The Hangman Feeds the Jackal: A Gothic Western, by Coy Hall
Elijah Valero is a gunfighter afflicted with terrifying hallucinations, including a pervasive one of The Hangman out to kill him.
Dogged by the relentless specter of the Hangman, Valero mistakenly kills innocent victims and is forced to hide in an abandoned monastery for his own safety and for those of others. Once there, he encounters far greater dangers than the imaginary Hangman, and gains a bid for redemption as he faces down some silver-hungry drifters out to terrorize a town for its riches. Fans of the Weird West and Gothic Horror will find satisfaction in THE HANGMAN FEEDS THE JACKAL.
My Review (4.25 out of 5 )
The Hangman Feeds the Jackal: A Gothic Western is an excellent horror novel by Coy Hall, and a really original twist on the genre. I feel that giving a numeric rate to this book is somehow unfair, as it is really unique, so in the end, my score is more a reflection of my enjoyment while reading because I think the craft is marvelous, and that it is really brave to touch some themes as mental illnesses in a horror setting. I have to admit that I was a little bit scared of the western subgenre from a horror author, mostly due to my bad experience with The Gunslinger, but this novel has managed to get a place among my favourite 10 horror plays. Let’s go into details.
The novel starts following Elijah Valero, an outlaw and a gunman, who is seeking refuge in the old ruins of a monastery. The encounter of an old man, also refuging in the same ruins, and the subsequent acts will show us how the mind of Valero works. The mysterious Spyder person, who is whispering in Valero’s ear, and guiding his acts, supposedly to help him avoid getting caught by the Hagman, is a good reflection of his mind. Valero is a sick person, somebody who is fighting against his own demons, against this mind, probably a sort of paranoid schizophrenia (disclaimer: this is not a diagnosis), which is aggravated by what he experienced in the past. I wouldn’t say he is a psychopath per sé, but his fame precedes him.
Making an interesting use of multi POVs, we will soon know Felix, whose horrendous acts are not more but a reflection of his psychopathic personality. In a scene that remembers us that we should not be too comfy, as we are in a horror novel, Felix assassins all his family and runs away, reaching the same monastery where Valero is staying. All of these mark the start of a great story, a gothic western, where our characters and their decisions will gain importance, keeping Valero in the main spotlight, but where the actions of Felix and the people who he joins will get capital importance.
Not wanting to incur spoilers, but basically, Felix and Elijah act as different faces of the same coin, exemplifying how our acts, and sometimes just a supportive person, can bring these people to different extremes. Elijah is a person whose inner demons are persecuting him, but his encounter with the gravedigger of the town will help him to have a redemption arc, which will be marked just by somebody showing some empathy to him, somebody who doesn’t treat Valero as a dog (and I seriously enjoyed this arc, because it feels so natural). On the other hand, Felix gets involved with some criminals, and people who only feed her natural tendency to do evil, making him a bigger monster than he was at the start.
The action gets a place in a frontier place of the West, near Mexico, in the best style for a good western. The inclusion of some locations as it can be the monastery also helps to bring the gothic touch to the mix, as it can also be said from the hour where the main action happens. I would also like to take a moment to admire how the prose is used in this novel, with short and precise paragraphs, making the pace frenetic, using the words as a scalpel sectioning body parts. Shooting scenes are extremely well described, being super clear on what’s happening in each moment, but keeping an adequate level of hidden chaos in the background.
The use of flashbacks allows us to know more about Valero, the abuses he suffered in his childhood, the mental problems that his mother suffered (probably the same kind he is suffering right now), and how that has shaped his past. But again, this is a story that talks about redemption, and how people who suffer a mental illness can reach redemption with the help of a good person, in a mime on how nowadays the main problem with this kind of illness is invisibilization.
I really enjoyed reading this novel, while having that discomfort sensation that a good horror book should give to you. I think this story is great for horror lovers and something that western aficionados can also enjoy. The Hangman Feeds the Jackal is a great mix between two really different genres and has become one of my favourite horror novels.
Coy Hall lives in West Virginia with his wife, and they share a home with a clumsy Great Pyrenees. He splits time as an author of mysteries and horror and as a professor of history. His short stories have appeared in a variety of anthologies and magazines.
His first book, Grimoire of the Four Impostors, released in 2021 from Nosetouch Press. His second book, The Hangman Feeds the Jackal: A Gothic Western, released in 2022.
History has influenced his writing, with many of his stories set in the distant past – sometimes the real past, sometimes an imagined one, but most often a mix of the two.