By Brennan LaFaro
The weird western sub-genre that horror seems to be embracing has so much to offer up right now, and John Boden’s Walk the Darkness Down is an entry that just can not be missed. Lately we’ve seen westerns mixed with the fantastic, vampires, and zombies, but here we get an 1860’s dirty, gritty gunslinger tale mixed with elements of cosmic horror. Boden truly does an excellent job of establishing the aesthetic of the old west before taking us to some pretty far-out places. The main protagonists tend to speak in short, clipped phrases, the way we might expect Clint Eastwood to carry them.
The story follows two men named Keaton and Jones, who for different reasons are propelled forward on the path of a madman named Levi, who is razing every town he comes to. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when it happens, but we become strangely invested in the outcome of these characters. Along the way we meet Jubal, a child who with his young sisters (the less said about these 2 at the outset, the better) joins Keaton in tracking down Levi. Destiny, fate, or whatever you’d like to call it, brings everyone together for the third act. As we approach the climax, we find out what exactly Levi’s actions have been leading towards, and if you’re not horrified by where we’re headed, you’re not paying attention.
In Levi, Boden has created one of the most menacing and god-forsaken villains I’ve ever seen put to page. Every time a chapter featuring his point-of-view presented itself, I found myself simultaneously reluctant and eager to see what would be contained within. Watching his story progress is a bit like driving by the scene of a car accident. We learn early on that his actions are not necessarily his own. This helps us sympathize a bit, but also gives a glimpse of the craziness to come.
Walk the Darkness Down clocks in at 156 pages, but it still took me a couple weeks to read. Certainly not because the story wasn’t engaging, but more because of the literary quality of the writing. It begs for extra time to be processed and digested. The prose and the imagery remind us as much of Cormac McCarthy as the monstrosities (human and otherwise) remind us of Stephen King and his visits to Mid-World. What is also readily apparent is how much Boden enjoyed writing this work. Every page is filled with a storyteller’s passion, as well as a lot of fun allusions to writers within the genre.
If horror westerns are up your alley, I truly enjoyed reading this one and I think you will too. If you haven’t gotten around to any yet, this is a hell of a place to start. If you think this genre is not for you, maybe Mr. Boden can change your mind. I will be revisiting this lush world again, and I wouldn’t mind too much if John Boden had the same thought.