The Survival of Margaret Thomas

Written by Del Howison
Review by B. J. Sedlock

Howison’s bio says he is on the board of the Horror Writers Association, so the fact that this Western set in the 1870s has some gruesome scenes should not be a surprise.

Margaret (Peg) Thomas is a widow struggling to cope with the brutal murder of her lawman husband.  She blames herself for his death; he was shot while trying to protect her from the bad guys.  When Peg hears that one of those involved has been captured and will soon be tried, she sets out from Missouri to Arizona to attend the trial.

Her quest incorporates elements of the picaresque, meeting roguish characters and unusual situations along the road.   She becomes traveling companions with Bantam, a little person whom her husband had sent to jail but now claims he’s reformed; Gina, a gypsy woman; and Anne, a whore.  They survive a fire in a town’s red light district, and Bantam’s penchant for haunting saloons gets them into trouble.

When they finally reach Arizona, the man awaiting trial murders the sheriff and escapes to rejoin his gang.  Peg and company are determined not to wait for a replacement sheriff, and form a posse to track down the gang and avenge her husband.

The horror genre holds no appeal for me, so I didn’t appreciate the graphic descriptions of torture or detailed appearances of dead bodies.  But I did enjoy the Western quest aspect of the novel.  Peg’s companions are quirky, interesting characters.  Peg changes from a marginal alcoholic, buried in grief, to a strong woman; I don’t think that’s a spoiler, given the title of the book.   The story of how she accomplishes the journey will be enjoyable for those who have a strong stomach for the gory parts.