Thu
Aug 10 2017 3:00pm

Review: Devil’s Call by J. Danielle Dorn

Devil’s Call by J. Danielle Dorn is a Western horror novel that James Demonaco (screenwriter and director of The Purge series) calls “The Revenant with witches.”

Nebraska, 1859. Li Lian is pregnant with Dr. Matthew Callaghan’s baby. All seems well, as a future with their little family awaits them. But life doesn’t always cater to happiness.

Three men come in the night and shoot the doctor dead in front of the still pregnant Li Lian. As they ride off into the night, a desire for vengeance begins to fester inside her, and she knows it will grow like a sore that will consume her until retribution is hers. But what the riders don’t know is that Li Lian comes from a long line of powerful witches, and she won’t stop until she finds them.

The problem is that the town folk believe she is responsible for the wrongdoings and lock her up. She is alone, in great danger, and incapable of seeking revenge until she escapes. But assistance and support comes—as it so often does—from a completely unexpected source. So she finds herself on a path to the Badlands with a companion she would neither have chosen nor entertained to assist her in her task of vengeance.

Devil’s Call is written as a letter to the unborn child Li Lian carries. The writing is powerful, shocking in parts, and very skillful, as this dark tale winds its way south to scenes of debauchery and nastiness. The witch’s story is unique, totally believable, and served up to the reader with undertones of humor, irony, intrigue, and downright darkness—all covered in a layer of trail dust which you can taste in your mouth.

The pace heats up to a searing level, and some of the description is not for the faint of heart. It also tells us that the men Li Lian seeks may be more than just men who deal in hot lead with cold hearts.

To say this was an event which could only happen in New Orleans affords the rest of the country more than its due. This is a practice only monsters would think to profit from, and yet these monsters were human. The crier and the crowd and the whole of the city itself. Civilization and savagery are quite capable of living side by side. Never let anyone tell you otherwise. These same folks watching man’s manipulation of nature would have cheered just as loud were they witnessing a hanging.

As the bear returned to all fours and moved to reproach the two wolves surrounding her baby, the three behind her leaped. One of them landed high on her back, sinking its fangs into her neck, while the other two began to chomp at her hind legs. The bear roared again, fury overtaking her grief, and threw herself at the cage bars closest to the cub. Bones crunched and another of the wolves yipped, losing its hold on the bear’s leg and crumpling to the ground. She clamped her teeth into the fallen wolf’s throat, shook her head once, twice, a third time, and batted it away as if it were a minor nuisance she could no longer attend to.

Devil’s Call is hard and fierce but never descends into a gorefest. The writing is subtle and refined, with some of the prose dancing off the page as though you are listening to a symphony at the same time as reading a top-class thriller. Li Lian, with her ability to see things others can’t and her powers of witchcraft, straddles the murky ether between this world and another. She is such a powerful character that it would be understandable if the other players in this tale were overwhelmed by her presence, but J. Danielle Dorn never allows this to happen. The other characters stamp their presence in the book with varying degrees of light and dark but all with a mark of authenticity that never loses its poetic rhythm.

This book is genuine Western horror, mixing the two genres seamlessly. Something for everyone lurks within the pages.

 

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Dirk Robertson is a Scots thriller writer, currently in Virginia where he is promoting literacy and art projects for young gang members. When not writing, tweeting, or blogging on the Mystery Writers of America website, he designs and knits clothes and handbags from recycled rubbish.

Read all Dirk Robertson’s posts for Criminal Element.

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