Hell's Bounty Book Review
Written by Matt E. Lewis
Published by Short Scary Tales Publications
Written by Joe R. Lansdale & John L. Lansdale
2016, 350 pages, Fiction
Released on August 31st, 2016
A mysterious bounty hunter enters the saloon. He’s greeted by the bartender, who gives him the skinny on the bad hombre who runs things around here. A familiar cast is introduced – the greenhorn kid, the town drunk, the hooker with a heart of gold. But before things can get too predictable, the story weaves into unfamiliar territory. The townsfolk are transformed into flesh-eating ghouls. The big boss has been possessed by a leather-winged demon. And the bounty hunter, our protagonist? Well, he’s been blown to pieces, courtesy of his own dynamite and a short fuse. It isn’t until he’s dumped out of a wheelbarrow in a saloon in Hell and frantically stitched together that the story really starts. The house has a proposition for the bounty hunter named Smith that would give him a second chance and, well, I bet you can guess who the bartender is in this joint.
For readers of horror fiction, Joe Lansdale hardly needs an introduction – he’s written countless books like Paradise Sky, won Edgars and Stokers, and wrote the novella The King is Dead: Tales of Elvis Post-Mortem, on which the movie Bubba Ho-Tep is based. He and his brother John have teamed up to bring us Hell’s Bounty, a supernatural western full of gore, dark humor, and cross-genre mayhem. The devil, who prefers to go by Snappy, fills in Smith – and the reader – with the exposition. The demon that the big boss (Quill) sold his soul to is one of Satan’s own, an up-and-comer who is looking to go over Snappy’s head. To do this, he has taken some special words from the bowels of Hell to the town of Falling Rock, where he plans to open a portal that will unleash the Old Ones (yes, those old ones) into our goldilocks universe. Even Satan won’t be able to deal with these Lovecraftian nightmares, and knows that all of reality would be ripped asunder. But rather than go to Earth himself, even Snappy has some cosmic rules to follow and has to sublet the job out to Smith. Providing him with a new horse, limitless silver bullets, and the threat of eternal damnation if he fails, he catapults Smith back to Earth to find Quill and put him down before the Old Ones can run rampant.
What follows is a horror-tinged adventure of explosive action and an underlying sense of humor. Hell’s Bounty is full of macabre jokes, which is great because if it took itself too seriously, it would read like bad pulp. Instead, the Lansdales take the time to acknowledge the ridiculousness of a ‘cowboys versus zombies’ scenario by throwing in a fire-farting demon or clever one-liner. Even the ghouls wise-crack among themselves from time to time, taking the reader out into an occasional ‘Rosencrantz & Guildenstern’ scenario instead of reducing them to mindless hordes. At its heart, Hell’s Bounty is a comedy, but combines many elements to make a well-balanced story. Its characters are flawed and complicated, the action is intense, and the story is engrossing enough to keep you reading to the very last page. If you’d ever wondered what an old west-themed Evil Dead meets demonic prophecy meets Cthulhu would look like, pick this up and find out for yourself.