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A Congregation of Jackals Mass Market Paperback – May 2, 2011
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"A thoroughly modern perspective to the familiar archetypal trappings. What happens when gang meets gang...is more horrific than anything we might have imagined."
--Booklist Bill Ott
"A mature and thoughtful Western that can stand up alongside anything that Cormac McCarthy or Larry McMurtry have written. Its unrepentant violence, intensity, and dark worldview could appeal to fans of crime fiction." --somebodydies.blogspot.com
"If you have a hankering for a gritty, realistic and downright thrilling Western, S. Craig Zahler is your man." --Jeremy Cesarec, Unbound Nook Blog
Nominated for The Peacemaker award by the Western Fictioneers
Nominated for The Spur award by the Western Writers of America
About the Author
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Top Customer Reviews
If you've read the blurb above then you know what this book's about, but what you don't know is how deftly S. Craig Zahler executes the plot. This novel is truly a masterclass in building tension. In the first chapter we are introduced to a few of the bad guys; a vicious, sadistic bunch with no respect for human life, in a scene that should go down as one of the most tension filled scenes of all time. It's unforgettable.
Then we are introduced to the "good guys". Oswell, his brother Godfrey, a womanizer named Dickey, and the soon to be married Jim. A long time ago they were "The Tall Boxer Gang". They did some bad things, but they're no longer bad people. They're flawed, sure, but they have families and they lead respectful lives.
And that brings me to exhibit #1 in flawless execution. Zahler shows us evil in chapter one, so when we meet Oswell and company in subsequent chapters we've already forgiven their past. We're rooting for outlaws who hurt people 20 years ago. They've changed, but they never paid for their crimes. But I didn't care what they had done. I wanted them to defeat the evil from chapter 1.
From there the book introduces us to the real good guys. The Sheriff of Tailspur, T.W., his wise-cracking deputy Goodstead, and his charming daughter, Beatrice, who is to be married to the aforementioned Jim.
(I kept visualizing Kurt Russell as T.W. after seeing him in Zahler's excellent directorial debut "Bone Tomahawk".)
The three members of The Tall Boxer Gang arrive in town for Jim's wedding locked and loaded. Ready for one helluva fight. This is where the novel becomes a masterclass in tension. As The Tall Boxer Gang plans their defense, the bad guys seem to be lurking in the shadows tormenting them. Taunting them. We don't know when or where they're going to strike, but we know it's coming and we know it's going to be violent.
From the 1st chapter to the last I was overcome with a sense of dread. Not many books can make me feel the way S. Craig Zahler's "A Congregation of Jackals" has.
Of course this ends in Zahler's trademarked unpredictable, bloody style, and I wouldn't want it any other way.
While I love all of S. Craig Zahler's novels, "A Congregation of Jackals" is my favorite. The beautifully written characters are heroic, flawed, tragic, and in a few cases pure evil. This isn't just some Western. It's a wonderfully written, brilliantly executed modern masterpiece of literature.
It's a truly harrowing example of a "Western", quite different from what is typical of the genre.
I found it quite enjoyable, however, and compelling enough to encourage reading in a single sitting, yet the content is clearly not for everyone, since the author seems to be giving free reign to a rather sadistic imagination in describing various severely traumatic examples of atrocity and human evil. Nonetheless, the characters are usually "fleshed out", and the major figures are sympathetic. The writing style is generally quite good, albeit with a few "favorite words" repeated noticeably too often (a minor flaw).
For those who've seen the movie Bone Tomahawk, this story lays some descriptive groundwork for the Indians appearing in that film.
Criticisms: The Kindle version I read had frequent examples of missing words.
The author's descriptions of firearms are frequently not accurate, for those who pay attention to such things.
I stormed through the book quickly and really dug the dark narrative, to a point.
One of the biggest gripes I have with this book are the sheer amount of typos. I mean, it's a distracting amount. It's not that words are spelled incorrectly, it's that there are a TON (mostly in the latter half of the book) of incomplete sentences that lack connecting words like "as", "a", "the" and so on. Thus, a lot of sentences read along the lines of this: "petite woman look man up down". Having read two of Zahler's other books that were very well edited, I was a bit shocked that these typos occurred so much herein.
Be wary, some potential spoilers ahead...
As far as the actual stoyline goes though, I have to agree with another reviewer on here that the protagonists (four of them) give up WAY TOO EASILY. The majority of the book is essentially setting up the four individuals having to prepare for an attack on a wedding day, and when it finally occurs, they put up next to no fight and are essentially poked into submission. Worse, when one of the characters chooses to fight for his life (Dicky), his ally Oswell (the central character of the book) puts ALL OF HIS ENERGY into attacking Dicky and NOT THE ENEMY!!! I understand the "point" of Oswell not wanting any more innocents to be hurt, but the villain, Quinlan, has already proven he will continue to kill with abandon, so being pacifistic is void. Worse, as I stated above, when Oswell finally does act, he unleashes his rage on an ally who is the only character smart enough to do anything about the situation (not to mention the best character in the novel). Had Oswell joined in the fight, Quinlan and his goons would have been bested within this scene (as Dicky alone kills two and wounds a third). the finale is strange in that, the main characters do next to nothing, are pushovers (except the awesome Dicky) and the final few chapters seemingly switch focus to another character while the main four characters that the book has spent 200 pages developing simply fall victim to either immediate death or grisly torture.
I don't need a cherry on top, happy-go-lucky ending, but man, this is one serious downer of a book that, while quite good, definitely left me angry at the book's central characters (except for Dicky) and their complete reluctance to do anything about their situation at the end. Honestly, it's contradictory because if they had all been this cowardly/this resigned to their fate, NONE of them would have come to the wedding in the first place. They would have shrugged their shoulders at the very beginning and just accepted that they were screwed. The whole church siege is so upsetting that it's like a scene in a movie where you're just yelling at the screen for the characters to act properly; act like men that actually want to save innocent lives.
Otherwise, this is a pretty good book though I'd definitely recommend his other book 'Wraiths' over this one (now that novel is absolutely stellar).
So, to recap:
- The central story and backstory involving a violent tribe of Indians is definitely compelling.
- The violence is creatively gruesome and unapologetic (mainly at the end).
- Dicky is awesome.
- Beautiful authorial voice/writing.
- The ending is truthful and unapologetic in its grimness/hopelessness.
- The ending is truthful and unapologetic in its grimness/hopelessness.
- LOTS of typos.
- The main characters' actions/attitudes during the climax.