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Even Cowboys Battle Zombies

A Review of Dead Men Don’t Ride by L. Glen Enloe (Outlaws Publishing LLC 2017)

 

Following many years of writing and publishing literary free verse, and garnering a number of awards for that work, L. Glen Enloe became increasingly drawn to the history, lore and legend of the American Wild West and began honing a talent for composing cowboy poetry.  He published an informative article in the 2006 issue of Kansas City Voices magazine providing an overview of the genre, how he had developed a great enthusiasm for it and why it was enjoying a growing popularity.  [Disclosure: I served on the editorial board of Kansas City Voices at that time and was involved with the selecting and editing of that piece.]  Over time Enloe completed four collections of cowboy poetry; he then turned to Western fiction and demonstrated an equal facility in that category.  The recently published Dead Men Don’t Ride is his third novel.

Like the best Western writers before him, Enloe has studied his craft and the time period thoroughly and brings the setting, characters and dialogue alive with authenticity.  The narrative is one of nonstop action and plot twists galore.  The shootouts—and there are many—are depicted graphically in bloody detail.  Not for the squeamish nor the pacifist!

The tale begins with a foiled bank robbery and three unfortunate would-be robbers propped up against the mortuary wall in their pinewood coffins so the townspeople of Pratt, Kansas, can gather and gawk at them.  As the crowd meanders away, some young boys begin mischievously poking at the bodies with a stick and mocking them, when suddenly one stirs and starts to move.  The terrified boys scatter and the “dead man” crawls out of the coffin, commandeers an old man’s horse and gun and rides away.  He had clearly been shot in the head and the town’s denizens are left to ponder whether a dead criminal had somehow resurrected and might return in the night with evil intent to haunt and harass the local community.  Thus begins the saga of the “hoodoo” or “Coffin Man.”

The plot thickens as the reader is introduced to quite a cast of unsavory characters, many with varying ambitious and brutal schemes for power over the town following the death of the upstanding, law-enforcing sheriff and his deputy in an ambush while leading a posse after the other robbers who’d escaped unscathed.  There’s also the fallen-angel saloon singer, Betsy, whose affections are sought after by several of the townsmen, willing to commit even murder to claim her.  And finally, the only ray of hope for the reestablishment of law and civil order in the town is one U.S. Marshal Ernest Dollar, riding in from another territory after having completed his duties there.  The stage is then set for “the perfect storm,” and that’s precisely what the reader is given.

Enloe spares nothing in the depiction of the violent scenes, the smell of gun smoke virtually burning the reader’s nose:

“Gyp rose as if to head for the horses when the shooting started.  It was a mad thing of rage.  Gyp turned and shot at shadows.  Cleat screamed and shot wildly into the air as bullets from two sides pounded into him, standing him up like some grotesque rag doll dancing in mid-air before grinding him into the dirt and the night.

“Gypsy La Barca continued firing as he watched Cleat go down—then he ducked and ran toward the horses.  Two shots tore into him, but he kept moving and then dove into the side of his horse.  He somehow clawed his way into the saddle as another shot blew off his little finger and yet another grazed the side of his horse, sending it madly into the Kansas night and safety.”

Nevertheless, Enloe is also most capable of waxing poetic in some of his descriptions of time and place and human existence:

“But somewhere near, laughter roared out and they turned in wonder as if to grasp at the wind; as if for one last time to whistle the sad melody of life and that which lasts but briefly under the cruel grin of the skull of the moon.”

Some of the most emotionally gripping passages, however, come with the revelation of the “hoodoo” man’s thoughts—confused, amnesiac, lonely, lost.  Ever lurking in the darkness attempting to reclaim memory and a sense of past.  And also, to be sure, near the conclusion, the shocking and shameful secret that’s exposed, which Betsy had kept buried her whole life but was unable to live down.

As previously emphasized, Enloe is steeped in Western historical traditions and the artistic conventions of writing about them, evident from his earliest forays into cowboy poetry.  The vernacular is true to the era as well as the elements of the backdrop.  And Enloe weaves one entertaining story.    Zane Grey, Owen Wister and Louis L’Amour can all rest in peace; the art form of the Western novel endures unabated in the capable hands of L. Glen Enloe.

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Mark Scheel
Mark Scheel grew up in east-Kansas farm country. He attended both Kansas State University and The University of Kansas, majoring in psychology and English. Prior to writing full time he served overseas with the American Red Cross in Vietnam, Thailand, West Germany and England, taught at Emporia State University and was an information specialist with the Johnson County Library in Shawnee Mission, Kansas. His stories, articles and poems have appeared in numerous magazines including The Little Balkans Review, Kansas Quarterly, The Cincinnati Poetry Review, The Kansas City Star, Heritage of Kansas, Samisdat, and Poet as well as many sites online such as Common Ground News. His literary activities have also involved membership in The Kansas Authors Club, a seat on the board of directors for Potpourri Publications Company and an editorial position with Kansas City Voices magazine. He co-authored the book Of Youth and the River: the Mississippi Adventure of Raymond Kurtz, Sr., and his collection of stories and poems, A Backward View, was awarded the 1998 J. Donald Coffin Memorial Book Award. His most recent book is titled The Pebble: Life, Love, Politics and Geezer Wisdom.

6 comments to Even Cowboys Battle Zombies

  • mistermuse

    I enjoyed Westerns when I was young, but have lost interest in that genre. I even wrote a short story titled NAMELESS RIDER which was published in Grasslands Review 25 years ago (re-published on my blog Jan. 15, 2010). I’m sure you would find it too tame compared to Enloe’s work, Mark, but then my favorite cowboy author as a boy was Zane Grey, whose work probably wouldn’t find much favor with today’s more graphic violence-accustomed readers.

  • Would you believe, muse, that my auto repairman is a wannabe novelist, although he’s never written even a short story that I’m aware of. His genre of choice? Why, the Western, of course! LOL

    Yep, Enloe’s work is violent, and even has some fairly explicit sex too! A different time, isn’t it.

    Thanks,

    Mark

  • Never a reader of the genre myself, being a lifetime city boy, but I’m glad to see the undead making inroads in the Western as well as on Netflix.

  • Don Frankel

    Mark,

    Good luck to L.Glen Enloe and his Western. A born again or brought back from the dead Gunfighter, a great idea.

    I love Westerns books and movies. I think I’ve read a dozen books on The Gunfight and the Vendetta Ride. Some were historical and some novels. I even read Josephine Marcus Earp’s book and I think The Searchers is one of the best films ever made.

    Don

  • Richard,

    Well, the “undead” or “zombie” is somewhat of an illusion here, but I’ll not reveal the actual fact of what happened. Ha. But being an outcast and feared and detested while observing mayhem occurring all around you, is psychologically torturing for a man come back “half-alive.” And Enloe depicts it well. I’ve never been a “genre” reader myself, always preferring the literary fiction; however, I have to admit on those occasions when I’ve delved into some genre–mystery, Western, romance, etc.–I’ve usually enjoyed the heck out it. 🙂

    Mark

  • Don,

    Then you really ought to check out Enloe. He loves that historical period and renders it beautifully on the page in whatever category he’s writing–poetry, fiction, nonfiction. He dresses in cowboy garb, collects Western artifacts, does leather tooling, and performs his poetry at cowboy gatherings. Go back and check out my review posted earlier here on one of his poetry books, “Back in the Saddle and Ridin’ Tall.” Bet it would be your cup of tea. 🙂

    Mark

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