March 31, 2014

The Wild West and the Living Dead: a review of "Those Poor, Poor Bastards" by Tim Marquitz, J.M. Martin, and Kenny Soward

Those Poor, Poor Bastards (Dead West #1)
by Tim Marquitz, J.M. Martin, and Kenny Soward
210 pages

For some reason zombies don't often wind up in westerns. Well, you need only read the collaboration between Tim Marquitz, J.M. Martin, and Kenny Soward to know that this is a problem that needs to be remedied, and those three guys are more than up for the challenge.

It's 1868 in the Nevada desert, and young Nina Weaver is traveling with her father into the town of Sierra to trade some goods just when all hell breaks loose on the streets. It starts with a stampede of horses gone mad, attacking other animals and even people, and from there it gets even worse. Whatever has afflicted the horses has spread to the people in town as well, with folks turning on each other and tearing and biting into flesh. Nina, her father, and a small group of survivors flee, but in the wilds of America it's not like you can rely on military intervention or seek out some compound for shelter.

It's a frenetic opening once the so-called "deaduns" pour into the dusty streets, but these aren't run-of-the-mill zombies, which becomes readily apparent after a few action-packed chapters. Think less Night of the Living Dead and more Brian Keene's The Rising. There's an intelligence to certain deaduns, but that's a mystery Nina and the others can't afford to concentrate on with hundreds of flesh-eating creatures snapping at their heels.

As far as characters go, Nina is a resilient and resourceful gal, and a far cry from a railroad damsel. A little bit of a spoiler here, but early on in the carnage Nina's grizzled father takes a hit and she has to become his guardian among a crew of disparate strangers. Some good, some bad, some just plain ugly. She may well be the least colorful character of the bunch, acting in many scenes as a "straight man" to the real oddball and sleezeballs she must align with in order to avoid becoming zombie feed, but she does become a very likable character and one who is easy to root for.

As far as villains go, a couple come close to being mustache-twirling scoundrels--in fact, one of them may have been twirling his mustache now that I think of it--but there is a diversity and a psychology to their actions. No one is evil for the sake of being evil. Even the truly evil villain of the tale has motivations beyond the generic bwah-hah-hah. And they definitely had a lot to offer in terms of swerves and obstacles for Nina as she tries to keep herself and her father alive amid the madness.

The blending of the wild west and horror can be a bit tricky, I suppose, but it's done quite well here. The ending is a little abrupt, but not cliffhanger-y. It does, however, leave me wanting more--and it looks like there is plenty more in store. Yee-hah!

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