Saturday, 7 December 2019

The Other Madden

By Brent Towns
The Crowood Press, March 2019

There is oil on Madden land and Bren Deavers means to have it. But when Joe Madden is killed and sent home wrapped in barbed wire, things heat up. For the Maddens are fighters and Elmira and Emily are going to do just that.

But Joe also had a brother. One nobody talked about. The dangerous one.

They just referred to him as – the other Madden!

Trace Madden, the other Madden, is an outlaw. This makes for some interesting situations when he arrives in town to discover who killed his brother. People fear him. The law doesn’t want him around and neither does Bren Deavers. Worse than that, his mother would rather he left too, but she has a problem there as she likes Trace’s companion, Meredith, who has also ridden the outlaw trail alongside Trace. So, the story contains some complicated relationships that will have to be resolved while justice is sort for the death of Joe Madden.

Brent Towns tells the story in a mixture of first person and third. The switches between the two types of viewpoint are smoothly done and I hardly noticed as I became immersed in the fast-paced story that explodes with violent action without hardly taking a breath between these bouts of gunplay. 

Towns also has a couple of plot twists that came as a welcome surprise, but to say more would spoil the story for anyone intending to read this entertaining book. 

Brent Towns is an Australian author who writes Black Horse Westerns under other pseudonyms too, these being B.S. Dunn and Sam Clancy. I’ve read books under all these names and have yet to be disappointed in any of them.  


Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Gun Lust

By Matt Chisholm
Panther, 1968

The country was laid waste by the ferocious Apache. Arch Kelso’s ranch was raided. He was ruined. He needed to make a stake.

So he found himself guarding a wagon-train of gold through the devasted land. A tough job – defying attacks by white cut-throats and the onslaught of renegade Indians.

Men died as the desert took its toll. But Arch Kelso was tough . . . 

If you’ve ever read any of Matt Chisholm books, you’ll know you’re in for an entertaining read whenever you pick one up, and this one delivers the goods superbly. It doesn’t have a complicated plot but the quality of the storytelling is what draws you in to this desperate tale of survival.

It begins with Kelso and his men trying to replenish their water barrels as they take much needed goods to Crewsville – a town that readers of Chisholm books will have come across before, especially in his McAllister series. Chisholm’s writing is top class in the scenes that see Kelso approaching the waterhole and attempting to fill the barrels under the nerve tearing tension of the threat of the as yet unseen Apache, and when they attack, you’ll share Kelso’s fear.

Once in Crewsville the author introduces the other major players in the story. Gold thieves and Martha, the woman in his life who adds to his troubles when she insists on joining the wagon-train for its return journey shipping gold, which too many people know about and is certain to draw the attention of outlaws and the Apache.

The return trek takes up a good portion of the book and is one long running fight. One thing I like about Chisholm’s storytelling is that you can never be sure who will survive, and that is the case here as death strikes swiftly and suddenly. Kelso also has a difficult choice to make regarding the gold and this leads to a neat plot twist. 

If you’ve never tried any of Chisholm’s work then this book would be a fine introduction as it highlights all his strengths; gritty, tough, at times savage, strong characters of both sexes, extremely fast pacing, a plot that offers a couple of surprises, and plenty of gunplay. 

Every time I read a book by this author (Matt Chisholm is a pseudonym of Peter Watts) I’m left eager to read another, and I’m sure I will be doing just this very soon.


Saturday, 30 November 2019

Where Guns Talk

THE LONER #1
By Sheldon B. Cole
Piccadilly Publishing, October 2019
Originally published by Cleveland, 1967

Ahead was a cold-blooded killer and an innocent woman who wanted to believe he was no such thing. Behind was a God-fearing tyrant by the name of Isaac Madie and Madie’s three sons, all of them with vengeance in mind.

And Blake Durant was caught smack in the middle.

He wanted to rescue the woman and return a fortune in gold bullion to its rightful owners. But Madie had other ideas. And if it came to that, so did Ringo Nyall, the killer who’d set his mind on the gold … and the girl!

My western book collection contains a handful of Cleveland publications but I’d never got around to reading any of them. My first edition copy of Where Guns Talk was put out under their Bobcat Western line and numbered 405. Although I have read work by some of the authors who wrote for Cleveland, I haven’t read any of Sheldon B. Cole’s stories and as Piccadilly has begun to publish The Loner series in ebook form (along with other Cleveland series) I decided to hunt out my dog-eared copy and give it a go.

