The Six Gun Tarot by R S Belcher
Nevada, 1869: Beyond the pitiless 40-Mile Desert lies Golgotha, a cattle town that hides more than its share of unnatural secrets. The sheriff bears the mark of the noose around his neck; some say he is a dead man whose time has not yet come. His half-human deputy is kin to coyotes. The mayor guards a hoard of mythical treasures. A banker’s wife belongs to a secret order of assassins. And a shady saloon owner, whose fingers are in everyone’s business, may know more about the town’s true origins than he’s letting on.
A haven for the blessed and the damned, Golgotha has known many strange events, but nothing like the primordial darkness stirring in the abandoned silver mine overlooking the town. Bleeding midnight, an ancient evil is spilling into the world, and unless the sheriff and his posse can saddle up in time, Golgotha will have seen its last dawn…and so will all of Creation.
In a nutshell we’ve got Cowboys, Indians, Gods, monsters and a whole heap of end of the world type trouble. Is it possible that I’ve finally found a Western adventure that works for me?
I have to admit that I’m not a massive fan of the western genre as a rule. I certainly don’t make a point of actively seeking them out. That said, when I first read the synopsis for The Six Gun Tarot, something resonated with me; mixing a traditional western with the supernatural sounded like an intriguing premise. After reading a couple of chapters it became evident that there is a great deal of fun to be had with this concept. Belcher is adept at taking existing conventions and turning them on their head. He plays around with the established elements of the genre and it works well. At first glance the frontier town of Golgotha contains all the classic features you’d expect from a western. Dusty streets, whorehouses and saloons are all in evidence, but if you delve a little deeper you’ll also discover some suitably steampunk-y moments, as well as the odd zombie uprising thrown in for good measure.
The author also manages to successfully pull ideas from different religions, including Oriental mysticism, Native American legends and Mormon theology, and blend them all together into a coherent and exciting tale. On top of all that, there is also something much, much older. A terrible something that predates everything else and is a hell of a lot meaner. That reminds me, I should probably warn you now that there are some surprisingly icky scenes involving tentacles in this novel. Yes, I know, the Old Ones are always about many-tentacled evil. I should have seen it coming I suppose, but it caught me completely unawares. If you’re not a fan of tentacles, or black gunk for that matter, you may wish to give this a miss. Personally this is exactly the sort of cosmic weirdness I do enjoy, never thought I’d find it in a western mind you.
The residents of Golgotha are a truly eclectic bunch of characters. The local sheriff, Jon Highfather, is a perfect example. He has that laconic cowboy attitude but it quickly becomes obvious that he, like many of the other townsfolk, is hiding a plethora of secrets. Highfather has a deputy known only as Mutt and the pair make a good team. There is an obvious mutual respect between the two and when things go bad, and believe me they go spectacularly bad, both men are forced to confront various incarnations of evil.
My favourite character though is the local saloon owner, Malachi Bick. For a large chunk of the proceedings I just couldn’t get a handle on what was going on with him. I was thoroughly confused right up until the moment when it all suddenly made sense. Discovering the details of Bick’s shady past is one of the novel’s many highlights.
This is where The Six Gun Tarot really succeeds. The plot is chock full of twists and turns that will keep any reader hooked from beginning to end. Put it this way, if a non-western fan like me enjoys it, then I’m sure there will be many others that will as well. The final chapters are out and out bonkers. I should stress I mean this as the highest compliment, as events come to a head and the forces of good and evil face off against one another.
By the end of proceedings there have been enough revelations (excuse the biblical punnage) to satisfy any reader. The good news is that there are obviously still plenty of secrets left, waiting to be uncovered. I was left with the distinct impression that things aren’t anywhere close to being resolved on the mean streets of Golgotha, and that it’s only a matter of time before R.S. Belcher will be taking us back for another visit.
The Six Gun Tarot is published by Tor and is available now for Kindle, and will be released in hardcover on 13 February.