Saturday, June 8, 2013

Dead Man's Hand by Nancy A. Collins - Review

Now that Mono is done punching me in the throat1 I've had a chance to enjoy a book!

Dead Man's Hand by Nancy A. Collins is a series of Weird West2 stories that, by and large, deal with all the classic Western themes:  Freedom, guilt, revenge, duty, and questions of allegiance.  The book contains five stories (three medium length and two shorts) that exist mostly independently, thus I'll review them all on their own before talking about the book.

Also, as the book is published by a subsidiary of White Wolf, who make the World of Darkness games, I've sorted into different White Wolf Gamelines.3

Hell Come Sundown (Vampire: The Requiem) - A Texas Ranger turned monster-hunter named Sam Hell deals with a Vampire Conquistador who wants to start his own empire of the dead.

This is a great way to start the book, as it goes into the existence of various beasties so that you know what kind of universe this is taking place in.  Two parts really stick out to me, the opening where a boy is menaced by something from under the bed, and later, a man in the one church in Golgotha4 tells the story of how the town fell.  Both are creepy and draw you in, the way any good ghost story should.

The story as a whole is generally good, full of nice set pieces, although I found some sections a little more Hollywood than Deadwood.  Still, the Vampire Conquistador is cool and I haven't really seen that before.  A solid opening.  

I forgot to mention, there's a cannibal horse.
It's awesome.
Lynch (Promethean: The Created) - Johnny Pearl, a man with a history of violence and a pearl-handled gun5 that whispers wicked words into his ear tries to remake his life only to wind up lynched and brought back from the dead by one of Viktor Frankenstein's old accomplices.

This is my favorite of the longer stories, tied for favorite story in the book.  Pearl/Lynch is a delightful character, as is Mirablis, our Not!Frankenstein for the evening.  The explorations of how Frankenstein's experiments interact with the West is fantastic, especially Sasquatch, a flesh golem made from most of a tribe of Native Americans.6  His spotlight chapter exploring what it all means is amazing.

The whole story has this very satisfying feeling of all the ends of a very disparate book being tied together very well, and has some excellent moments that really make use of the setting and the character's strange natures.  Best of the three longer stories.  

Woof woof.
Walking Wolf (Werewolf: The Apocalypse) - Walking Wolf, a Werewolf from the Old Country raised by the Comanche has a shitty life, and then it sucks to be a Native in Post-Civil War America, and then everyone dies.  Also, Racism.  Everywhere.7

This for me was the weakest of the short stories.   It has this good premise of Werewolves being immortal, meaning the story is being written by someone in our time looking back on history.  While the history of the fall of the Indigenous Tribes is interesting the story spends a long time on it and somewhat looses its thread, and I'll admit I spent parts of this story not knowing where it was going.  However, the mythology is well thought out8 and the various strange things that the white folk do were just weird enough to be based on real history.  Like the man with a harem who cut out his wives tongues, so they invented a strange, hissing language.

An interesting story that probably deserves more examination by people who know more about race and history, though I think it would have been stronger if it had been tightened up a little bit.  

Man this needs a cooler
The Tortuga Hill Gang's Last Ride (Changeling: The Lost) - Everything goes south for a gang of outlaws when they let a simpleton with strange powers into their gang.

This is my favorite of the two shorter stories.  The characters are all unique and strong, and I really like the way we get into the different outlaw's heads despite only having about 20 pages with them.  Little Red, the Sidhe outlaw, is a very dangerous being, but you really pity him as more conniving characters take advantage of him.  I'll probably steal him9 for a story one of these days.  The shortness and the troperific nature of the story makes it a good little campfire read, and I'd love to see it done as a longer story at Sundance.

A marvelous little read.  My only complaint is that there isn't more of it.  You can get the whole thing for only two bucks right here, which I'd advise everyone to do.  

This one needs a cover at all.
Calaverada (Geist: The Sin-Eaters) - A Gang of bounty hunters chases a man into Mexico, but it's a bad idea to kill a man on The Day of The Dead...

This story is quite short, so it's hard to say much about it.  I do quite like how vivid the author makes Dia de los Muertes.  The characters here are some of the stronger characters, despite having so few pages devoted to them, and while their eventual fate was, perhaps, a tad predictable, I still think it was carried out very well.  It also feels a bit like one of Aesop's Fables, only with gunslingers and ghosts!

Not bad, and again I'd like more, maybe with a bit more mystery or surprises.  

There's my final roundup.  I enjoyed the book and would recommend it to any fans of the Weird Western.  All of the stories but Calaverada are available online, so at the very least go grab Lynch and The Tortuga Hill Gang's Last Ride.
The most Weird-Western image you could
possibly have. 

If you're interested in other Weird West stories, check out Six-Gun Tarot as well!