Tuesday, 31 March 2020

The Big Round-Up

Edited by Harry E. Maule
Corgi edition, 1959

This is the third annual anthology issued by the Western Writers of America. 

Members of the WWA were asked to submit short stories for possible inclusion and sixty different authors sent in around 130 entries. The standard was high making the final selection difficult. The editor was looking for the greatest possible variety in theme, time, subject-matter and place and seventeen made it into this volume.

Some of the stories appear in this collection for the first time, but the majority have been published before. I’ve added a full list and background info about them at the end of this post.

The book starts with a fascinating introduction written by Harry E. Maule which looks at the evolution of western fiction and the problems facing authors of short stories, ‘The short story is a difficult and a constricted art. In its broader form it must be more than just an incident. The problem of the writer for the western audience is to create some characters, an atmosphere, a place, a complication, and a solution, all done in the terms of action and all within the scope of a few thousand words.’ Maule also considers the telling of the story in the first person instead of the third and offers some interesting insights in to the reasons for choosing the first.

Like any anthology covering the work of multi authors there are always going to be some that the reader likes better than others and some you’ll wonder as to why they were included in the first place, but that is all down to personal taste, so I won’t be mentioning which my favourites and least liked were as you will probably have a totally different viewpoint to me.

As is stated the stories do cover a broad variety of western themes and along the way you’ll meet a man who wasn’t looking for trouble – but the murder of his cousin demands revenge . . . One man who defeats a murderer with a holstered six-gun . . . One man has to finish the job he had started, and stake his life on a drunken man missing his shot . . . One man has to pit his inferior skill against a notch-crazy killer . . .

I was surprised how readable this collection was as I expected lots of old-style lingo that sometimes can be hard to read and themes/terms that would never be allowed to appear in today's publications. These thoughts were proved to unfounded. My intention had been to read a couple of stories at a time between reading other books but soon found myself racing through this collection without pausing. Overall, I found this to be a very entertaining set of tales that introduced me to many authors that were new to me and now have me wanting to try some of their longer works. 

Contents:

My Father and the Winning of the West by John Prescott
Originally published in 1955. Reprinted from the Saturday Evening Post. 

The Steadfast by Wayne D. Oberholser
Originally published 1950. Reprinted from Zane Grey’s Western Magazine.

You’ll Have to Kill me First by Bennett Foster
Originally published in 1951. Reprinted from the Saturday Evening Post.

Ketch-Colt for Christmas by Walt Coburn
Originally published 1951. Reprinted from The Quarter Horse Journal. 

The Drummer by Luke Short
First publication.

The Seventh Desert by Frank Bonham
Originally published 1945. Reprinted from Liberty Magazine. 

The Contest by Will Cook
First publication.

The Hour of Parting by Norman A. Fox
Originally published 1951. Reprinted from Bluebook Magazine.

Wanted by Thomas Thompson
Originally published 1952. Reprinted from The American Magazine.

Where the Wild Geese Come From by Bill Gulick
Originally published 1942.  Reprinted from Capper’s Farmer.

Partner’s Luck by Charles N. Heckelmann
Originally published 1940. Reprinted from Wild West Weekly.

The Looting of Golconda by Harry Sinclair Drago
Originally published 1938. Reprinted from Best Western Magazine. 

One Evening in Abilene by Steve Frazee
First publication.

Notch-Crazy by S. Omar Barker
Originally published 1951. Reprinted from Zane Grey’s Western Magazine.

Caprock by Nelson Nye
Originally published 1953 under the title ‘Hoof in the Gut’. Reprinted from Western Short Stories.

A Decent Saddle by Noel M. Loomis
Originally published 1953. Reprinted from Zane Grey’s Western Magazine.

The Long Rider by Gene Markey
Originally published 1954. Reprinted from Western Tales.

