Book 2 in Death’s Head Press’s Splatter Western series, Hunger on the Chisholm Trail by first-time novelist M. Ennenbach, features one of horror lits most underutilized (and most frightening) creatures to deliver the requisite blood and gore to this weird western tale.
The town of Duncan is a new settlement. The townsfolk are few and the land surrounding it is barren and desolate, but it is a town where everyone is able to enjoy as peaceful, laidback a life as the West will allow. When an incoming cattle drive brings word of a monster haunting the plains, one hungry for human flesh and impervious to bullets, nobody wants to believe the stories, until they see the awful truth with their own eyes.
Enter Karl Beck: Monster Hunter. Mr. Beck has encountered and fought all manner of creatures and beasts in his day, and none have survived to tell their tale, but the deathless monster that stalks the town of Duncan may be beyond even his powers to stop. He and his newfound friends must band together to try before there is no town left to save.
The Wendigo is an absolutely inspired choice as an antagonist for a Splatter Western book, hailing from Northern America and being cannibalistic ticks both boxes beautifully, and Ennenbach uses the creature to great effect in Hunger on the Chisholm Trail. When it appears on the page, it has a unique and disquieting presence, menacing and sincerely scary, and it was these scenes that help this book stand apart from other books in this incredibly high-quality series.
Unlike other Splatter Westerns I’ve read to date, Hunger on the Chisholm Trail is fairly slow-paced (at least by the standards set in other entries). A lot of time is dedicated to getting to know characters and, while there are a number of set pieces featuring creature feature action throughout, it’s not until the book’s closing chapters that things really take off. It’s big in scale and scope, introducing a lot of different characters, all of whom get their moment in the spotlight and feel three dimensional as a result. Nobody feels introduced simply to be fodder for the Wendigo and when characters are dispatched, it matters, and I enjoyed this approach a great deal.
The finale makes up for a largely slow-burn build-up, ramping up the action and spectacle when a whole town becomes under siege, racking up a big body count and tossing characters around in a manic fight for survival. It was an exciting and satisfying conclusion to a well-paced story that builds up tension and dread just as effectively as it delivers on the expected carnage and violence. Fans of the series should also watch out for a fun teaser for the next book in the series (Dust by Chris Miller).
Overall, Hunger on the Chisholm Trail is another strong entry in a series that any and all horror fans should be reading. The slower pace allows more time for characters to develop, but the spotlight is definitively stolen by the book’s featured monster, which is as frightening as it is memorable. A great read.
Hunger on the Chisholm Trail by M Ennenbach
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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.
DescriptionThe 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.