Synopsis: One night in 1980, a man becomes a monster.
Haunted by his past, Travis Stillwell spends his nights searching out women in West Texas honky-tonks. What he does with them doesn’t make him proud, just quiets the demons for a little while. But after Travis crosses paths one night with a mysterious pale-skinned girl, he wakes weak and bloodied in his cabover camper the next morning—with no sign of a girl, no memory of the night before.
When motel-owner Annabelle Gaskin offers the cowboy a few odd jobs to pay his board, he takes her up on the offer. By day, he mends the old motel, insinuating himself into the lives of Annabelle and her ten-year-old son. By night, in the cave of his camper, he fights an unspeakable hunger. Before long, Annabelle and her boy come to realize that Travis is not what he seems.
Half a state away, a grizzled Texas Ranger is hunting Travis for his past misdeeds, but what he finds will lead him to a revelation far more monstrous. A man of the law, he’ll have to decide how far into the darkness he’ll go for the sake of justice.
When these lives converge on a dusty autumn night, an old evil will find new life—and new blood.
“Travis lay the knife on the floor and shuffled forward on his knees like a man about to perform a tender act. He put his face between the girl’s white legs and touched his lips to her wound, and his mouth filled instantly and he was forced to spit.
But there was something else now too, wasn’t there? A warmth. A kindling.
He put his lips against the wound again and this time swallowed when his mouth had filled and the horror and revulsion he had imagined were not the things he felt. He felt only a bright relief as the blood slicked his throat and struck the furnace of his gut and its heat spread, and before all of this had even happened he had swallowed again, and again. . .
Take it all, Rue said. Take it all.”
Clearly I’ve been super buried in SFF, because I somehow missed In the Valley of the Sun, the debut horror novel unleashed upon us by Andy Davidson back in 2017. It was a finalist for the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a First Novel, which is well-deserved! Yet it didn’t seem to garner the attention it should have. I’m so thankful that Skyhorse Publishing sent me a copy of the new paperback release, otherwise I may not have known about it! (LIES. Everyone on Bookstagram is in love with this book right now! I began to see it everywhere after I received my copy!) That cover with the skull, blood dripping from the eye hole & vampire teeth caught my attention immediately. I mean.. HELLO.
This follows Travis Stillwell, a deeply troubled drifter who also happens to be a serial killer. He takes women home from country bars & then murders them in horrific ways. Except one night he meets someone who is more fucked up than he is. The mysterious Rue. He wakes up in the parking lot of a motel in his camper covered in blood & without any memory of what went down the night before. There he meets Annabelle, a single mother that owns the barely-functioning motel. She offers him a few odd jobs in turn for allowing him to stay. Annabelle has a 10-year-old son named Sandy, who Travis builds a somewhat reluctant bond with. As the days go on, Travis starts to feel sick. Soon, he is unable to work during the day. While this is happening, a Texas Ranger named Reader is tracking him across the state, unaware of the fact that Travis is now trying to conquer another demon within him. Something more horrifying than imagined.
“Rue takes the tissue from her pocket and touches the dried blood to her tongue, and though it is faint and stale, and the kleenex dissolves, she feels him. Hears his heart beating, pumping. She hears his tires and radio and the music of his voice, and she knows that if she feeds now, feeds heavy, grows stronger than she ever has before, she will be able to close her eyes and cross the great wide open valleys and mountains between them with little more than thought, an act of will, and when she opens her eyes, she will be with him.”
Taking place in 1980’s Texas, this had a grimy, humid, claustrophobic, ominous atmospheric vibe. The intensely vivid imagery sets the stark tone. A glorious amalgamation of vampires & cowboys. This element catapults it from a tired old blood-sucking story for me. There’s just something about the old West that is so haunting, so isolating. Throw in horror noir/crime thriller.. I couldn’t help but envision a screen adaptation as I read. Almost something along the lines of No Country for Old Men, with the cinematic feel of Westworld but with vampires! FUCK YES!!
The writing is truly exquisite. Like brutal poetry that drains your blood with every chapter. It’s in a league with the likes of Joe Lansdale & Jim Thompson – two absolutely brilliant writers! AND THIS IS DAVIDSON’S FIRST NOVEL!! Goddamn.
With influences from the typical vampire novels like Carmilla & Dracula, In the Valley of the Sun dares to be a modern classic. There is an incredibly special quality to the story. It bleeds together in such an organic way – hurt, anger, revenge, pain.. & it’s more than a little sexy. I’M A MASOCHIST, OKAY?!
“Monsters,” he said. “The world’s just full of monsters.”
This was a haunting, unflinchingly brutal & darkly poetic story that closely examines human nature, the deep horrors & the profoundly beautiful. It sunk it’s teeth into me, completely.
(Thanks to the radical folks over at Skyhorse Publishing for sending me a copy!)