Tom Piccirilli is best known as a horror writer, but he has published two western novels—Grave Men and Coffin Blues—and several western short stories. I recently read his western short story “The Blood Beneath When the World Draws Back” and it had the same power as his best horror—the prose sharp as a dagger, the story literate, and very entertaining.
“Blood Beneath” is the story of Smoke, a Texas Ranger, who is hot on the tracks of two outlaws: rapists, murderers and overall bastards in the worst way. They left a child to die in the hot sun and raped her mother. Smoke quietly follows the outlaws across the open country of Texas until he hunts them down in the small town of Last Chance where he seeks justice and more than a little vengeance.
“The Blood Beneath When the World Draws Back” is one of the best stories I have read this year—short story or novel. It has the feel of a 1970s Spaghetti western, and as I read I couldn’t help but picture Clint Eastwood with his quiet strength, compassion, and tough-as-nails exterior. Smoke is the champion of the downtrodden, the protector of the weak, and basically one tough dude—an anti-hero to root for. Mr. Piccirilli brings a solid story to life with a bare, stark, cynical and violent style. The opening is pitch perfect:
“Smoke found the dying child in the rocks about midday, gave her water and shade for the two hours she lasted, and buried her beneath a red plum bush.”
The power of the prose never lets up, and the story glides seamlessly to its inevitable conclusion. Mr. Piccirilli is a terrific writer who deserves a larger audience, and “The Blood Beneath When the World Draws Back” not only gives hope to a shrinking genre, but is also one hell of a good tale.
“The Blood Beneath When the World Draws Back” was originally published in the anthology Texas Rangers—edited by Ed Gorman and Martin H. Greenberg--in 2004.