Thursday, 26 March 2020

Battle Mountain

By Matt Cole
The Crowood Press, March 2018

Clay Parker and his cohorts are what is left of the once-infamous Tulley gang. They have waited five years to get the money they stole from a bank, which they believe has been hidden by one of their own – and he has just been released from prison. Now Hugh Donahoe is meeting up with his daughter Mena in the town of Battle Mountain. When his old gang mates confront him, he is killed. The money is not found, however, and the gang suspects that Mena has hidden it in a trunk, which is being carried across the Nevada plains and on its way to Oregon. Parker devises a plan to attack the mule train to get to the stolen money. But Parker is unprepared for the grit of Glen Maddox and his freighters. 

Filled with colourful and strong characters of both sexes, this tale gallops along. The author regularly switches between the different groups of people before bringing most of them together for a tense final fight that involves some blood and whiskey thirsty Paiute warriors too.

Maddox and his crew, along with Mena Donahoe and some of her fellow travellers have no idea there might be money hidden amongst the freight. The author doesn’t reveal its whereabouts until near the end, but for the reader it doesn’t take much working out as to where it is hidden. This doesn’t lessen the enjoyment of this fast-paced tale and I’m now looking forward to picking up another of Matt Cole’s books soon.

As he does in some of his other books, Matt Cole begins this one with a poem. This time he’s chosen Dreams by Helen Hunt Jackson from 1886. You can easily find this and in-depth analysis of it on the internet. Beginning his westerns this way makes them somewhat unique in the Black Horse Western line as I can’t think of any others that begin in this way.


Friday, 20 March 2020

Man Killer

By Thom Nicholson
Signet, July 2006

Out of the ashes of Confederate defeat, soldier Martin Keller heads west for a new life as a rancher. But hard times like these call for a more practical means of survival – such as riding posse alongside the Texas Rangers. It’s not a job that comes without risk or enemies, as Keller discovers the hard way when his family is brutally murdered.

Hopped up on rage and burning for revenge, Keller severs ties with the Rangers, tracks the cutthroats into the Indian Nations, and restyles himself as an unforgiving bounty hunter with no rules of remorse. To good citizens and desperadoes alike he’s known as Man Killer. And he’s not giving up until the men who murdered his family are planted in boot hill…. 

This is the second book in the four book series featuring Marty Keller, the first, Ride the Red Sun Down was published a year earlier. Strangely, Man Killer tells of events that take place and lead up to those that take place in the first book, and that book also contains a recount of what happens in Man Killer. Perhaps the publishers mixed up the order they put them out in? Whatever the reason let me stress that to get the most from these two books you need to read them the opposite way around to their publishing dates. 

Seeing the changes in Keller makes for some fascinating reading. The transformation from a tough Texas Ranger and loving family man to a colder, determined killer is the core storyline of this tale.

Thom Nicholson doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to describing violence. It’s graphic and brutal, especially the killing of Keller’s family. 

Nicholson tells the story from a variety of viewpoints and switches fairly regularly between the main characters, these being Keller and the men he is hunting. Having the outlaws split up makes Keller’s task virtually impossible. In fact, there are times that Keller is at a total loss with how to find the men he desperately wants to kill. Lack of finance to fund his quest sees Keller having to take other jobs and this is how he becomes a bounty hunter.

Keller stands out from nearly all the other characters due to his speech; he is a very well-spoken person whereas all the others use slang and some western lingo. 

If you’ve read Ride the Sun Down first, as I did, you’ll have some idea as to how the story will end for certain characters which did spoil this book a little for me. Still it was interesting to see how this happened. 

Hopefully the next published book is really the third in the series. I guess I’ll find out soon enough as I’m looking forward to reading it in the very near future. 

Monday, 16 March 2020

Bad Apple

By Lancaster Hill
Pinnacle, March 2020

John Apple is a simple man. A gardener and preacher who lives a quiet life in Ohio. Then a broken heart sends him south. A chance encounter with a very drunk Jim Bowie leads him to join the Texian Army. And the struggles for independence from the brutalities of Mexican President Santa Ana teaches Apple a valuable new skill: Killing.

