As a weird western fan, I’m always on the look out for new weird westerns, especially good ones. So when R. S. Belcher’s The Six Gun Tarot came out, I was hopeful that it was one of the good ones. That novel, which introduced the western town of Golgotha and detailed the city’s defense against an ancient evil, exceeded all of my expectations.
The even better news: its sequel, The Shotgun Arcana, continues Belcher’s strong showing in the genre.
The Shotgun Arcana takes place in Golgotha, a growing frontier city at the center of numerous supernatural occurrences. Defending Golgotha against these strange threats are many of the defenders introduced in the first book. Sherriff John Highfather, the hanged man, Deputy Mutt, the shapeshifter, and young Deputy Jim Negrey. Also back are Maude Stapleton, member of the secret society of The Daughters of Lilith, and Harry Pratt, the mayor of Golgotha and bearer of the sacred relics of the Mormon Faith.
The Six-Gun Tarot introduced us to the angel Malachi Bick, also known as Biqa. Bick’s concerns these days are mostly for himself, though he is at the center of this book’s conflict. Bick is the guardian of an old skull—a skull with the dark power to warp men’s minds. Years ago, Bick lost track of the skull and when he later recovered it, the skull’s teeth had gone missing. In The Shotgun Arcana, a mysterious stranger named Ray Zeal appears with a group of minions, each one bearing of one of the skull’s teeth. They’ve come looking for the skull, and they are willing to take apart Golgotha to get it.
But that doesn’t cover everything that happens in this book. Other returning characters include Clay Turlough, the town’s resident mad scientist, who recently brought his love back to life. New characters including former pirate Black Rowan and Pinkerton agent Kate Warne join in the action. And there’s a certain murderer going around town, cutting up prostitutes in disturbing ways.
In particular, Belcher is great at crafting kick-ass women. And by that I don’t just mean women who are good at kicking ass. These are interesting individuals with their own motivations and goals and outlooks who also happen to be pretty formidable and can throw down with any of the book’s characters.
If I have one criticism of the novel, it’s that it’s really dark and violent. That’s not always a bad thing, but on top of the murder and cannibalism there’s also a lot of prostitute murder and rape threats that pushed my buttons a bit. Still, these are not the main focus of the novel, and thankfully the majority of the threats to the town and its various characters are more complex.
The Shotgun Arcana is a fine follow-up to the excellent The Six-Gun Tarot and what I hope is another installment in what will become a long-running series. A must-have for weird western fans.