible, skeptical right-hand-man. But the curse keeps cropping up, in a series of fun, episodic adventures strung together by a strong throughline. You’ll encounter Werewolves on a Train, haunted printing presses, gruesome Bordenesque axe-murders, and men possessed by dinosaurs. Yes, really.
Trace is a strong, sympathetic, multi-layered lead, with a frank, level-headed, and sometimes downright funny voice. Messinger’s supporting cast is just as strong. Female lead Sabine Fairweather, a mysterious, learned gentlewoman who has hired Trace for odd jobs—really odd jobs—is hiding eerie secrets of her own, deep inside her esoteric steampunk laboratory. As Trace becomes more deeply entwined in Miss Fairweather’s curious work, he begins to tentatively embrace, rather than recoil from, his strange powers. But the partnership comes at a cost, and as Trace learns more about the supernatural, he realizes his newfound skills are jeopardizing everyone he cares about. He can’t hide from the curse, but can he learn to control it?
Messinger’s writing is taut and lively, sprinkled through with authoritative period detail, strong characters, and marvelous twists on familiar paranormal and western tropes. Digging deep into untapped folklore to breathe new life into vampires, demonic possession, and other things that go bump in the night, The Curse of Jacob Tracy gives a fresh take on genre favorites. The prequel novella, The Romance of Certain Old Bones, joins Trace and Boz on an early mission, guarding a party of paleontologists, on a dig that goes swiftly, horribly, and delightfully (for the reader, at any rate) awry.
The Curse of Jacob Tracy is available here and The Romance of Certain Old Bones is available here at Amazon. Watch for a forthcoming sequel, Curious Weather. We will be waiting eagerly for whatever Messinger has up her puffy Victorian sleeves next!