Boomtown by James A. Moore
Publisher: Twisted Publishing | Release Date: April 1, 2019 | Pages: 354pages
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Boomtown is a title that has been on my radar for a short while, ever since James A. Moore announced it on Facebook some time back. A weird western, fronted with cover art by Zach McCain? You’re damn right I want to read it! When Moore announced online he had ARCs ready for reviewers, I almost literally leaped at the chance to get an early look at this one.
The small, walled settlement of Carson’s Point has a problem — there’s an ancient skinwalker in the area, drawn to the mining town by old magic that he seeks to claim, in addition to killing the new settlers for taking land that is not theirs to claim. The skinwalker isn’t the only problem though; there are bandits, thieves, and murders leaving a trail of bodies behind. After a trapper brings back ten frozen bodies for burial, one of the deceased has a miraculous recovery and disappears. Jonathan Crowley isn’t like most men. For one thing, he has a serious problem staying dead or even wounded. He also possess arcane knowledge, and is unnaturally fast on the draw, pointing guns some witnesses would claim he didn’t possess seconds earlier. He’s also the only hope Carson’s Point has, even if he doesn’t want to help. Still, Crowley finds himself drawn into the escalating violence as he seeks revenge for his own murder, and then finds himself in even more dire straights as the days progress.
Crowley is a recurring character in Moore’s large body of work, having previously appeared in the currently out-of-print Serenity Falls trilogy and 2017’s One Bad Week (also from Haverhill House), although Boomtown was my first introduction to the man. Thankfully, Boomtown functions well as a stand-alone title, and going back to the wild days of the American west makes this a highly accessible entry-point for newcomers to Crowley’s adventures. In fact, this is a great introduction to Crowley and my only regret is that so much of Moore’s backlist is currently out of print that tracking down the bulk of his past appearances could be a bit of a project. I dug Crowley a lot — the dude’s kind of built on the Wolverine template, with his rapid healing, asocial tendencies, and penchant for swift and wicked violence — and I certainly aim to read more about him, and hope to track down some used copies of the prior books.
On the Weird Western front…well, Moore certainly doesn’t skimp there either. Carson’s Point is positively littered with all kinds of supernatural hijinks, although the primary nuisance here is the skinwalker and his creations. The skinwalker is able to reanimate the dead and he calls forth a band of Native Americans slaughtered by former soldiers now resting easy in the settlement. Although there are zombies aplenty in Boomtown, in the case of the Native American undead Moore puts a nifty little spin on this trope that really helps separate them from your usual pack of shambling brain-eaters, which I appreciated greatly.
Boomtown is a dark and very effective work of wild west horror, and Carson’s Point is densely populated with monsters, both human and otherwise. American expansion and settlement into the west was certainly a perilous and tumultuous period of US history, to put it lightly, and Moore doesn’t shy away from the violent and inhumane aspects of the era. While several women fall victim to rape and children are counted among the murdered, Moore never writes such scenes in a salacious, leering, or gratuitous manner. Even spared the grisly details, one depiction of a helpless child’s murder managed to hit hard. Sensitive readers may still wish to prepare themselves, although, thankfully, such mentions of sexual assault and child death are kept very brief and directly to the point. Boomtown does not offer a romanticized view of the American west, but a gritty horror story of predators and prey, and, in keeping true to the period being written of, the violence that ensues.