The Six-Gun Tarot
Author: R. S. Belcher
Publisher: Tor Books (January 22,2013)
A rootin’-tootin’-shootin’-cthulhun’ good time. Or maybe I should say yippie-r’lyeh. I’m all for mixing genres and shattering barriers between them. But if the mixture isn’t balanced the whole thing quickly becomes hard to digest.
We start our adventure in 1869 as Jim and his horse, Promise, struggle to make it through the desert. Trailing behind him (and trailing behind each of the characters as we meet them) is a heavy dollop of exposition. The half Indian Sheriff’s deputy, Mutt, saves Jim from the desert only to bring him to Golgotha, a town where all kinds of weird things happen and people seem to pretty much take it in stride. Chaos breaks out and we meet the Sheriff, who can’t die, and a banker’s wife who is part of a secretly trained sect that has all kinds of assassin-type skills. There are a few other characters that unfortunately become viewpoint characters later. Everyone in the town has some sort of dark secret that they are trying to keep from each other. They are also all aware of the terrible things that are mentioned in the past (this was either injected as some sort of comic relief that fell flat or Belcher was referencing past stories), yet no one seems to just pull up and move. To top it all off, the town is built on an ancient demon burial ground (for lack of a better phrase).
A dark new religious movement comes to the town to unleash an ancient, unkillable evil (contrary to what I said earlier, not exactly a cthulhu-mythos type character, but close). In the meantime the dark preacher is turning the townspeople into almost cliché zombie-type creatures. All of the main characters are drawn together, with big clunking almost but not quite deus ex machinas, to fight off the evil. Belcher is a big comic book fan and that comes across loud and clear in this novel. He is very talented but the whole thing would have read better as a graphic novel. There are too many viewpoint characters; we’re never really given enough time with one character to really get emotionally attached. It felt like he was trying to weave multiple stories together but the threads started to come undone. Also everyone has some sort of power or secret, or both in the case of Harry, the mayor. There is no “straight man” to keep the reader grounded. Also there is so much exposition explaining the potential of certain characters but they do very little with the build up.
All in all it is not a total wash. Reading through Six-Gun you’ll never have any doubt that this is a first time novelist that is cutting his teeth. But in, around, and under some of the problems there is quite a bit of talent poking through. Give it a go. If Belcher keeps honing his skill the sequel is going to be a delight.
Reviewed by Adam Armstrong