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Vampire Siege at Rio Muerto Kindle Edition
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Don Pedro slays a vampire -- his beloved daughter Theresa -- then hires hunter Mordecai Slate to find Kord Manion, the undead seducer who turned her.
The twist? If he wants to be paid, Slate can't kill Manion. He must bring him back so Don Pedro can execute Manion.
Not recommended, and Slate says so, but the rancher insists, and so begins the hunter's journey that eventually leads him to Rio Verde, a town that is anything but verdant ever since the drought came and sent most of the citizens in search of greener pastures. A passing cowboy with a dark sense of humor nicknamed the town Rio Muerto, and the appellation stuck.
When evil is unleashed, innocents die, a despairing alcoholic reverend regains his faith, a dishonored doctor displays how honorable and skilled he really is, a long-separated young couple find one another, and people take stands they never expected. Whalen doesn't drop the reins of either genre: There are gunfights and fangs, wagons and coffins, townfolk and bloody necks, and one fast-paced tale that doesn't turn in directions the reader might expect.
There's more to the story, a few small yet powerful twists at the end that deliver enough surprise to keep the action interesting all the way to the last line.
Recommended for Western fans and horror fans alike.
The story begins as Mordecai Slate, a bounty hunter of the supernatural and known for his ruthlessness and to do any job for the right price. He is hired by Don Pedro, one of the biggest cattle ranchers to hunt down Kord Manion for killing his daughter. His only request is that Slate bring Kord Manion to him alive so that he may kill him. This is not what Slate usually does but agrees.
So Slate hunts Kord Manion down and captures him to bring him back to Don Pedro but this is where things do wrong. On his way back, he rescues a young lady but get injured and needs to get help. They stop by the nearest town with a doctor for medical help and then be on their way. But the doctor tricks him and knocks him out.
Slate knows time is running out because Kord’s brother Dax will be looking for revenge and will devasted this town just to get to him. Will he be able to escape in time or will doing it for the money finally catch up to him?
Whalen tells a story full of action and suspense throughout the book. He also does a great job of setting the mood and time period in which the story stakes place. His main character, Slate is multi dimensional and not just the money hungry bounty hunter. He is perceived as one thing but really have doubts about getting innocents involved. The story has a nice turn at the end that makes it a satisfying read.
I recommend this book for anyone who likes a good vampire story in a setting besides gloomy mansions or high schools. Also if you want to read about the more typical vampire with bloodlust, this is for you.
Whalen's influences are many and uniformly high-end. The subtle homages to classic western films range from "Ride Lonesome" to "Death Rides a Horse" (the cover illustration portrays the novel's hero/anti-hero, Mordecai Slate as something of a cross between rugged actors Richard Boone and Lee Van Cleef). And of course there are allusions to the classic 60's TV series that was so much a genesis to Whalen's becoming a writer, "Route 66" (including the episodes "Shall Forfeit His Dog and Ten Shillings to the King" and "Ten Drops of Water").
The concept of melding the horror/monster story with heroic western fiction may put off the potential reader. Don't let it. Although there isn't an archetype in either genre that Whalen doesn't touch on, he's an expert at doing so - with surprising believability! His earlier space-western novel "Jack Brand" achieved much the same thing. And his cagey knack for fleshing out characters that may at first seem cliche is especially notable.
The rare moments of inaction in "Vampire Siege" provide not only a bit of relief for the reader (the novel is quite intense in terms of violence and gore) but are ripe for Whalen to have his characters expound on their backstories - much richer than you might expect, given that we ARE dealing in pulp fiction here. Whalen's Doc Washburn, we come to learn, had experience with vampires before, during his tenure at Cleveland Hospital (another Route 66 "Easter egg" - the character of Buz Murdock is exiled to the mythical Cleveland Hospital during an illness/contract dispute George Maharis, the actor who portrayed him, was having with the show's producers).
These less-kinetic moments also serve to bring in existential observations the author wishes to make through the characters (Marie and Taos ruminate about taking on "the big lonely" for example). And there's a whole riff on what psychologists call "projection" you don't want to miss. The screenwriter Stirling Silliphant would often do likewise with his characters on Route 66.
And once again, John Whalen seasons his narrative with vivid description - whether geographic, meteorologic, anthropologic (several obscure Native American tribes referred to) or linguistic (plenty of accessible Spanish throughout). Rich detail about weaponry, hardware, livery and wardrobe - keeps the fantastic goings-on from going "off the rails".
Despite a bit of expository repetition from chapter to chapter (to facilitate serialization?) - overall the novel rolls out like a particularly gripping film. Think of one of those aforementioned beloved westerns you might swerve into on Turner Classic Movies some rainy weekend afternoon. Watch for five minutes and you're hooked - you're in it until the final frame. Read a chapter or two of "Vampire Siege at Rio Muerto" and you will likewise cast your lot with Mordecai, Marie, Taos and yes even our villains Kord and Dax Manion.
So...in answer to the question posed at the outset...it's THAT kind of story.
Slate is hired by a wealthy rancher in New Mexico Territory to capture the vampire responsible for the death of the rancher's daughter. Slate manages to do that, but as he tries to return the prisoner to his employer, the vampire's brother and the rest of their gang are on Slate's trail. Then he runs into an unwanted complication in the form of a beautiful blonde with troubles of her own, and they all wind up stuck in the little settlement of Rio Verde, which has been renamed Rio Muerto because it's turning into a ghost town. By this time there's a small army of vampires after Slate, which leads up to an epic showdown.
Whalen has created a fine protagonist in Mordecai Slate, and his other characters are interesting, too. There's plenty of well-written action and considerable suspense. Whalen does a good job blending the Western and horror elements. One thing I found surprisingly effective is that there's not a lot of elaborate world-building to explain why vampires and other supernatural beings are roaming the Old West. They simply are, and people accept that, and that matter-of-fact attitude lends a hardboiled edge to the tale.
VAMPIRE SIEGE AT RIO MUERTO is a really entertaining novel. Horror fans should enjoy it, and if you're a Western reader who doesn't mind supernatural elements, you should definitely check it out as well.