“We just did an awesome job of not dying.” ― John Green
Some did, at least. Some didn’t do a great job at all of not dying, and now some of those who failed at the not dying part aren’t so much dead as they are undead, which is the same as not alive only scarier and more animated. Confused? Well, in Belkins Pass and Venom Valley, there is a difference; trust me, there’s a significant difference.
Two words: Vamp. Ires. Oh, and did I mention the little necromancy issue? There’s also a necromancy issue. That’s a lot of dead people who won’t seem to stay dead, and they cause no small amount of problems for the living (the actual living people, not the unalive ones who just keep moving).
I’ve been waiting for the second book in Hank Edwards’ Venom Valley series for what seems like forever. There was a terrible cliffhanger in Cowboys & Vampires (originally titled Bounty), after all, so it was kind of hard to wait. And now… well, there’s another cliffhanger. Hm. Okay, it’s great, and I must say, for maximum levels of tension and anticipation and danger and suspense, Stakes & Spurs was well worth the wait.
Balthazar is the ages-old vampire who’s making an army of undead out of just about everyone in and near the vicinity of Belkins Pass, and when we last left our heroes, Dexter Wells and Josh Stanton, Balthazar had kidnapped Dex and spirited him away to a cave hidden on the fringes of Venom Valley, where Balthazar has now made the act of living seem, by degrees, a little less appealing to Dex. It’s at times a hopeless and helpless bit of hell for Dex, but it’s his memories of Josh that keep alive the burning spark of desire to escape and find his way back to the man he loves.
Josh still has a bounty on his head for a murder he didn’t commit, and Glory, the half-breed former prostitute with a spectral spirit shield called Ohanzee, is still at Josh’s side, trying to help him find a way back to Dex and avoid the law at the same time. When they fall right into the hands of the sheriff and his deputy, Josh and Glory get a little unexpected and decidedly gory help to escape, only to end up in the ghost town that is now Belkins Pass, now concentrating mostly on staying alive but also working to formulate a plan to kill vampires and rescue Dex.
Heroes and heroines and horrors abound, right alongside foes and friends and a flickering of temptation that kept me on my toes, hoping that the temptation wouldn’t be so great as to become irresistible. It’s a problem I’m still looking at squinty eyed and suspiciously. Personally, I can’t wait to see where Mr. Edwards is going with it. I hope I like where he takes me.
The Venom Valley serial is the best sort of Old West episodic adventure, if you like books that crisscross realism and fantasy and history. It blends the sway in the saddle, gun-slinging charm of the time with the heaping helping of spooks and chills and things that suck blood in the night suspense of a paranormal thriller. There’s no other way to spell it out than to say these books are a purely entertaining blend of horror and romance, and since Hank Edwards saw fit to leave me with another cliffhanger, one that promises a war ahead in which some of the casualties have already happened (army of the undead, anyone?), I guess I can see my way clear to waiting impatiently for Book Three to come along and pull me back from the edge.