Wednesday, November 15, 2023

The Magpie Coffin

The genre “splatter western” came to fruition when Patrick C. Harrison III of Death's Head Press made it a company goal to release a series of western trade paperbacks featuring explicit violence and gore. There have been at least 13 paperbacks published by Death's Head Press as their “splatter western” offerings, but countless others have appeared from various self-published authors and small publishers. I've always enjoyed the western genre, so I borrowed a friend's copy of The Magpie Coffin (2020). It was written by Wile E. Young and represents the very first Death's Head Press splatter western title published. 

The Black Magpie is the book's anti-hero protagonist, a moniker heaped upon a notorious outlaw named Salem Covington. He's an American Civil-War Veteran that prowls the wild frontier (for reasons never really disclosed) killing and torturing bad people (?). He collects pieces of his victims – pieces of flesh, scraps of clothing – and uses them in black magic rituals to gain power. He possesses a gun that apparently (and magically) doesn't miss and it is revealed that Covington can't be killed by bullets. So, who the Hell is he then?

That's the part that Young never really dishes out to his reader, and that's the most frustrating part of the book's narrative. For reasons unclear to me, the author only provides hints of Covington's backstory and life purpose. For example, there is a brand of some sort below Covington's eye that provokes stark fear for anyone that sees it. But, what is it? Young really doesn't elaborate. There's an entire scene in the book where readers finally have the opportunity to learn more about Covington's mission when he meets “the coffin maker”. This man has some sort of history with Covington, but nothing specific is ever mentioned. It's all incredibly frustrating and senseless.

The Magpie Coffin's narrative features Covington on the revenge trail for the group of killers that murdered his mentor, a Comanche shaman named Dead Bear. Covington locates Dead Bear's corpse (far too easily) and puts him in a coffin wrapped in chains. But, Dead Bear is still somehow alive spiritually, which begs the question on why Dead Bear doesn't just perform his own revenge. Nevertheless, Covington rescues a young Union soldier and a prostitute and takes the two with him on a quest to hunt down the killers.

If you enjoy graphic violence often found in the horror and splatterpunk genre, then the sheer levels of brutality should be a pleasure for you. Like I wrote in my review for Suburban Gothic (co-wrote by a splatter western author Bryan Smith), the details of raping a corpse, scissoring off testicles, or sewing lips shut does nothing for me. It's all shock and awe, which isn't a satisfying substitute for a riveting story. There's not enough left in The Magpie Coffin contents to warrant a compelling read. This is standard volume feedback with gore. Nothing more, nothing less. Skip it.

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

1 comment:

  1. I've seen these splatter westerns on Amazon. I've been curious about them. The cover art is great. But while II don't mind extremely graphic violence, I'm not willing to pick up a book using it as the main selling point. I've read a couple of Bryan novels and didn't enjoy them. So seeing that he is the author of one of these books tells me they probably aren't for me.

    Looks like there's a sequel to The Magpie Coffin called For A Few Souls More.