Thursday, 14 January 2021

RIDE THE HAMMER DOWN


A Ralph Compton Western by Terrence McCauley
Cover art by Dennis Lyall
Berkley, December 2020

Marshal John Beck was the law in the dangerous town of Mother Lode, Arizona. On his own, he’d managed to keep bandits, rustlers, and desperadoes at bay. It was a tough job for one man to handle, but he made it work…until the day Bram Hogan and his Brickhouse Gang got the drop on the lawman.

They beat Beck to within an inch of his life and dropped him in the desert, where nothing but a slow, painful death awaited him. But the hand underestimated Beck. At his lowest point, he found a way to survive. Now he’s coming back, and anyone who stands against him is going to ride the hammer down to the grave.

From its brutal opening scenes this booked proved to be a gripping read. Terence McCauley’s gritty storyline is filled with engaging characters, some that will have you urging them on, hoping they survive, and others you’ll be wanting to meet a vicious demise. Amidst all the ferocity, the author finds time to add a little romance as love is born from violence, but will Beck survive to enjoy this new found relationship? Throughout the tale you can never be sure if Beck will be alive at the end, or any of the other characters for that matter.

Descriptions are excellent, especially those telling of Beck’s struggle to survive in the desert. You’ll share his desperation, his spiral into madness. Later his elation that becomes fear as he believes he brings death to those who get near him. During the final savage shootout, you’ll feel the aches of his battered body, his weariness and determination to let nothing stop him from killing those who wronged him.

I certainly wondered how this book would end, and at no time did I predict the final scene that provided a fitting close to this tremendous tale.

If you’ve not read anything by Terence McCauley yet, then I’ll suggest this book as the perfect place to start.

Wednesday, 30 December 2020

WESTERNS READ DURING 2020

I've read more westerns in 2020 than I've done in recent years. As usual there's a broad mix of authors from the past and those still writing today. As well as reading old favourites, I tried some new writers too. I've also read a wide mix of types, from the very violent, those with adult content and those with traditional storylines. To read the review of any of the books listed below just click on the number.

1. Lone Star and the Hangrope Heritage (23) by Wesley Ellis
2. Widowmaker Jones 2: Buzzard Bait by Brett Cogburn
3. The Big Round-Up edited by Harry E. Maule
4. A Man Called Crow by Chris Adam Smith
5. Have Brides, Will Travel by William W. Johnstone and J.A. Johnstone
6. Vultures Over the Elk Fork Country by Bill Yenne
7. Starlight Range by Barry Cord
8. Man Killer by Thom Nicholson
9. Bad Apple by Lancaster Hill
10. Battle Mountain by Matt Cole
11. The Frontiersman 3: The Darkest Winter by William W. Johnstone with J.A. Johnstone
12. The Way of the Gun by Ralph Hayes
13. Tin Star – a Ralph Compton novel by Jackson Lowry
14. Reunion in Hell – a Ralph Compton Western by Carlton Stowers
15. Pony Soldiers 2: Comanche Massacre by Chet Cunningham
16. The Loner 2: Trail to Nowhere by Sheldon B. Cole
17. The Corrigan Brothers 2: Kill Town by Cotton Smith
18. The Frontiersman 4: Damnation Valley by William W. Johnstone with J.A. Johnstone
19. Sheriff Stillman 7: Once Late with a .38 by Peter Brandvold
20. Hot Lead 4: All Review Special – edited by Justin Marriott
21. The Gallowsman by Will Cade
22. The Badge 10: Blood Trail by Bill Reno
23. Murphy 4: Murphy’s War by Gary Paulsen
24. Apache Butte by Gordon D. Shirreffs
25. Ride the Long Night by E.A. Alman
26. The Searcher by F.M. Parker
27. Sheriff Stillman 8: Hell on Wheels by Peter Brandvold
28. Wilderness 71: Stalked by David Robbins
29. Thrilling Western – UK edition, May 1958
30. The Derby Man 10: Whiskey Creek by Gary McCarthy
31. The Gunsmith 45: Navaho Devil by J.R. Roberts
32. John Hawk 3: Montana Territory by Charles G. West
33. The Kelly Trail – a Ralph Compton Western by Terrence McCauley
34. The Trailsman 140: The Killing Corridor by Jon Sharpe
35. Sheriff Aaron Mackey 3: Get Out of Town by Terrence McCauley
36. The Loner 9: Killer Poker by J.A. Johnstone
37. Gunn 4: Blood Justice by Jory Sherman
38. Three for Vengeance by Matt Chisholm
39. Stagecoach Station 28: El Dorado by Hank Mitchum
40. The Jackals by William W. Johnstone and J.A. Johnstone
41. Guns Across the Pecos by Jackson Cole
42. Desert Stake-Out by Hondo Wells
43. Boothill Brand by Kirk Hamilton
44. Divine Wind by Lee Clinton
45. The Loner 10: Blood of Renegades by J.A. Johnstone
46. Ride for Justice – a Ralph Compton Western by Robert J. Randisi
47. Morgan Kane 13: The Law of the Jungle by Louis Masterson
48. Long Rider 20: Mountain Killer by Clay Dawson
49. A Killing in Kiowa by Lewis B. Patten
50. Animal Instinct by Lee Clinton
51. Sheriff Aaron Mackey 4: The Dark Sunrise by Terrence McCauley
52. Have Brides, Will Travel 2: The Shotgun Wedding by William W. Johnstone and J.A. Johnstone
53. Morgan Kane 14: No Tears for Morgan Kane by Louis Masterson
54. Ride the Hammer Down – A Ralph Compton Western by Terrence McCauley

