No one is safe in a 19th-century Alabama town devastated by the Civil War, gripped by a hideously perverted religion and haunted by rabies.
Maintaining the dark tone of his excellent first novel, Hell at the Breech (2003), Franklin goes for the gothic in a weirdly fascinating and minimally punctuated tale of evil personified. The nexus of it all seems to be E.O. Smonk, a syphilitic and (despite his resemblance to a snuff-dipping orangutan) sexually irresistible murderer, who opens the story by walking into a kangaroo court that the town of Old Texas has arranged for his trial and blowing away the mob ready to lynch him. Not that he was ever in any real danger. Smonk had stationed a backup team with a refined, brutally powerful machine gun outside the hotel-turned-courthouse; he had bribed the judge; he was armed to the teeth even after disposing of several sidearms at the courtroom door; the bailiff is a former sidekick. Smonk does suffer one loss: the mule he rode in on. The bailiff’s young son William, paid to watch the beast, rides the mule away from the melee in panicked grief, believing that his father had been among those killed. William wanders until he takes up with Evavangeline, a teenaged whore with no last name who is being pursued by Christian Deputy Phail Walton. Captain Walton, a Philadelphian whose repressions have made him very nearly mad as a hatter, has somehow talked a troupe of men into joining his cause, an action they will find disastrous. All of them cross the path of the dying Smonk, who is on his own quest to find out why there are no children or dogs in Old Texas, and what the creepy widows have been up to.
Horror and history rendered with gusto and buckets of blood.