Vol II – The Road to Hellfire
By Michael Panush
Curiosity Quills Press
After reading Michael Panush’s first collection starring his western Frankenstein-like monster last year, I was eager to dig into this second volume. This one contains seven new tales of Clayton Cane, a man assembled by a Confederate scientist during the last days of the Civil War from the parts of dead soldiers. Hoping to replenish the ranks of the failing Southern legions, the scientist used voodoo magic to animate the man he had stitched together but then perished before he could duplicate the process. Thus El Mosaico, as he is called by Mexicans, is one of a kind, roaming the world seeking purpose and salvation. Or so he believes.
In RATS, Cane finds himself in New York City at the bidding of a several powerful politicians. A rat infestation has been plaguing their district and they hire Cane to find the source and eliminate the pests. But to do so the stitched-up hero must confront a vengeful wraith and put it to rests as only he can.
In APACHE GOLD, Cane and a lady school teacher are captured by a gang of outlaws and dragged along into the Arizona wilderness to find an old Spanish gold mine now protected by the angry spirits of long dead Conquistadors.
AT COFFIN’S CLOSE brings the patchwork gunfighter to New Orleans to help the only friend he ever had; a man dead for many years. It’s a gruesome tale of voodoo, zombies and a fanatical ex-Confederate Officer bent on taking control of the city. One of our favorites from this collection.
Then Cane hires out as a guard on a wagon train going through the high mountains in the deep of winter. While crossing the cursed stretch known as BLOOD PASS, they are set upon by a brood of vampires and quickly imprisoned in caves to be fed upon.
THE MAKING OF A GUNSLINGER has Clayton Cane crossing paths with an Eastern writer of dime novels who wants to chronicles his exploits. But when the two encounter an old foe from Cane’s past, neither may live long enough to finish any story at all.
Next Cane travels to San Francisco’s Chinatown and hires out to a Tong leader whose opium den is being haunted by a malevolent HUNGRY GHOST. When he learns the secret behind this voracious poltergeist, Cane switches allegiances to lie to rest a suffering soul.
As in others of his collections, Panush ends this one with a novella; ON ANGEL’S WINGS. Cane is followed by a motley crew of past acquaintances to a Texas town called Hellfire which is about to be set upon by the very man who created him, Dr. Adolphus Angell. Cane had assumed Dr. Angell had perished in the last days of the Civil War but now learns his creator is not only alive but has made a company of patchwork men fashioned after Cane and with them plans on conquering the world. To do so he requires unique minerals found in the land beyond Hellfire called the Silver Mesa. Thus to reach this spot and mine the sought after element he is willing to slaughter an entire town unless Cane stop him.
ON ANGEL’S WINGS is a great finale bringing Clayton Cane’s story full circle as he confronts the evil genius who made him and must wrestle with his own destiny. Can a man created only for war aspire to something grander? The gunfighter known as El Mosaico is about the find the answer to the question as will those readers smart enough to grab this truly outstanding book. If you like weird westerns, they do not come any better than this.