Comanche – Brett Riley – review

There are going to be spoilers galore here, so if you want to read this book without any knowledge beyond the blurb, you should stop reading this review now.

The legend of the Piney Woods Kid is this: he was a murdering bastard, and a posse caught up with him, making him dead. That was back in the 1800s. Fast forward to modern times, and someone/something is killing off descendants of that posse, and witnesses say it was a gray-looking man dressed in Old West garb who did it.

Enter Raymond Taylor, who recently lost his wife and decided alcohol was the way to go to blunt that pain, and his partner, Darrell LeBlanc, of New Orleans, called in by Raymond’s sister, who lives in Comanche with her husband, the mayor. They want to know what’s going on in this small town, and they want whoever is responsible brought to justice. Sounds kind of like a posse to me.

Turner and LeBlanc arrive in Comanche with their medium sidekick – and by medium, I mean the crystal ball-toting kind – and a professor from LSU.

This isn’t a mystery that’s a intricate puzzler. We know immediately who is killing the folks in Comanche, and the motive is very straightforward: revenge. That it’s a ghost as the murderer is fine – someone has to be the bad guy, so why not the original bad guy?

The story overall was just ok. There was a lot of wasted potential here, and I found the story itself repetitious and a bit cringey as I went through it. There’s a lot of male posturing/alpha nonsense again and again, like frat dudes at a kegger telling their pals to hold them back so they don’t kick the shit out of another dude. There are also not that many sightings of the ghost, which is a little odd since it’s at least tangentially a ghost story, and if the Piney Woods Kid is pissed off, his ghost wandering the town where he was killed would have been something I’d have liked to see.

I found the pacing tedious, and the try/fail, try/fail repetition annoyed me. Parts of the book went on longer than they could have, and reading those parts, I don’t understand why they weren’t chopped down.

One big annoyance is the complete lack of quotation marks to denote dialogue. This made the action scenes in particular very difficult to follow, because they also shifted viewpoints. If a reader – or, specifically, THIS reader – has to backtrack at times during these sequences to figure out who the hell is saying what, you’re going to have an annoyed reader, or one who just stops reading the book and gives it a DNF. I did finish it, but I imagine others will not. As the author is a professor of English at the college level, he knows there is a reason certain standards exist – quotations and punctuation, as well as no head-hopping in scenes among them – and that to stray from these things means the writing must be superior. Alas, I did  not find it to be so.

On the whole, it looks like this may have started as a short story or novella years ago, was trunked, then was brought out and used as the basis for a novel without rewriting the original material. That can be good, sometimes. This was not one of them.  Although the last 50 pages or so finally have some action, the ending was a letdown and one we’ve seen any number of times in 80’s horror flicks with magical talismans or cursed toys/books/whatever.

Two stars out of five – one for writing it in the first place (my default), and one for an intriguing, but not well executed, idea.

Thanks to NetGalley and Imbrifex for the reading copy.

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