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.


Thursday, 17 October 2019

A Conversation with Doc

By Tell Cotten 
Independently published, August 2019

Doc Holliday was a dentist by trade, a gambler by profession, and a gunfighter by necessity. Above all, Doc Holliday was a loyal friend to the Earp’s by choice.

When Doc Holliday arrives in Tombstone, all he wants is to gamble, live peacefully, and allow his ailing lungs to recover. However, soon Doc must choose; betray his friendship with the Earp’s, or join them in the most famous gunfight of all time.

Having greatly enjoyed reading the books in Tell Cotten’s Landon Saga I was looking forward to reading this. Tell has said it took him three years to write, due to putting out books in the Landon series and researching Holliday and the events in Tombstone to ensure he got his facts right.

A Conversation with Doc is told through Holliday as you’d expect. The opening chapter, and others, have Doc answering questions put to him by reporter Kate Fenady. The rest of the book is also told in the first person as the reader witnesses events leading up to that gunfight at the O.K. Corral and what happened after.

Political manoeuvrings provide intrigue as the Earp’s clash with a group of outlaws called The Cowboys. Loyalties are tested to the limit as Doc is also accused of robbery. Doc is superbly crafted character whose often humorous outlook on life had me laughing out loud and these comments added some welcome light relief to the darker deeds the Earp’s have to deal with, not least the loss of a family member.

All the main players of that time in Tombstone have roles to play, people such as the Billy and Ike Clanton, Tom and Frank McLaury, Billy Claiborne, Johnny Behan, Curly Bill Brocius, Johnny Ringo and Big Nose Kate to name just a few. 

The story is told in the smooth and very readable style of Tell Cotten that soon had me engrossed in this tale. Dialogue is believable, action scenes vivid and visual and the pacing superb. 

If you’re a fan of Tell Cotten’s Landon series then this is a must read as it is for anyone interested in Doc Holliday, The Earp’s and The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. If you’re just looking for a well told, exciting western, then this book could be just what you’re looking for. 


Friday, 13 September 2019

Death Rattle

THE GUNS OF SAMUEL PRITCHARD #1
By Sean Lynch
Pinnacle, July 2019

In 1863, a teenaged boy fled his home in Atherton, Missouri, to escape the power-hungry men who murdered his father and stole his family’s land. He joined the Confederacy under an assumed name and rode with guerrilla raiders in the Civil War. Then came a decade as a Texas Ranger. Now, after ten blood-soaked years, he is finally coming home. Finally using his real name. And finally getting revenge against the cold-hearted devils who destroyed his family and his life . . .

This is the story of Samuel Pritchard. A man with a long history of violence, a deep sense of honour, and a wild streak of justice as dangerous as the guns that made him famous . .

The first book in a new series and the first western from Sean Lynch, at the moment best known for his crime fiction but with this book that could, perhaps, all change.

Death Rattle is divided into four parts, Soldier, Ranger, Gunfighter and Home. Each section could almost be a stand-alone story in itself but Sean Lynch links them with passages about Pritchard’s surviving family members, his mother and sister, and the horrors that are befalling them back in Atherton. Will Pritchard return to his home town in time to save them?

The first three parts of the book show how Pritchard changes from boy to man, becoming a brutal killer as a death spirit seems to guide him and control him as his rage rises to drive his actions. This dark force seen by those around him, one of whom tells Pritchard how he can rid himself of it. As a reader I was gripped by this element of the story and wanted to discover if Pritchard could lose this cold-hearted blood-lust that had motivated him ever since he rose from the grave so to speak. Let me quickly add that this isn’t a supernatural tale, Pritchard isn’t dead, isn’t a zombie or anything like that, he’s a man who experience some very dark times and these horrific changes to his life seem to take a grip of his soul.

Sean Lynch writes in an extremely readable style that has produced a story that demands the reader keeps turning the pages. There is plenty of tough, violent action that sees Pritchard taking on massive odds at times. There’s even time for him to fall in love but like most things in Pritchard’s life that doesn’t end well either. The author has also created a terrific supporting cast of both friends and enemies that are a joy to read about too. Pritchard does border on the mythical a little in his abilities with his guns and to survive the situations he finds himself in, but that didn’t dampen my enjoyment of this novel and I’ll certainly be reading the second book, Cottonmouth, when it is published in January 2020. 



