[For the previous countdown post, click here.]
2. “The Iron Dead” (2010)
Imagine if Dashiell Hammett wrote for Weird Tales rather than Black Mask, and you’ll have a good sense of the sensibility of this retro-pulp novella. In middle-of-nowhere Montana, a bootlegging run is interrupted by a “hell machine”–a vampiric cyborg hybrid of flesh and blood and metal and wire. This Satan-serving monstrosity seeks not just sustenance but also fresh recruits for its nightmare army: it builds new soldiers out of “scavenged engine parts and organs harvested from the bodies of murdered men and women.” With such a diabolical scheme unfolding, it’s fortunate that a wandering hero is drawn to the carnage; the drifter Chaney has a mechanical hand, a black satchel full of weapons, and a score to settle. The plot plays out like Night of the Iron Dead, as gangsters, lawmen, and Chaney hole up in a jailhouse under siege from the hell machine’s minions. Escaping, the unlikely band of confederates advance on the hell machine’s workshop of infernal creation (a cemetery-adjacent gas station/machine shop) during a driving rainstorm. A harrowing adventure narrative on overdrive, featuring an extensive cast of human heroes and villains and an assortment of exotic monsters that make Clive Barker’s Cenobites look like a bunch of Tinker Toys, “The Iron Dead” is surely cinematic in scope. No one does hard-boiled horror better than Partridge, and this knockout novella forms his premiere example of such genre mash-up.