Antonin Vareene
ARRSE Rating
0.5 Mushroom Heads
This is a unique book, but as an American western novel written by a Frenchman, that really shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. Let me add that it’s not unique in a good way, as far as I’m concerned; this is by far the worst novel I have ever read (and I’ve read Michael Asher’s Death or Glory – The Last Commando). This is a sequel to Varenne’s first western novel Retribution Road, and appears to be intimately tied to it. Certainly not having read the first book made reading Equator a puzzle, with very little in the way of effort to make it a stand-alone story.

Set in 1871, the plot revolves around an Army deserter Pete Ferguson, wanted for murder and on the run. Why (or even if) he murdered someone is not dealt within any detail; it is more a story of his journey, from Buffalo hunting to dealing with Comancheros, across the Rio Grande to Mexico and on down to Guatemala. There are sporadic passages delving into the ranch he left behind and his family there, but they are cryptic to say the least and not even tangential to the story as far as I could see. Maybe it would make more sense if I’d read Retribution Road first, but I’m not willing to find out. All in all the plot is poorly planned, with little logic of its own; it appears to be a collection of set-piece points of action cobbled together with extremely poor segues between them.

The main problem I have with this book is that there is nothing engaging, attractive or intriguing about the central character. At all. Half way through the story I realised I didn’t give a damn what was going to happen to Ferguson; I didn’t even wish him ill. It’s not that the author has created a two dimensional protagonist; Ferguson’s personality and character are reasonably well developed. He’s just not interesting; neither a hero or anti-hero, Ferguson comes across as a bit player in his own story. Nor are any of the other characters interesting; I couldn’t muster emotional engagement with any of them.

The writing style is inelegant and clunky; descriptions tend to be bare bones with no depth or colour. Dialogue is just so bloody dull, it made my eyes ache. I don’t know if this is the fault of poor writing or poor translation, and I don’t really care. I’m just heartily glad I won’t ever have to read it again.

Avoid this book like the plague. It’s such a nonentity, that it sucks the joy out of reading. There is no option to give a 0/5 rating, which is unfair; if there was a minus number I'd be selecting that.

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