Dead Men Walking by J.K. Hulon is a fascinating, compelling read, a novel definitely deserving of a wider distribution than what it had until now.

Dead Men Walking by J.K. Hulon, review by Marco PivaTitle: Dead Men Walking
Author: J.K. Hulon
self published (October 2012)
Format: Kindle eBook/trade paperback

Texas, August 1955. As a Ranger arrests a group of criminals while buck naked (yes, there is a reason for that), the Sheriff of a small town dies, shot in the face. As the Sheriff’s Deputy starts worrying about having to investigate the murder of his former boss, the Ranger walks into town (now dressed, albeit quite shabbily) with his prisoners. He is Andrew Jackson “Red” Horne, a war veteran with a fame for being relentless in the pursuit of justice. But he had been missing for two years.

As Red agrees to take over the investigation on the murder, the Sheriff’s house is burnt down. In it is the corpse of the Sheriff’s wife – stone cold despite the blaze. Under the house, the Ranger finds a cellar in which the deceased lawman kept some documents that make Red understand that the Sheriff was hiding something very big, something that might have caused his death.

Dead Men Walking is the self-published début novel by Texan J.K. Hulon; a sequel, The Hammer of Hephaestus, is already out, and I’m sure that there’s more to follow, featuring Red or not. The setting definitely reminds of a Wild West novel, despite being set in the mid 1950s, and the fact that the main character is a Texas Ranger obviously adds to that impression. But the mysteries Red comes face to face with and certain thoroughly inexplicable events bring Dead Men Walking closer to a particularly fascinating episode of The X-Files.

Horne has something of the best Clint Eastwood characters: he is laconic, tough, at the beginning of the story he walks into town exactly in the right moment and takes charge. And he smokes cigars. If he wasn’t described having a handlebar moustache, it’d be difficult to imagine him not looking like a young Eastwood (I ended up picturing him like a younger Sam Elliott instead). But, differently from what happened with the character in Sergio Leone’s films, we get to see some snippets of Red’s personal life, to witness the strained but affectionate relationship he has with his brother and sister, to understand his troubles and doubts. And to see him push through everything.

The only relevant issue I have with Dead Men Walking is the finale. I won’t anticipate anything, but what I can say is that… well, it’s not exactly conclusive. It obviously is a trick to push the reader to buy and read the next instalment in the series, and it’s probably effective (or at least I wish the author it is), but I personally don’t really like it.

Ignoring that (and, believe me, it’s a minor thing), Dead Men Walking is a fascinating, compelling read, a novel definitely deserving of a wider distribution than what it had until now.