THAT DAMNED COYOTE HILL by Heath Lowrance (2011)

Reviewed by Mike Dennis

Enigmatic stranger rides into town, kicks ass, rides out.

You’ve seen it a thousand times, right? Didn’t most Randolph Scott movies follow that story line? Some might say that terse little synopsis sums up Heath Lowrance’s short story, That Damned Coyote Hill. But if they said that, they’d fall way short of nailing the essence of this riveting western-horror-noir tale that defies all known genre boundaries. You’ve never seen that story line unfold like this.

Set in the Old West town of Coyote Hill, Lowrance’s stranger shows up in a driving rain as two fight promoters are issuing challenges on behalf of their fighter. Money changes hands, cowboys step up to face the fighter, aptly named Goliath Bunker, and the spectators look on, all of them oddly mute. Hawthorne, the laconic, Charles Bronson-ish stranger, steps forward and everything changes. I’ll just leave it at that.

Lowrance, who shot onto my radar with his terrific debut novel, The Bastard Hand, has shown he’s not afraid to take chances, to take the reader into parts utterly unknown. The beginning of The Bastard Hand threw me a real curve ball, catching me totally off guard, but his prose kept me turning the page. I know this about him now, so I’ll delve into anything he writes, knowing he can transport me to uncharted areas of fiction. And That Damned Coyote Hill fulfills that promise. Lowrance has vowed to keep the Hawthorne stories coming, and when he does, I’ll be there to pick up the next one.

A great story, highly recommended.

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