Here is my review of Kristopher Rufty's latest, Seven Buried Hill.
Kristopher Rufty has managed to find a distinctive voice when he writes. In the same way I can listen to a song and recognize Eric Clapton or Slash or Keith Richards as the guitarist, I can read an excerpt of writing and just know it’s Rufty. That distinct voice means whatever he puts out will most likely be good, which is why I tend to snatch it up within the first week of its release.
His latest, Seven Buried Hill, is no exception. I will admit to being curious and slightly worried once I realized that it would be a western-themed horror novel, and wondered if the setting would prohibit the signature Rufty style from shining through. Once I finished it, I was pleased to discover my worries were completely unfounded.
Henry Hardin was an outlaw, once upon a time. The longer he did it, the more he realized how much he was risking his life, so he’s out of the business, trying to take honest jobs for a change to reform his ways. Catherine Dalton is heiress to one of the largest tobacco plantations in North Carolina. When her father goes missing and the law won’t help her, she turns to Hardin for help. With his “boys”, Red, Pete, Drippy, and Charlie, Catherine herself, and Catherine’s effeminate fiancé Everett, the posse heads out looking for Papa Dalton. Unfortunately, they find something else, something worse, something that not all of them will survive.
The story owes as much to The Hills Have Eyes as it does to The Unforgiven, or even established horror westerns like Bone Tomahawk. The tone actually feels like the old west, even though it was set in the east. Thankfully, Rufty avoids the stereotype of making Indians the bad guys, and even shows a bit of acceptance through some of the characters for the Native Americans and their way of life. And the moments of tension—of which there are many—are suitably gripping and kept me turning the pages.
Henry and his boys are well crafted, with distinct personalities that shine through on the page. Catherine seems at first like the cookie-cutter “girl trying to prove herself in a man’s world”, then you get to go a little deeper into her thoughts and realize that she’s considerably more faceted than you first assume. Hardin himself, who could easily fall into another tried and true stereotype, manages to show real depth of character as he tries to maintain his hardened exterior while falling under Catherine’s charms.
In fact, if there’s one character here who seemed a bit under-developed, it was Charlie. He tended to wear his motivations on his sleeve, meaning the reader could see what was coming with him long
before it actually happened. His fate was exceptionally satisfying, so this one was easily overlooked.
Where the story shines, though, is in the villains of the tale. They’re sick and twisted, make no mistake about that, but one can actually see the reasoning and logic behind why they act the way they do, even if there’s no question they went much too far with it. The sympathy they manage to evoke even made me wonder by the end whether I was wrong to feel nothing but sympathy for how things ended for them.
Overall, this is a shining example of Rufty at his best, weaving a story that sucks you in and makes you feel like you’re actually living it. It’s no accident that he’s one of my favorite modern horror authors, and a major influence on my own writing as well. If you haven’t picked it up yet, don’t hold back. Just prepare yourself for a thrill ride of a horror western as it plays across the screen of your imagination.