Also available in audio formats.

Wednesday, 28 August 2019

The Cost of Dying

By Peter Brandvold
Pinnacle, August 2019

Lou Prophet decides to cool his heels at a local honky tonk but things heat up fast when he defends one of the girls from a sadistic brute who also happens to be the deputy sheriff. And now Lou Prophet is running for his life . . . 

Heading south of the border to Mexico, Prophet isn’t the only man marked for death. The young red-headed pistolero Colter Farrow has made an awful lot of enemies, too—and now practically every bounty hunter south of the Rio Grande is gunning for blood. For money. For fun. And, now, for Lou Prophet . . . 

At over 400 pages in length, Peter Brandvold gives his readers a book that never lets up in pace and bloody, violent action from beginning to end. It’s also great to see Prophet teaming up with another of the authors heroes, Colter Fallow. Even though the story is told mainly through Prophet, Farrow is riding alongside for most of the tale and the banter between the two men is often laced with humour which provides some light relief from the savage confrontations they find themselves in.

After some chapters dealing with Prophet and Farrow individually as they attempt to outrun their different sets of pursuers the two men decide to team up for a while and it isn’t long before they rescue a very attractive young lady from a deadly situation which in turn leads to them being hired to find her sister, kidnapped by slave traders. 

Things don’t go according to plan and both our heroes soon find themselves buried up to their necks in the ground. How can they possibly escape from this certain death? Obviously, they do, and in the process meet an excellent character in Baja Jack, a drug dealer who could help them find the bandits behind the kidnapping. 

Long-time readers of the Lou Prophet books know about his relationship with Louisa Bonaventure—The Vengeance Queen—and she also has a small part to play in this story too, or does she as Prophet begins to believe he imagined seeing and speaking to her. This encounter adds a neat touch of mystery to the story.

There are a number of surprises in store, the main one coming when Prophet finds the stolen girl. The tale contains a high body count and little in the way of explicit sex (something that is often found in Brandvold’s work). After plenty of lead-slinging action the story closes with a final brutal showdown that ties everything up neatly.

This is a book that all fans of Peter Brandvold should make sure they don’t miss, especially if you enjoy reading about Lou Prophet and Colter Farrow. In fact, this is a book that should be on the reading list of all western fans.  


Sunday, 25 August 2019

El Dorado Sojourn

By Paxton Johns
The Crowood Press, February 2019

Born Gallant returns to Salvation Creek on a whim, but this leads to a bloody saga he could never have foreseen. Word from the elderly Frank Lake leads Gallant on a quest to rescue a young lawyer, who has been kidnapped to prevent her from blocking a corrupt Kansas City politician’s chances of fame. To the north of the town of El Dorado, an old line cabin becomes the focus for Gallant’s efforts. But it’s back in Kansas City that the climax unfolds, when Gallant confronts old enemy Chet Eagan in a clawing fight to a bloody finish.

This is the fourth book in Paxton Johns’ series featuring Born Gallant. The story does mention events of the earlier three books and the author does provide enough information for a new reader to the series to understand how those events shape what happens in this tale, along with the relationships between the various characters, so that the book can be read as a stand-alone tale, but I would recommend reading the earlier books first to get the most from this one. Those books being Encounter at Salvation Creek, The Killing of Jericho Slade and The Bloody Trail to Redemption. It’s not just Born Gallant who links the books and once again Gallant finds his life entwined with that of Melody Lake and Stick McCrae, to name but two. 

The plot seems fairly straight-forward to begin with, but the author soon slips in a number of twists and turns that soon had me wondering how Gallant and friends could possibly rescue Melody in time to bring down the corrupt politician. It’s these surprising elements that keep me returning to this author’s work along with his ability to tell his stories in a gripping and entertaining style that is a pleasure to read. 