Cleveland westerns aren’t very long, this one having 92 pages of fast-paced prose. Each of the ten chapters are titled. 

Blake Durant’s past is hinted at in this opening tale and this adds a hint of mystery to the reasons he gets involved in other people’s troubles, and by rescuing a young woman from three attackers he soon finds himself facing a number of deadly situations where some folk keep their real identity hidden and conceal some or all of the truth about their motivations.

The author presents the reader with some wonderful characters, particularly Isaac Madie, a man who is hard to like but you will feel his pain when things go wrong in the worst way possible. The girl, Angela Grant, is a memorable character too. Watching her slowly realize the man she is fixing to marry may not be all he says he is provides some fascinating reading, and she will also add an unforeseen twist to the end of the story.

Sheldon B. Cole’s descriptions are excellent, and they produced some very visual imagery within my minds eye, especially when reading the hard-hitting action scenes. Everything comes to a neat end and the final act left me with a grin on my face and the desire to read another Loner story soon. 

Sheldon B. Cole is a pseudonym for Australian author Desmond Robert Dunn (1929 – 2003) who wrote over 400 westerns for Cleveland under a variety of pen-names, these being Adam Brady, Sheldon B. Cole, Matt Cregan, Morgan Culp, Shad Denver, Gunn Halliday, Brett Iverson and Walt Renwick. 


Saturday, 23 November 2019

Backlash

THE BADGE #9
By Bill Reno
Bantam, February 1989

Marshal Wesley Clarke was a fast-draw, tough-as-steel lawman who met force with force, bullet with bullet. That was why gambling king Tip Ruckman wanted him out of the fast-growing Idaho town of Rock Falls, dead or alive. Ruckman had secretly brought in hired gunslingers to help him shoot his way to a bloody takeover of Rock Falls, lock, stock and barrel. But first the cunning gambler had to discredit Clarke and get the marshal’s badge pinned on one of his own men. Pretty, prim and proper Jeannine DeGarmo fit right in with Ruckman’s scheme, and now Clarke was heading for a showdown that could cost him his honor . . . or her life. 

Marshal Clarke is an excellent character, his belief that the only way to punish outlaws is to see them killed by either bullet or a hangman’s rope to ensure they won’t commit a crime again, forms one of the main story threads of this very fast-moving tale. Clarke’s methods of dealing with the criminal element soon sees him banging heads with newly arrived Jeannine DeGarmo who thinks the way of the Eastern cities is the only way to bring justice to the lawless towns of the West and that’s by trial and prison sentences. Both views are effectively represented by the author and will certainly make the reader think.

Even though Clarke and DeGarmo’s differing opinions cause them to clash every time they come into contact, there is an underlying tension, an attraction neither will admit to, both denying it to themselves. These feelings add another layer of depth to the story.

There is plenty of action too, as Ruckman puts his plan into operation, that will ultimately force DeGarmo to realize everything isn’t quite as black-and-white as she thinks it is. Then there’s other law-breaking people who Clarke has to deal with and this often leads to hard-hitting deaths, one of which is both tragic and horrific – and it’s this that is superbly portrayed on the books cover by artist Shannon Stirweiss. 

One of the strengths of the author behind The Badge series, is that you can never be sure whether good will win over evil completely or that the hero will get the girl. Bill Reno (real name Lew A. Lacy) often makes his characters suffer emotionally as well as physically and this, for me anyway, is something I welcome in my reading. So, does Clarke’s methods of upholding the law win the day? Does he get the girl? I guess you’ll just have to read the book to find out, and in doing so will hopefully enjoy it as much as I did. 

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Petticoat Marshal

By George Snyder
Crowood Press, April 2019

Gunfighter Cort Packet rides into the town of Scarlet intending to kill Yucca Frazel, but many try to prevent him: Frazel’s employer rancher Addison Blackwell, an Indian agent cheating Apaches out of goods, a gunfighter rumoured to have murdered the marshal’s husband, and the marshal herself – Rebecca Rogers, trying to find the truth about her husband’s death, forced into being marshal in a fixed election by the powerful rancher who professes warm feelings for her. But are the feelings for here, or are they for the riches on her land?

Before Cort can finish his business with Yucca Frazel, he finds himself caught up in killings, treachery, stealing and politics that threaten to leave him lying dead.

