Meet the lead cast of Victor LaValle's mesmerizing new novel, "Lone Women": Adelaide Henry, a tall, 31-year-old Black woman who flees California in the wake of a gruesome tragedy; Grace Price, a widowed homesteader whose desire to protect her son drives her to unspeakable violence; Bertie Brown, also Black, who tends a saloon and operates a cleaners; and Fiona Wong, her partner in business and in romance. In 1915 they settle near Big Sandy, Mont. — a clutch of shanties, a hotel, opera house and a couple of cafes — scraping a living from the bleak landscape. Although husbandless, they refer to each other by "Mrs.," captive to patriarchal forces beyond their control.

Patriarchy is monstrous; hence a literal monster is on the prowl. A master of the speculative mode, LaValle opens "Lone Women" with carnage, the mutilated corpses of Adelaide's parents, and blood on their daughter's hands. After torching the bodies, Adelaide drags a bolted trunk on a train over the Rockies, purchasing a farm that is a horseback ride from Big Sandy. The trunk thumps and rattles, hisses and snarls, its secrets locked away, but not for long.

Although Adelaide struggles to connect with the other Lone Women, they gradually forge relationships while Mrs. Mudge, a murderous Ma-Barker prototype, stalks them, aided by her four thuggish sons.

"Lone Women" shifts from the grandiosity of LaValle's "The Changeling" (in which an online troll is an actual troll) to a prose spare and vast, prairie-like, yet steeped in menace: Kent Haruf by way of Jordan Peele. (There's even a shout-out to William Faulkner.)

Gale winds buffet Adelaide's cabin, the "howls and shrieks of that endless Montana turbine." Ghosts flicker in and out of view. Cowboys emerge from thin air, pistols cocked. LaValle twiddles the reality dial a half-frequency: The demon escapes bondage, wreaking havoc, while the citizens of Big Sandy swear like present-day New Yorkers on a subway commute.

He brings the creepiness to a boil in a few beautifully crafted scenes, but the Lone Women are no victims: They stake claims to autonomy and erotic freedom, as when Bertie imagines her partner's undergarments: "These French drawers were an indulgence, white cotton batiste and lace with a pink drawstring ribbon at the waist; not as practical as the split skirt ... But Bertie liked seeing Fiona out in the world, hauling laundry from the hotel or out at the opera or just feeding the horses, and for no one else in the world to know she wore such a luxury."

The novel increasingly veers toward a Grand Guignol crescendo — the grisly death count mounts, the phantom in the opera house lurks among the wings, hungry and enraged — but the author keeps pushing the envelope of technique. His big revelations both mystify and move us, spinning a fable of race, gender and power, a revisionist western that recalls Tom Lin's recent "The Thousand Crimes of Ming Tsu." With "Lone Women" LaValle expands his repertoire as an audacious, thrilling stylist.

Hamilton Cain reviews for the Star Tribune, the New York Times Book Review, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal. He lives in Brooklyn.

Lone Women

By: Victor LaValle.

Publisher: One World/Random House, 304 pages, $27.