Other posts
1. Cover Gallery: Faraday
2. Goodbye Black Horse Westerns

Review of a book read a few years ago
1. Longarm and the Bank Robber's Daughter (301) by Tabor Evans

Saturday, 26 December 2020

NO TEARS FOR MORGAN KANE


MORGAN KANE 14
By Louis Masterson
Corgi Books, 1972
Cover artwork Michael Codd
Cover photography by Peter Kibbles
Originally published by Bladkompaniet A/S, 1967

David Kominsky was a Missouri farmer, trying to eke out a living on land made barren by drought. ‘Swinging’ Johnson and his murderous band from Cross Bow ranch decided to lay claim to David’s land – and crucified him to ensure he wouldn’t dispute the matter. The Cross Bow gang had terrorised the countryside so thoroughly that Kominsky’s widow despaired of seeing them brought to justice. The neighbouring farmers went in fear of their lives, and the town marshal was a cowardly, useless creature. But by a lucky stroke of fate, Morgan Kane was not far away – waiting to pick up a bank robber…

This is a hard, brutal tale that is a superb read. One of the strengths of this series is the authors ability to portray emotion in a way that the reader shares the anguish, hate and joy of his characters, especially that of Morgan Kane. In this story, Kane experiences them all, and more.

Fans of this series will not want to miss this book as Kane finds himself back in the area that he was thrown off a train with a gunshot hand in the first book of the series, Without Mercy. In that story Kane met Linda Swift, a young girl that fell in love with him, and he with her. Kane rode away though in the need of revenge. Kane’s relationship with Linda is rekindled in this tale, so much so that he’s ready to hand in his badge and settle down with her. Before that can happen, Kane has to deal with ‘Swinging’ Johnson.

This is basically a land-grab tale. Black gold is the prize. The bank robber, Redek, Kane is chasing is hired by Johnson. There’s plenty of savage killings before Kane finds himself facing the Johnson gang alone in the dusty streets of Ash Grove. Kane against four in a classic showdown, and if you think you know how that will turn out you’ll be surprised by its shockingly hard-hitting outcome.

