By Edward M. Erdelac (Damnation Press; 2009)
This is the first of Edward M. Erdelac’s MERKABAH RIDER series of weird westerns. These books are dominated by the title character, a curly-haired gunman with a most unique set of talents: he’s a supernaturally endowed Jewish mystic, having been inducted into an ancient order as a young man. He rides an onager (a donkey-like horse) and is armed with a gold-gilded antique pistol that won’t fire unless its user wears a special alchemically-anointed ring. The Rider’s overriding mission is to track down his former master Adon, who years earlier turned to evil, and avenge his crimes.
As in the DARK TOWER series, the MERKABAH books are composed of standalone stories, each presenting the Rider with a new adversary to overcome. The first of MERKABAH RIDER’S tales, “Blood Libel,” adequately sets the tone for what is to follow: here the Rider enters a mining town harboring a Jewish settlement called Little Jerusalem, where the demon Molech, the “marshal of hell,” is leading a rogue cult. Taking Molech down involves an astral journey to the Yenne Velt where ghosts reside–unfortunately, while the Rider’s spirit is away his body is dragged off by an anti-Semitic mob to be lynched!
“The Dust Devils” follows, which sees the Rider entering another town, this one lorded over by an ex-slave Brujo (male witch) who has bewitched the townspeople for his own diabolical purposes. Next up is “Hell’s Hired Gun,” the bloodiest chapter herein. It opens with the Rider confronting a mass slaughter right out of EL TOPO, committed by a bitter man under the influence of dybbukim (evil spirits). Finally there’s “The Nightjar Women,” the lengthiest and most powerful of the book’s contents. Here the Rider takes on Lilith, the demon mother who seduced Adam in the Garden of Eden and birthed the Queens of Hell, a trio of demon succubi who seduce men in dreams–including the Rider himself, who despite swearing off sex years earlier feels his long-dormant carnal instincts stirring to life. Much striking imagery is contained in this tale, including a pair of sentient eyeballs and the unforgettably gruesome description of the aforementioned Queens of Hell, marked by mutations and running sores.
Such imagery suffuses this elegantly written book, which mixes slam-bang western action with authentic folklore from various cultures, along with a dash of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. It contains all the surreal weirdness one could possibly desire, and presents it in admirably straightforward, non-campy fashion.