Now we're into the fifth leg of Matt Cahill's cross-country pursuit of Mr. Dark, this time with James Reasoner at the helm. After the four preceding installmentS; Face of Evil, Ring of Knives, Hell in Heaven, and The Dead Woman; the bar had been set fairly high for Reasoner in terms of gritty action and horror. So, how did this novella fare?
This time around, Matt is trudging through the remorseless heat on the New Mexico on his way, drawn as if by a divine force--or unholy one for that matter--toward a mesa in the middle of the desert. On his way, he meets up with a couple of archeologists driving to the same place to join the rest of their excavation team. Turns out there's an ancient settlement on top of the mesa believed to have been inhabited, and inexplicably abandoned, by the Anasazi. It's called the Blood Mesa, and with that, Matt gets a grimmer idea of why he's heading for that spot. And when he sees that one of the archeologists bears the same decay and putrescence that all subjects of Mr. Dark carry, a mark only he can detect, he realizes there is trouble to follow.
If you ever read Scott Smith's The Ruins, or watched the film adaptation as I did, then you might be familiar with the idea of a supernatural force inflicting itself on a group of isolated students on an ancient archeological site. There was a lot of drawn out suspense with that film, as I recall, gradually building the tension until they finally decided to make a break for it. Reasoner doesn't mince around with any of that and goes straight for the jugular, ramping up the danger almost immediately, plunging Matt, the professors, and students, in a blood-soaked rampage that echoes the kind of tragedy that may have befallen the Anasazi. While you aren't too worried about Matt making it out alive, he's got several freaked out college types about to be plunged into his world--and not all of them are making it out alive.
Where I thought the fourth installment, The Dead Woman, needed to be read after the other preceding books, I thought The Blood Mesa worked relatively well as a stand alone. You wouldn't get the whole picture about why Matt can see Mr. Dark's influence on people, but there's just enough groundwork covered I think to help an uninitiated reader get the gist and enjoy the ride. I dare say Reasoner also offers up the most gruesome iteration in The Dead Man so far, as some of the deaths in this one are nothing less than brutal.
I don't think The Blood Mesa does a lot to propel the overriding story of The Dead Man, but there are a couple of allusions to Mr. Dark's past and what is at stake. I really got a kick out of this one and I think it holds up very well with the rest of the series. I suppose now I gotta look up some more of Reasoner's work for down the line. This novella includes an excerpt from his novel, Under Outlaw Flags, which is now available on the Kindle Store, so maybe I'll put that on my shopping list.