It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed a Dead Man adventure on this site. This is not because I have stopped reading them, but as many of you would be aware the Dead Man series has been picked up by Amazon and is now published under their new 47North sf-horror-fantasy imprint. This caused a slight delay in the publishing schedule.The first five adventures, Face of Evil, Ring of Knives, Hell in Heaven, The Dead Woman and The Blood Mesa have all been republished – and for those who want to catch up in one fell swoop, rather than reading the stories piecemeal, I think they have been collected into an anthology too.
Matt Cahill goes west. After the delay, it’s great to have The Dead Man series rolling again, and I welcomed back Matthew Cahill eagerly. But, the thing is Kill Them All is not one of the strongest books in The Dead Man series so far. Now let me explain this – or at least how I see it. Firstly, I’ll state that I enjoyed the book, but I think the plot was not really suitable for Dead Man length novel. So far, The Dead Man stories have been around 25,000 words (or about 80 pages), and stating the obvious, in a story that short, you have to keep the pace moving. And Harry Shannon does this, especially in the last half, where the story rockets along. But his plot, and pardon the lazy comparison, is a cross between High Noon, and an old fashioned western where the good guys are trapped in a fort, surrounded by marauding Indians. What we have is our hero, Matt Cahill is trapped in a small town, where a team of mercenaries are coming to get him. Now for that to work, you have to develop the characters in the township, and build up the suspense – both of these things take time.
And that is the high-wire act, author Harry Shannon sets for himself. Character and suspense against fast and furious thrills. And to be fair, I think Shannon proves he can manage both. He starts by weaving some interesting characters and relationships and building a story. But then it stops suddenly, and for the climax, the story has to present the type of bat-shit insane, axe-wielding thrills and chills that The Dead Man stories have built a reputation on (hey, I am not complaining!). And that is where this story falls down. It seems like a big chunk of the middle is missing, and the individual characters of the townsfolk have not been developed enough. There’s a passage (and a minor spoiler ahead) where one of the townsfolk is shot and killed. It should be a defining moment in the story, suggesting that the townsfolk are in for a real battle, and this time Matt Cahill is in deep, deep trouble. But because the character hasn’t been defined, his death is meaningless, and therefore the flow on to Cahill’s character doesn’t have the impact it should.
Now it is easy to be an armchair critic and say negative things. But I like to balance things out. I think the plot for this Dead Man story was a good idea, but one that deserved a longer treatment. And as The Dead Man series is clearly inspired by the men of action stories of the ‘70s and ‘80s, I think juxtaposing the series against The Executioner at this stage may be appropriate. As The Executioner fans know, there are two Mac Bolan series running concurrently. Firstly, your regular series, with tight fast paced books that come in at around 150 pages. But then there’s the Super Bolans which are longer (and better). The authors get a chance to put some flesh on the bones of their characters. And here too, I think we should have got a ‘Super Dead Man’ (or would it be a ‘Super Cahill’?). This would have given Shannon the opportunity to deliver the story that he promises at the beginning of Kill Them All.
But please, just because, in this review, I have concentrated on what is essentially a minor niggle, don’t assume that you will not enjoy Kill Them All. It serves up all the goodies you have come to expect from this series – head lopping, weird medical procedures, gunfights, rotting bodies and the never-ending quest to hunt down the elusive Mr. Dark. In summary, a good time had by all and sundry – and at the time of writing it is only 99c on Kindle. Welcome back Matt Cahill.
Kill Them All is available, naturally enough, from Amazon.
As well as being an author, Harry Shannon has had an extensive career in the music industry, contributing a song ‘Love Letters’ to the Aces: Iron Eagle 3 soundtrack, and lyrics to ‘Some Day Soon’ from the conspiracy thriller, The Domino Principal, starring Gene Hackman.