Last Updated on June 9, 2022
COLD AS HELL by Rhett Bruno is the sequel to DEAD ACRE, an audiobook original that I enjoyed. Cold as Hell, by contrast, is a story that is available in both Kindle as well as Audible forms. Of the two, I strongly recommend the audiobook version due to the fact it is narrated by Jaime Castle (AKA Arthur Morgan from Red Dead Redemption 2). It’s not that the book isn’t good without Jaime’s narration, but he does such a fantastic job and is such a familiar sounding voice to fans of said game that it really pumps up the experience.
The premise is James Crowley is a former bandit who got himself killed doing one good thing after a lifetime of evil deeds. This results in him being recruited by the forces of Heaven to serve as their bounty hunter, fighting against the various monsters as well as supernatural evils afflicting the Earth. Honestly, he has a bum deal since if he succeeds then he will have his soul obliterated versus being consigned to Hell. I’m not sure if this is maltheism or a plot point, though, since Crowley’s angelic overseer, Shar, doesn’t seem to be very God-ly herself.
Anyway, Crowley is sent by his superiors to investigate a strange bank robbery that undoubtedly involves the supernatural. What follows is a complicated mystery involving silver mining, Native American rights, werewolves, demons, and the possibility there’s more out there than the God of Abraham and demons. Really, it’s a surprisingly twisted and labyrinthine plot given the relatively simple and straightforward one of Dead Acre.
Speaking of Dead Acre, I’d strongly recommend readers start with it instead of reading this as their first exposure to the Black Badge series. A major character first appears in that audiobook and her appearance here loses a lot of its dramatic impact without the setup done that novel. It’s also just a really good book by itself and well worth the Audible credit to purchase. If you don’t like audiobooks or want to read this as your start to the series, I’m sorry to say the story will be diminished.
As Weird Westerns go, Rhett Bruno did an excellent job setting up this environment and it is probably the best story we’d ever get for a Deadlands adaptation despite being its own original story. Certainly, it also works in the same vein as Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare as well. Crowley is a revenant that looks human but is very much dead. He is incapable of enjoying the, uh, finer things in life and that adds to the sense he’s a man suffering from a dreadful curse.
The action is excellent in the book, and we have a wide variety of monsters for our antihero to dispatch. If I have one complaint, it is naming one of the demons after Coyote. Coyote is a benevolent figure in Navajo mythology (for the most part) and using him is something that feels in poor taste given much of the rest of the book is about condemning the treatment of Native Americans in the Wild West. Much like Disney’s The Lone Ranger, except not sucking, this book tackles a few Wild West myths.
In conclusion, I really recommend Cold as Hell. I was a big fan of Rhett Bruno’s The Roach, and this takes a similar deconstructionalist tone to many Wild West tropes that The Roach took to superheroes while making use of others.