Wyrd, TX by David Shawn is a terrifying, stylish thriller.
Balancing humor, wit and terror is an ability that few authors ever master, but David Shawn releases a macabre tour de force in Wyrd, TX, a city that time seems to have forgotten, but demons have not. Shawn marvelously sets the tone for readers within the first few chapters – a supernatural first scene to cleanse the palette for fantasy, followed by patient, thorough introductions of the major characters populating this bizarre world.
Chief Butler is the perfect antihero for this type of setting; a good man with simple needs fighting the good fight in a small Texas town, completely unprepared for what is about to erupt in the heart of his tiny kingdom. Watching him interact with witches and powers far beyond his comprehension almost makes a reader pity his disadvantage, and his firm belief in reality quickly begins to shake as the plot starts to unfold.
The fact that the idea of Samhain isn’t even introduced for a good 60 pages shows how slow Shawn wants to unfurl this story, reveling in his descriptions and the richness of this vibrant cast of characters. Whereas authors like China Mieville and Neil Gaiman tend to make the supernatural aspects the focal point of their writing, Shawn adopts a style more akin to Stephen King, putting normal life on display, only to chip it away dramatically with otherworldly events and foils.
A battle between demons and witches is “brewing” in this town as the dark hallowed holiday approaches, and while this is largely lost on the protagonist, readers are given a taste of that anticipation, and are mercilessly pulled forward through the story, making it very difficult to put this book down. As sinister forces gather within Wyrd, bodies begin to float to the surface – or at least heads do – and the pressure lands squarely on Chief Butler to deal with the twisted schemes of Sheriff Barnes, while also keeping his town safe from the looming storm.
However, mixed in with this slowly building tension are lighthearted moments of mirth and whimsy that lighten the mood, such as the garden gnome invasion and the short cut scenes of the Kobolos. It takes a lot for a book to generate actual laughter in a long-time reader, but a number of lines in this novel were black comedy gold: “Mamma Johnson had woken to the juvenile molestation of two gnomes using her breasts as trampolines, bouncing alternately up and down in jubilant mirth.”
The dialogue is lightning sharp, the dialect usage is subtle and spot-on, and the author’s clear love of language and florid descriptions enhance, rather than hinder, the reading experience. The balance of themes and moods in Wyrd, TX is complex, but the author does a great job of never taking the story too seriously, yet still injecting numerous moments of shiver-inducing horror.
This hefty tome would have been impossible without the touch of a master draftsman to drive the plot forward at a patient pace, always teasing readers just enough to convince themselves, “just one more page.” Creating a Salem-like atmosphere within 21st century Texas is no easy task, but Shawn shows that his ability to expound on supernatural darkness is only surpassed by his understanding of corporeal nature.