I read Mark Justice’s first Dead Sheriff (Zombie Damnation) novel for review back in 2014 with a bit of trepidation at first due to my not being a big fan of westerns. As it turned out, Mark’s imagination and gifted storytelling ability swiftly won me over. It was so chock-full of thrilling, comic book-style, weird western action it was a blast to read. After I finished it, I was eager to return to its unique world which was populated with so many intriguing characters. Mark was working on a sequel when he passed away from a heart attack in 2016. It seemed as though The Dead Sheriff would never ride again, but pulp writer Ron Fortier took the manuscript and notes Mark had and, with the blessing of Mark’s widow Norma, completed, and now published it through his company Airship 27. What follows is my review of that sequel.
Cannibals an Bloodsuckers picks up a few months following the events in the previous book. Journalist Richard O’Malley is still traveling with Sam and the animated, gun-toting, corpse known as The Dead Sheriff. The pursuit of a bounty brings them into conflict with a pair of cannibalistic brothers, Arlo and Billy Belcher. The two are twisted and evil with a constant hunger for human meat. While Billy is the brains, Arlo is a giant hulk of a man who’s incredibly strong. Sam and his crew soon discover taking these two down will be both extremely difficult and costly.
While all this is going on, Sam is also being sought by a man named Labine, from whom Sam originally took the amulet and spell book that allows him to use The Dead Sheriff. Labine has his own dark magic at his command, as well as a powerful demon bodyguard to help him retrieve what was taken from him.
As if that weren’t enough, the Vampire Queen Magdala has brought her brood of vampire women into their vicinity. They pose as a traveling bordello of prostsitutes that pulls into town to lure the menfolk in before sprouting giant bat wings and feeding on them.
Our group of heroes end up joining forces with another frontier hero, a woman named Hattie Feilds who drives a stagecoach and carries a sawed-off shotgun. She spends her time hunting and killing vampires who murdered her family. She’s assisted by two Indian sidekicks with their own special talents.
Mark was such an amazing writer, it’s a pleasure to read his work again, and Ron Fortier does a good job filling in and finishing however much Mark had left unfinished. I liked getting more backstory for more of the wild west gunslingers such as The Silver Paladin and his boy sidekick Bullet, the cape wearing Sidewinder, and arrogant Lariat Smith. Each of them have interesting personalities and get to have their own share of the spotlight. One minor quibble I had was with the introduction of Hattie Feilds. She’s an interesting character with a cool backstory, but she doesn’t show up until somewhere around the final third of the book, afterwhich she recieves a large focus in the storyline. It felt a bit jarring for such a major contributor to the storyline to show up so late.
Overall, Cannibals and Bloodsuckers reads like a fun, blockbuster-summer-movie type adventure set in the weird west genre. It boasts a whole host of characters on both sides of the law, and when the heroes all team up together there are six of them, each with their own special abilities giving them a sort of Wild West Avengers feels.
The book also contains several great black-and-white illustrated pages peppered throughout from Art Cooper.
At the end of the book Mark’s widow Norma Kay Ison Justice writes about her husband and the journey this book went through to be published. She also notes that Mark would have been thrilled with how it turned out. I think he would as well.
Some More Horror Delve Links:
Original The Dead Sheriff: Zombie Damnation Review: https://horrordelve.com/2014/04/27/thedeadsheriffreview/
Rerelease of The Dead Sheriff: Zombie Damnation Review: https://horrordelve.com/2017/12/03/mark-justices-the-dead-sheriff-zombie-damnation-rerelease/
Mark Justice Interview: https://horrordelve.com/2013/12/02/an-interview-with-mark-justice/
Reviewed by Matt Cowan