After protecting Cassie Eliades in a bar on the banks of the Mississippi, Josiah Black escorts her back to the Siren’s Song, a stern-wheel riverboat that Cassie and her two sisters run as a gambling establishment cruising up and down the river. His gentlemanly act is rewarded by the sisters as they offer him somewhere to sleep for the night and onward passage to their next destination. The friendliness of the sisters and their crew and the cultured surroundings put Josiah at his ease as he enjoys the food and the company on the boat and becomes close to Coralie, one of the other sisters. However men are going missing along the river and Josiah is not happy to receive a letter on the subject from his employer, Mr Caligary.
Given that this episode in the life of Josiah Black is entitled The Siren’s Song Of The Mississippi Mermaids and the cover shows three demonic mermaids, writer Dave West must have had something of a problem with this tale as to how to maintain the suspense before introducing his demons. However the way he achieves it is to play the long game. Having read the stand-alone stories of the previous two books in which Josiah is normally in danger for much of the story, this book flips the normal format on its head and takes Josiah to a place of safety where he relaxes and lets his guard down. Indeed the danger that he is in for much of the previous two books never materialises here and the climax of the story, when it comes, is all the more shocking for it.
Despite the lack of fast paced action through much of the book, artist Gary Crutchley’s black and white line art is as excellent here as it has been before. His women are appropriately pretty, his riverboat is detailed, while his choice of individual scenes to indicate time passing on Josiah’s relaxing journey does much to lull the reader into a sense of security. Yet when the climax occurs, unusually over a full two page spread, he makes it both dynamic and brutal.
WesterNoir is one of the best small press series being published at the moment and Book Three maintains the high standards of the previous two while not sticking to any plot formula. The stand-alone nature of the stories means that new readers could read this one as easily as any of the other books in the series but, with their combination of strong writing and impressive art, it is worth seeking them all out.
• There are more details of WesterNoir on the Accent UK website.
• The downthetubes review of WesterNoir Book One is here.
• The downthetubes review of WesterNoir Book Two is here.
• There are more details of Dave West’s work on his blog, Strange Times.
• There are more details of Gary Crutchley’s work on his blog, Driblin’ On.
• Accent UK will be selling their range of books including WesterNoir at Thought Bubble’s New Dock Hall in Leeds on the weekend of 23-24 November 2013.