There may only be four Born Gallant books at the moment but there are plenty of other Black Horse Westerns from this author to choose from as he writes under other pseudonyms too, Will Keen, Matt Laidlaw, Jim Lawless and Jack Sheriff. His real name is John Paxton Sheriff and you can read an interview I did with him here. If you are looking for a new western author to try then this author is certainly one worth considering. 


Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Whiskey River

By Ralph Compton
Signet, January 1999

They came back from the war, and their land was gone. The Texas soil they’d nourished with years of backbreaking work has been snatched away. And in a moment of fury at this Yankee plunder, Mark Rogers and Bill Harder cut down a pair of tax collectors…and wind up behind bars in Fort Worth.

But then the former Confederate soldiers are offered a choice: They can face their sentences – or infiltrate a gang of whiskey runners who have been evading the law between St. Louis and Fort Smith. If they succeed, they’ll gain their freedom…and their confiscated land.

But when the two Johnny Rebs meet up with Wolf Estrello and his fellow bandits, they wish they’d taken their chances with a firing squad….

It’s been a long, long time since I read a Ralph Compton novel by the man himself, my usual choice being the later books written by a variety of authors who kept his name alive after his passing. In fact, I seem to think I’ve only read one of Compton’s Trail Drive books and I don’t remember much about it, it was so long ago. This time I decided to pick one of his stand-alone novels to see if it would help me understand why he is held in such high esteem by so many people. 

After the opening chapters which introduce the reader to Rogers and Harder and the challenge set to them, they become just another couple of characters within the fast-moving tale that involves a wide cast of characters that are given equal prominence within the story. 

Compton’s writing style is easy to read and he includes a sprinkling of footnotes explaining in more detail about certain elements, be they places or items, he mentions in the story. There is a fair amount of action, but for me it didn’t command enough page space, often being over and done with in a paragraph or two. I’ve also never read a book where so many people get thigh wounds and nearly all the characters seemed to be able to shrug off being hit, even by a Sharps, and within a matter of hours be as good as new again. There were also one or two other things that happened that stretched my belief a little like how far horses could be galloped (120-mile round trip) and how quickly. 

The story contains very little bad language, no explicit sex or graphic violence. Although the premise of the plot was very good it was predictable and offered no surprises. Having said that, the book was enjoyable enough to keep me reading it to the end. I’m not sure it helped me discover just why Compton is held in such high regard, perhaps I picked a book that isn’t one of his best?


Saturday, 20 July 2019

Wanted Dead or Alive

By Ralph Hayes
The Crowood Press, March 2017

A year after being saved from kidnapping, Dulcie Provost is waiting for the return of her rescuer, bounty hunter Certainty Sumner. But first Sumner has to carry out one more mission – tracking down the sadistic outlaw known as the Lakota Kid.

But unbeknown to Sumner, he himself is also the quarry of an equally ruthless bounty hunter, Luther Bastian. The father of a gang member Sumner killed while rescuing Dulcie wants vengeance and has duped Bastian into believing that Sumner has turned outlaw.

Can Sumner possibly survive being hunted down by a bounty hunter as skilled and determined as himself.

Ralph Hayes is a name many western fans will recognize. He’s an author whose work has been published for many years, his popular series featuring Buffalo Hunter: O’Brien first appearing in 1971. In 2011 O’Brien got a new lease of life as he returned in four new books under the Black Horse Western banner. Hayes also began writing other new westerns that would be published as BHWs.

Wanted Dead or Alive is the third book in the Certainty Sumner’s series. The author includes enough information to explain what has happened in the earlier stories so this one can be enjoyed as a stand-alone title but readers may prefer to read The Lawless Breed and The Way of the Gun first. Not only does this book feature Sumner’s but it also has a leading role for another of Hayes’ characters, Luther Bastian, and, again, you may like to read the book he first appeared in, Texas Vengeance, to fill yourself in on his backstory.

This fast paced tale switches regularly between the main characters as it builds towards an inevitable showdown between Sumner and Bastian and the questions I soon had were would Hayes kill off one or the other, perhaps both? If Sumner survives would there be a future for him and Dulcie Provost? What of the Lakota Kid – would he have a deciding role in who lives and dies? Whatever the outcome to these questions this was another very enjoyable book written by Ralph Hayes and I look forward to any future publications.