Saturday, October 4, 2014

Review: The Mission by Ted E. Grau

I’ve always been partial to the Weird Western. My love of the weird, horror and fantasy has always been strong, but I didn’t truly appreciate the Western until I came across the gritty Spaghetti Western films directed by Sergio Leone. These films hit the sweet spot. There was the frontier setting, wild and lacking any controlling institution, bandits and vigilantes running rampant. Every man carried a six-shooter at the very least, forging his very own path through the dust and grime. These were tough sons-of-bitches, dealing with tough situations. Danger is a constant. The violent setting of the American West is horrific, so throwing supernatural horror into the mix just serves to up the ante. Lovecraftian and cosmic horror in particular has always seemed to be well-suited to the Western environment, giving an author a desolate, wide-open setting to place his horrors, making man feel quite alone before the horror even takes the stage.

T.E. Grau’s The Mission serves as prime example of what can be done when these two genres collide. The novella starts off with a typical Western plot; a group of Army men are on the hunt for a couple of Native Americans. Grau shows what can be accomplished when combining the West with the horrors of Lovecraft, as the men make some strange discoveries.

The tension of the group is already thick when the novel begins, with some members clashing over racial differences and just skimming the boiling point. Once the stage is set, the already palpable tension ratchets into overdrive for the remainder of the novella. As the group is beset by strange occurrences, such as finding an out of place town where a town shouldn’t be, the Captain does his best to stay cool and keep his group from tearing each other apart.

Some of The Mission brought to mind The Men From Porlock or Blackwood’s Baby by Laird Barron. All three stories are period pieces featuring groups of tough guys coming face to face with horrors beyond their comprehension. Grau nails the rough tone required to portray these types of characters, making for a story that has already moved high up on my list of favorite Weird Westerns.

The Mission was published by Jordan Krall’s Dunhams Manor Press, an imprint of Dynatox Ministries, as a very limited chapbook. orders.

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