Fistful of Reefer by David Mark Brown (2011)
In 1918, when Chancho Villarreal and his friends inadvertently create the legend of El Chupacabra, they draw the attention of Texas Ranger J.T. McCutchen to their goat ranch and marijuana farm north of Del Rio, Texas. What follows is an action-packed ride across the wilds of a Texas haunted by rumors of Chupacabras behind every bush.
This double-fisted, dieselpunk weird-Western resides between No Country for Old Men and The Three Amigos.
Fistful of Reefer has a killer premise. It’s a Weird West/dieselpunk adventure set in Texas about a gadgeteer genius Mexican marijuana farmer who’s on the run from a bordering-on-psychotic prohibitionist Ranger. It’s the first novel in the Reeferpunk series.
The opening scene sucked me in. Ranchers confront Chancho about their dead goats, and one reaches for his pistol and growls, “The goats didn’t die from demon curse or fright, they died from colic–from too much marihuana.” There are shootouts, chili-bombs, and epic chase scenes involving bales of marijuana. What more could one ask for?
The flippant prose is delightful in its old school pulp style, and the action sequences are thrilling. I’d probably re-read some of the fight scenes because they’re that awesome.
For a book that promotes itself as a dieselpunk adventure, there isn’t much dieselpunk machinery, although Chancho makes a pretty epic marijuana harvester that runs on manure. I hope Chancho displays more of his gadgeteer genius skills in the future.
I liked that the protagonists were a Mexican man, indigenous woman, and Black Seminole in a Weird West. But unfortunately, there’s a lot of forced sentiment regarding protagonists, but your mileage may vary. If you like the melodrama and romanticism found in old movies like María Candelaria, then it won’t bother you, but I found it to be dated and uncomfortably bridging on noble savage tropes with its cultural baggage (which requires taking its portrayals of indigeneity with a truckload of salt).
Characterization isn’t Fistful of Reefer‘s strong suit. Everyone can be summed up in two traits. They’re still charming in that pulp fiction way, but I wanted more depth in the protagonists. I still really like that they are the heroes in a Weird West, but I wish they were more often defined by their personality, with their background informing their point of view, rather than being almost nothing more than their background. The story should make it clear that Chancho is a loveable rogue because he’s Chancho, and not because he’s Mexican; Nena is a brave woman because she’s Nena, not because she’s of the Kickapoo people; and Muddy is loyal and dependable because he’s Muddy, not because he’s Black Semiole.
Pages of infodumping about the protagonists’ histories take away the story’s momentum. Along the same lines, there’s a lot of telling instead of showing with regards to their character traits. There’s a disconnect between what their traits are supposed to be, versus what they are actually doing in the story. I can’t say I’m impressed by the protagonists, but in contrast, the villain Ranger McCutchen is an excellent character. His motivations and history are revealed more naturally in smaller segments, and his actions speak for themselves. The narration didn’t have to tell me explicitly that he’s creepy and insane. He just is. This would be a much stronger book if the protagonists’ character traits were laid out in a similar manner.
Chancho’s aspirations grow larger towards the end of the book, instead of merely trying to outrun the ranger, he starts having loftier dreams of liberating the American people. Unfortunately, I was confused as to what this exactly meant. Does liberating the people mean liberating them from prohibition? Is it strictly about marijuana or is it more than that? Even though it’s not clear what Chancho stands for, people turn up in droves to support him, because the narration claims that he’s a Good Guy and stands for Good Things. So at the end of the book, I was left confused and unfulfilled.
Even though I have a number of criticisms with Fistful of Reefer, I commend the author for creating a fun and unique world, and I think that the series has promise.
You might like this if you like…
Weird West; race and chase scenes; liberation from prohibition; pulp fiction; sweet ganja
The sequel, The Austin Job, is now available on Amazon.
David Mark Brown has some free serialized novellas set in the same world. You can read them on his website under “Reeferpunk“.
Posted on March 6, 2012, in 3 stars, Alternate History, Alternate Westerns and Weird West, David Mark Brown, Ebook Reviews, Fantasy, Fistful of Reefer, Frida Reviewed, Pulp and tagged bugtech, exotic weapons and nifty gadgets, gadgeteer genius, nice job breaking it hero. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.