Chilling, thought-provoking “neo-Western horror thriller”


Brett Riley

Comanche: A Novel

Imbrifex Books

Hardcover (also available as an e-book and audiobook) 978-1-9455-0136-4, 336 pgs., $25

September 1, 2020


A deadly gunslinger from the nineteenth century suddenly shows up in twenty-first-century Texas and starts killing new victims.


Is he, as some terrified witnesses claim, the real Piney Woods Kid come back to life after being shot down in 1887? Is he a murderous imposter dressed to kill in look-alike attire, right down to the Kid’s gun belt and blood-stained boots? Or is the town of Comanche now haunted by an apparition seeking to avenge the posse that killed the Kid and cruelly dragged his body for miles?


Comanche, Brett Riley’s debut novel, is a clever, imaginative blend of literary fiction, historical fiction, horror, dark humor, and detective procedural.


Having a serial killer roaming around a town is never good for tourism, of course. And the tiny police department is overwhelmed and underprepared to handle such a complex case. So, Comanche’s mayor is badgered by his wife to bring in a less-than-crack investigative team: a pair of New Orleans private detectives (one of them her often-drunk brother), a psychic, and a professor eager to do some “field research” and escape teaching bored undergraduates.  


The author employs several real settings within the town of Comanche in very fictionalized ways. And his book’s disclaimer is quick to note that he has altered those settings, as well as the surrounding geography, “for dramatic expediency.” He wants that fact known, he writes, “in case any local readers thought he was trying to represent the exact layout of town and spectacularly failing.”


Comanche is written in a literary style that some readers and critics still view as controversial: no quotation marks—double or single—are employed in the text. For example:


So how much longer? she asked.

LeBlanc shrugged. Maybe fifteen minutes.

Good. I’m starvin. I hope one of you boys will buy a lady a burger.


(In addition, many “-ing” words such as “starving” are presented in colloquial style without the usual mark that indicates a missing letter.)


William Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy, plus numerous other novelists, successfully have made use of description and dialogue that are not set apart by quotation marks. Indeed, McCarthy has argued that quotation marks simply slow readers down. Also, some critics and academics have had lively debates over which punctuation marks, such as commas, semicolons, em-dashes, and periods, have been overused, underused, or flung about in defiant manners within famous novels written without quotation marks.


Not surprisingly, author Brett Riley is a professor of American literature.  In Comanche, he sticks with an uncomplicated style in text that is smooth and clear. He has wisely avoided temptations to create over-the-top Texas characters. The people in his novel have backstories that resemble many people’s real-life disappointments, bad decisions, and unsteady relationships.


Comanche lives up to its billing as a “neo-Western horror thriller.” It’s engaging, chilling, and thought-provoking “what-if” reading, with final chapters that are full of tension and desperate choices.


Brett Riley is professor of English at the College of Southern Nevada. He grew up in southeastern Arkansas and earned his Ph.D. in contemporary American fiction and film at Louisiana State University. The published author of a body of short fiction, Riley has also won numerous awards for screenwriting. Riley lives in Henderson, Nevada. Comanche is his debut novel.