“Starving Zoe may be the most messed up love story I have ever read. It may make you uncomfortable, you may hate yourself for laughing, and you may be appalled at some of the content but one thing you won’t do is forget reading it.” – Richard Martin
Starving Zoe (book five in the Splatter Westerns series) is a very different book from the others in the series, both in terms of its content and execution and while this entry will no doubt polarise readers unlike any of the previous books, it ultimately rewards with a challenging and unique read.
Robert Jack has survived the Civil War but can he also survive what awaits him on his return home?
After days travelling back to his wife, Zoe, what Robert finds upon his return changes both of their lives and unleashes an unstoppable supernatural evil that won’t rest until Robert has suffered the same terrible violence he has bestowed on others.
The story of Starving Zoe is relayed to the reader in the first person by one of the most unlikeable, downright unpleasant narrators I have ever read. Robert Jack is racist, sexist, violent and selfish and just generally a deplorable human being and your mileage with this book will largely depend on how much time you are willing, or able, to spend in his company. I personally appreciated the fact that the story was told from the point of view of someone I actively disliked and I thought it made for an interesting juxtaposition whereby the reader is constantly torn between wanting Robert to escape his fate and needing him to get his comeuppance.
It is a very contentious book in a lot of other regards as well. There is all the blood and violence you have come to expect from the Splatter Western series, but it feels less over the top and gleeful than usual in Starving Zoe, and more grounded, maybe even a little mean spirited. There are some memorably depraved sections that are played fairly straight. It is Robert’s reactions to the events of the book that bring out the humour. This is a funny book, easily the most overtly comedic of the series to date, and it is jarring to find humour in awful things that transpire in Starving Zoe.
I’m conscious that it may be coming across that I didn’t like this book and while ‘like’ may be a poor choice of words, I do think this is one of my favourites of the Splatter Western series, because it tests the reader’s limits and, beneath the veneer of sex references and penis jokes, there is a very real and ultimately melancholy story about forgiveness and the book has a lot of heart at its core. It is such a lean book with such a tight focus (Robert and titular Zoe being almost the only characters throughout) which is a refreshing change of pace from the big scale, big concept Splatter Westerns to date.
Starving Zoe may be the most messed up love story I have ever read. It may make you uncomfortable, you may hate yourself for laughing, and you may be appalled at some of the content but one thing you won’t do is forget reading it.
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