And the Hills Opened Up by David Oppegaard © 2014 Burnt Bridge
Red Earth, Wyoming has a copper mine, an eager young sheriff, and four outlaws, led by Elwood Hayes, planning to rob the mining company’s payroll from weasely mine accountant, Revis Cooke. Red Earth also has a monster lurking in its mine, an indestructible Charred Man, who kills with impunity and regrows his flesh, inch by inch, with each murder. Everyone’s best laid plans go awry when the Charred Man is unearthed and goes on a rampage.
That was basically it, a monster in a Western, like Cowboys and Aliens and also Oppegaard’s Wormwood, Nevada. No particular reason for the Charred Man’s existence, and he didn’t seem to symbolize anything, except perhaps to be a play on today’s Burning Man festival. The Charred Man was just something to shoot at, and run from, and to kill off folks who did and didn’t deserve it. But Oppegaard presented enough sympathetic relationships—between the sheriff and his family, Hayes and the good-hearted prostitute, the town preacher and God—to keep me turning pages to find out who would live and who wouldn’t, and if they’d figure out some way to stop ol’ Charred.
The ending in Hills was a downer that didn’t really tie up anything, plot-wise, but by the time I got there I’d enjoyed 250 pages of monsters and shootouts. Far from great, but it wasn’t supposed to be. It was supposed to be escapist fun, and there’s nothing wrong with a book like that. I’ll open up a space on my bookshelf for Hills.