Eric Red's The Wolves of El Diablo (Book Review)


PLOT: Not long for a world of peaceful respite, our trio of heat-packing pistoleros - aka The Guns of Santa Sangre - are drug back into a hellish world of werewolf incursion. This time however, they must fight in, aboard and atop a 200-ton steam locomotive full of pure silver. The Wolves of El Diablo await!

REVIEW: Four years after re-inventively kicking up dust and emblazoning his name on the werewolf-western novel via THE GUNS OF SANTA SANGRE – the inimitably peerless Eric Red is back at it with an even bigger, bolder, more brazenly baleful addendum in THE WOLVES OF EL DIABLO – a powerful paragon of what a sequel ought to look like. Indeed, if SANTA SANGRE was Red channeling Ridley Scott’s ALIEN, then EL DIABLO by design falls in line with Cameron’s ALIENS. That is, not only have the table-stakes and rounded antes been upped significantly, so too has the number of characters, amount of undying action and level of unflinching barbarity of the werewolf violence itself. The most appreciated contrast of all though? The setting. Whereas Sangre took place in the small hamlets and pueblos of Mexico’s deserts, here the bulk of the action is set in, out and around a steam-powered locomotive snaking through the ominous River of Death. Straight up, as only Mr. Red can do, THE WOLVES OF EL DIABLO is nothing shy of a supercharged, 14-chapter charnel house of lethally lissome lycanthropy!

For those who’ve forgotten, our grizzled protagonistic trio of GUNS includes Tucker, Fix and Bodie – each of whom barely survived a brutal werewolf onslaught that threatened and ultimately wiped out the village of Pilar, the sexy Mexican peasant who Tucker took a shine to. Now penniless, patched up and ready to do what they do best, the trio of tight-knit gunslingers sets its sight on a daring train-robbing heist. Little do they know that A.) The train belongs to the Federale command of Colonel Higuerra, B). The cargo-hold is stacked to the brim with bars of pure silver and C). A 50-deep lycanthropic horde is also on its tail! And if that isn’t an unenviable dilemma, consider their surroundings. The steam-powered steed is en route to a city called Rio Muerta (River of Death), which charts its course through the blood-soaked badlands of El Diablo (The Devil). No doubt, our boys have quite the work cut out for them!

Posing the biggest threat this time however is fearsome foe called Azul, a centuries-old alpha werewoman who serves as the de facto leader of every lycanthrope who dare flash under a full moon. New wolves, old wolves, they all bend to the whim of Azul. As our hardened antiheroes make a move to knock off their targeted train, it is Azul who watches from high up on a ridge above Rio Muerta, waiting and plotting a vengeful course of action. See, Tucker, Fix and Bodie all but waylaid Azul’s entire werewolf pack, including her older brother Mosca, doing so while simultaneously felling the many soldiers under Higuerro’s command. Not to mention the grisly crossover. Many of Higuerra’s men were, too, eaten alive by the lycanthropic ghouls, meaning that when the full moon rises, they too will in turn transfigure into a hulking, hairy, bloodthirsty beasts. The challenge is multifold. Can our pumped-up, hammer-clacking gunmen quell the advances of 50 rabid werewolves? Sure. Can they do so while barreling 90 mph down a winding railway with a large tonnage of silver bars in tow? Can they cut into the impregnable heart of Azul and stop the relentless carnage for good? Go find out!

What I love so much about EL DIABLO, aside from the kickass premise and always appreciated mélange of horror and western tenets, is how both mellifluous and visual Red’s writing style continues to be. We know the man has forged a successful career by thinking in pictures, yet even when moving the medium from script to novel, from screen to page, the action Red conjures still maintains a sense of the sweeping cinematic. At the same time, there’s almost a rhyming lilt and rhythmic flow to the way Red crafts a sentence, almost as if he grew up listening to golden age New York hip hop (as a fan myself, this a huge compliment). So, while there’s a stark imagery associated with the way he writes, there’s also a poetic tenor to it all that, when combined, make for something altogether unique. It’s one thing to imagine a brilliant high-concept, as Red has done here with the werewolves on a train premise, but it’s another thing entirely to, from paragraph to paragraph, chapter to chapter, keep the reader amused with flowery prose and crackling dialogue while still maintaining the thrust of the plot. That the material is so intrinsically brutal, so undyingly violent, for horror fans, the marriage couldn’t be more lasting.

In terms of specific hair-raising horrors, at the risk of spoiling too much, we’ll just glance over a few bouts. First off, the mere presence of a .50 cal spitting Gatling gun should make every reader here leap the f*ck out to your nearest bookstore or online link and cop this sucker ASAP. Think Jesse the Body in PREDATOR times ten! Another gnarly thread to be reckoned with in the tome is that of Azul, the sexy Mexican bandit turned lycanthropic leader. Her grueling back-story will not only induce sympathy, pained winces and cringing gut-churns are likely to occur as well. No joke, extremely graphic stints of incestuous rape, werewolf birthing, infant umbilical-strangulation and more are on full descriptive display. Additionally, much more emphasis is given this time around on the actual painstaking transformations from human to werewolf and werewolf back to human. We really get a visceral, guttural sense of the deathly exhausting, gut-wrenching toll it takes physiologically, emotionally, psychologically. The way Red humanizes the inhuman is pretty profound.

But look – whether its profundity or pulpiness – if you dig what Red has done in the past, be it on the screen or the page, you will most certainly not be disappointed by what he’s superbly sequenced here with WOLVES OF EL DIABLO. The well-imagined premise and expert plotting chug along with great momentum, the story teems with ungodly amounts of hyper-violence and concomitant carnage, the characters trade hysterical banter bound to leave a lasting quotable or two, and as always, the synecdoche of all these moving parts equal the ultimate cinematic sum: Seeing Red! Do wise and cop this book as soon as it shelves August 1st!


Extra Tidbit: THE WOLVES OF EL DIABLO hits shelves tomorrow August 1st!
Source: AITH



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