MARC SCHOOLEY’S Nightriders defies genre in a speculative western that reads like a collaborative effort between Louis L’Amour, Robert A. Heinlein and C.S. Lewis. From other-wordly creatures at war on the Texas killing fields in the late 1800s to heroic vigilantes to an elderly preacher who claims to be the last of that legendary band, the reader is immersed into a story that makes genre meaningless. To put it simply, this author can tell one amazing engrossing story.
Nightriders is the first person account of a modern day news editor relating the first person story of Mac Cavanagh, an elderly preacher remembering a former time. What Cavanaugh relates could only exist in the mind and pen of the author, a master of blending the totally weird with the totally believable. As he did in his previous novel, Konig’s Fire, Schooley manages to weave a fantastical tale with historical events to expose the reader to ideas that may have never been given consideration otherwise.
At its heart, this is a great Western. I grew up with larger than life heroes like the Lone Ranger, Randolph Scott, and other quiet avengers of evil in a land yet untouched by what we call civilized humanity. Such is the image Mac has of the Nightrider called Eagle
“The eagle stood facing me in the center of the saloon, surrounded by silence in swirling smoke and dim lamplight—an avenging blackbird of justice flown in from some nightly Plutonian shore with pearl-handled revolvers naked in their holsters”.
Mac’s heroes, however, are mere shadows compared to the One he comes to yearn for over his years of riding with legends. The underlying message of Mac Cavanaugh’s story is that civilization even as an ideal is a myth. As noble as his intentions may be, Mac has come to realize that the real killing fields are not relegated to some parcel of land but rather exist in a wilder territory, the human heart.
Though each of the Nightriders hides behind a mask, each has a distinct personality. Even their horses seem to grow larger than life and prove to be far more noble than many of the people that inhabit the townships between Dallas and parts south. Be forewarned, the era and the land portrayed were unforgiving and no one is spared the harsh reality of the killing fields, not man nor mount.
While there is plenty of pulse pounding action, including a rousing gun fight aboard a speeding train, the real action here is that of one man seeking to understand the human condition. If stories that allow a character to explore the darker side of his own nature make you uncomfortable, this one might be offsetting. But if you are brave enough to join Mac as he looks through an alien kaleidoscope to see what lies imbedded in the best of men, that act will offer some startling revelations.
Lest you think this is a heavy handed piece of religious fiction, there isn’t a single church scene in the story. Instead, we are given the journey of a simple man as he struggles to do one thing that matters in his life. And once Mac Cavanaugh has finished telling his story, one could almost wish to suffer through the trials he has to see things as clearly as he does.
“I knew we had gotten off track. Xia helped me see that the Church’s place wasn’t entanglement in race and politics. To change the fields, you got to change the heart. And then I knew why the fields was what they was. And that’s what we teach down at the Greater Hope Baptist Church.”
Marc Schooley works on contract to the NASA Johnson Space Center and preaches every Sunday. His novel, König’s Fire is a Carol Award (ACFW Book of the Year) winner and Christy Award nominee,