Hell's Bounty

Hell's Bounty - John L. Lansdale, Joe R. Lansdale

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

A crossover between western, horror and dark comedy, where a bounty hunter who blew himself up to Hell (literally) is recruited to prevent the end of the world. This mix is full of saloon pillars, hardened girls, flash-eating ghouls, not too clever zombies, and heroes (and foes) out of the Far West legends and dime novels. A bizarre and mismatched posse, and none is guaranteed to come out of this alive.

I found this novel fairly weird: entertaining to a degree, but sort of straddling a fence, as if it never knew what it really wanted to be. Horror? Comedy? It would lean alternatively towards one or the other, swinging back and forth between both genres, sometimes successfully, sometimes with results that were a bit silly. There's a Lovecraftian-like threat, and a mesmerising long night with vivid imagery of a moon cleft in two by a tower... and there's the villain that looked like a cross between a gargoyle and a bat. There's Falling Rock, with its resident bully who hits prostitues and shoots down just about anyone out of his own feelings of misery... and there are all the stereotypes, perhaps too much like stereotypes, of, well, stereotypical western stories (drunk doc, undertaker, kid playing at being a big gun...). There are scenes both gruesome and funny—like the short-lived moment when Jenny comes out of her grave—and there are others where the humour doesn't take too well. The ghouls are often dumb and presented more like comic relief... and then dismember and eat people like there's not tomorrow.

The writing itself was disjointed and weird at times. I got an ARC, so I wouldn't expect it to be flawless, yet often a sentence would jump out of the page, looking twisted and not fully grammatically correct. Though it wasn't absolutely unreadable, it was distracting enough to pull me out of the story at times. The dialogues, too, were hit or miss: some lines made me smile and snort, befitting dark humour western characters, while others just made me roll my eyes. Some parts were action-packed and a funny ride, and others ended up feeling repetitive (attack zombies, get hurt/maimed/trampled/killed/devoured, not necessarily in that order, rinse and repeat).

I'd deem this the kind of quick read definitely worth it when you don't need to focus and just want to spend a few hours with an entertaining story. Which in itself is not a bad thing, nor anything to be belittled. However, the writing and the wonky pacing don't make it much more than “enjoyable then forgettable”. 2.5 stars.