The Six-Gun Tarot by R.S. Belcher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
One of the most enduring motifs of the Western genre is the town in the forsaken deserts of the West where people go to run from their past lives and to escape to a new one. In this novel, Golgotha is such a place, however the voice that leads travelers into its depths is a sinister, ageless one. A voice that also attracts all sort of supernatural phenomena.
Young Jim makes it to edge of this town, where the desert almost kills him and his beloved horse, Precious. His life is saved by a strange half-Indian man, Mutt, who turns out to be the town's deputy, and to have a supernatural heritage of his own. Jim gets hired to work for the Sheriff, Jon Highfather, a man who has cheated death again and again. A man who is the protector for the town from the supernatural evil always lurking in the dark.
Golgotha is full of strangeness, and also flawed humans, such as a wife and mother who has an incredible legacy. There is also a resident mad scientist, who has more interest in the dead than the living. And did I mention that Golgotha has a very large Mormon population? There might also be an angel lurking in the town. But I can't confirm or deny that.
The Six-Gun Tarot was very much a surprise find for me on the new arrival shelf at my library. I couldn't resist it, because I love the Weird West, and this book couldn't get any weirder. Many times, this book is more horrific than anything else. The deep, dark secret of this town is pretty darn harrowing, and the fact that its menace lurks behind a dark religious cult out to destroy the world as we know it.
There is a lot going on in this book. I think the author does a good job of holding it all together. The twisted threads of the story and the various character point of views come together as a cohesive whole that gave me a shuddery feeling as I read. I was glad I feverishly finished the last 160 pages during the day yesterday, trying to get it done, since it was due back at the library. It would have been a not so good thing to read before bed!
This isn't a feel good book, I must warn any who want to read it. It's dark fantasy/horror that seats itself very identifiably in the aesthetic of the Old West, where blood runs freely, and regret and prejudice are a part of the landscape. Where peoples of many heritages coexist uneasily, when they aren't at each others' throats, and the time comes to band together to face a darker, far from human threat which cares nothing for humanity, or anything right or decent. While not a feel good novel, the writing is very good and atmospheric. Belcher inspires empathy for the flawed characters in this novel. Their failures in some ways equip them for just the threat they face. There are many subtle references to works of weird fiction, such as a character who has Ashton Smith in his name, and quotes from Frankenstein by Mary E. Shelly. I want to read more stories in this town, since this threat they face in this book is neither the first, nor will it be the last.
If it's not obvious, I liked this book, even in its highly disarming moments. Good solid, weird fiction with a very credible Western setting and iconography. I'd recommend it to the brave reader who doesn't mind some tentacle, squirmy elements.
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