I’ve been saying for a while that we need more stories that fall into the overlap between country noir and speculative fiction. The hollers and dark dirt roads that host country noir yarns have their own rich tradition of myths and folk tales. And speculative elements, perhaps especially horror, dovetail well with the bones of a country noir story—better than, certainly, romance or even mystery. In his novel The Only Good Indians, Stephen Graham Jones combines supernatural horror and rez noir (a kissing cousin to country noir). Four young Blackfeet Indians committed some great sin on an elk hunt years ago, and an angry spirit of sorts is looking for bloody restitution.Continue reading “SF: The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones”
The man that wandreth out of the way of wisdom shall abide in the congregation of the dead. – Proverbs 21:16
I bought Congregations of the Dead over a year ago on a bit of a lark because it was cheap. Which isn’t to sale that it didn’t sound right up my alley. A country noir/urban fantasy/horror mashup with significant pulp influences? (A secondary character is named Carter DeCamp in an obvious homage to Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp and Manly Wade Wellman’s characters Silver John and John Thunstone seem obvious influences as well.) What I didn’t realize is how damn good it would be.
Congregations of the Dead is the second in Griffin & Price novel, and I was a little thrown off at first as Moore and Rutledge tied up loose ends from the first book. But other than that hiccup, I found this an easy entrée into the series. I will definitely be picking up the other books though. I would say start with book one, but it looks like it isn’t available right now.
Over the course of a life hard lived, the minder and the town and the mountain became as one, and no one ever left Harlan alive.
Country noir fits easily with horror. What is scarier than a long, dark shaft in an abandoned coal mine? Might our greed for the black stuff cause us to dig too deep? Might the violence on the surface go beyond the natural into the supernatural?
I was delighted to learn that Apex released a collection of short horror stories set in Harlan County, Kentucky (originally famous for the coal mine labor strife featured in Harlan County, USA and more recently famous as the setting for neo-Western Justified).
I have a couple more Hallowreads coming for y’all. I am several stories into Harlan County Horrors, edited by Mari Adkins, and after that I will start Congregations of the Dead by James A. Moore and Charles R. Rutledge. I am also somewhat distracted by watching AMC’s Preacher. But I will get reviews posted of both by Halloween. In the meantime, I’ve already reviewed some pretty damn good horror here at Hillbilly Highways.
Just a couple of weeks ago I was talking about how a crime story fit uneasily into a second-world fantasy shell. A country noir shell, on the other hand, is an excellent fit for any number of sorts of SF stories. Including a zombie yarn. Desper Hollow is just that: a country noir zombie fantasy set deep in the hollers of Virginia.
The framing that opens the book and slow reveals the zombie angle is a little weird and unwieldy, but it builds to an incredibly taut set piece in the final third of the book.
I did not move this far north to deal with near 90 degree temps in September. I love the fall, and that means crisp temps, college football, and . . . Halloween. And, for me, Halloween means reading. Really, all of those things mean reading, because I really like reading. Not reading horror, necessarily, but the Halloween season is an exception. In the past I have focused on older horror at Every Day Should Be Tuesday, running a series of posts on Frankenstein and a series of posts on the horror of Robert E. Howard. This year I am bringing it home to Hillbilly Highways. Ghost stories are a rich part of my cultural heritage, and country noir offers plenty of spooky options.
Can’t-Wait Wednesday is hosted by Wishful Endings.
Devil’s Call is one hell of a story, a bloody weird western propelled by protagonist Li Lian’s remarkable voice.
Li Lian is the mixed race daughter from a family where witchery runs on the female line. She follows her husband, a former army doctor, to the Nebraska frontier. It is there that something goes terribly wrong.
Richard Kadrey meets Daniel Woodrell.
For 1,000 years Santa has kept his dark counterpoint Krampus magically imprisoned, and for 1,000 years Krampus has plotted his revenge. This Christmas Yule he will get it.
Krampus is all the rage these days, most recently being featured in a horror flick. Brom’s Krampus is a different sort of story. It’s not horror at all. It’s dark fantasy and southern gothic set in meth-ravaged West Virginia and owes more to writers like Ron Rash and Daniel Woodrell than Stephen King. All set against a pagan, Norse mythology. If that sounds like it’s up your alley, you’ll love it. If it doesn’t? You’ll probably still love it.
For Halloween I’m returning to the motif of selling your soul.
Bauserman pitched an advanced copy of Some Dark Holler to me because I reviewed a collection of Manly Wade Wellman’s Silver John stories. I get a lot of these, usually with the author comparing their work to some colossus in the field. But I couldn’t resist, being a huge fan of both country noir and speculative fiction. I didn’t remotely expect Bauserman’s work to live up to that of Wellman, a master unequaled today in my eyes. Does Bauserman’s work live up to Wellman’s? I can hardly believe I’m writing this, but it very well may exceed it.
Some Dark Holler opens at the close of the Civil War. Death arrives at a meeting with Scratch (the Devil) and two of Scratch’s lackeys. A deal with the Devil will protect you from death for seven years. In return all you have to do is deliver another soul. William is his number one recruiter. The first chapter (you can listen to the audiobook version on YouTube) ends with Scratch sending William after a boy named Ephraim.
(There is actually a really cool explanation for Death’s involvement and how he works. Every human has a mortal imprint (“a kind of long shadow that trailed from his being and connected him to death”). That allows Death to collect without personally attending to it. If you sign a deal with the Devil, Death removes his imprint.)
Originally I was just going to run my review of Grady Hendrix’s We Sold Our Souls over at my SF blog. But selling your soul to the Devil has a rich history in hillbilly storytelling, from Robert Johnson to The Devil Went Down to Georgia to Some Dark Holler. Dolly Parton’s music is an important plot point. And it has lines like this:
Every song was the same song. These were songs for people who were scared to open their mailboxes, whose phone calls never brought good news. These were songs for people standing at the crossroads waiting for the bus. People who bounced between debt collectors and dollar stores, collection agencies and housing offices, family court and emergency rooms, waiting for a check that never came, waiting for a court date, waiting for a call back, waiting for a break, crushed beneath the wheel.
That? That is in the Hillbilly Highways wheelhouse.