Samhain Publishing, $5.50, ISBN 978-1-61923-020-0
The American Civil War has long been settled, and Abraham Lincoln had bitten the bullet long before Sentinels begins. However, tension between the now free black people and the white folks still run high, and there is resentment among the latter that some black folks now own properties when they themselves are left in a less advantageous position after the war.
Thomas Diggs wants the farm land currently owned by Toby Jenkins and his wife, but so far his efforts to hire people to kill Toby’s family have failed. His latest three goons are no more successful, and their failures suggest that there may be something… supernatural protecting Toby and his family. When some of the local KKK members also end up dead – horribly dismembered and all – and two of the local enforcement folks are also killed in the process, oh dear. Noah Chandler, the new Deputy Sheriff, is probably better off listening to his pregnant wife’s protests about the danger of his job, when he and the Sheriff end up knee-deep in what seems like a supernatural butcher party in Henderson County.
Sentinels starts out a pretty gripping read. There is a nice balance of humor and menacing vibes in this story, and there is the occasional moment of gore that is very nicely done indeed. However, as the story continues, I begin to feel restless. I notice that, for a long time, things are moving at the pace of a groggy snail, with the story often going around in circles with nothing really happening. Indeed, certain characters have to spill everything out to the main characters at the late parts of the story, because for an excruciatingly long time, the good guys have not gone anywhere with their progress and things won’t be changing anytime soon. And given that I have guessed correctly what the “twist” is – thanks to having watched too many episodes of Tales from the Crypt and other old-time anthology horror shows to be very familiar with tropes of horror tales set in this setting – I don’t experience any grand pay-off during that moment.
The characters are interesting and amusing, even the goons hired by Diggs, but the author doesn’t make the best use of them. Sentinels could have been tightened up a bit in the pacing department, turned into a shorter story, or the author could have added more scary or gory moments to keep things lively as the story progresses. Any of these could have made this one more of a gripping scare ride rather than an overlong tale that is too easy to put down.