I’ve not read any of George Snyder’s Black Horse Westerns, under that name or his other pseudonym of George Arthur before, so I approached this one open minded. The book has a hard-hitting start with fairly graphic descriptions of violence and death. Those first few short chapters explain why Cort is intent on killing Yucca Frazel.

Cort Packet is also slightly more unusual to many other western heroes, as Snyder has a cripple as the leading character, having had his leg shattered during the Civil War and now needs the aid of a silver topped cane to get around. 

The story is very fast moving and the author regularly switches from Cort to other characters, and in doing so Snyder makes sure the reader knows what is going on with the storylines even if Cort and Rebecca Rogers don’t. It’s the plot behind the rancher’s desire for Rebecca’s land that fills the bulk of the tale. 

Snyder does keep one sting-in-the-tail for the end, shocking both Cort and the reader with its horror, which leads to a bloody and vicious finale. Even though I had worked that twist out quite early on it in no way diminished my enjoyment of this book and I closed this book feeling thoroughly entertained.


Friday, 15 November 2019

Border Bandits

THE RANGER #2
By Dan Mason
Harper, March 1991

The Ranger: Hard, sharp, fearless. He’d face down the devil himself to bring evil to justice in the untamed West.

Border Blood: Violence on the sizzling no-man’s land between Texas and Mexico is nothing new. It seems one side always has what the other wants – money, power, freedom. Now, a new series of brutal raids by a ruthless band of brigands has handcuffed the local law. In rides Texas Ranger Lex Cranshaw. Outnumbered or not, he vows to bring one of two things to the border – peace or blood.

So how do you find a brutal band of bandits when you have no idea where to find them? This is the problem that author Dan Mason gives Texas Ranger Lex Cranshaw, and this is the hook that kept me turning the pages. 

Cranshaw starts the investigation alone whilst waiting for a fellow Ranger to join him. Along the way he will find himself accepting the help of others and trying to stop more joining the chase, especially a padre named Murtagh. The padre believes he has reason to ride with The Ranger, Cranshaw believes the man is out of his depth and, as I expected, things don’t work out the way either want.

Bandits, Rangers and those caught up in the hunt are well drawn, each having their own character traits that make them a joy to read about. The story contains plenty of action, some of the deaths and discoveries of corpses quite gruesome in their description. Pacing is excellent and the plot takes a twist when the Mexican Army get involved – not liking that Texas Rangers are operating on their side of the border without permission. 

The final showdown between The Ranger and the bandits is exciting and bloody. Everything is tied up neatly but not everyone survives, giving the story a hard-hitting ending that left me looking forward to reading more books in this series.

Dan Mason is a pseudonym for author Charley McDade. 
Cover art is by Larry Schwinger.


Monday, 21 October 2019

The Bounty Killers

THE LONER #7
By J.A. Johnstone
Pinnacle, October 2010

He didn’t want much – just the chance to drift out of Texas into New Mexico Territory. That’s when the Loner discovered there was a price on his head. A victim of mistaken identity, he broke out of Hell Gate Prison a few years back. Now, he’s behind bars again, until a sheriff’s love-struck daughter decides to come to his aid, and a beautiful bounty hunter – who also has eyes for the Loner – joins in.

Riding out of the frying pan and into the fire of a land war, the Loner has all kinds of murderous cutthroats on his trail. But he doesn’t have any problem with women – as long as they’re willing to ride on the wild side once the lead starts flying.

The above blurb is taken from the back of the book and it contains one big inaccuracy, and that’s where it says ‘broke out of Hell Gate Prison a few years back’, this ought to read a couple of months back. That story is told in the previous book, Seven Days to Die, and this one follows closely on from that, the events of that tale shaping this one.

All through the series the Loner has resisted the advances of women, whilst mourning the death of his wife, and even though he will never forget Rebel, the Loner will finally give in. Please note this is not an explicit adult western. So, that’s one change for the Loner and it would seem he might be ready to give up being the Kid and return to being Conrad Browning as the story heads to its conclusion.

This author definitely knows how to spin a yarn, tell a tale that hooked me from the opening pages and ensured I kept reading as twist followed twist. Packed with plenty of action and great characters, this story proved to be as entertaining as all the previous books in the series. Everything comes a head in a final showdown that sees justice done and concludes with a dramatic revelation that guarantees I will be reading the next book very, very soon.