Violent and gruesome, "A Congregation of Jackals" is as modern a take on the Western as No Country for Old Men but one that overlays the standard tropes of the genre with a barbarism that seems believable for its mid-19th century setting and that gives readers a sense that the "lawless" West may have been far less romantic than they imagine. The novel is essentially one long draw toward a brutal climax, but characters along the way are exceptionally well crafted -- particularly the womanizing Dickey and the soulless villain Quinlan. Even incidental characters are given depth and an aura of existence beyond the plot. Also admirable is Zahler's portrayals of African-Americans who, despite the racism of the times, were never set-up as simple scenery or "color" for the story, or portrayed as inferior outside of their immediate circumstance. It's a subtle line that the author never crosses and makes Jackals all the more enjoyable. Other novels have been far less deft in their treatment of the racial divide in the Old West. Zahler deserves recognition for his first novel on several levels.