Working with Bowie, Sam Houston, Stephen Austin and their ragtag army, Apple becomes a secret courier and bloody advocate for the cause. As a calling card, he plants apple seeds in the chests of every soldier he slays – and sparks fear in the hearts of Santa Ana’s men. But nothing could prepare him for the fate that awaited them at the Alamo Mission. Nothing could save his brothers in arms from the devastating slaughter that would go down in history. And now, for John Apple, nothing would be sweeter than revenge . . . 

Lancaster Hill tells this gripping and enthralling story in the first person through the viewpoints of two men, more or less alternating chapters between them. John Apple and Ned, a bar owner. Apple seems to need to tell his story of events leading up to and including the massacre at The Alamo, and has something else to do, but what? A third character is soon introduced into the books present, reporter Hulbert.

Can Ned and Hulbert believe what they are hearing as Apple tells his tale of horror? Is Apple really who he says he is? Did he really fight alongside Bowie and Crockett, and how did he survive the slaughter at The Alamo? Hulbert certainly needs proof and this leads to some tense situations as he challenges Apple’s story.

Gun-running plays a major role in this book. Someone is stealing American rifles and is selling them to the Mexicans. The author keeps this person’s identity a secret until the final chapters. I had my suspicions but they where totally wrong, so the revelation came as a great surprise and added a neat twist to the tale.

Lancaster Hill mixes fiction and real events seamlessly. He includes a lot of fascinating facts about the proceedings that lead to the massacre at The Alamo and the eventual downfall of the Mexican Army. 

There is a dark tone to much of this story and the violence is brutal at times. Apple’s anguish is well described and I was soon sharing his feelings, caring about his fate, whether he was good or bad. The planting of apple cores with the dead added an original touch to this excellent tale.

After all the bloodletting and gloom the final chapter – a second chapter one (you’ll need to read the book to find out why), provided some welcome light-heartedness that in my mind was the perfect ending.  

Lancaster Hill is a pseudonym used by Jeff Rovin. 

Tuesday, 10 March 2020

Starlight Range

By Barry Cord
Ward, Lock, 1961
Originally published 1959

For years Gil Barnes and old Arrant Canady had been partners, ranching together in Montana. Then they had a violent quarrel and Gil had started off to seek new horizons, but within a short distance he had been shot in the back, paralyzed and left for dead. It had taken him years to regain his health, to learn to ride and to draw a gun again. Now he was on his way back to get retribution from the one man he hated above all others.

But Gil arrived too late. Canady had died – and ironically, had left Gil a half-interest in his Starlight spread. The other half was being claimed by a woman who said she was Arrant’s daughter-in-law, the widow of his son. But she had no marriage certificate; there was not even proof that young Phil Canady was no longer living.

I’ve always enjoyed Barry Cord’s books and this one proved to be as entertaining a read as any others. Short and fast-moving this is a tale that sees many characters playing their cards close to their chests. Secrets, mystery and surprising twists and turns easily held my interest and made this a hard to put down read.

Barnes is a bitter and hard man who decides to make a go of the Starlight ranch even though there are others who’ll do anything to own the ranch. Then there’s the puzzles of people who may be who they say they are, or not. If they are imposters, then what is the purpose behind their pretence? To say much more about the plot would have to include major spoilers so this is as much as I’m going to reveal about the storyline.

As expected, by the end everything is tied up neatly and I closed the book feeling very satisfied, thinking I need to read another Barry Cord tale very soon.

For some reason this book was reprinted under another title. In 1961 the book was republished as Slade with Gil Barnes having a name change to Slade. 



Barry Cord is a pseudonym used by Peter B. Germano.

Saturday, 29 February 2020

Vultures Over The Elk Fork Country

Gideon Safford series, book 1
By Bill Yenne
DS Productions, December 2019

Gideon Safford drifts into town quietly and unpretentiously, fully and completely expecting to drift out again in that same manner, just as he has passed like a shadow through so many other settlements and fading boomtowns across the West.

It is not to be. Guns are drawn. Safford kills a man to save a man, but quickly finds that he has helped to upset a delicate balance of conflicting interests in the foothills and placers across the remote Elk Fork country of Montana Territory.

As the wind ruffles the golden leaves of the aspens, war explodes between avarice and innocence. Cold hearts exact cold-blooded revenge. Safford puts a thumb on the scales of justice, but a mysterious malevolence lurks within the deepest ravines.

