“Welcome to Damnation…where every living soul is dead as a doornail. Except one.”
Clark Casey’s Dawn in Damnation is a vignette-style Weird Western that is reminiscent of John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row or Tortilla Flat, except it has werewolves, a vampire, and…notorious pistolero John Wesley Hardin!
Except for one potentially game-changing irregularity, the denizens of the purgatorial afterlife “ghost town” of Damnation are dead and well on their way to Hell…maybe.
Though sporting the gaping wounds of their violent original causes of death, these feisty room-temperature folk walk and talk, gamble incessantly, eat a lot of pork, and drink buckets of whiskey. Their dead-alive corporeal bodies can be “killed” permanently (usually in shootouts and sudden homicidal outbursts) and fed to the pigs, resulting in the aforesaid pork surplus.
Where their souls go from there is anybody’s guess, and most of these reprobates expect to burn in Hell for their deeds. But when a drowned woman arrives with an inexplicably alive-and-well baby in utero, several of the saloon rats suspect a higher and benevolent power at work and begin to wonder at the possibility of redemption.
Characters come and go, and we get to know most of them before they’re violently helped along into terminal eternity. Then there’s a core group of hangers-on whom we get to know a whole lot better. All of their stories are interesting and varied. Some of the stories are stand-alone, and others establish vibrant characters who will take supporting roles later on.
There are several ongoing character-based storylines, most of which are resolved, but no clear protagonist as in traditional westerns. It’s enough just to get to know the barflies, especially a laughing gunman, a frustrated and half-starved gentleman vampire, a boyish gambler cursed with uncanny luck at cards, and more. Each of these characters is fully realized and unique, regardless of how long they are able to dodge second death.
I get the feeling Casey could just keep writing stories in this vein (pun intended) so long as he can keep cooking up interesting characters. In fact, a sequel is planned to release in May, 2018.
The world building has potential but doesn’t feel fully thought-through. Exactly what are the “rules” of the world? No one is sure, and there are several obvious contradictions and inconsistencies. But if you like colorful characters, and don’t need a “cut and dried” plot, Dawn in Damnation is a lot of fun. I laughed out loud throughout at the wry sense of humor and surprising revelations.
The language is salty, the violence sudden and brutal, and the gore is copious.
So fry up a mess of bacon, pour yourself a shot, and dig into Dawn of Damnation. It’s a not-quite-hell of a good read.
Kindle e-book version is currently only 99 cents!