Written by: Matthew J. Barbour
Jack Ketchum is a living legend primarily known for The Girl Next Door and Off Season. His stories are gritty and dark with graphic no-holds-barred depictions of violence and non-consensual sex. His villains are not the creatures of myth, such as vampires or zombies, but the monsters that walk among us, such as feral humans and mentally ill. He is a horror writer, whose fiction is grounded in reality.
The Crossings continues in this writing tradition, but represents a departure from Ketchum’s previous works. Rather than being a clear horror novel, The Crossings is also a western. The story is about three cowboys, former soldiers that served in the Mexican War, that come to the aid of a mestizo woman by the name of Elena. Elena has just barely escaped from a Mexican slaver gang headed by the Valenzura Sisters who still worship the old Aztec Gods. Recovering from her wounds, Elena sets out on a quest of revenge. She plans to murder the ringleaders of the gang and free her sister who is still being held at their hacienda. The cowboys agree to help. A blood bath ensues.
While the setup and ending is predictable, the body of the story is anything but. There is human sacrifice, orgies, stabbings with obsidian blades, and American turncoats; just to name a few of the incidents in this novella which packs a mighty punch for a story a little over 100 pages in length.
Some would classify The Crossings as weird west. However, the story lacks the fantastical/sci-fi elements expected within that subgenre. A better characterization may be to call The Crossings a splatterpunk western (instead of spaghetti western). The plot follows expected western tropes, but with the mindset of someone writing within the splatterpunk subgenre of horror. The closest pop culture equivalent is the recent film by Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained – which is loosely based off the spaghetti western Django, but that is another topic. Some of Joe Lansdale’s and Cormac McCarthy’s stories also read similar to the framework and delivery here in The Crossings.
From a historical perspective, there is a lot wrong with the story. As someone who writes nonfiction and fiction works about 19th century New Mexico Territory (which included Arizona Territory –the setting of The Crossings– until 1863), it is very clear that some artistic license has been taken with the technology and background presented in The Crossings. If you are a stickler for accurate period pieces, you may wish to stay clear. However, for everyone else, this piece is solid gold.
This is a story for those who like both western and horror novels. The Crossings is neither the greatest western nor greatest horror novella ever written, but it does both genres proud and is a must read for Jack Ketchum fans.