Hunter Shea’s novel Ghost Mine came out in 2019, but somehow it only came to my attention recently, when he posted about it on Twitter.
My immediate reaction? “You had me at ‘ghost mine.'”
Really, what else do you need for a spooky story? An abandoned mine and some ghosts, set in the Wild West, is pretty much perfection as a setting as far as I’m concerned. And the novel is delightful, what I would classify as “fun horror.”
Nat Blackburn, a New York City cop, is approached by his former compatriot in war, Teddy Roosevelt, to take on a strange and mysterious missions out west. Roosevelt, now President, wants Blackburn to investigate the mining town of Hecla, once reported to have gold deposits but now mysteriously abandoned. The entire population of the town seems to have vanished overnight, and a contingent of soldiers sent by Roosevelt to investigate has also disappeared.
Blackburn seems to Teddy to be the perfect person to follow up on this, as he is a former Rough Rider and the closest to a special forces operative that exists at the time. Nat enlists his friend Teta, another combat veteran, and the two of them set out to see what the deal is in Hecla.
When they arrive, all seems quiet at first. But strange things start to occur, at an ever increasing rate — ominous shakings of the earth, strange visions in the mine, and strange apparitions visiting them at their camp in town. When the situation looks to be beyond their ability to handle alone, Nat and Teta attempt to beat a hasty retreat, only to find that they cannot leave. Can they uncover and defeat the sinister forces behind the attack on Hecla before it is too late?
As I have said, I love the setting of Ghost Mine, and Shea does a good job of keeping things creepy and unnerving in the first half of the novel, with strange escalating encounters keeping the characters and readers off-balance. But Nat and Teta are men of action, and heavily armed, so things eventually reach the point where it is gunslingers versus the forces of darkness! This is what I mean by it being a book of “fun horror”: there is a mixture of action and frights that keeps things moving at a good pace and never lets the story get incredibly gloomy.
It is also worth noting that the final chapter of the novel has a denouement that is incredibly satisfying!
Ghost Mine was the first book by Hunter Shea that I’ve read, and I had a lot of fun doing so. I’m sure I’ll be looking up more of his work in the future.
PS: reader warning for a few racial slurs used by characters early on in the book; after all, it is set in the early 1900s!