Blood Dance by Joe R. Lansdale (2000) [The Lost Lansdale, Volume Three]
Blood Dance is an early Eighties western that had been orphaned when Ace Books was sold to Berkeley Books, where the western line was cancelled. According to Lansdale's introduction another publisher was interested but wanted the story told in the third person. A friend, Jeff Banks, revised the book for Lansdale but the other published folded. Fast forward a number of years when Bill Schafer of Subterranean Press read the original manuscript, liked it, and made it part of the Lost Lansdale series Subterrranean was publishing. This is early Lansdale, no doubt about it. But this is pure Lansdale also, no doubt about that.
Jim Melgrhue and Bob Bucklaw are former Confederate soldiers down on their luck. They are hired by Beau Carson as part of a crew for an unnamed job. Turns out the job is to rob a train that is supposed to be carrying a large shipment of gold. The pair are hesitant to go along but their financial straits overcome their good sense. Of course, Carson's information is wrong; there is no gold. Carson robs the passengers, the decides toleave no witnesses behind. Melgrhue and Bucklaw can't go along with this and draw on Carson's crew. During the battle, Bucklaw is shot down and Melgrue's last memory is of Carson pointing a Colt .44 at him and pulling the trigger, the noise mixing with the death cries of the men, women , and children from the train.
Melgrhue is rescued by one of the legendary men of the old West, Liver-Eating Johnson. Once healed, Melgrhue is determined to get vengeance on Carson an his gang. Melgrhue is joined by a mysterious Crow warrior called Dead Thing; the Indian is also after Carson and forges a loose alliance with the former Confederate, stating that their paths are intertwined. Dead Thing has Mulgrhue join him in a mystic, torturous rite -- the Sun Dance. Melgrue also meets up and befriend Wild Bill Hickok and gets a bird's eye view of the Battle of Little Big Horn before his final confrontation with Carson.
Fast-moving, mythic, and bloody, Blood Dance is pure pulp western told Lansdale-style. And that's a pretty good recommendation.
For more of today's Forgotten Books, see Patti Abbott's blog, pattinase.