Louis Masterson doesn’t hold back in the gritty realism stakes. He certainly hammers Kane with pain, both emotionally and physically throughout the series. In this book he really makes Kane suffer. Gives him more scars to torment his soul. Kane has to control his fear too, as Redek could well be a faster gun than he. On top of this is the turmoil of meeting Linda again, can he find happiness with her this time? 

This is one of the best Morgan Kane books I’ve read. It’s powerful, gripping and dark in tone. It features many of the writing strengths of Louis Masterson that keep me returning to the series time and again and I know for certain that it won’t be long before I read the next book.

Louis Masterson was a pseudonym used by Norwegian author Kjell Hallbing. 

Norwegian cover.

Monday, 21 December 2020

THE SHOTGUN WEDDING

HAVE BRIDES, WILL TRAVEL 2
By William W. Johnstone and J.A. Johnstone
Pinnacle paperback, December 2020
Original Kensington hardback published May 2020

Bo Creel and Scratch Morton are mighty proud. They managed to deliver five mail-order brides to the New Mexico mining town of Silverhill in one piece. The town is so grateful, they want to make Bo their marshal and Scratch his deputy. Bo and Scratch are happy to accept the job – and even happier to attend the weddings of the fine young women they brought here….

Cecilia has two young suitors – a well-off rancher and a low-born miner – but one of them is not what he seems. Tomboyish Rose has gotten herself roped into a cow-rustling scheme – with the wild young buck who’s stolen her heart. Luella has a not-so-secret admirer of her own, a former journalist who’s making headlines – with a gang of Mexican bandits. And the refined Jean Parker thinks she’s finally found a suitable match in this raucous boomtown. But it turns out her educated doctor has a dishonorary degree – in killing.

With marriage prospects like these, Bo and Scratch will have to fight tooth and nail to keep the ladies safe and sound – and a real shotgun wedding is about to begin.

Beginning shortly after the end of the first book, this story picks up the threads that were left hanging at the close of that previous volume. You don’t need to have read the earlier work as the author explains enough backstory to fill new readers in on just what has gone before. 

Switching regularly between the cast members and often leaving them in precarious situations, the author ensures you’ll keep reading as you’ll need to know what happens next. At times we get longer sections as the major storylines are dealt with in gripping action scenes. Plotlines include rustling, intimidation, brutal murders, revenge, stagecoach robberies, masked identities and kidnapping. Bo and Scratch sure have their work cut out to keep the five young women safe and stop the crimes, something our two old-timers do with style, grit, fast guns and a touch of humour.

Like the first book, this one is a very enjoyable read. Its pacing is excellent and each set piece seems more deadly than the last, culminating in and exciting and violent gunfight. The very end of the story appears to set us up for the third book in the series, Till Death, that is scheduled for publication in October 2021. I for one am really looking forward to that. 

Friday, 11 December 2020

THE DARK SUNRISE


SHERIFF AARON MACKEY 4
By Terrence McCauley
Pinnacle, December 2020

At long last, U.S. Marshal Aaron Mackey and Deputy Billy Sunday will see crime baron James Grant and his kill-crazy cronies stand trial for the mayhem and suffering they unleashed on the people of Dover Station. But as Montana Territory’s statehood is approaching, murdering devils like Grant can no longer be tolerated in positions of political power.

Or can they? Montana’s capital of Helena follows its own set of laws – laws that not only set Grant free, but give peacekeeping authority to a sadistic murdering gunslinger like Colonel Nathan Rigg, Mackey’s commanding officer during the war. The city’s leaders prefer keeping killers like Grant and Rigg under their thumbs.

Mackey knows there’s no controlling these bloodthirsty madmen. And if they think they’re above the law, then Mackey and Billy will just have to appoint themselves judge, jury, and executioners . . .

For those who have read the previous books this is a must read as it brings about a very violent conclusion to the plotlines that have run through those earlier novels. If you haven’t read any of the others then it might be wise to do so before reading this one, but if you’d rather just dive into The Dark Sunrise, the author does include enough background so you’ll pick up on what has gone before. 

