Book Review: The Massacre at Yellow Hill by C.S. Humble

“Therein lies the ultimate strength of this fine debut; Humble’s ability to inject his characters with life… They leap from the page in this action-packed, character-driven slice of weird horror.”

Having spent ten years working every night on writing short stories, dedicated author C.S. Humble was ready to tackle something longer. With advice from friend Laird Barron and a chance encounter with Joe Lansdale, writers who need no introduction to horror readers, he settled in to get his story onto the page. The result is this, his debut novel, a weird western adventure story with engaging characters and terrifying monsters aplenty.

In part one, ‘Some Kind of Predator’, the story begins with the death of miner George Miller, a hard-working family man in the employ of Jeremiah Hart, the wealthiest and most powerful man in the town of Yellow Hill. Miller’s mutilated corpse is brought before Hart by foreman Charlie, along with the mysterious story of his death. But, in order to allay the fears of his employees, Hart orders the men to disguise the horrifying and revealing wounds by further damaging the body and claiming he died in a cave-in. But the miners know there is something hiding deep in the Earth and matters soon go from bad to worse as the casualty list grows and rumours flood the small community and fear takes a grip on the town. Hart’s son, Micah, in a desperate attempt to prove his own worth to his father and the miners, decides to confront the monster plaguing the mine. If only he had been aware of the extent of his father’s knowledge beforehand.

Part two, ‘Ptolemy and Son’, moves the action away from Yellow Hill to the neighbouring town of Big Spring to introduce two new characters, Gilbert and Carson Ptolemy, bounty hunters for a judge from Abilene. But they don’t hunt human criminals. They are tasked with ridding the West of monsters and demons and vampires, all very real and most able to hide in plain sight. As a former slave, Gilbert must also deal with the racism and intolerance of the townspeople, especially when he introduces Carson, the son of his former owner, as his own son. But that is how their relationship has developed since the death of Carson’s biological father, himself a hunter, who lost his life in the line of duty.

Part three, ‘The Massacre at Yellow Hill’, combines the first two parts as Gilbert and Carson are drawn to Yellow Hill by stories of what lurks in the mine, and the actions of Jeremiah Hart. There are signs that the events taking place in the small town mirror the circumstances of the death of Carson’s biological father. The bounty hunters cannot ignore something that could have such far-reaching and dire consequences. Even though it takes a personal toll on Carson who is still coming to terms with his loss. So, they head to Yellow Hill where they cross paths with the Millers and realise the enormity of the task ahead of them. In Jeremiah Hart’s quest for limitless power, he seems to have become a pawn of a higher, darker power, one which threatens to consume the small town, everyone in it, and then who knows what. The bounty hunters must stop him, at any cost.

The storytelling tone adopted by Humble to tell this story in this setting is very effective. You can almost taste the dust of the old West as it is kicked up by the wind, feel the heat of the harsh sun on your skin. He is clearly at home writing in a historical setting and we wouldn’t be surprised to see more of this in the future. Especially if it contained some of the same characters introduced in this book. The charming yet deadly Gilbert Ptolemy is well crafted, reminiscent of King’s Roland Deschain, while Carson is equally engaging. The old gunslinger/child protégé dynamic is similar to The Dark Tower, but the mutual affection felt by Gilbert and Carson towards one another is much more evident in this story and is very moving. The plight of the Millers in the wake of George’s death is also handled very well, Humble exploring the strained relationship between mother and children in such a harsh and unforgiving environment. And the villainous antagonist Jeremiah Hart, although not the source of the evil – that role is filled by the mysterious and shadowy Chicago-based “Society” –, is perfect in his role, Humble keeping his character sinister without ever letting him become hokey.

Therein lies the ultimate strength of this fine debut; Humble’s ability to inject his characters with life. Whether it’s the cold and poisonous Hart or the strong widow fighting for the survival of her family, the child characters, each with their own innocence and depth, or the mysterious hunter dedicating himself to protecting the people, every person, despite their prejudice. They leap from the page in this action-packed, character-driven slice of weird horror. We await his follow-up with bated breath.


Publisher: Black Rose Writing
Paperback: 186(pp)
Release Date: 23 March 2018

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