What is THE HANGMAN FEEDS THE JACKAL about, and what drew you to this type of story?
The character of Elijah Valero takes center stage in THE HANGMAN FEEDS THE JACKAL. Valero is an antihero, a drifter and killer, who operates in the 1880s and 1890s American West. He’s a character I’ve developed over the course of a dozen short stories. The first Valero story was published in an issue of Big Pulp in 2010. I love to work with Valero, and I plan to keep telling his stories. This is his first novel.
As a historian, I want my characters to embody a feature of the past often overlooked in popular culture. I developed Valero after studying and teaching about the American West for several years. It struck me how mental illness is prevalent in the era but isn’t discussed regarding the men who made the West famous. Valero is my reaction to that. Today, we would say Valero suffered from a form of psychosis, specifically schizophrenia. The term schizophrenia wasn’t coined in his time, so proper diagnosis was unlikely in Valero’s world. Even if he had sought treatment, the “treatment” was horrific, cruel, and ineffective.
For Valero, the illness arises when he’s twenty-two and is acute by the time he reaches his thirties. The stories I write move along this timeline. Sometimes his illness does not factor into the story, other times it drives the narrative. The latter is the case with THE HANGMAN FEEDS THE JACKAL.
The novel begins with Valero fighting to regain control over reality, sequestering himself in an abandoned monastery in the wilderness to protect those he might harm. A murderous young man named Felix, part of a larger plot to unearth silver in a nearby settlement, drives Valero from isolation. The novel is about Valero gaining control and redemption.
I love this type of gritty story about the underbelly of the world. It’s a story about the human gutter. You find that in noir, which I enjoy tremendously, but it’s often absent from westerns. There’s truth in the unhappiness and grim nature of it. I moved it closer to the “weird western” subgenre with the Hangman and Spider apparitions that haunt Valero.
What do you like about Gothic Westerns?
I love the Classic Western, where good and bad are divided along clear lines, but the real West was ugly, desperate, apathetic, and mean for most. As a historian, I think the model of the Gothic Western, with its dark timbre, is truer to the real West. The line between good and bad is thin, blurred, sometimes nonexistent, sometimes so delicate that a single action or decision can determine the side on which you fall.
The ruins of Native American civilization and the remains of Spanish settlement created layers and layers of decay on top of which the American West was built. Gothic exists in the service of rot—no other genre serves decay better. The Classic Western emphasizes newness, gain, growth, and the triumph of Good. The Gothic Western emphasizes decay, loss, withering humanity, and the banality of Evil. It’s an antidote to the mythology.
What are you working on next?
With my next project, I’m moving to other characters I love. I’m writing the first novel with Dorin Toth and his greyhound, Vinegar Tom. The characters first appeared in GRIMOIRE OF THE FOUR IMPOSTORS in a story called “The Nightshade Garden.” Toth is a Doctor of Theology, a scholar of occult philosophies, and a brilliant investigator who operates in the late 17th century. Like Valero, Toth is an outsider in his society who must solve problems from the margin.
The novel is titled THE PROMISE OF PLAGUE WOLVES. Toth is summoned from Vienna to investigate a vampiric disease that is overtaking a cluster of villages in the Holy Roman Empire. Vinegar Tom goes along for the ride, of course. Animals are so important to me, so I love Tom deeply (despite his acerbic nature). And don’t worry, he isn’t there for decoration. He’ll make his mark.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Coy Hall lives in West Virginia with his wife, Olivia, and they share a home with wonderful pets: a green-eyed cat named Locksley and a clumsy Great Pyrenees named Duncan.
Coy splits time as an author of mysteries and horror and as a professor of history. The two pursuits fit together well. As a historian, he teaches courses about medieval and early modern Europe. History has influenced his writing, with many of his stories set in the distant past – sometimes the real past, sometimes an imagined one, but most often a mix of the two.
A member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA), his short stories have appeared in a variety of anthologies and magazines. He’s published in a wide range of genres, including western, science-fiction, adventure, crime, fantasy, horror, and mystery.
Other influences include authors Philip K. Dick, Raymond Chandler, Fritz Leiber, M.R. James, Chester Himes, and Shirley Jackson. Radio drama series like Inner Sanctum Mysteries and CBS Radio Mystery Theater, and films such as Nosferatu (1922) and The Black Cat (1934) have also shaped his storytelling.
His first novel, Grimoire of the Four Impostors, was released in 2021.
- Paperback: 290 pages
- Language: English
- ISBN-13: 978-1-944286-24-8 (paperback)
Also available as an ebook.