Deadman’s Road: Gruesome violence and ribald humor

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsJoe R. Lansdale Deadman's RoadDeadman’s Road by Joe R. Lansdale

Deadman’s Road is a collection of pulp stories about a gunslingin’ preacher who wanders the American Old West on a mission from God to seek out and destroy evil creatures. Reverend Jedidiah Mercer relentlessly faces down a town full of zombies, an angry ghoul, a pack of Conquistadores-turned-werewolves, a hell-spawn monstrosity haunting a secluded cabin, and a goblin horde that invades a mining town.

I’m generally not much of a fan of horror fiction. I’ve read fewer then a handful of horror books, but my limited experience is that good horror writers stand out as exceptional storytellers, so I look for the books they write outside the horror genre. Writers like Stephen King, Robert R. McCammon, and Karl Edward Wagner come to mind, and so does Joe R. Lansdale.

On the flip-side, I am a huge fan of Westerns. To me, tales of the Old West are more than just exaggerated fabrications of the American frontier. Westerns are America’s legends and myths, our King Arthur or Odyssey.

So I knew I could go either way with Deadman’s Road.

Anyone who has read Lansdale knows what to expect: gruesome violence and ribald humor that recall the old horror movies of the late 60s and early 70s. It was a time when classic monsters and campy space invaders were losing ground to the living dead, psychopaths, and demon possession. In fact, it’s that same period of horror films that inspired Lansdale to write this story. Low budget, off-the-mainstream cult movies were mixing genres at that time and it’s that same kind of weird fun that Lansdale creates here.

Reading Deadman’s Road, you can tell that Mr. Lansdale is from east Texas. The dialog, mannerisms, culture, and society… it’s like watching The Outlaw Josey Wales, (which, by the way, is probably the best western movie ever made).

However, I eventually became a little bored with the horror elements and the overall darkness that pervades this kind of fiction. There are very few redeeming qualities in most all of the characters, which finally wore me down. But I’m sure horror fans would disagree.

That being said, Reverend Mercer drew me into stories that I otherwise wouldn’t have cared about. He is an extremely complex, contradictory, and flawed character that reminds me of one of my favorite heroes created by another east Texan, Robert E. Howard: Solomon Kane. Both Kane and Mercer are fanatic Christians, obsessed with rooting out and destroying evil. But where Solomon uses God’s mission as an excuse for his wanderlust and violence, Jedidiah is an unwilling soldier. In fact, Reverend Mercer hates God almost as much as he hates himself, but believes his service to be his only path to redemption for a past insufferable sin. He’s hardened and lonesome, and his constant struggle against inner demons makes the reader feel compassion for what would otherwise be an unlikable character. So much so that if there are more stories about Reverend Mercer to follow, I do hope he can one day find peace, if not some measure of happiness.

Deadman’s Road — (2010) Publisher: The Reverend Jedidiah Mercer returns with the re-release of the highly influential pulp novel, Dead in the West, and four stories, one never before collected, one brand new. Contained herein are the Reverend’s adventures with zombies, ghouls, werewolves, Lovecraftian monsters and kobolds. Western action blends with grisly horror and ribald humor for a super collection of shoot-outs and fang-outs, claws and crawling horrors, and lessons about an angry, unforgiving god and methods for killing nasties of all kinds. In Dead in the West, the Reverend faces a resurrected American Indian out for vengeance. Not only is the man back from the dead, he’s brought back others as servants, and they are angry, hungry little devils when there is an absence of light. Plenty of surprises, laughs, gross-outs and slimy horrors, with a slam bang ending. This novel inspired numerous writer to cross the West with Horror, Action, Humor, and a wobbly moral sensibility. This first adventure of the Reverend sets up all the others, which include: ‘Deadman s Road.’ The Reverend, on his mission from God, encounters a ghoul who waits on a dark road for travelers so that he can feed his belly and his crippled soul. ‘The Gentleman’s Hotel.’ The Reverend encounters a town, empty except for the lone survivor of a stage coach attack. Together, they face ghosts and werewolf Conquistadores who can not only transform into toothyadversaries, but also into dust and moths and are a real pain in the ass; all of it results in one hell of a cross-draw, dagnabbed, hair belly confrontation. ‘The Crawling Sky.’ In an isolated cabin the Reverend and an unwilling partner face a Lovecraftian horror with a nasty attitude and mind blowing abilities. And finally, in ‘The Dark Down There,’ the Reverend and an unlikely partner, a three hundred pound lady named Flower, battle kobolds who cannibalize miners and serve a Queen that at a glance could pass for spoiled tapioca pudding. The Reverend even manages a glancing chance at a kind of backwoods romance.

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GREG HERSOM’S (on FanLit's staff January 2008 -- September 2012) addiction began with his first Superboy comic at age four. He moved on to the hard-stuff in his early teens after acquiring all of Burroughs’s Tarzan books and the controversial L. Sprague de Camp & Carter edited Conan series. His favorite all time author is Robert E. Howard. Greg also admits that he’s a sucker for a well-illustrated cover — the likes of a Frazetta or a Royo. Greg live with his wife, son, and daughter in a small house owned by a dog and two cats in a Charlotte, NC suburb. He retired from FanLit in Septermber 2012 after 4.5 years of faithful service but he still sends us a review every once in a while.

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