Written by Shane McKenzie
Published by Deadite Press
Shane McKenzie’s Muerte Con Carne is one of the best books I’ve read this year, and I think most readers will dig it, too. It’s relentlessly paced, tightly structured, and brutal as hell—meaning that it has all the ingredients required for the best kind of pulp horror novel.
That’s not to suggest that it skates by solely on shock value, because McKenzie’s writing style is both crisp and assured, delivering some of the most beautiful (and darkly hilarious) literary carnage I’ve read in years. And his talent for strong and sympathetic characterizations is just as good, giving this book a dose of likeability and realism to offset the colorful nature of its goriest moments. That we care about the people caught in this web of depravity is exactly why the pages keep turning. It’s also why I devoured this book over the span of two sittings (I’m a slow reader so that’s an accomplishment).
The general premise is that something terrible is happening to Mexican immigrants attempting to cross the Border. They’re captured and forced to survive a bizarre, life-or-death wrestling match with a massive luchador called El Gigante. But death is merely a precursor to something worse (sort of spoiled by the cover, though I suppose mystery isn’t really the point here). When teenage documentarian Marta arrives in a Mexican border town with her lovesick boyfriend in tow, they hope to shed some light on these vanishings and instead get more than they bargained for: a cannibalistic family, a dingy roadside motel, and local corruption. This is a story seething with over-the-top insanity that both repulses and delights.
There’s a lot to like here, and I think Muerte Con Carne deserves to be commended for tackling a worldly issue like illegal immigration without resorting to heavy-handedness or manipulative trappings. McKenzie raises awareness in a sympathetic way, and douses his narrative with as much authenticity as is needed to make his setting believable. It also gives his characters a reason for sticking around when things go south—this is their reality no matter what.
It doesn’t take long for things to get really gruesome, and one of the most refreshing things about McKenzie’s style is his ability to have some fun with the material without becoming grossly self-aware. There’s a bit too much metafiction happening in the genre today, and while there’s a place for it, there’s nothing like kicking back with a really simple story that’s incredibly well told. This sucker puts its characters (and the reader) through the wringer while getting the blood pumping, literally and figuratively.
This is my first experience with Shane McKenzie, but it won’t be my last. Muerte Con Carne is the kind of thing that sits comfortably in my wheelhouse, and I’m already browsing the rest of his work on Amazon, trying to decide where I’d like to go next. In the meantime, I think I’ll have a taco.