Killing ghosts in Comanche
If the Wild West genre is dead, then Comanche, by Brett Riley, is a good shot at resurrecting it. The story, not a mystery but a ghost story with outlaws, follows the journey of Raymond Turner, P.I., to redemption. An alcoholic haunted by the loss of his wife, Ray leads his partner LeBlanc, medium McDowell, and professor Frost from New Orleans to Texas in order to solve the murders being committed by the ghost of The Kid. They will all have to outgrow their own fears, their own scepticism, to recruit a motley crew of future victims in order to defeat the phantom and halt its vengeful killing spree.
Despite their failings, the characters all have something for the reader to root for, creating the empathy which promotes investment in the story. Mr Riley builds it well, with enough unexpected outcomes to the plans to avoid simplified heroes. Also, he stages the action to the ineffable showdown all good Western will have, so much so that even the cliché event is welcome, cinematic, convoluted, atmospheric, and action-packed.
Who would enjoy this
Comanche is a smart creation. It would appeal to people who enjoy a tale of human self-improvement. It will also be a good choice for lovers of cinema with big showdowns, to the point they might even forgive the ghost part of the story. On the other hand, Mr Riley’s work should be recommended to lovers of mild paranormal fiction. Nevertheless, I believe its strongest point is the readers’ identification with the characters – if you’re an empathetic reader, this will bring out all your emotions.
Who should give this a pass
If you are looking for a Western, or a book in the horror ghost range, this is not the book for you, as you will be disappointed. This is no cowboy story any more than it is a true ghost story – both these are elements to help carry the main tale, but they are not really explored, leaving such audience unsatisfied.
On the other hand, if you get overly attached to characters, or have difficulty handling descriptions of human and personal loss, better leave this volume on the shelf. Comanche is a work for entertainment, thus it is unsuitable for readers looking for more than that.
Conclusions and suggestions
Even before reading the information on Mr Riley, I was impressed at how very Hollywood-esque I found this book: the way it follows and describes actions, the inner monologue of the characters, it all makes one think of voiceover; the showdown, crucial to the genre of action where I’d also slot this book, made me think of iconic film gunfights; the segmentation of action intro scenes, including staging of places and actors; even the way it barely introduces elements such as the American West, or the phantasmagorical, yet uses them as an element of mystery throughout the novel. It was not surprising to learn that Brett Riley is both a teacher, and a scriptwriter, skills he has clearly employed when creating this work. Comanche is definitely engaging, an example in structure and characterisation.
I knew, when I picked it, more or less what awaited me inside. I was not disappointed. Well done, Mr Riley, this was a piece that should do well with an audience wanting fun and redemption, action and a bit of anxiety.
I was, however, quite frustrated with a few of the elements and characteristics of this book. To begin with, I don’t really get all these alcoholic/addicted characters which seem to populate more and more stories (such as Bridget Jones’s Diary, The Girl on the Train, or Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas). I have a similar issue with swearing or general rudeness. These may well be because I’m not cool enough, but the more the point is driven that the character is craving for a drink, swears, acts in revolting ways, etc., the less I am interested in the character. I can do with a couple of instances, then it becomes a matter of “I got it, the character has that issue, no need to keep telling me, I got it, all right, I got it!”
This sort of repetition was rife in this book, thus I often lost interest, ending up skim reading certain paragraphs. It may be a personal peeve, but it was sad to handle, considering the excellent characterisation done in this book otherwise which also affected, to an extent, the showdown scene. After a wonderful pace throughout the book, this scene had everything thrown at it: the weather, the clichés, the repetition of action. It became clear the writer was enamoured with it, but the readers, less so. However, I am certain it would make an excellent sequence on film.
Something else I did not enjoy was the lack of speech punctuation, even during dialogues. I understand the absence in works such as Angela’s Ashes, or E. E. Cummings, where the authors aim to mirror stream of consciousness. In this tome, it was confusing unnecessary, and to any lover of language, frankly frustrating. It is as though Mr Riley had forgotten that any deviation from norm is an indicator of added meaning, such as when vernacular appears in italics, yet he had no added meaning to be found attached.
I imagine it is quite clear what my recommendations are to be for this novel:
· Use punctuation correctly, it’s there for a reason.
· Trust your readers to understand the character once you have described him/her, so only a few and far between repetitions are needed.
· Honour the tropes you use in your narrative, giving them enough depth to be relevant.
· What works in cinema does not necessarily translate well onto paper, as it takes different amounts of attention to watch an event than to read and imagine it. Beware of mixing media