Hunger On The Chisholm Trail: M. Ennenbach
Reviewed By Ben Walker
I’m not one for buying books on the strength of their covers alone, but Death’s Head Press may just make me change my ways with their series of splatter Westerns. That Justin T Coons artwork is poster-worthy, even though M. Ennenbach’s story of Hunger on the Chisholm Trail isn’t quite ready to be framed and mounted.
In this piece of cowboy carnage, a wendigo stalks the titular trail, along which we meet up with a group of folk moving cattle across country, along with a mysterious prisoner in the nearby town of Duncan, who has come to both hunt and escape a few demons. With the players in motion and a flesh-hungry spirit on the loose, it’s not too long before the guts start being guzzled.
The story doesn’t mind taking its time introducing you to its world after a violent introduction, but it also likes to wrong-foot you, setting up smaller characters like they’re about to have a bigger part before they get munched on, or giving you room to breathe after a wendigo attack before whipping out another. Other walk-on characters walk off again without incident, and while some of the tetchy banter between the cattle drivers is entertaining, as are the initial getting-to-know-you chats we sit in on with the town sheriff and that aforementioned prisoner/demonologist, the story doesn’t really get going until the wendigo takes centre stage.
That troublesome beastie is portrayed here as part zombie, part Predator and part force of nature. It mimics its victims’ speech before either feasting hungrily on their flesh or taunting them further, displaying the same kind of ruthless intelligence as the creatures in Jonathan Janz’s Savage Species. Ennenbach takes full advantage of the multifaceted wendigo myth to shape a monster that’s definitely the star of the show. I ended up wanting more scenes with the creature than those with the humans, largely because of a steep lull towards the midway point, where a lot of the cast meet to discuss the past, or their future, leaving me tapping my fingers and muttering “but when are they going to get eaten?”
Even with some entertainingly over the top blood-soaked final moments, a lot of what went before ends up feeling run-of-the-mill. Being a Wild West story means you’re in for many a trope – characters who show ignorance towards Native Americans, brawls, lots of guns being fired, drunks, conflicted preachers and so on. You expect it though; I mean, you can’t rightly go into a Western then complain about all the cowboy hats. No, the issue here is what comes in-between: descriptions which fall prey to idioms, cliches and drawn-out metaphors, run-on sentences that run too long, plus some glaring continuity gaffes. Seeing a plate have food on it that wasn’t there before in a movie is worth a quick giggle. Here, those (and other) errors make the story stutter, especially early on.
So is it splattery? Yes. Is it a Western? Yes again. But despite delivering on that premise, it never quite manages to reach the same heights as other wendigo stories like the aforementioned Janz title or, say, the (possibly) supernatural threat in Alma Katsu’s The Hunger. A walk along the Chisholm trail is definitely a fun diversion for an hour or two, but I can’t see myself heading there again.
Hunger On The Chisholm Trail
The first cattle drive of the season leaves Texas for Abilene, Kansas along the Chisholm Trail, but unforeseen terrors lay hidden in the natural beauty of the land. In the heart of Indian Territory lies the sleepy town of Duncan, a friendly respite from the dusty land. But something lurks in the untamed West-a powerful creature that hunts to satiate its horrifying hunger. The land will run red with blood, and only Karl Beck has a chance against this ancient evil.
Ben got a taste for terror after sneaking downstairs to watch The Thing from behind the sofa at age 9. He’s a big fan of extreme & bizarre horror and well as more psychological frights, and most things in between. When he’s not reading, he’s writing, and when he’s not writing he’s on twitter @BensNotWriting or reviewing books on his YouTube channel, BLURB.