Like a good gumbo, COMANCHE, Brett Riley’s debut novel, is a wonderful mix of ingredients. It’s a throwback to violent, strange westerns like High Plains Drifter, it’s a southern gothic horror dripping with tension and grit and it’s a compelling drama driven by a sprawling cast of characters that would make Stephen King proud.
The small Texas town Comanche is rocked by a double murder outside of a newly built Diner. Witnesses say the killer was dressed as a gunslinger. Some say it’s the ghost of The Piney Woods Killer, a bandit from the 18th century, back for revenge, disturbed by the new building over his death site. But is this true or is something else at play?
COMANCHE had me at ghosts and grit, small towns and outsiders, murder and mystery but what really works here is Brett Riley’s prose. I really enjoyed the execution of the story. Sometimes you get a novel that’s wordier then it needs to be or one that drags its feet to set up characters and events- Riley’s style is all thriller, no filler. It’s lean and mean and to the point. Not a word is wasted in the breath-taking fast pace. Some points - moods, character descriptions, are repeated a bit here or there or plain strange even from a POV, but other than this, it’s economic storytelling.
Its a breezy read, speeding by set-piece by set-piece, and while it doesn’t necessarily bring anything new to the genre, it establishes itself as being a solid genre piece that delivers on the thrills and violence that could satiate a horror fan.
Given its sprawling cast, I do wish that there was more time spent with some characters so that the stakes felt a bit higher. As it is, a death, say, doesn’t have much of an impact on me because I don’t particularly feel any ties to the characters. I’m more along for the ride, which delivers on its fun.
That being said, COMANCHE is a tasty southern dish that goes down nicely and sets up Brett Riley as one to watch.
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