Let me begin by saying that writing a novel is a terrific achievement, and one that I have yet to make. My hat is off to anyone who can complete a novel.
That said, here is my honest opinion of Edward M. Erdelac’s Merkabah Rider – Tales of a High Planes Drifter, a religious-paranormal-western mash-up which I finished reading last night.
Characters: The book’s four stories concern “The Rider,” an Hasidic gunslinger searching the Old West to bring to justice his former teacher who betrayed and murdered their secret mystic order, the Sons of the Essenes, in San Francisco. The Rider is also an accomplished out-of-body traveler on the astral planes (hence the sub-title High Planes Drifter). On his quest he tangles with demons, succubi and other hell-spawn, as well as earthly western thugs and scum.
Not everyone’s bad. The Rider meets an ally or two along the way ~ an angel, a fallen preacher, and in the last of the four stories — a nice Jewish girl.
The Rider keeps his true name secret — and you won’t get it from me — though it’s revealed late in the book. The reason, of course, is that others, humans and non-humans alike, have less power over you when they don’t know your name. Which is true, imho, when you think about it.
Plot: While each story has its own plot, they are all framed by the search for “Adon” the mystical master who used his dark powers to murder The Rider’s bretheren. The Rider is out to avenge the crime:
It was an arduous undertaking, he knew, for Adon had proceeded farther down the arcane paths of forbidden knowledge than anyone living, and he himself had turned aside prematurely and was not his equal in power. More, he was not trusted by the surviving foreign enclaves. Indeed he had nearly (barely? typo?) escaped being hunted down as Adon’s accomplice by the German Essenes, and had been formally shunned after presenting himself to the Council of Yahad at Ein Gedi in Palestine. He could expect no help from them. Yet he could see no other course.
In each of the four stories, The Rider weighs in against the forces of evil on behalf of the innocent and helpless, always alone, with nothing to gain, outgunned and outmatched, a loner and hero ~ the same plot as many a Louis L’amour or Zane Gray novel.
Setting: It’s the Old West in all its dry, dusty, cactus-clad glory:
DRUCKER & DOBBS MINING COMPANY WELCOMES YOU TO DELIRIUM TREMENS POP 180
The letters were carved into a plank sign bolted to a boulder set along a road which appeared quite suddenly. It was a rutted swath that slashed through the rough tumble of ominous saguaro and mean dry brush and drove down the center of town. The Rider followed it.
It was on a dying red sun Friday when he passed into the town; only the black-gummed growl of a scrawny, long-nippled cur that slid from underneath the shadows of a sidewalk welcomed him.
Edward’s descriptions are masterful.
What I thought could’ve been done better: This was as tough or tougher than for any book I’ve read. Edward picked off all the things I look for like a master sharpshooter plinking bottles off a split-rail fence. Character description? Plink! Settings described? Plink! Vivid verbs? Plink! Metaphors and similies? Plink!
Edward might have paid a little more attention to active voice. Too many sentences begin with “was” and “were.” For instance, the preceding sentence about “the dying red sun” — which I still love — could have been stronger — Instead of “It was on a dying red sun Friday…” He passed into the town as Friday’s dying red sun sank out of sight, only the black-gummed growl of a scrawny, long-nippled cur that slid from underneath the shadows of a sidewalk welcomed him.
It’s not a big deal with one sentence, but as I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, over the course of a book, enough passive voice can alter the story’s pace. Here’s a description of racist slurs from some townspeople:
They came gushing over curled lips like the salivation of wagging dogs smelling a kill.
I love the similie. But why not “They gushed…”? In the next two sentences the slurs “crawled up pestilent and envenomed from the throats of shopkeepers” and “squeezed through the gritted yellow teeth of posturing men…” Those last two sentences are active voice. Why not make all three sentences active?
My other picayune crit is a clarity matter. How does the Rider support himself on his quest? He never seems to have any money for food for himself or his onager — or if he does, it’s never mentioned. And since The Rider apparently tries his best to keep kosher in a land of limited access to delicatessans ~ well, in the few seconds in each story when unspeakable horrors from beyond aren’t deluging the Rider in pain and peril, I wondered about it. But never for long.
What I thought was good: I loved the concept: Chaim Potok meets Louis L’amour with a strong dose of H.P. Lovecraft and a sprinkling of Robert E. Howard. I’ve already mentioned characters and settings. All great. The real gems are the action sequences and the demonic creatures:
The Rider’s ethereal pistol cleared its holster, firing jets of blue mystic fire. The first shot caught the tall one with the spade in the chest and sent it flipping backwards to the ground. The second blew a pale swaddled head to ectoplasmic fragments. The third spirit collided with The Rider and pinned him against the side of the archway, clinging to him with its bare feet like a monkey, tearing at his wispy form with jagged fingers.
The spirit’s eyes bulged, and its jaws clamped down on the side of The Rider’s weapon. Its long fingers, which ended in bare skeletal tips raked at him, shredding his sleeves and nicking into the spirit flesh beneath, causing him actual pain and making corresponding blood stripes appear on his physical body miles away.
And that’s just a minor skirmish.
I also enjoyed the generous peppering of Hebraic and Kabbalistic terminology:
It was not just a frenzied posse of vengeful gunmen mustered around the settlement east of Delirium Tremens. It was the malakhim, the angels of the Lord sharpening their poisonous swords.
Overall: I really loved everything about this book. From the terrific Southwest locales, to the horrifying monsters; from the astral travel, to the gunfights. The Rider is a completely traditional western hero in profoundly non-traditional ways. His very name — The Rider — is a perfect example of that — despite his name he doesn’t ride — he leads a white onager, a sort of over-sized donkey from the Middle East — always on foot.
He’s a man of action and few words in the tradition of “Shane” and “For a Fistful of Dollars.” He’s an anti-hero in the tradition of “Little Big Man.” Mix it all together and you have a stunning original — in the tradition of Edward M. Erdelac.
I look forward to reading the next book in the series ~ The Mensch with No Name.
Great job Edward!
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