Dust: Chris Miller
Reviewed By Ben Walker
Here we are at the third Splatter Western in the series from Death’s Head Press, and once more there’s an awesome cover by Justin T Coons. Only this time, the artwork overshadows what hides behind it. Not that Chris Miller’s Dust needs to hide away as such – at times it’s a perfectly serviceable Western which flings more body parts around than an early Peter Jackson movie, but after the giddy heights of The Magpie Coffin, this latest weird Western is a definite step down.
Dust features a gunman named James Dee, a man out of time trying to find his way to the titular town and in his own words, “kill some gods”. He’s introduced in a shower of blood and snarky dialogue, after which his journey begins, with a troupe of bad guys in pursuit.
That pursuit is more of a canter than a gallop, giving you plenty of time to tick off the boxes in your Eye Spy Book of Western Tropes. Those well-worn ideas sway a little too close to cliché early on – boots clack on floorboards, spurs jingle, saloon doors swing open and beer glasses spill suds. All this hits you in the right spots when it comes to scene-setting, but it’s a bit like stumbling into your local bar to hear the resident cover band trot out the Paint Your Wagon OST for the thirtieth year in a row. Not only that, there are constant references to M. Ennenbach’s Hunger on the Chisholm Trail, in an attempt to build a shared universe (a character even shares the other author’s name), but these efforts rarely amount to more than a few cheeky hat-tips.
Sadly, the writing overall is pretty run of the mill, with many setpieces feeling like scenes from things you’ve seen or read before. The concept is the most original thing on offer, but the execution struggles to keep up, even when the larger threat suggested on the cover eventually rears its ugly tentacles. You have to plough through some unfortunate stereotypes before you encounter that calamitous calamari, including a black sidekick whose dialogue often lapses into old-timey vernacular (“yes suh” or “I ain’t said that” etc) so cringeworthy that it made me want to stop reading more than once.
On that point, there’s enough repetition and recapping too that you could probably skip the first quarter of the book and still know what’s going on. Dee probably explains his mission about three or four times in the first third, and seeing as there are bad guys on his trail, he seems very laid back. Even when the shit hits the proverbial fan, he stops to ponder his lot in life. He’s not exactly arrogant, but he’s rarely put in a bind he can’t slip out of, which means there’s little in the way of thrills, and all his “am I a bad man?” soul searching is pretty by-the-numbers too.
On the flip side, you have a bad guy whose very name – Dreary – doesn’t help matters much. He’s a pretty mediocre villain as villains go, not so much moustache-twirling as a fiddler of language. Imagine a more straight-laced version of Hedley Lamarr from Blazing Saddles, or Kenneth Branagh’s character from Wild Wild West, all sneers and cackles and not much else. Eventually, eldritch horrors emerge alongside a fresh sprinkling of bad guys when everyone finally reaches the titular town. The abominations stalking Dust’s darker recesses do little more than scamper in and out like gun fodder though, and the final fight offers little in the way of surprises.
With uneven pacing, a hero who seems incapable of failure and a bad guy bent on nothing more original than world domination, all that’s left to latch in to is the blood, guts and gore. And as goopy and schlocky as things get, all the spools of intestines in the world couldn’t lasso me in for another read.
1879: An unknown and timeless evil descends on East Texas.
James Dee, bestowed with knowledge from beyond, moves through time and space, pursuing age-old horrors and ending their reign.
As he seeks the hidden town of Dust to continue his lifework, another is hot on his heels, and will stop at nothing to rip the divine knowledge from Dee.
As these opposing forces collide, Dee becomes both hero and villian in his quest against the Elders.
He doesn’t have time to be sorry – THERE ARE GODS TO KILL
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.