The book is about a woman named Carol who has a disease that puts her in a coma-like state. She can appear dead to the untrained eye as all her vitals slow down. In the book, there are only a few people who know about her condition: her husband, Dwight, her close friend, John Bowie, and her ex-fling, James Moxie. Moxie is an infamous outlaw, made famous from a gun-duel he won years ago where it seemed like he never drew his weapon, yet his opponent died of a gunshot wound. Everyone believed he won through the use of magic and his name went down in history. Carol’s close friend John Bowie dies, taking Carol’s secret to his grave. Once he dies, Dwight enacts a plan to basically bury Carol once she slips into another one of her episodes and inherit her money.
Carol decides she wants another person to confide in and begins to tell one of her staff members but falls into a coma-like sleep before she can get the word out. However, before succumbing to the disease, she told her staff/friend that she used to be involved with James Moxie and for whatever reason, the help sends word to Mr. Moxie.
Once he gets word of what happened, he drops everything and hits the Trail (yes, it’s personified in the book as a character) and heads towards Carol to save her from being buried alive. Dwight hears of this and hires a notorious hitman to track down and kill Moxie before he can arrive, a man who has a penchant for lighting fires.
Let’s get into the good with this book. First off, the setting and the characters were intriguing. I love westerns, and really love weird westerns or western horror stories. I think the setting is ripe for those crossovers. What was fun about this book, is that Malerman puts in small bits of the supernatural. For example, whenever Carol slips into one of her episodes, she goes to a shadowy realm she’s dubbed, Howltown. While there, there is an entity known as Rot that pesters her, angry that she keeps ‘dying’ but doesn’t decay like a good corpse should. Rot manifests in other ways throughout the book to harass Moxie and stop his journey back to Carol.
Moxie himself is an interesting character, living off the results of that legendary duel so many years ago. As a reader you begin to wonder if it actually happened, or if it was blown out of proportion. I’ll get into a bit a later in the spoiler section.
The story is cinematic in scope, as I could see this playing out in the big screen and being entertaining. However, the story drags in parts, which leads me to the bads of Unbury Carol.
There were a lot of times we’d get chapters dealing with minor characters in the story, such as the grave-diggers, the staff, or some random guy in some random town. Quite frankly, these sections probably could have been removed without much ill effect to the overall narrative. I was only interested in Moxie, his pursuer, Carol, Dwight, and somewhat with the sheriff. I will be honest that I didn’t’ read this book fast. I read it over the period of a few months, picking it up and putting it back down. It was interesting enough that I wanted to finish it, but not gripping enough that I HAD to finish it immediately.
Second, Carol herself was kind of a non-player through the story. Her scenes in the book didn’t have much impact overall until the end. I wanted her to have more of a part, and I suppose in a way that same frustration was felt by her as she wanted to have more of a part. I’ll be honest though, that my want for her to have more of part clashes with my feelings for the ending and I don’t know what to make of it.
Third, in reality, Dwight could have ended this by smothering her in her one of her comas and then the whole book wouldn’t have happened. I couldn’t forget that point as I read the story and whenever Dwight would show up in a scene all agitated with Moxie coming and the sheriff putting the pressure on his investigation, it was hard to wonder why Dwight never did such a thing to begin with. I mean, if he’s willing to bury her alive, why wouldn’t he be just as willing to cover her face with a pillow?
Before I get to my main issue with the book, I want to give my overall opinion. Because my main issue will get into spoilers. Overall, it’s a good read. If you like westerns, and you like horror, give it a read. I give the story maybe 6/10 overall. Now, on to the last point and spoilers.
Still here? That means you’re cool with spoilers. Last chance to veer off if you don’t want to know. My main problem with the book is the ending. In my opinion, this whole story was about James Moxie riding to save Carol from an untimely death and coming to terms with the decision he made many years ago to leave her in the first place. It’s a redemption arc for him. When he finally gets through all the obstacles and is about to dig up Carol from the ground, we find that she escaped last minute because she came to and used some crazy mechanical casket contraption that her mother built for Carol before she died and had delivered with instructions that her daughter be buried in it.
One, this casket was never really mentioned before. Which I get it, it would have given away the ending and suspense. But come on! This whole story is about Moxie coming for her. Then in one fell swoop, his entire journey is invalidated. I felt like I was cheated. And don’t get me wrong, I am super happy that Carol was able to take care of herself, but with all the lead up to what was supposed to happen, it didn’t feel right.
Next, let’s talk about Moxie’s power to fire his gun with magic. That was a fun little mystery…until the end once again. For starters, we never know if he can do it through some supernatural ability or not. He never talks about what happened during that duel, and there is a scene when he’s detained by a sheriff in a town along the Trail and the deputies are messing with his gun. When he finally decides that they aren’t going to let him out, the gun goes off by itself, seemingly by Moxie’s will. At that point, my mouth was open and I was like, holy shit, he can do magic. Then, at the end he kills Carol’s husband, Dwight, by rigging up multiple pistols with string to fire, possibly implying that he was using strings the whole time to pull off his magical shooting pistol trick. However, the whole thing just doesn’t sit well with me or explain much.
Anyway, it was a cool story overall, but the ending fell short for me and left me with a taste of Rot in my mouth.