This is a strange, fun genre hodgepodge of a book. When Fesmire approached me about reading this book, I figured it'd be something like Cherie Priest's Clockwork Century, just set further south. A good mix of steampunk tech and an Old West setting, maybe with a Zombie wandering around as a vague threat, 300 pages later and we'll be done. Wow. I couldn't have been more wrong.
U. S. Marshall James "Bodacious" Creed is a one-man crime-fighting machine (figuratively speaking) -- he comes to Santa Cruz in search of Corwin Blake, a notorious killer. While searching for Blake he sees plenty of evidence that there's a greater criminal enterprise running through town, but he only has eyes for Blake. Not long after this, Blake guns Creed down. Creed awakens a couple of weeks later, stronger, unsure of what's going on, but with the same drive to protect the citizenry of Santa Cruz and to put Blake behind bars or six-feet under. Creed's appearance has been altered and his appearance alone makes criminals and non-criminals fearful (like the Gotham Knight will in a few decades). He becomes a one-man crackdown on crime.
How did Creed wake up? Well, that would be the purview of Anna Lynn Boyd -- owner of a bordello and restaurant. She's also a scientific genius on par with Tony Stark, her improvements to technology have propelled the California tech industry to unrivaled heights (including robotics of a steampunk sort). She's been experimenting with some medical technologies and the murder of a hero like Creed provides just the opportunity she needs to test her breakthroughs.
You take that setup, add in a love interest for both of them, some loyal friends (old and new), some less-than loyal friends, a crime syndicate (before crime syndicates were cool), questionably capable law enforcement officials, and a rival scientist -- and you've got yourself a heckuva read. It's exciting, fun, pretty well paced with some very clever turns of phrase (the occasional bit of clunkieness and awkward phrases are easily forgivable).
The Steampunk and Western genres blend nicely -- as seen in Dawn's Early Light by Ballantine and Morris, and suggested in a Priest book or two. The time frames for both overlap -- it's just that Westerns are typically dustier than Victorian dramas. I spent a good deal of this novel doubting the "Zombie" tag -- sure, you've got Creed walking around, but that was more of a Frankenstein's Monster kind of thing. Although, there was a reference or two to something strange in New Orleans. -- but at a certain point, the tag became fitting and appropriate, and despite my aversion to Zombies, I really liked what Fesmire had to say about them. His is an interesting take that should prove more interesting in future installments.
Beyond what I suggested at the beginning, I really didn't know what to expect from this book -- but whatever it was, I was wrong and pleasantly surprised to be so. This is one of those books that will not change or life or the way you look at anything, but you will surely enjoy reading it. Which is exactly what I needed when I read it, I encourage you to do the same.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for this post and my honest opinion. Honest, not timely, this is 2-3 weeks late -- sorry about that, Mr. Fesmire.