If I'm going to review Muerte con Carne by horror writer Shane McKenzie, I'm going to have to start by offering some major disclaimers...
1) I am currently a Kickstarter backer for Luchagore Production's El Gigante , a short film based on the first chapter of Muerte con Carne.
2) I've always had a soft spot for Luchador horror movies, those Mexican wrestlers films which usually had wrestlers in masks, ever since I first saw the first Sampson (El Santo) movies and Wrestling Women vs. The Aztec Mummy back when I was a kid. You could say that it is one of my many guilty pleasures. So any book that features a masked wrestler is certainly going to get my attention.
3. How can you not like a writer who tries to look all Ernest Hemingway macho while wearing a pink princess back pack.?
But even with all those disclaimers, I can honestly state that Muerte con Carne is a edge-of-your-seat riot, steeped in the literary tradition of Jack Ketchum's Off Season, drenched in the scares and gore of movie influences like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and permeated with the odors of human flesh tacos. The novel is set on the border of the United States and Mexico. A family is regularly kidnapping people who are attempting to come into the United States illegally and, when they are taken to the abductors' home, are pitted against a huge wrestler named El Gigante who mangles and slaughters them. The corpses are then cut up and eaten by the family who then takes the left-overs and uses them in tacos which are sold on the street. Yum! Tastes just like chicken! In the first chapter we are introduced to this family who are the most grotesque bunch of monsters since the Westboro Baptist Church. At least the WBC aren't cannibals....as far as we know.
Enter Felix and Marta who have arrived in a small border town to make a documentary of the border patrol's abuse of people crossing the border. Also arriving to this reading, is my only real issue with the book. Felix is a bit of a wimp and emotionally abused by his girlfriend while Marta is a bit borderline...and I'm not talking about her documentary. Frankly, she's that word my mother said I should never call women and it is hard to understand what Felix sees in her despite a bit of back story existing to explain her actions. She also makes really stupid choices which are the horror movie equivalent of going into a haunted house and splitting up. Yet I liked Felix and it is to the author's credit that he manages to elicit enough understanding for both protagonists to allow the reader to care for them. On the other hand, caring for any one character in a mega-gore fest like this can be a slippery bowl of menudos.
Yet this book is mainly about action and horror. It works mostly because the author created a very scary and very menacing set of villains. From the wrestler to the matriarch to a very weird and disgusting kid, these are the type of characters that both revolt and fascinate. There's some nice build-up as Felix meets a few of them early on but it really takes off when we get to see the monsters up close and personal. The novel is an excellent example of horror and pulp fiction taken to its highest, if still visceral, levels.
There is one other thing that impress me even if it was a bit understated. Early one, McKenzie sets up the environment of the border town and that of the plight of undocumented entries into the US. This issue is nicely handled by the author and shows a certain level of concern and caring that is especially placed in focus by our normally selfish Marta. There's a reason for this and it adds another dimension to this novel. I understand that Shane McKenzie will be writing at least one sequel and I am hoping he adds on to this aspect of this story.
Now for the inevitable warning: Those who regularly read my reviews know that no tonly do I have eclectic tastes but I also tend to lean toward the extreme often. These is one of those extremes to the max. If you are at all squeamish or put off by gore, violence, and/or cannibalism you will want to avoid this book. However if you are the kind of person who eats Habanero peppers by the handful and complain they are not spicy enough, you will probably love this book. You get my drift?