Signal Horizon

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{Book Review} Dust by Chris Miller

Hook: Splatter Western.

If you are still reading, then you will enjoy this book. If not, at least you won’t have to read the rest of the review to discover it’s not the book for you.

Even for someone that doesn’t like westerns, it didn’t take much convincing for me to give this one a try. I love Splatterpunk and when I saw the amazing cover art by Justin T. Coons, I had to give Dust a try. Written by Chris Miller, Dust is the third installment in Death’s Head Press’ Splatter Western series. Since I am coming into the series a little late and each book can stand alone, I started with book three. Dust is a fast-paced, in-your-face western that includes a time-traveling god hunter, devious villains, and cosmic horror.

As is often the case, the book opens with a mysterious man in a bar that’s just shot someone in the head. Being Texas in the late eighteen-hundreds, the other men in the bar are not shocked, but still don’t like seeing a fellow comrade’s brains dripping from the walls. Before they can react, however, the gunman offers to buy everyone in the bar a round of drinks.

Seeing as the bar is filled with men that like beer, the gunman assumes they also enjoy a free beer. He is correct. With free beers in hand, the gunman toasts to ‘information’ (the very thing that the first man withheld, hence the hole in his head). Not wanting a hole in the head, one man starts talking and eventually says too much. As you can imagine this leads to more gunfire and more dead men. After the gunpowder settles, the remaining survivors are much more cooperative. With the information acquired, the gunman tips his hat and heads on his way. As he hits the door, one of the survivors asks who he is, “Name’s Mr. James Dee…And I ain’t from around here. But you’ll be damn glad I came before long” (Location 101).

From there the story’s whiplash pace never slows until the final page. Miller does a great job setting the stage with short, snappy chapters. Quick world building is essential for a short novel, and Miller nails it. Specifically, when James Dee is looking for the town of Dust, which can only be found when entering a specific portal. In order to find the portal, he is told to see an oracle of sorts named Ms. Dupree. She knows of not only Mr. Dee’s ability to travel through time, but also the sinister intent of another man trying to find Dust, Gear Dreary, and she also reveals a warning of the evil that Mr. Dee may face.

With the world well built, James sets out on his quest, but from his conversation with Ms. Dupree he now wonders if he can ever be redeemed. He is fighting to discover if he’s a good man that’s done terrible things, for good reason. Or is he a terrible man that’s done terrible things, no matter the reason?

Along the way, James saves the life of a young black man, Denarius. Despite having a wife and son at home, Denarius feels he must help James on his quest to repay his debt for saving his life. This relationship is one of the highlights of the story. His character has the most depth and also the most noticeable transformation. Denarius’ loyalty and integrity shine brightly as he is thrown into a battle that impacts him more than he can possibly imagine when he agrees to help James find Dust.

After a really fast start and a well-developed premise, there were a few times when the story felt flat. While the action remains steady throughout, there were times when the tension seemed to be resolved too quickly. The escalating tension was perfect, but then the conflicts seemed to be resolved without much struggle. Sure, James’ quickdraw and ability to manipulate time help speed up the outcomes, but especially in some of the later battles, the resolution didn’t match the buildup.

Another minor issue, is Denarius’ dialogue, which at times was a bit predictable and stereotypical. Luckily, Miller built Denarius into such a strong character that these inconsistencies didn’t derail the story, but they were glaring enough to point out. While the over-simplified resolution and a few missteps with dialogue felt like a bit of a let-down, the flaws were rare and did little to take away from an otherwise fantastic book.

As the book progresses, James and Denarius continue to reveal the evil within the town of Dust. They are also racing against time to stop the devious man, Gear Dreary, from unleashing the full force of the Elder, N’yea’thuul on Earth. N’yea’thuul possesses unspeakable power and uses human bodies as a host to slake its insatiable need for flesh. This Lovecraftian element adds to the tension and helps ground the urgency of the story. Along the way, it becomes easy to doubt whether a simple family man and a time-travelling god-hunter with a quick draw can defeat such unspeakable evil, but that’s the point, right?

Overall, Dust is a very fast-paced splatter western with engaging characters and kickass battles. This book is perfect for those readers looking for a quick adventure set in the old west. Despite being the splatter label, this story is relatively tame with regards to carnage. This is not to say there isn’t any gore, there is plenty, for sure. It’s just done in a way that shouldn’t overwhelm anyone curious about dipping their toes into the cosmic-splatter-western genre for the first time. This book was so much fun, that I am excited to dive into the other books within the series.