Deadtown and Other Stories Set in the Old West
Carl Hose
Published As Ebooks, $5.99
Review by Darkeva

Carl Hose has built a strong reputation in the horror community as someone whose works appear often in anthologies such as Cold Storage, which he co-edited. His stories have also been featured in Champagne Shivers, Loving the Undead, Beyond Desire, Through the Eyes of the Undead, Silver Moon, Bloody Bullets, and the zombie poetry anthologies Vicious Verses and Reanimated Rhymes.

His two most recent collections are Fematales and Deadtown and Other Stories Set in the Old West (both released in November 2010), and both have different takes on traditional horror themes, including the damsel in distress.

Fematales is a collection that deals primarily with stories of women who kill, maim, and often castrate their (usually) male victims. If you tend to go for revenge stories, look no further, because this collection is packed with tales of women who make sure that the people who wrong them get their just desserts, as with the main character of “Bar Whore,” who, although she wants to feel desire, can’t. She eventually stabs the guy she’s sleeping with, which came as no surprise.

“Black Widow,” although it did feature a bit of telling, had a nice twist in the form of the female character’s “helper,” who is tired of helping her kill guys and trap them in her web, much like a spider.

But if you don’t enjoy stories where men get their privates cut off, you might want to skip some of those offerings, including “Kill for Her” and “Fatal Blow.”

Although some of Hose’s stories tend to repeat similar plots, as with “Runaway” and “The Ride,” the better stories of the collection include “Hand Delivery,” which is my top pick. In that story, we get a male point of view from Stephen and learn that Dana, the girl he loved is dead. She also has one of the creepiest moms. I really bonded with him, because the Dana’s death had consequences on him. He experienced massive guilt, nightmares, and other things that showed the reader just how much her death affected him. As well, this one has a great twist at the end, which I won’t ruin for you.

Another notable story is “Luck to Be a Lady,” which features a girl who kills her female best friend right after she’s won the lottery. Julie, the murderer, finds her life in a spiral, and predictably gets her just desserts from the friend who comes back to kill her.

If you enjoyed Misery (who could forget that visceral, gut-wrenching hammer scene?) you might like “Your Biggest Fan” in which an obsessed woman goes after a country singer to whom she is fanatically devoted. Ultimately, she ends up like a Hydra – when you cut one head off, two more replace it. And that’s exactly what happens to this poor fellow.

Stylistically, the collection could have used some work in terms of the copy-editing and general flow, but otherwise, it’s a decent anthology. Although it’s notoriously difficult to achieve good characterization in short fiction, Hose could have spent more time developing some of the women in Fematales beyond the daddy/boyfriend/abuse/rape issues they seem to share. If he went into their specific motivations and dug deeper into them, the anthology would resonate more. (Overall rating: 3/5)

Moving onto the Deadtown collection, we start with “It Rolled into Town” about cursed Egyptian treasure and mummies in the Old West. If you liked the first two Mummy films, you’ll like this one.

Next, we get to “Deadtown,” the eponymous title story, which introduces us to a character we’ll see much more of, cowboy Frank Talbott. Although a familiar character type, Frank comes off as a bit of a walking cliché and actually sleeps with one eye open. Some of the descriptions were also clichéd, like “slip of a girl,” but for the most part, these don’t interfere with the overall flow of the story.

It’s a zombie story, and we soon find out that the mayor has changed pretty much everyone in town into a zombie, but they’re not the brain dead “yes, master” type; they’re the ravenous Resident Evil kind, and only four people remain “unturned.” (After all, the mayor’s got to have some people left to run the town).

I found it a tad far-fetched that those four were safe only because the mayor told his minions to back off, and it was somewhat disappointing that some of the deaths took place offstage. Still, Frank lives on to share another adventure. As with some of the stories in Fematales, the Frank Talbott stories follow the same basic structure – he arrives in town, finds out about a supernatural menace plaguing the townspeople, teams up with a barmaid/waitress and other survivors, and fights off the creatures. As for “Downtown Sundown” in which the bad guy is a vampire, I half-cringed at the “just when you think the villain is dead, he’s not” ending.

Similarly, I think that Hose could have been a bit more original with stories like “End of the Line for the One-O-Nine” and “Dead White and Blue” in which the main characters discover that they’re ghosts. Still, if you’re a civil war buff, you might like the latter.

For werewolf fans, there’s “Six Guns and a Silver Bullet,” which details a were transformation, but I would have liked a more visceral experience.

The standout story of this collection was “Skinwalker,” which I enjoyed. It deals with a coyote skinwalker, as the title suggests, but he takes on the appearance of his victims at the point of death. I would have liked to see how the police actually caught the skinwalker and how his brother found out that he was in town, both of which were skipped over. I thought that the ending could have gone a different way, but it has a satisfying enough resolution.

Overall, both collections had entertaining stories, and although some of the plots could be more original, Hose has done a fine job integrating the themes in both collections and writes with skill. (Overall rating: 3/5)

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