The Mensch with No Name by Edward M Erdelac (Tales of a High Planes Drifter: Book 2)

The Merkabah Rider continues his journey across the American Southwest of 1880 in search of the renegade teacher who destroyed his mystic Jewish order in the second volume (containing novella episodes 5-8) of this acclaimed weird western series.

In this installment the Rider unravels more of the mystery of Adon's Hour of the Incursion plot and quickly learns that demons are the least of his troubles. He defends a remote settlement against a gang of half-demon gunmen in 'The Infernal Napoleon', joins forces with Doc Holliday to hunt down an invisible creature in 'The Damned Dingus', aids a group of Indians against the mindbending horror of 'The Outlaw Gods', and takes his hunt to hell itself in 'The Pandæmonium Ride'.

My favourite Hasidic gunslinger, the Rider, is back. Sure the Rider is the only Hasidic gunslinger I know, but that certainly doesn't take make him any less awesome or any less dangerous. In Merkabah Rider: The Mensch With No Name (I'm going to call it TMWNN from here on) Edward M. Erdelac gives us the next four episodes in the Rider's quest to hunt down his blasphemous, scheming mentor, Adon. We start to learn more about Adon, what he has been up to, what schemes he has hatched, and that the consequences of failing to stop him may be disastrous for all the planes of existence. The Hour of Incursion is coming.

As in Merkabah Rider: Tales of a High Planes Drifter, TMWNN is broken up into four stories of novella length. Each story is self contained, has it's own characters and challenges for the Rider to face, and each one gives some progression to the overall Merkabah Rider story arc:

The Infernal Napoleon - the half-demon spawn of Lilith, still seething from the events of the last story, have finally caught up to the Rider in the town of Varruga Tanks. With the help of a local boy named Gersh (a reincarnation of Samson?), the Rider faces off against the half-demons, their ancient cannon forged by Lucifer himself, and Adon's treacherous pupils who are now able to hunt the Rider on the Yenne Velt.
The Damned Dingus - after his Volcanic pistol is stolen during a train robbery, the Rider teams up with Doc Holliday (I'm hardly a Wild West expert so it was great to finally recognise an historical figure) and 'Mysterious' Dave Mather (another historical figure) to track down the outlaws and retrieve his Volcanic. After tracking down the outlaws, the Rider and company must face the 'undead' and a powerful monster (reminiscent of The Dunwich Horror) if he is to reclaim his weapon.
The Outlaw Gods - a group of American Indians meet up with the Rider at his campsite - they have been looking for him and they need his help. After a perilous journey the Rider is introduced to Chaksusa, a Tibetan mystic who needs the Rider to lead a battle against the Black Goat Man (we are right into Lovecraft now). The Rider is told of Tibetan mysticism, of gods and universes outside of this one, and despite the blasphemous nature of this information, the Rider is not able to disregard the evidence. His faith has never been so harshly tested.
The Pandæmonium Ride - The Rider is dying. The minions of Lilith continue to feed on his life force, and it is only through the help of a Merkabah Rider from the Ethiopian Sons of the Essenes sect that he is able to keep these minions at bay. With Adon's plan now in full swing, the Rider and his new companion need answers, and the best place to get these answers are from Lucifer himself in the depths of Hell.
Where Tales of a High Planes Drifter was all about introducing readers to Jewish mysticism, the Rider, and the overarching plot, TMWNN is all about assembling all of the puzzle pieces to work out just exactly what Adon's endgame is, and putting together a plan to stop him. The overarching plot is much more present in this volume and this helps to maintain a much more even flow and pacing during the down time and between the stories. The Jewish mysticism is handled much better in this volume, and after spending the first episode getting reacquainted with the Rider Erdelac plunges us head first into some new religions and mythologies - particularly all things Lovecraft (search for the Necronomicon if you want to learn more). With things like invisible monsters, snake warriors, and a terrifying trip through the gates of Hell, things have taken a much darker turn and I like it. The only criticism I have (and this is very much a personal taste thing) is that I found the writing to be very dense, packed full of so much information that I found myself reading and re-reading line after line just so I could take it all in. There are so many layers and so much complexity in these stories that I think people will find the first read through to be tough going (like I did), with the second read through to be much more satisfying.

Erdelac has given the Rider a lot more attention in this volume, and for me that made things much more interesting. We get to find out more about the Rider, where he came from, and what makes him tick. He is made to feel a lot less alien than before, and for me that made him much easier to relate to and empathise with. Erdelac does a lot of this by providing the Rider with companions for each story - characters like Gersh, Doc Holliday, Chaksusa and Kabede - who are all unique and complex characters, and who all challenge the Rider in their own different ways which helps to flesh out his closely guarded / hidden nature. But Erdelac doesn't stop there, giving the Rider a very well constructed crisis of faith arc that progresses across the course of the volume. I found this crisis of faith arc to be both fascinating and heartbreaking, watching the Rider's faith plummet as he becomes exposed to truths outside the boundaries of his religion, and watching as the authenticity of his devotion and practices is brought into question.

My favourite part of this volume has to be the Rider and Kabede's descent into Hell. Erdelac paints the most vivid pictures with his words during this scene, drawing on influences from Milton's Paradise Lost and Alighieri's Divine Comedy (Dante's Inferno) to craft some horrific imagery which, like the Rider, I "watched in morbid fascination". This scene flowed so well from start to finish and I found it so much easier to read because of how it completely gripped my attention. For me, this scene on it's own is the reason why you should be trying to get a hold of anything and everything written by Erdelac.

Weird Western is a weird genre that probably will not appeal to everyone but that I would encourage everyone to try. The Merkabah Rider stories are right up there as some of the best Weird Western I have read, and I am very eager to see where Erdelac takes the Rider next. If you like The Dark Tower by Stephen King, I think you will get a lot of enjoyment out of this book.

9/10 My favourite Hasidic gunslinger, the Rider, is back.

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