Here is a tale of a calculating sheriff chiselled from a reluctant soldier. After joining up to fight alongside his brother in the civil war, Sam Moses lost all that was dear to him. His life was one thing not dear to him at all, and while wishing for the sweet release of death he becomes the most feared gunman in the west. His only wish is that someone else would draw fast enough, aim true enough, and end his life since suicide just does not fit into his law.
Flowing like an episode of cherished westerns or serial paperbacks favoured by the genre, “The Law of Moses” lays it down proper. Small amounts of humour, and ample bloodshed keep the wheels greased for this horror fan. If there is something to be found in the western drama for readers, it is a tale of honour played out on the dusty dry landscape that author Kwen Griffeth paints for us with all the sand, wood, and horseflesh we imagine.
Set in the small town of Puebla Fresa – named after the strawberries that grew alongside the nearby La Ria de Fresa – Moses is the new sheriff of an idyllic pre-1900 western village. Meeting barman Ed West, who becomes the closest thing to a friend Moses will allow, comes in the first chapter and a vicious fight in his saloon. A great way to start out as we see Moses lay down the law, and learn a little about our iron-fisted hero. Little bits of his past are woven into the story as we go along. Artfully, this never feels like straight exposition. Although we do hear most of his past in whispers among townsfolk, it fits with a character that is not forthcoming. The dark and cold sheriff we meet has a past that shaped him into the fearsome man he has become. Therein lies the basis of the law, aside from a gnawing death-wish: Moses needs to be all the man he can be, not the man he became. This is what he expects of others too, and if they misstep, they are destined to pay the price he sees fit.
When not told by way of gossip about “Suicide Sam” or “Crazy Moses”, we learn much about him in flashbacks to his past. Handled well and never jarring from the main story, we learn of his brother Luke Moses and just why their mother wished them to war. Patsy Brown is a love interest, which clashes nicely with the abstinent and cold sheriff we know. These characters long forgotten are mirrored slightly in WIlliam and Laura Stoddard. As much as West and the local blacksmith Lincoln Lincoln – yes, first name and last – are the closest thing to Moses’ friends, the Stoddard’s start out as more of a thorn in his side. By then though, we are pretty sure most of Moses’ life has been made of thorns so that fits his unwelcoming and weather-beaten demeanour.
Shakespeare and the work of Jane Austen make appearances in the book, adding to the literary flavour that is hinted at here and there. The mechanics of the book are steeped in genre, from Civil War slang and cowboy etiquette, to how to train a horse and the high cost of fresh milk. Underneath is the craft of drama, and plot tactics at home with those familiar with those literary greats.
The only thing I can never buy into, and not just in “The Law of Moses” but many stories, is when so many people go along with the lead character with only passing protest or question. Be it a hair-brained scheme or playing the part in a plan to which they have no privy, why the word of the main character is akin to the word of a god I have no idea. Having watched “Gone With the Wind’ not too long ago, that image of the war and the charm of the Old South is fresh in my mind. Otherwise, I‘m no expert on the era but am happy to say this story didn’t expect much of me. On the other hand, it is peppered with much historical Americana so the buffs will be served a fine dish of lore.
More than the lone star pinned to one man’s chest in “The Law of Moses” I would easily rate this story by Kwen Griffeth with four of five stars. As the story starts with such a bang, or a bang bang bang, there were less bangs to be had as we rode into the sunset with our dark hero. Some very brutal and imaginative moments await as Samuel lays down his version of the law, and I don’t know if it was the near promise of his demise or simply the rage and fearfulness he instilled had been put to pasture. Regardless, the four stars that light this lonely sky come with a good pace, well written theatrical scenery, and just enough levity during a very bleak tale, making this a western worth the whistle-stop.
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.