Advertisements

Tag Archive: Dead Man’s Hand An Anthology of the Old West


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?

Continue reading

Advertisements

Dead Mans Hand cover

Review by C.J. Bunce

Who would have thought we’d be discussing a book in the second decade of the 21st century featuring new stories of the Old West?  Titan Books has released such a work with Dead Man’s Hand: An Anthology of the Weird West, bringing together short stories from 23 authors that mash-up the Old West with science fiction, fantasy, steampunk, and horror.

The Dead Man’s Hand is of course the legendary card hand last held by Wild Bill Hickok when he was shot down by Jack McCall in Deadwood, South Dakota back in 1876.  The superstitions carried forward by those cards–believed to be black aces and eights–fuels the magic and “weird” behind the stories in this compilation.

Fans of Louis L’Amour who may have open minds for the extremes of what might qualify as an Old West story should find at least a few good tales in Dead Man’s Hand.  Like Mike Resnick’s story “The Hell-bound Stagecoach,” set in Arizona Territory circa 1885, it chronicles riders in a stagecoach who don’t quite remember how they ended up on the road bound for somewhere, as they encounter a proper lady who happens to be a good cook along the way.  Resnick’s story is steeped in classic lore of the Old West era.

Jeff Bridges as Wild Bill Hickok

Editor John Joseph Adams attempts to summarize the genre in his introduction as having its roots in the works of Robert E. Howard, Gene Autry’s serial The Phantom Empire, and the 1970s series The Wild, Wild, West, but Adams could look back farther to cowboy lore–stories created and shared by those stranded in desert storms, creations of the lost, hungry and thirsty, like those seeing mirages.  Like the story that would become Ghost Riders in the Sky, written by Stan Jones in 1948.  Jones recalled the story was first told to him back around 1926, and certainly that story was among many Old West tomes of the oral tradition circulating back to even before the Civil War.  Regardless of the earliest sources for such stories, they still entertain audiences in a world of cell phones, space travel, and the Internet.

Continue reading