REVIEW: “West of Matamoros, North of Hell” by Brian Hodge

Review of Brian Hodge, “West of Matamoros, North of Hell”, The Best Horror of the Year Volume Ten, edited by Ellen Datlow (Night Shade Books, 2018): 189—230. Purchase Here. Originally published in Dark Screams Volume Seven, edited by Brian James Freeman (Cemetery Dance/Hydra). Purchase Here. Reviewed by Rob Francis.

Well, now. Where to start with this one? Brian Hodge has produced some excellent short fiction over the last few years in particular, and his contributions to The Best Horror of the Year Volume Nine (2017) were both the best two stories in the book, and the best two I’d read all year. West of Matamoros, North of Hell is of a similar quality, though it falls more on the side of terror (fascinated revulsion) than horror (thrilling dread); it is a fantastic story, though hard to read in places. Not for the faint hearted. Trigger warnings: knives, dismemberment, sledgehammers, scythes. More knives.

The story is narrated by Enrique, musician and creative lead in the Mexican band Los Hijos del Infierno. The band (Enrique, Sebastián and Sofia), accompanied by a small PR team (Olaf, Morgan and Crispin) have come to take some photos for their new album at a site of some spiritually-significant cartel atrocities; a stunt that Enrique thinks is a bad idea. Turns out he’s right! Things go awry, and we’re catapulted into cartel torture territory super quick – and Santa Muerte stands over all.

The story is an excellent blend of Mexican gangster and Mythos; yet the story is so much more than this, touching on the horror associated with tainted places, and how they can bleed through the centuries. I was relieved that the end, though gruesome, was more positive than I had feared.