Author: Michael P. Spradlin
Pub: Harper Voyager
For someone for whom the western genre is admittedly not a favorite, BLOOD RIDERS by Michael P. Spradlin managed admirably to capture and hold my interest. Set in the post Civil War 1880’s, Wyoming, Colorado and thereabouts, Spradlin combines cowboys with vampires and undead terrors.
Our hero, Captain Jonas Hollister, is a West Point graduated career cavalry officer, formerly under the command of General George Custer (a dangerous fool, in his opinion), and is currently digging ditches in the pen at Ft. Leavenworth. Having survived a bloody inhuman battle in which all eleven under his command perished, he was branded crazy, dangerous and a liar. But as fortune would have it, the US government now needs someone to confirm and deal with similar unexplainable ocurrances, and so he is recruited. Hollister speaks his mind, but is often understated, his reaction to many a startling revelation being only “Huh.” Finally vindicated, and a sharp negotiator, Hollister is released with the rank of Major, given free reign, and a companion whom he insists his new bosses pardon. Chee is an ethnically mixed and spiritual young soldier, “with Cajun, Chinese, Creek and Negro grandparents”. His special sensitivity and premonition, in addition to his loyal bravery, make him a perfect second in command for Hollister. Plus Chee’s oversize, obedient dog, named Dog.
I’ve always appreciated the mixing of historical figures, real or legendary, into fiction. BLOOD RIDERS believably incorporates Allan Pinkerton (Pinkerton Detective Agency) as Hollister’s superior, and Oliver Winchester (Winchester Repeating Arms Company) and Abraham Van Helsing (Vampire Hunter) as his advisors. They are given a more than state-of-the-art super train, filled with newfangled weapons galore (such as the “Ass Kicker”), and complete with a multi-skilled, inventive engineer they traverse the west hot on the trail of blood drinking demons.
A mysterious beautiful woman, who appears to be in her twenties but is actually centuries old, finally reveals herself as Shaniah, Leader of the Archaics, a race very similar to but distinct from vampires. She has traveled across the ocean to hunt the insane renegade Archaic Malachi, and eventually joins Hollister’s team. There follow battles, intrigue, mistrust, revelations, romance, hordes of rampaging vamps (excuse me, Archaics) and all that good stuff. As they pursue the unearthly bad guys, they are in turn pursued by earthly bad guy Slater, a hired gun in the employ of shady Senator Declan, who wants the team stopped.
Michael Spradlin writes in a straightforward style, providing realistic dialogue and descriptions of the period and settings. Although few of the elements found in BLOOD RIDERS can be considered new– western and sci-fi/fantasy types dusting it up, super equipped trains, inventor side-kicks, unconventional weaponry, the mysterious woman who joins forces, and so on– Spradlin skillfully places them all into a plot that captivates. The well fleshed-out characters and exciting action kept me turning the pages, and with eighty three chapters in a book of less than 400 pages, it is easy to peruse a quick chapter or two in a few stolen moments. If you enjoy the co-mingling of the wild west and wild creatures, then saddle up and take a ride with BLOOD RIDERS.