Once Upon a Fang in the West by John Dover (Not A Pipe Publishing 2021)
The Braided Pony saloon is no stranger to gun fire and blood stains on the floor. But when a mysterious gunslinger turns up dead in Ruby’s room, it’s up to the town’s drunken sheriff to investigate. Lucky for him, Samuel, a fast-talking vampire, arrives looking to settle a score and attempting to resurrect his dead friend. Now they’re on the hunt across the rocky plains of the Wild West to recover the life that was stolen.
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The name of the town is the first clue that this isn’t your typical Western. The frontier outpost of Thrall has all the expected accoutrements: saloon complete with rotgut whiskey and ladies of the night; livery stable, mercantile, schoolhouse, and church; drunken sheriff haunted by a past mistake; mysterious stranger; oh, and vampires.
Samuel, an ancient vampire and necromancer, is hunting something worse, a monster that preys on his kind and humans. He has tracked it to Thrall and persuades the sheriff to join the hunt by freeing him from the ghost that has haunted him for 15 years. With nothing better to do, the ghost comes along for the ride. Samuel resurrects Finn, a powerful vampire with whom he has a complicated relationship. There follows a lot of ridin’ and shootin’ and bloodshed.
I enjoyed Dover’s assured use (and subversion) of the expected tropes of both Western and horror fiction. The characters are developed well beyond cardboard, yet remain true to their roles. I was particularly fond of Jesse, the ghost of a youth cut off before manhood, who uses his afterlife to learn and grow and see the world. I also loved the old-fashioned innocence of the chapter titles that baldly state what is coming next while carrying ominous overtones.
Recommended if you like a loving sendup and can stomach oceans of gore.
I received an advance-reader ebook from the publisher.