CBR #78 – You Use Your Tongue Prettier Than A Twenty Dollar Whore

Wraiths of the Broken Land by S. Craig Zahler

I jumped this one to the front of my queue because it was the last book in my “hunting” list and it was available at the library.  So I figured, what the hell.

It’s a standalone western, and I’m honestly not sure what brought Zahler into my purview.  The write-up promises that it’s going to be a pastiche of Asian horror, shoot-em-up Western, and horror.  And it keeps its promise.

If this were a movie, I would watch the ever loving fuck out of this.  It’s somewhere between The Searchers and The Wild Bunch.  A motley as fuck crew assembles to retrieve their daughters from a hidden Mexican whorehouse.  Even I was shocked at the savagery and brutality of the violence in this book.  Goddamn.  It’s not even gore per se, as fucking ultra-violence.  A man is fed three live scorpions in crude oil, which sting him in his esophagus and stomach.  A man takes a shot in the side of his head which sloughs off skull and meat and his staying alive is somehow worse.  Landmines, dynamite, arrows, grenades and of course plenty of slung lead.

The story itself is well-constructed and put together: the Plugford clan gets together a bizarre Indian, a ruthless gunslinger, and their witty slave dogsbody, and then they hire a “dandy who can speak Spanish.”  They manage to suss out the location of this brothel, and then they must escape with their daughters at hand.  But man, so many corpses drop in the telling.

And it’s in the telling that I had my issue.  The language is so mellifluous and embellished.  As a superfan of Tombstone, and Val Kilmer’s performance as Doc Holliday in particular, this was like an entire novel transcribed in his particularly verbose patois.  It just doesn’t fit, and the novel itself feels overly poetic. Even the title, Wraiths of the Broken Land, is so much folderol.  It’s the only jarring bit, and as I said, I’d watch the shit out of this if it were ever made a film.

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