Monday, 20 May 2019

Hot Lead: Adult Western Special

The Paperback Fanatic, May 2019

Hot Lead is a beautifully produced fanzine and this, the third, concentrates on the rise of the adult western. This issue contains 52 pages of fascinating articles backed-up by many reproductions of book covers and associated artwork, all illustrated in full colour.

The main feature, Sex and Six Guns by Paul Bishop, delves into series adult westerns, looking at a variety of them in well researched detail. This section of the fanzine taking up sixteen pages and is essential reading for anyone who enjoys this kind of western.

Three western series get their own sections, Cimarron and Ruff Justice, both written about by editor Justin Marriott and The Trailsman by Steve Myall. All three providing some great insights into why these contributors liked these books so much. 

Then there’s a terrific article by Andreas Decker that looks at how the American series Lassiter by Jack Slade took Germany by storm. Starting with some of the original novels, the German publisher then continued the series and the number of books that have been put out featuring Lassiter is just staggering. Those long running American series like Longarm and The Gunsmith, don’t even come close! 

The final article by Ian Millsted moves away from adult westerns and is a personal look at his top ten western comics and it offers a couple of surprise entries in the countdown. One especially bringing back fond memories for me, that of El Mestizo in Battle Picture Weekly, a comic I read without fail and it now has me wanting to track down a copy of the mentioned hardback book of this comic strip. 

This issue of Hot Lead, is a must read for any fan of adult westerns. It, and the two previous fanzines, provide a lot of informative and entertaining reading that fans of this genre will find themselves returning to time and again. 

Thursday, 16 May 2019

Blood River

By Will Black
Crowood Press, August 2017

Gold was becoming harder to find as panners by the hundreds swarmed to any site where even the smallest nugget was found. One mine was still operating north of the Sierra Nevadas. And that was the problem. Transporting the gold down narrow, sandy, and rocky trails, wagons were easy targets for outlaws.

The Pinkerton Agency was charged with the security of a large haul of gold. But they had a daring plan. If it worked, 500 gold bars would make it East. If it failed, all was lost. Unknown to them, the Greeley gang had inside knowledge of their plan and were intent of stealing the gold.

At any cost.

I really enjoyed the last Will Black book I read, Death Comes Easy, so I was looking forward to this one and it more than matched the entertainment value of that previous story.

Will Black has a knack for creating interesting characters and plunging them into ingenious plots, and the plan that the Pinkerton’s have come up with is as fantastic as it could be foolhardy. The method of transporting the gold containing many edge of the seat moments.

The author regularly switches between the different groups of people fighting for possession of the gold as he tells his story that is filled with danger, double-cross, gunplay and deadly weather, before everything comes to a nail-biting and satisfying climax that could see many more folk decide to help themselves to the gold, which adds even more problems for Sheriff Brad Morgan to deal with.

Will Black is a pseudonym used by Adam Smith, and on the strength of this book, and others I’ve read by him, he has firmly established himself as one of my favourite Black Horse Western writers. 

Sunday, 12 May 2019

Two Thousand Grueling Miles

The Oregon Trail
by L.J. Martin
Wolfpack Publishing, April 2019

Young but determined, the man of the family too soon, Jake Zane comes of age with the help of a massive mute escaped slave. It’s conquer the wilderness, protect your mother and sisters, or die trying.

A grueling challenge…2,000 miles of rutted trail with little or no civilization, no water or far too much, wild animals, wicked weather, and savages both red and white. The good news: you have family and friends, and hundreds more making the trip. That is, until disease and accidents threaten everything. 

The Oregon Trail is the artery that brought lifeblood to the west, long before wagon or rail. It was the ultimate challenge for thousands who wanted land and opportunity. 

This is the first full-length story I’ve read by L.J. Martin and I found his writing to be very readable in what is an episodic tale of travelling the Oregon Trail as told in the first person through teenager Jake Zane. The author points out many details of what life would have been like undertaking such a journey, such as the countless graves marking the trail, emphasizing how dangerous this long trek would have been. Martin also includes a number of surprises, for instance in who lives and who dies.

