Tuesday, October 31, 2017

A Congregation of Jackals by S. Craig Zahler

 T.W. looked across the table. “Miss Evertson.”

“Am I no longer holding your interest?”

“Let me ask you something—why did you agree to meet me here tonight?”

“I thought it might prove to be an entertaining diversion.” The sheriff frowned.

“People go to the rodeo for a diversion. People sit and talk so they can learn about each other.”

“I think I have learned more than enough about you this evening.”

“Why’s that? Because I’m not allowing you to talk down to me like you did when I first got here? Because I’m not okay with you smirking at me in your superior way? I may not know how to catch a butterfly or anything about wine, but strand me in the wilderness, and I can find my way back. Give me some tools, and I can build a house—I built the one I live in. Tell me to track somebody across any terrain, and I can do it as good as an Indian. Give me a book, and I can read it just the same as you can. And there isn’t a finer lady in the whole world than the one I raised up myself—I know that for a fact.”

“What is your point?”

 “There’s a very big difference between being intelligent and being smart.”

I provide that brief exchange to show that there is an ability to portray heart and humanity from, Mr. Zahler. If I provided only an example of the grim dark deeds that are executed by some very bad men you might leave with a lop-sided view of what this novel is capable of.

This is an appropriate offering for Halloween, not that there is anything supernatural about this novel, but there is horror here. Zahler is the writer/director of both Bone Tomahawk and Brawl in Cell Block 99. Both are fine films and like this novel both have heart and both have extremes of violence that are almost jaw-dropping.

Where producers might rein in cinematic violent excesses, Zahler let’s rip on the printed page. There are some baroque ultra-violent set-pieces that simply boggle. I want to emphasize, that this is not simply violence for violence’s sake, Zahler can write, and the story is important, but do not be fooled, the violence takes no backseat—this is front and center balls to the wall prose.

I’d say it is no accident that the novel has been positively blurbed by both Jack Ketchum and Edward Lee, icons in the extreme-horror field [and both mighty nice men, to boot.]

If you’ve got the stomach for it, you’ve got a fine read ahead of you.

If extreme violence in copious amounts limned in vivid prose is not your thing, seek elsewhere.

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