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Spotlight on: Dead in the West by Joe R. Lansdale

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Dead in the West by Joe R. Lansdale Joe R. Lansdale, Dead in the West

"Champion mojo storyteller" Joe R. Lansdale crosses genres yet again with in this, to my knowledge, the first "Zombie Western." Lansdale wrote Dead in the West back in 1986 as a tribute to the kind of entertainment he grew up enjoying, like EC Comics and cross-genre B-movies like Billy the Kid Versus Dracula and Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter (both real movies, I assure you).

You know ... pulp.

Despite his recent mainstream popularity, Joe Lansdale has always been a pulp writer. His short stories (including those in Bumper Crop and High Cotton) are an example of this, as are his novels like the Drive-In duo (with a third soon to come). He seems entirely comfortable mixing one genre with another while taking both to their respective extremes. Dead in the West is yet another example of this.

Reverend Jebidiah Mercer is a man of God ... sort of. He hasn't exactly been following the straight and narrow path lately, spending a good portion of his collection on whisky. But arriving in Mud Creek changes things a bit. After an unmistakable sign from above, in addition to some soul searching on his own, the Reverend decides to get back on the right track, with the next Saturday, when he'll be hosting a tent revival, being the ideal starting point -- if he can resist the temptations coming his way.

And wouldn't you know it: that's the week that the dead start rising from their graves! What's a man supposed to do? Kick some undead hind-tail, that's what!

Dead in the West takes no time in getting started; the first death occurs on page four. From there on, we are treated to a thorough character study in combination with a thrill ride. Why the dead chose _this week_ to resurrect themselves, and what kind of unsavory temptations may get in the way of the Reverend's redemption, are just two of the questions answered in this exciting short novel with more than its fair share of cowboys smashing brains.

This cross of author Louis L'Amour and film director George A. Romero does justice to both. It is a full-blooded Western at the same time as a fully-bloody zombie thriller. Yet, Dead in the West remains purely a Lansdalean effort, with the same level of horror, humor, and down-home realism that has made him so popular among other writers as well as his rabid cult of fans (yours truly included -- in fact, Lansdale's ability to frighten and amuse simultaneously is one reason I go back to his work over and over).

Zombies are hot again, and with Romero's long-awaited continuation of his zombie film saga, Land of the Dead, on the horizon, Night Shade Books couldn't have chosen a better time to re-release Dead in the West. Those whose hunger for everything zombie is whetted by the film should pick up this book and achieve even greater satisfaction.

This review originally appeared in somewhat different form on The Green Man Review. Copyright 2005. Reprinted with permission.

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