Winter falls hard upon the country, icy winds blow, death stalks the mountains, and vultures circle in the sky.

Bill Yenne had a couple of westerns published by Berkely back in 2012 and 2013 and then disappeared from this genre, which was a shame as I really enjoyed those books. I was really pleased to discover that Bill had written another western, the first in a new series, and I was very eager to read it.

Gideon Safford makes for an excellent lead character, but as the opening chapter reveals Gideon Safford isn’t his real name. This, and the reason he rides under an alias, adds a great sense of mystery to this man. As the story develops, we discover a little more about his past and his hopes for the future. One thing is for certain, he’s very good with a gun.

Yenne has also created a superb cast of supporting characters, each having important roles to play as the tale unfolds. Hired guns are killing off settlers, is this part of a landgrab? As Safford begins to whittle these gunmen down, he discovers someone else is taking them out too. Who is this mystery sniper and what is his motive? It isn’t long before the vultures of the title have plenty of corpses to feast on as the story races forward at a fast pace, and before the conclusion is reached the author springs plenty of surprises as to the who and whys of the tale. 

Yenne’s writing is extremely readable, his dialogue is believable and bad language is kept to a minimum. His action scenes are visual and graphic. The descriptions of emotions after innocents’ die are beautifully written and are very moving at times. 

All too soon I found myself reading the final page so all I can do now is patiently await the arrival of the second book in this series. If it’s anything like this one I’ll be in for another exciting and entertaining read. 


Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Have Brides, Will Travel

By William W. Johnstone and J.A. Johnstone
Pinnacle paperback, October 2019
Kensington hardcover, April 2019

Bo Creel and Scratch Morton are lifelong drifters who keep one eye on the horizon, one finger on the trigger, and one foot out the door. Roaming the West is what keeps them young, or so Scratch tells Bo. But when they save the life of Cyrus Keegan – the owner of a matrimonial agency – they receive an unexpected proposal that’s hard to resist. Keegan needs to deliver five mail order brides to a mining town in New Mexico Territory. All Scratch and Bo have to do is get these gals to the church on time – and alive, if possible . . . 

The job seems easy enough – and the brides-to-be are even easier on the eyes. Cecilia, Beth, Luella, Rose, and Jean all need good husbands. But their prospects look bad when the journey to the alter includes Mexican banditos, scheming silver robbers, and one overbearing rancher who won’t take no for an answer. Bo and Scratch promised to keep the ladies safe – and keep their hands to themselves – but it could be the last vow they’ll ever make . . . 

This book is billed as the first in a new series but the two main characters, Bo and Scratch have starred in another Johnstone series, Sidewinders that ran from 2008 until 2014, and it is great to see them back. They aren’t the only characters making a return, fans of the Johnstone books may well recognize Cyrus Keegan too as he appeared in Ride the Savage Land, book four in the Those Jensen Boys! series. 

Bo and Scratch are a very likeable pair of old-timers, whose long friendship and background is explained briefly during the opening chapters of this story. Escorting the brides-to-be offers plenty of opportunity for danger and humour. There’s plenty for these ladies to learn, such as the art of firing a handgun and a rifle. It’s during these lessons that the author really brings out each ladies’ personality. 

After a violent clash with bandits, the small group finally reach their destination – the boomtown of Silverhill, and it’s here that the first twist to the tale takes place. Many more characters are introduced as the plot gets more complex as different groups of outlaws and individuals use the arrival of the brides as a distraction as they put their own plans into motion, one of which involves kidnapping one of those young ladies. 

The author builds his story extremely well to the last desperate battles in the streets of Silverhill and the descriptions of the action scenes are very visual. The author has another surprise waiting for the final scenes with the arrival of someone who further complicates matters. The conclusion of this book does bring an end to most of the story-threads but a couple are left hanging. Maybe they’ll be continued in book two of the series, Shotgun Wedding, and I for one am very much looking forward to reading that.




Available in hardback, paperback,
ebook and audio CD.