There’s more of Mackey’s history to be discovered in these pages, some horrific actions that have helped mould him into the man he is. The author also includes other surprises such as the one Mackey faces when summoned to Judge Forester’s office for reasons unknown. There are also some powerful emotions for Mackey to have to deal with, more of which I can’t reveal here without including a major spoiler. There’s a lot of very visual destruction in this book and it also contains a high death toll. The final showdown which sees Mackey and Sunday taking on massive odds makes for gripping reading.

As I reached the end, I couldn’t help but feel this may be the last outing for Mackey. I can only hope I’m wrong and we’ll soon see him ride again.

As usual, Terrence McCauley paces his story superbly. His characters are well crafted and his action scenes are described in hard-hitting prose. As I read further and further into the story, I found myself grinning more and more as new characters were introduced. It was their names that had me smiling, as many of them will be recognizable to well-read western fans. 

With each book he writes, Terrence McCauley strengthens my belief that he is one of the best western authors writing today. 


Monday, 30 November 2020

GOODBYE BLACK HORSE WESTERNS



The close of another month, November 2020, and the close of a long-running line of westerns too. Robert Hale Ltd started publishing westerns in the U.K. in 1936. Since the mid ‘80’s they put them out under the Black Horse Western banner. Their books were produced for the library market but there were also a few for sale elsewhere. In 2015 Robert Hale and their imprint of Black Horse Westerns became part of The Crowood Press who continued to produce these hardback books. Unfortunately, they are no-longer viable and Crowood have made the decision to stop publishing them. Their back catalogue will still be available to purchase whilst stocks last.

As well as publishing work from new authors, Hale also put out work from established authors from various parts of the world. These were both reprints of old classic tales and brand-new stories. At their height, Hale were putting out ten new western books a month, more than any of the American publishers. Most were stand-alone novels, but series books appeared too. Crowood introduced ebook versions for a while and experimented with softback copies as well.

For many years Hale sent me all their Black Horse Westerns, often before they would appear in the libraries, so I could review some of them on Western Fiction Review. When Crowood took on the line they continued to supply me with review copies. I discovered many new authors to me, lots of whom became favourite writers with some becoming good friends. I can’t begin to think how many hundreds of these beautifully produced books I have in my collection. 

As these books become part of publishing history, gone but never forgotten, I can’t help but feel a little sad that there won’t be any new ones to read and that they will slowly disappear from library shelves. 


ANIMAL INSTINCT


By Lee Clinton
The Crowood Press, November 2020

It was the perfect hold-up, conducted with military precision by four men who calmly walked out of the Ozark Branch of the First National Bank with close to $50,000. Then it all went wrong. One unfortunate shot hits their leader Frank Jerome as he rides away. What to do? Take the risk and try to ride out the 250 miles back to the mighty Mississippi? Or let the other three escape without being slowed by a wounded man? Frank didn't hesitate. In a selfless act he stayed to face a prison sentence and an uncertain future. Now, years later on release, his companions have all disappeared along with the money, and it is going to take more than luck to untangle the lies, deceit and secrets that have been left behind. It is going to take animal instinct.

The book begins with the bank raid that results in Frank going to prison. Then moves forward to his release and the challenge that faces Frank in finding his partners in crime. Here we also get some backstory that reveals how the robbery came about and that there are more people involved than just the four who held-up the bank.

As it becomes apparent to Frank that his fellow bank robbers have been killed, Frank sets out to find out by who and what became of the money. He is determined to get his share no matter what. As other people become involved in Frank’s quest so the plot takes on more twists. 

This story held my attention from the opening scenes to its exciting ending. The action is at times brutal, especially when Frank has to fight for his life on a train. The final showdown is frantic, desperate and nail-biting. The final lines have a great touch of humour to them and closed the book superbly.

Lee Clinton is a pseudonym used by Australian author Leigh Alver and Animal Instinct is his 10th Black Horse Western. I’ve enjoyed every one of his books and would recommend any or all of them to western fans.