"Comanche" Book Review
Written by Tony Jones
Published by Imbrifex Books
Written by Brett Riley
2020, 336 pages, Fiction
Released on 1st September, 2020
Comanche opens in the small Texas town of Comanche, way back in 1887, where a vengeful posse captures and kills a notorious murderer and outlaw known as ‘The Piney Woods Kid’. Not only do they slay him, they desecrate the body by chopping it into pieces, ensuring he is not given a funeral, and then celebrate their triumph with the rest of the jubilant town. For those of us who were brought up on the American (and Italian) westerns of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, ‘The Kid’ probably had it coming, but may well have survived to fight another day (or for another sequel). This kid, however, is as dead as the dodo and no comeback seems possible. There are a couple of other very quick time jumps before the story settles in the present of 2016, initially flipping between New Orleans and Comanche before the action moves permanently to the latter.
The first problem I have with Comanche is a huge one; the blurb tells us exactly what is going to happen: “Comanche police are stymied by a double murder at the train depot. Witnesses swear the killer was dressed like an old-time gunslinger. Rumours fly that it is the ghost of The Piney Woods Kid, back to wreak revenge on the descendants of the vigilantes who killed him.” And I mean exactly what happens. Along the way there is very little suspense, no humour, twists, or surprises in reaching the conclusion provided in the above blurb. Over 334 pages, the most boring ghost in existence (who never talks) reappears and starts killing the surviving relatives of the original posse. Whilst reading Comanche, I could not help feeling that I was missing something, or that there was a major plot shift around the corner, but sadly, none of this materialised. A few more jokes might have changed the mainly serious tone and calling one of the characters John Wayne did make me smile.
Books can live and die by the quality of their villains and Comanche most definitely fits into the latter category. We are told in passing what a vicious and murderous son-of-a-bitch The Kid was when he was alive, even shooting the nose from one adversary, but the reader sees none of this and proceedings might have been livened by a flashback or two or even the occasional “yee-ha!” or knee slapping. I appreciate not everybody can be Hannibal Lecter, but all the spectre does is flash in and out of existence, appear closer to his chosen victims and silently shoot them without leaving any bullet wounds. He kills several people this way and they are all too similar and despatched in an equally dull manner. Comanche has a favourable comparison with No Country for Old Men, which I would question, a book with an outstanding villain, a character sadly lacking from this novel.
The story is built around a double murder where witnesses claim the killer was dressed like an old-time gunfighter and as there are no other suspects, rumours quickly surface that it is the ghost of The Piney Woods Kid. Through family connections, a team of three investigators are hired from New Orleans to both find the killer and unravel the mystery. But as they uncover no suspects, find the locals uncooperative, the evidence quickly points towards the vengeful ghost. The fact that the reader is never given any red herrings, alternative suspects who are let off the hook, or any other possible scenarios makes everything very pedestrian. By contrast, in John Connolly’s Charlie Parker series (a detective with supernatural overtones) there are intertwined plots, twists and clever reveals, Comanche lacks all these qualities and is as disappointing in the thriller department as in the horror. Perhaps the final product would have been stronger if a police procedural element had been factored into the story.
There are lots of books around with detectives which feature the supernatural and comparing a new writer to someone as skilled as John Connolly is probably a bit harsh on Brett Riley. However, Comanche does not sell itself as a ‘supernatural detective’ story. The main characters, Raymond Turner and Darrell LeBlanc, are hired to investigate the murders in Comanche because Turner’s sister is married to the local mayor. When the story opens, Raymond is a drunk who is failing to recover from the death of his wife and LeBlanc is the steady arm who helps him sober up. I found neither of these characters engaging or with any special depth or interest. On a few recent cases they are joined by medium Betsy McDowell, who seems to be the real deal, and it is she who brings in the supernatural angle to the detective agency, although neither of the men are what you would call ‘believers’.
Conanche also lacks dialogue quotation marks and considering there are numerous support characters, I frequently got confused and found it slightly frustrating to read. I appreciate this is akin to the Southern Gothic style, but it could have been applied more effectively. It is not helped that these support characters are all too similar, the mayor (CW Roark), the folklore professor (Jacob Frost) and the newspaper owner for example (Red Thornapple) are all much of a muchness.
This book is not for me, but fans of horror and western mashups might find it entertaining, just do not expect anything too crazy, as for the most part Comanche plays itself as a straight neo-western with a supernatural twist when something more tongue in cheek might have been a better tactic considering the far-out subject matter.
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