A Baptism for the Dead by Charles R. Bernard

Charles R. Bernard has crafted an immersive piece of historical fiction with A Baptism for the Dead. Spanning the decades between the 1840s and the 1870s, we experience snapshots of the expansive fields of unsettled Nebraska on the approach to the South Pass through the Continental Divide in what would become Wyoming, raging blizzards in Northern Michigan, and the early years of Salt Lake City…and those snapshots feel three dimensional.
Throughout the story, we occasionally follow Left Hand, an indigenous woman who has the unfortunate path in life of hunting monsters. The introduction to her character is a fascinating glimpse of a forest haunted by ghosts and a cavern of sickness and monstrous residents.
The bulk of the story begins as we witness Leonidas Pyburn and his two sons–following the fateful path previously taken by the Donner-Reed Party–headed West to embrace the call of Manifest Destiny in the form of the emerging gold rush in California. Encountering a frantic, haunted sexton along the way, their own journey takes a turn not altogether better than that experienced by the previously mentioned Donner Party.
The survivors of that grisly, horrific encounter go drastically separate directions, both in life and in a cartographic sense. While Leonidas continues West to seek fortune and power, his son determines that his fate awaits him to the North, with the Mormons who passed through the region previously.
As secrets and magic bring the father and son together again, two decades later, we learn that there are more than carrion-eating ghouls to be afraid of in this vision of the American West.
Bernard succeeds in blending occultism, conventional spirituality, social commentary, history, and family drama into a captivating novel that contains more than enough gore and Western aesthetic to appeal to fans of the Splatter Westerns being published by Death’s Head Press.

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