Friday, August 20, 2010

Strange Matter #16: The Weird, Weird West

Spurs. Six shooters. Bad attitudes. Cowboys, ya'll. And we're not talking dudes who just happen to listen to Taylor Swift and own a couple of goofy hats. We're talking about the real deal, the kind that didn't bathe and didn't take no for an answer. The guys who shot first and asked questions later. Could cowboys really have been any cooler? I mean, there's really only one thing you could possibly do to increase their kick-ass-factor. What's that, you ask? Duh--It's to make them undead! That's right. You heard me. Undead cowboys. Be about it.

And so sets the scene for Johnny Ray Barnes Jr.'s THE WEIRD, WEIRD WEST. Shane Reece had a very important great, great, great, great (that's four 'greats', for those of you keeping track) grandfather. The man just so happened to be responsible for taking down one of the west's most notorious gunslingers--Mr. Clayton Motley. And after a present-day earthquake in the nearby town of Mullenfield, the ghoulish gunman is set free from his grave deep in a cave, and starts heading straight for the youngest descendant of Nathaniel Reece, the man who killed Motley years and years ago. Shane and his friend Gabe (Gabey if you want to make him angry) now have to find out how to stop Clayton before he finds the boys and turns them into cowpies. Which is gross. And not really what happens. But it sounds funny, so whatever.

This book is what I like to call a 'slow burner'. The story takes its sweet time developing, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. If a book plays its cards right, this kind of pacing can really pay off in the end, and I think that's the case with THE WEIRD, WEIRD WEST. Mr. Barnes let's the narrative grow organically, peppering it with good characters (I'm thinking of the scene at The Steerhunter in particular, and the natural-feeling relationship between Shane and Gabe) and cool situations, like the runaway wagon ride, and the final gun-slinging showdown with Motley. Cool tidbit for kids: The author makes Shane seem like a real cowboy a few times, having him speak like he's big and tough. It really puts the reader into the cowboy mindset. And it's very chuckle-worthy for us older folk.

The slow pacing that makes the story work could also be something that may alienate younger readers, who may feel like "nothing is happening", when in fact the author is merely carefully setting up major plot points. The story does have its fair share of action, and these scenes are done well, with plenty of great language fueling the literary flames, but one could argue they are a bit few and far between. I tend to really love the Strange Matters that are non-stop thrills, but this entry won me over in the end with its consistency. I especially liked how the author described Clayton Motley, all rotted and generally disgusting, and how varied the characters were, from a knowledgeable specter to a rough-around-the-edges musician. The characters were the real stars in the end; they really struck a chord with me.

After all is said and done, it's a slow-burning yet solid entry in the Strange Matter library.

I give THE WEIRD, WEIRD WEST 3.5 glowing green bullets out of 5.