Merkabah Rider: Tales of a High Planes Drifter
by Edward M. Erdelac
Damnation Books (2009)
There is something about a weird western that just sets my imagination alight. I think it is the fusion of a bygone era such as the Wild West with fantasy elements like magic and monsters. And I've become a real fan of the genre over the last few years, and much like urban fantasy, I think I've always been a fan of the genre and just didn't know it yet. And Ed's collection of four novellas here is a prime example of just how weird the west can be.
The Merkabah Rider might earn some comparisons to Roland, from Stephen King's Dark Tower series, but with each successive story in this book the Rider carves out his own identity and makes clear that the two are worlds apart. The Rider definitely has that spaghetti western vibe that most hard-bitten gunslingers exemplify, but certainly strikes his own chord.
"The Blood Libel" kicks things off with the Rider wandering into a small town with a Jewish settlment on the outskirts that is about to be struck by an angry mob over the disappearance of a little girl. All the antisemitism simmering among the whites builds up and the Rider faces down a good deal of it before heading into the settlement in search of the truth--and an old enemy. While the story had its hiccups, it did a great job in establishing who the Rider is and what he's capable of when trouble's brewing.
From there, "The Dust Devils" managed to show a little more vulnerability from the Rider, as he finds a ghost town in the middle of a storm, its people devastated by a desperadoes and a formidable sorcerer that may have the Rider's number. A much more exciting turn this time around, at least more suspenseful and the bad guys were a real treat. Scarchilli kind of felt like he escapes a Clint Eastwood film, while Kelly the hoodoo man was just plain menacing.
Vulnerability aside, the Rider survives moving on to the other two tales, "Hell's Hired Gun" and "The Nightjar Women." The former delves a little deeper into the history of the Rider and the impending "Incursion." It also features a pretty bad-ass villain that roams the countryside with a pack of about a dozen pigs. Hey, if you're gonna have a posse, why not a bunch of bloodthirsty demon pigs? The latter tale involves Lilith leading a band of prostitutes in a town with no children.
The wandering hero harkens back to the kinds of stories I watched on TV as a little kid and loved, like The Incredible Hulk and Kung Fu and those Clint Eastwood westerns I'd watch with my dad. I can't think of anything from those shows and movies that rival the violence/mysticism blended in this book's pages. It's not quite a blowout, but it felt each novella surpassed the last, and there are two more volumes of these bad boys to go, so I'm optimistic to see what else Ed has up his sleeves, and what's in store for the Rider.