The first cattle drive of the season leaves Texas for Abilene, Kansas along the Chisholm Trail, but unforeseen terrors lay hidden in the natural beauty of the land. In the heart of Indian Territory lies the sleepy town of Duncan, a friendly respite from the dusty land. But something lurks in the untamed West-a powerful creature that hunts to satiate its horrifying hunger. The land will run red with blood, and only Karl Beck has a chance against this ancient evil.
Title: Hunger on the Chisholm Trail | Author: M. Ennenbach | Publisher: Death’s Head Press | Pub. Date: 1st of May, 2020 | Pages: 194 | ISBN13: 978-1950259274 | Genre: Horror/Western | Language: English | Source: Received from the publisher for review consideration | Starred Review
Hunger on the Chisholm Trail by M. Ennenbach Review
The Splatter Western did not spring fully formed into the world. Whether it’s realized or not, the Splatter Western is a part of a lineage of weird westerns and has some other components in its DNA. I wanted to take a quick look at some of that history.
Robert E Howard is known today as the creator of Conan the Barbarian and the as the inventor of the Sword & Sorcery genre. He also invented the Weird Western genre, which is a sub-genre of both the western and horror genres. In 1936 REH published a story called “Horror from the Mound” (1936) (audio) (text) where a traditional western hero uncovers an ancient Spanish Conquistador vampire. REH also wrote traditional westerns but they were not well received. The Encyclopedia of Frontier & Western Fiction states that the stories are, “…enjoyable when taken in measured doses” and “…without literary merit”. In Twentieth Century Western Writers 2nd ed. Joe Lansdale stated that the traditional western stories were, “…of little interest to the western fan.” Lansdale does go praise “Horror from the Mound” and other stories where the west is mixed with the weird.
Because of REH’s lower regard in the western genre and higher regard in the fantasy/horror genre, the Weird Western has developed more fully as a sub-genre of horror. The Weird Western puttered along here and there. Most notably with the Jonah Hex comic character. It was likely this character that gave birth to the name “Weird Western” as the comics series Weird Western Tales was published from 1972-1980. Joe Lansdale would be a prominent modern player in pushing the Weird Western genre to greater popularity with his Dead in the West novella published in 1986.
There have been a lot of Weird Westerns released over the years since Dead in the West and there are now too many to name. The Weird Western genre is over 80 years old!
It’s also worth noting briefly that there were a group of UK western writers in the 70s known as the Piccadilly Cowboys. Terry Harknett, Angus Wells, Kenneth Bulmer, Mike Linaker, Laurence James, Fred Nolan, and John Harvey wrote about 300 western novels that were known for their brutal and violent westerns. Perhaps the most famous of them was the Edge series, which were once called, “the most violent western series in print,” by their publisher. Shane Black made an Edge pilot for Amazon Studios in 2015 that was not picked up.
Which brings us to the present with Death’s Head Press and their Splatter Western series. The catchy name comes from mixing Splatterpunk and western. It’s a great name that’s not only catchy but conveys a good sense of what its aims are. I don’t know how many titles are planned but I hope they continue for a long time. To date the first four books in the series have been written by horror authors (with more horror authors to come). Given the growth lines of the weird western I mentioned above, this makes sense. In the future it could be interesting to see traditional western writers and weird western writers take a crack at a Splatter western. One name I humbly suggest is also a friend, Heath Lowrance who is a fan of westerns and has written some weird ones.
Hunger on the Chisolm Trail is the second title in the series (the others are: The Magpie Coffin, Dust, and The Night Silver River Run Red). M. Ennenbach does a good job establishing a variety of characters with distinct personalities and traits.
The supernatural force is introduced early before slowly building to a violent showdown. By the time we get there, we know and like our group of townsfolk. I like seeing the subtle connections to other books in the series. Each title is a standalone but that subtle connective tissue is nice way to make the greater world more expansive and rewards regular series readers.
One of the ways forward for the sometimes moribund western genre is to embrace the weird, insert some monsters, and let cowboys try to kill them. Hunger on the Chisolm Trail, as well as the other Splatter Western titles, suceeds in doing this and are a welcome and needed entry in the western genre.
Plus, they have kick ass covers too!
I do have a couple of nits to pick but they really aren’t worth mentioning here as I have no problem saying that these books are recommended.
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Brian Lindenmuth is the former non-fiction editor of Spinetingler Magazine and the former editor of Snubnose Press. He likes both kinds of books, fiction and non-fiction. He blogs about subtitled TV shows and movies at One Inch Tall Movies