Doc said “everything here is a nightmare,” and that sure does ring a bell. Readers of Pyles’ fiction, specifically his collected works in “Everything Here is a Nightmare” will recognize these characters from the story “Just Enough Rope”. With cover art by Jeanette Andromedea, ‘Spiders in the Daffodils‘ is an expansion on the western theme was long awaited by followers of the author.
We follow the strange journey of Tom Wall from a young man to esteemed Texas Ranger, one of the fastest guns in his jurisdiction. That jurisdiction, fittingly, is wherever he finds himself to be. From thieves and scum to whores, Tom had seen it all, and among the whores he discovers the feisty Veronique. In a blink, he is drawn into her world and her history, and while the two are separated but a blink in time afterward, they cross paths much later. By then he is young enough to start again but retired from Ranger life and she has wound up the sheriff of a small town herself. Together, they hunt down the supernatural forces that have dogged them for years. Now, there is much more at stake with their daughter Josephine in the mix and the little girl has secrets of her own.
As wonderfully juxtaposed as the title images are, the idea of a supernatural creature at home in the Old West mingles well In Pyles’ latest novel. We have our hero, in the gruff Ranger named Tom Wall. As unmovable as he seems, we have the resourceful and lovely Veronique who clings to his emotional cracks then flourishes, blooming into a hero alongside him. Between them, there is romance and mystery set in a world of gunslingers where the heat bakes the earth and whip cracks sting more than horseflesh.
In episode 402 of The 9th Story podcast, alongside Dan Foytik and Jeanette the artist herself, there is talk of the development of ‘Spiders in the Daffodils’ and Pyles reads a short excerpt. This is a two-part interview and discussion with the author that offers valuable insight into where the book came from and unearths gems of the writing process as they talk. With this, we meet Stephan Trask, a formidable foe, which really rounds the story out and introduces the devastation of the monstrous supernatural forces secreted in the saloon backrooms and blasting out of flimsy jail cells across the west.
As the book begins with a young girl subject to depraved gore and vampiric destruction in Romania at the dawn of the 19th century, we are no stranger to the creatures. By the time we have hints they have persisted one hundred years later, we are eager to meet them again. Or fearful, as we should be since even Veronique and Tom hardly know what they are up against. Nelson has created a very pleasing and terrifying amalgam of creatures known and imagined with the strigoi style of long-lived, seemingly immortal creatures that prey upon humans while living mingled among them for centuries. On one hand, we have their incredible strength and bloodlust, and as with any great supra-human lays a certain enchantment, be it beauty or artful guile.
Coming to ‘Spiders in the Daffodils’ for either the horror and adventure serve the reader well with a well-written dose of genre dabbling they may not have bargained for. A happy accident, if you approached Pyles’ work without knowing his style which is rooted in writing great relationships, really knowable characters, visceral gore when needed, and dark tints to the most brightly lit horizons ahead. The story never needlessly meanders so the goals as they unfold are compelling with the whimsy of new creatures along with natural jargon of the time that works wonderfully in this well-tended garden.
Addendum! I’d entirely left out the most wonderful full disclosure here, as Nelson is not only a fellow author and friend, but as original host and creator of The Wicked Library – he is a hero who I am forever in debt to. Giving a voice to my stories and the stories of hundreds more is something special. Not many readers and authors get to pay it forward so far in advance as Nelson. Cheers, for starting one of the premier short horror story shows, and cheers on this book release. Here is to many more, sir!
This was a review written of my own free will, with a graciously supplied copy of the e-book by the author. Thank you, Nelson! Otherwise, I have taken a position reviewing books from independent authors. While not all are horror, there is a thread of darkness through them regardless of genre. As with honest paid reviews, there will be personal reaction as well as comparative and critical analysis. If you are an author that would like me to review your work, contact me for rates and a summary of your novel, short story, or collection.