Jonathan Janz has a way with words (sometimes requiring me to grab a dictionary), but that’s okay! His story, Dust Devils, set in New Mexico in the 1880s, chronicles the journey of Cody, a vengeful young man whose wife is slaughtered by a troupe of vampires masquerading as actors.
Thank God Janz subscribes to the notion that vampires are evil creatures that torment and murder without remorse. Teenage girls looking for forlorn, pasty-skinned vampires who’ve never had a pimple and who attend high school to blend in will find no sanctuary here.
It would be simplistic and a disservice to say Dust Devils, released earlier this year by Samhain Horror, is a tale of one man seeking revenge on those who wronged him. It’s a story that touches on the definition of masculinity in a harsh world (harsh to Cody even before the vampires entered his life). It’s also a love story between father and son, husband and wife. It’s a story about loss (be it a marriage or a loved one) and how best to cope with it. This makes Cody a man with feeling, a man who tries to fight back tears but can’t–and this separates him from cookie-cutter Western heroes whose only characteristic is ruggedness and who view women merely as subordinates. Janz does a fine job creating characters you root for (many times I found myself thinking, “How the hell is Cody going to get out of this mess this time?”). Janz also writes his vampires so you root against them. By and large they’re not tragic, fallen figures (although even here Janz may surprise you a teensy bit) and will kill just as soon as look at you.
Janz cites Cormac McCarthy as an influence, and I found myself thinking of “Blood Meridian” a time or two. I enjoyed Dust Devils infinitely more, primarily because I didn’t stumble upon any unwieldy McCarthy-like sentences like this:
“The riders spurred their horses to gallop toward a merciless sun that scorched the outlaws’ grimy skin but they paid it no mind as all but the frontriding Judge inhaled the dirt kicked rearward by the horse ahead and they were fine with it because none of the filibusterers had eaten anything to nourish their bellies other than gecko skewed from mouth to anus and spit-rotated until the flesh blistered and cracked but all the men had to admit inhaling hoof-flung dirt and confused insects paled in comparison to devouring gecko meat that tasted even better with a paprika mix that Toadvine somehow conjured and the Kid rejoiced eating as it reminded him of something the obese whore Wilma cooked up for him before they slaughtered the Comanches and scalped the heads of the dead and suffering living caring not for the pain inflicted valuing only the money they would be paid for their ungodly toil.”
But I digress. Dust Devils isn’t just for fans of the vampire or Western genres, it can be read and enjoyed by fans of literary fiction who don’t mind a splash (sometimes big ones) of blood here and there.