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Mark Justice's The Dead Sheriff: Zombie Damnation (Volume 1) Paperback – November 8, 2016
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For those inclined to miss the obvious, DEAD SHERIFF is a Weird Western, but unlike any that’s ever been composed (or such I say for the sake of the title character, decomposed?), with a successful track record that keeps gathering fans.
The post Civil War story focuses on an enigmatic, wandering, living corpse: a spectral legend that manifests to do in wrongdoers. The Dead Sheriff’s decaying identify is hard to pinpoint (is he one or many?), which makes the mystery behind the entity even more unsettling. Newspaper man Richard O’Malley is intrigued by the grotesque myth, and the novella interjects his first-person narratives among chapters as he tracks down the undead vigilante.
In other respects, the story's real hero is one of Native American descent, Cheveyo (aka, Sam), who has a peculiar relationship with the zombie-like shape. Mind you, it's not by any means a Renfield/Dracula arrangement, but there's definitely a symbiotic link between man and corpse. I won't spoil it here, but it's special, memorable and when it dares to dig deep, disturbingly woeful.
The story's primary villain, a charlatan preacher man named Skaggs, is also a high mark for the tale, for no yarn of conflict ever clicks unless its bad guy is thoroughly despicable. Skaggs is, on the surface, a B-movie type scoundrel, but there's something about his smug contempt (particularly the callous way he hides behind the collar) that ultimately sets him apart. At any rate, you'll hate him for sure and yearn to see him get his comeuppance in a big-time way.
Such ingredients make Justice's work hard to put down. From the start, his story grips the reader by the throat and gets unnervingly richer with each page turn, but what also makes this bizarre adventure compelling are Art Cooper's superb, Kirby-ish illustrations. Truly, his images enhance the already absorbing text to the hilt, making you want to revisit them long after you've finished the tale. (Oh, and if that nifty Zachary Brunner cover doesn't make you want to read Justice's adventure, you really are in dire need of resurrection!)
Those who fancy Fortier's Brother Bones (or even the likes of Marvel's Ghost Rider and supernatural, cowboy flicks like "Curse of the Undead") will feel quite at home with this saga. I also give Fortier a heap of credit for keepin' Justice's living-dead legend alive and well.
I was instantly hooked.
The story follows Richard O’Malley who is a journalist on the trail of the Dead Sheriff, a lawman risen from the grave to continue his fight against crime, or so it seemed. Impervious to bullets, unable to be bought, he’s an undead force to be reckoned with. I loved the rich world in which it all takes place. I found the magic and the various masked vigilantes mentioned throughout fascinating. Even if westerns aren’t your thing, you’ll still love this book.
Here’s what Mark himself had to say about The Dead Sheriff when I interviewed him back in 2013: “It’s sort of a take on The Lone Ranger story turned inside out and backwards. It’s set in the West right after the Civil War, and there’s the legend of The Dead Sherriff, who the story says was a lawman who was murdered along with his family, and he came back from the grave to avenge them. He’s got a faithful Indian sidekick, like The Lone Ranger. When the truth comes out, it’s the sidekick who had discovered a mystical artifact that allowed him to reanimate corpses. He does this and presents to the world this undead lawman. They travel from town to town as bounty hunters. They collect the bounties, and that’s what the faithful Indian sidekick makes his living with. He’s the puppet master for this reanimated corpse that everyone thinks is the avenging lawman, who actually is not moving of his own free will. Although in the first book there are some hints that there are some other things going on there.”
Plans were in place for Airship 27 Productions to republish The Dead Sheriff: Zombie Damnation with sequel books to follow, but with Mark’s sudden death in 2016, it seemed that might not happen. Mark’s wife Norma, however, knew he wouldn’t want this colorful, exciting world he created to disappear, so she worked to get Ron Fortier, the managing editor for Airship 27 Productions, what he needed to go forward, including Mark’s partially completed second book manuscript. The revised and expanded first book has since been republished, complete with new cover art by Zachary Brunner and several great interior illustrations by Art Cooper. I was happy to learn Ron will finish, edit and publish the second Dead Sheriff book with an eye to possibly write more in the future. I know Mark would love knowing the world and characters he created would continue on having adventures even after he was gone, a lasting legacy to the great, marvelously creative man he was.