It's an unusual western and I'm eager to see what my readers think of it. It's got all the traditional elements that have made my previous westerns so successful, but it's got a twist in that the main character is dead for most of the novel and the narrative doesn't rely on flashback scenes to propel the story. Now does it require ghostly goings on - confused? All will become clear when you read The Afterlife of Slim McCord.
Below is an exclusive extract
‘Shot in the back,’ the barker yelled. ‘Ain’t no lawman who could have taken Mad Slim McCord face on.’
‘You sure got that right,’ Clay Blackman offered a nickel but the barker held up his hands, palms forward.
‘No, no, old timer’ he shook his head vigorously. ‘Not me, give it to him.’
‘Sure,’ the barker smiled. ‘Put it in his mouth. He’s the one you’re paying to see and it’s only right he takes your money.’
‘In his mouth?’
‘Sure, he’ll gobble it right up.’
Blackman frowned. It seemed a particularly gruesome thing to do but nevertheless he pushed the coin between his dead friend’s lips. He winced as his fingers brushed the dry, almost abrasive tongue.
Strange but McCord didn't even look dead, propped up as he was against a wooden frame, more like he was sleeping on his feet. The preservation was incredible, and the dead man’s skin, although cold and leathery, seemed to glow with vigour. His eyes of course were glass; Blackman knew that because Slim’s eyes had been a pale grey, rather than the vibrant blue that now stared sightlessly into an unfocused distance. One of the eyes had also been placed at an irregular angle, which gave Slim something of a cock-eyed appearance.
‘How’d he end up like this?’ Blackman wasn’t aware that he had given the thought a voice.
‘Well now,’ the barker rubbed his chin, as though considering his reply rather than going into a well-practised sales pitch. ‘Was a time Mad Slim McCord was one of the most feared man in the West. He terrorised the badlands and sent many a lawman to an early grave.’
Blackman smiled at that. As far as he knew Slim had never been much of a killer, he hadn’t liked killing, and would avoid doing so whenever it was possible. He tended to scare folks with a dazzling combination of skilful gunplay, which was often all it took. One time, Blackman remembered, Slim had shot a sheriff’s hat clean off his head and then plugged it twice more as it spun through the air. After that the lawman hadn’t been any trouble to them and they had been free to go about their unlawful business.
‘The fact that he lived as long as he did is testament to how successful a bandit he was,’ the barker continued. ‘But McCord’s luck ran out one day down in Santino when a lawman recognised him from an old wanted poster and shot him in the back. Just like that. No warning and a bullet in the back.’
‘Long way from Santino to here,’ Blackman said. ‘How’d he end up here?’
‘You see no one claimed the body,’ the barker said. ‘And so the undertaker, figuring he could profit from such an infamous outlaw, decided to embalm the body in a preserving solution made of arsenic and strong spirits.’
‘And you bought him?’ Blackman looked the barker directly in the eyes.
The barker nodded, proudly.
‘He’s been dead close on seven years now and looks as if he could have been shot this very morning,’ the barker said. ‘The undertaker had to remove a lot of his innards you know, stuff him back up with sawdust and the like, but that’s a darn fine preservation job, darn fine. American craftsmanship at its best.’
‘You bought the body to turn a profit?’ Blackman found that the most tasteless thing he had ever heard.
‘Sure did,’ the barker said. ‘And I charge a nickel a view. That’s what’s called the entrepreneurial spirit operating in a free market. God bless America.’
‘Guess he sure ain’t gonna’ choke on that nickel,’ Blackman said.
‘We're only here one week in Possum Creek,’ the barker said with a broad smile. ‘Be sure to tell all your friends.’
Immediately another man entered, holding his nickel out between a thumb and forefinger. There was a queue of at least fifty people outside the tent waiting for a chance to see the dead outlaw. Slim had never been that successful an outlaw, Blackman recalled and guessed that he was making more money dead than he ever had alive.
‘I hear he’s been preserved with a paint made of strong whisky,’ someone in the crowd said as Blackman pushed through and made his way to the saloon.
The story continues in The Afterlife of Slim McCord by Jack Martin out this month but available for pre-order now.