Joe Lansdale’s Deadman’s Road is a collection of five long Weird Western stories.
It’s read by Stefan Rudnicki, who is one of my favorite audiobook narrators. In fact, I’m not entirely sure if I would have finished the book if it weren’t for the narration. It’s not that the book isn’t well-written, it is. But it’s dark. As dark as it gets.
The main character is the Reverend Jebidiah Mercer, although it’s unclear what denomination ordained him. His theology is unorthodox, but compelling. He is an unwilling servant of a God Whom he hates, and Whom he believes hates him.
Somehow Lansdale makes this unlikely premise work. Mercer isn’t a sympathetic hero, but he is an effective one. His job is destroying evil, and he’s good at it. Mercy and forgiveness he leaves to other preachers, he’s in the smiting business.
And business is booming. In these five tales he encounters a number of supernatural boogeymen, zombies, vampires, werewolves, goblins, and he defeats them with a mixture of faith-based magic and gunfire, with the emphasis on the latter.
He has battled monsters and become a monster, and the abyss gazes out through his eyes. There is enough of a backstory to suggest that he started his career well down the path to the dark side, but this isn’t a psychological novel. Lansdale doesn’t try to get the reader to understand the Reverend or see things from his point of view. He’s not the kind of thing you understand, he’s something that you point at the monsters and get out of his way.
The book is so dark and so over the top that it becomes cartoonish. Several scenes are so grotesque that they verged on black comedy. There is a splatterpunk sensibility to the stories.
I would recommend this book to people who enjoy gore-fest horror. It’s not for the faint of heart and definately not for children. But there is also a fearsome joy here, the guilty pleasure of looking into the naked face of pure evil–
–and smashing it with a sledgehammer.