Once Upon A Fang In the West

By John Dover

The pitch for this novella sounds like the start of a joke: a cowboy, a vampire and a ghost walk into a bar…

This line should let you know what kind of a book you are in for. Dover has written a fast-paced, blood soaked western and filled it with vampires, ghosts and some kind of demon that likes to collect the teeth of its victims and make tea out them (the teeth that is, not the victims). On a superficial level this is all kinds of awesome and is a great premise for the book.

Dover gets us straight into the action with the opening chapters hurtling us through a bar fight, a death, a resurrection, a ghost and enough back story to fill another book. The pace doesn’t let up throughout, with short chapters (some frustratingly so) driving the story forward. I read the whole thing in three days, and this compulsion to keep reading is a strong positive.

Now, as a rule, I am not a fan of big books as they can be repetitive or too slow. This is a very short book, just a couple of hundred pages long, but it would have been absolutely amazing had it been longer.

For example, Samuel and Finn are two vampires with a massive history that is explained in a few pages. There is more than enough story there for a whole book which would have deepened their relationship and given more weight to the story. Similarly, William has a great past that is begging to be expanded: the former gunslinger, now drunk and living off the memory of those glory years. He’s also haunted by a kid he killed.

This is a recurring issue throughout the book: we are told things about these characters, rather than experiencing them. As a result, it is all tell, with very little show, and so it hard to feel any empathy or sympathy with the horrible things Dover unleashes on his cast.

The book reads like a pitch for a film (which would be awesome – a ghost, a vampire, a cowboy?? Come on, who doesn’t want to see that!), which is no bad thing. However, I was left wanting more.

So, to sum up, this is a fun if unfulfilling, read.

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