Charles Andersson is making a new life for himself and his new wife and young son in the growing community of Packer’s Mill. A former outlaw and prolific murderer, his chance encounter with a prostitute whose life he saves have made him see the error of his ways and he is now dedicated to living out his days peacefully with his new family.
His peace is soon shattered when a pair of men visit Packer’s Mill, threatening both Charles and his wife. Although he tries to resist reverting back to his old, violent ways, a chain of events is set into motion that will see Charles take on a new moniker, that of the Navajo Nightmare; a seemingly unstoppable gunslinger whose legend is soon known across the country. Tales of his unquenchable thirst for blood and ties to the Devil himself run rampant and a group of individuals, led by an ageing lawman and a bereaved woman whose husband is among the Nightmares victims, have taken it upon themselves to end his reign of terror once and for all.
Written in two parts (one by each author), The Navajo Nightmare tells two decidedly different, but inextricably linked tales of Charles Andersson and how he became known as The Navajo Nightmare. The first tale is of his origin and begins with Charles leading a peaceful life, having long since sworn off violence as he raises his three-year-old son alongside his loving wife. They attend church and are in the process of building their first home together. Without spoiling anything that follows, it is a familiar set-up and, this being a horror story, one with a fairly obvious conclusion. The fact that this story is a well-worn one, however, does nothing to diminish the joy taken from the telling. Original it may not be, but a familiar story told well is far more engaging than an original story told without skill or passion, and The Navajo Nightmare has both in plentiful supply.
Charles is a fascinating character, stoic and anti-social, but mellowed and loving when with his wife and son, he is depicted from the start as, if not likeable, then at least relatable, which makes what follows all the more tragic. The villains are suitably despicable, and a lot of the horror comes from their hands, in what is often violence that is as impressively inventive as it is demented.
This opening half of the novel does a lot of work in making Charles a sympathetic character, which is important for what follows, as the second half switches focus, instead making a disparate band of vigilantes the story’s focus and making Charles the antagonist. From this point Charles is rarely seen, but often spoken about and his presence is, if anything, felt more keenly, as the events of the first half have become a legend, a scary story told to warn people of this unstoppable gunslinger from hell. It’s a very interesting choice, after having spent over half the book making us care about Charles, but it works so well and, anytime he does make an appearance, there is a good mix of scares and sympathy.
The new characters are a likeable and eclectic ensemble, with a grizzled and experienced lawman, and a young, somewhat naive man he has taken under his wing. He is hired by a woman to track down the Navajo Nightmare to kill him to avenge her husband’s death, and she is depicted as brave and capable, as she joins the hunt herself. They meet with a former slave and an indigenous skinwalker as they head out into the inhospitable landscape of the wild west to track down a monster we first met as a man.
This part of the tale is far more unpredictable, but no less skilfully woven, as the lines between the good guys and the bad guys have become blurred, and the real villain behind the scenes seemingly untouchable. This tale is no less action packed than the first, but is an unexpected (but welcome) change to the narrative that delivers a satisfying and unexpected resolution.
Comparisons against the current Splatter Western line are inevitable. They have, after all, almost single-handedly popularised the horror western genre over the last year. While the gore and violence is not the focus of ‘The Navajo Nightmare’, rest assured that the horror element of the horror western is very well catered for, with an impressive body count, a genuinely shocking scene in the opening tale, and plenty of body horror once things get going. This is just a bonus, however, an addition to the skilfully woven, tense and ultimately tragic story that the two authors are telling. While this may not be a Splatter Western entry, it certainly deserves the recognition that that line gets.
The Navajo Nightmare starts as a seemingly well-worn story of vengeance, but the books’ unusual structure and bold about turn at the midway point delivers surprises, excitement and plenty of horror in a fun and memorable story anchored by strong writing, an immersive setting, and a killer lead character. Let’s hope that neither author considers this their final word in the horror western genre, as I would love to read more from this team.
Richard Martin started reading horror books at a young age, starting with R L Stine’s ‘Goosebumps’ and ‘Point Horror’ series. He traumatized himself at the age of twelve when he read Stephen King’s ‘IT’, and never looked back. He is currently based in the UK, where he lives with his partner and an inappropriate amount of books.