imagesThe Curse of Jacob Tracy is a hybrid. Part horror and part western, Holly Messinger’s excellent first novel melds the genres with skill and aplomb. The narrative takes place in 1880, when the scars of the Civil War are healing, but still sting. Jacob Tracy nearly died in one of the battles. His residual psychic damage goes beyond postwar trauma. Tracy, known as “Trace,” subsequently acquired the ability to see ghosts and otherworldly entities. Trace views this as a curse, and with sound reason: His experience has taught him that when he discloses the trait, the informed individuals die. This has rendered him cautious and reticent. Even his best friend and co-worker, an African American man known as Boz, gets somewhat emotionally shut out. The concealment comes to an end when Trace becomes employed by an enigmatic English woman who is determined to cultivate Trace’s arcane aptitude.

Sabine Fairchild is a challenging employer. She’s an attractive rich recluse who vacillates between blooming good health and sickly affliction. Her interest in Trace isn’t purely philanthropic, and he’s aware of her beguiling wiles. Their repartee is often rancorous, yet there’s an undercurrent of mutual need. During the course of Miss Fairchild’s tutelage, Trace and Boz face off with demons, vampires, and werewolves. Trace’s mind is vulnerable to fiendish supernatural infiltration, but after one particular skirmish he learns to manipulate and contain a mental assault: “He pushed open the well-cover in his mind and the termites swarmed in but the bright flame of his power drove them back, burnt them to ash. In the light and the burning he saw them for what they were—malicious imps, nasty little shades of demons or something similar, mindless but somehow willful, that sought to burrow into his living flesh and corrupt it. They tried to hide in his bones, in his heart, in the dark recesses of his self-doubt, but he’d had enough of letting other forces tell him what he should be.”

Holly Messinger infuses her vastly entertaining book with humor and social commentary. She tweaks established literary images, such as the itinerant drover and his non-Caucasian sidekick, and makes them fresh and intriguing. The Curse of Jacob Tracy is wonderfully energetic in its embracing of two beloved genres.

The Curse of Jacob Tracy is published by Thomas Dunne Books, and is available now