Title: Red Winter
Author: Clark Hayes
Publisher: Pumpjack Press
May Contain Spoilers
Sheriff Early Hardiman has seen a lot of bad things in his life, but nothing could have prepared him for the first Vampire to visit the Old West. It’s 1890 and winter is closing like a noose around tiny LonePine, Wyoming. When the snows come and the train stops and the passes are buried, there’s only one way to leave LonePine — boots up in a pine box. For Sheriff Hardiman, once one of the fastest guns in the West, it’s another four months of watching over the foolish and the foolhardy and praying for spring. At least he has the lovely Miss Grace, his new wife and former madam of the infamous Pearl, to keep him company. Then a murderer turns up out of the cold and dark. People are being killed and not in the usual way, either — they are dying hard, tortured and drained of their blood. Worse, it appears Miss Grace may be next on their list.
How do you kill someone who just won’t stay dead? It will take more than a steady hand filled with a blazing six shooter if anyone in LonePine lives through the Red Winter.
Fans of "The Cowboy and the Vampire" (Midnight Ink, 2010) know that LonePine will see its share of Vampires in another 120 years. But in 1890, no one had yet imagined the kind of terror Jericho Whistler brings with him to Wyoming when he hunkers down for a long winter of feasting on humans.
I picked up this novella because I was in the mood for a story with a winter setting. We had just gotten a fresh coating of snow, so I thought it would be fun to curl up under a comforter and stay warm while reading about characters who weren’t as cozy as I. Better yet, the western town of LonePine is being terrorized by a murderer, and the residents are cowering in fear, wondering who will be next to meet a bloody, violent end.
Early Hardiman is a mostly reformed gunslinger. He is the sheriff of LonePine, a tiny town where nothing much happens. Until a series of grisly murders destroys the usual peaceful streets. With winter closing in and a killer to track down, Early has his hands full. Can he capture the murderer before more of his friends are brutally slaughtered? When a stranger comes to town, Early is immediately suspicious. As the body count rises, he is convinced that Jericho Whistler is involved in the crimes. But Jericho is dead. Or is he?
I loved the western setting of Red Winter. It’s 1890, and the town is both small and isolated. One good snowfall with trap everyone in town, leaving them sitting ducks to the murderer preying on the citizenry. I liked the gruff Early, too. He is far from perfect, but he takes his job of protecting his neighbors seriously. Early believes he’s seen death in all of its awful forms, but even he is aghast by the degree of violence committed against the victims. The bodies have been dismembered, blood spattered everywhere. The sense of urgency is overwhelming. Early has to capture the murderer before he strikes again, but he isn’t having much luck. And he just killed his only suspect. Some days it’s just not worth getting out of a warm bed.
I was totally engaged in this story from the first page, and I read it in one sitting. Early is a flawed but likable character. He’s under an incredible amount of pressure to stop the murderers, and the stress is making him cranky. He doesn’t believe in the supernatural, even when all of the evidence points in that direction, and his dismissal of Joe’s warnings results in yet more deaths. Early’s reluctance to believe in undead assailants worked perfectly in this story. Why would he accept that vampires exist? He believes in things he can see – fists and guns and a hanging noose – but a monster that delights in pain and bloodshed? Not going to happen.
This is a short, exciting read with a super bad villain you will love to hate, and a reluctant hero you want cheer for.
Review copy provided by Bewitching Book Tours