The newest story by John Whalen is a dandy yarn, a Western-horror mashup that could shoulder up to Stephen King and Louis L’Amour with equal comfort, and yet maintain stature as a creature all its own.
I like a good mashup, especially when it involves my favorite genres. Westerns and science fiction, for instance — Firefly, Cowboys and Aliens, Jack Brand. A mashup is a hybrid, a crossover, the combination of two or more types of stories in order to create something fresh, interesting, fun.
Vampire Siege at Rio Muerto is just that. It makes no apologies, doesn’t wait for the reader to catch up or get used to the idea, but dives right in with classic vampire lore conventions in an Old West setting.
Don Pedro slays a vampire — his beloved daughter Theresa — then hires hunter Mordecai Slate to find Kord Manion, the undead seducer who turned her.
The twist? If he wants to be paid, Slate can’t kill Manion. He must bring him back so Don Pedro can execute Manion.
Not recommended, and Slate says so, but the rancher insists, and so begins the hunter’s journey that eventually leads him to Rio Verde, a town that is anything but verdant ever since the drought came and sent most of the citizens in search of greener pastures. A passing cowboy with a dark sense of humor nicknamed the town Rio Muerto, and the appellation stuck.
When evil is unleashed, innocents die, a despairing alcoholic reverend regains his faith, a dishonored doctor displays how honorable and skilled he really is, a long-separated young couple find one another, and people take stands they never expected. Whalen doesn’t drop the reins of either genre: There are gunfights and fangs, wagons and coffins, townfolk and bloody necks, and one fast-paced tale that doesn’t turn in directions the reader might expect.
There’s more to the story, a few small yet powerful twists at the end that deliver enough surprise to keep the action interesting all the way to the last line.
Although readers of the first printing of Vampire Siege at Rio Muerto might encounter a couple perceived anachronisms — the use of slang terms BVDs and reefer — these are actually plausible for the times. The first term is the abbreviation for the name of a company (Bradley, Voorhees & Day) founded in 1876, and known for manufacturing men’s and women’s undergarments. Now, however, they only produce men’s underwear.
When I asked the author about the use of “reefer”, he responded with this bit of interesting trivia:
I included marijuana in a couple of the scenes because it was in use in Mexico back then. If you want a reference here is a discussion by an expert, Isaac Campos, who appeared on a PBS show in 2010. He says it was in use in Mexico starting in 1850. Sources indicate the term “reefer” wasn’t in use until the 1920’s. But I figured since the word is a corruption of the Mexican Spanish Grifa it was probably used down there back then by the hip and the lowdown. Maybe not but I think it adds a nice surrealistic touch to the scene.
There is another anachronism, but it may have been corrected by the time this review posts, so I’ll not list it here. In addition to being a writer, I’m a book editor, and have a difficult time turning off that part of my brain while reading for entertainment. However, the writing and the story were so strong, even the unnamed anachronism couldn’t spoil the ride.
Vampire Siege at Rio Muerto is the latest story featuring Mordecai Slate, Monster Hunter. Other titles and summaries can be read here.
For more about the author and his inspiration for this story and the character of Mordecai Slate, read the interview at The Western Online, a webzine featuring artwork, articles, fiction, and all things Old West.
Vampire Siege at Rio Muerto is currently only available as an e-book, but Whalen is considering issuing a paperback version, as well.