One thing I did wonder, though, was at what age group this book is aimed at. I’d say young readers most likely as Martin has Jake’s mother teaching him and his sisters a new word everyday and Martin includes a lot of them and their meanings. The author also explains a lot of history about people and places which at times came over like he was trying to educate his readers rather than entertain. The first couple of chapters read like lists of items being taken on the journey, and Martin told us about some of them a number of times, such as where the chicken crate was hung. Even though this got a little monotonous for me I’m glad I stuck with it as the story really picked up once the Zane’s joined the wagon train and their journey began.

Martin’s story is filled with well-drawn characters and well described action scenes. He tells of the wonder of discovery, and the agony of losing those you love, that the reader will find themselves sharing those emotions with those experiencing them.

Overall, I found the book to be an enjoyable read and I liked it enough to want to try one of L.J. Martin’s many other westerns sometime down the trail.

Monday, 22 April 2019

War Valley

By Lancaster Hill
Pinnacle, March 2019

Hank Gannon grew up on a Florida plantation. He fought alongside his brothers-in-arms in the Civil War. Then he joined the Texas Special Police to help build a more peaceful union – and a future for his beloved Constance. That was the plan. But when a prisoner dies in his custody, Gannon is forced to leave Austin and head into Comanche territory. Alone but undaunted, he meets Roving Wolf- who has just slain a former soldier from his unit. Gannon can’t let the killing go unpunished. Even here, in this godforsaken valley, the law must be upheld… 

On the one side is a bloodthirsty war party of Indians, heading for the white man’s capital. On the other side is a makeshift army of Texas Special Police and the Texas State Guard, ready to meet the threat head-on. In the middle are Hank Gannon and Roving Wolf, waging their own blood feud. Two men trapped in a war. Fighting to survive their mutual hate. Killing to get out alive…

Lancaster Hill is a pseudonym for Jeff Rovin, an author known for his Tom Clancy: Op-Center series, and this is his first western.

The author’s writing style is extremely readable and includes some great, tense, life or death scenes.  Battles, be they between two sides or individuals, are described well, and are quite brutal at times and the author isn’t above killing off some main characters, which came as a welcome surprise, as is what happens to Constance, and how this is dealt with by her and Gannon and those who know her. Relationships between friend and foe are equally well-crafted and the author did have me caring what happened to some of them.

Gannon gets kicked out of the Texas Special Police due to possible political problems centered around racial unrest, even though it is entirely unjustified. This, of course, creates tension between Gannon and his now ex-employer, Captain Keel. Racial prejudice is a theme this tale often touches on and at times slowed the story down too much for me, as did the regular flashbacks that explained Gannon’s character (and others) that repeatedly interrupted the tale just as some deadly action was about to erupt. Having said that, the rest of the story was strong enough to keep me eagerly turning the pages.

War Valley is billed as being the first in a powerful new series, and yes it has some hard-hitting storylines, but will there be another Hank Gannon western? The Epilogue seems to imply that this is a stand-alone tale but I’m sure it would be possible to bring out further books featuring Gannon and I for one would look forward to reading them.

Sunday, 31 March 2019

The Scarlet Gun

By J.R. Roberts
Charter Books, September 1985

Lots of boys dream about being gunfighters, but when the kid brother of a pretty Irish woman picks up his six-shooter in earnest, Clint Adams is forced to get involved.

The Gunsmith is asked to find the boy and convince him to give himself up. But before he can that, Clint meets an incredibly beautiful young woman named Scarlet who is gunning for a rancher the kid has been hired to protect. Now, the Gunsmith’s good deed has drawn him into a dangerous crossfire – one from which he’ll be lucky to get out alive!

Like all Gunsmith books, this is an extremely fast read. It is dialogue driven and contains a twisting plot that moves forward at a rapid pace. The characters mentioned above are joined by a few others too, all with their own ambitions, and more than one dreaming of being the person who takes out the Gunsmith and thus enhancing their own reputations. As all the plot lines converge so does the readers anticipation for the final showdown that will see many of the leading characters facing off against each other.

The Gunsmith books are classed as an adult reading, which means they contain explicit sex scenes. This being one of the earlier books the reader will find a lot more of this type of action than in the later novels. The story starts with such an act, then the author lays out the plot, introduces the many characters and moves the tale towards the exciting final confrontation, all this takes up a good portion of the book. But, before guns are drawn in anger, the author inserts many more sexual encounters one after the other, not just for Adams but for one of the other main characters too. I’ll be honest and say I did find this a bit boring and speed-read these sections as I wanted to find out who would be left alive at the end, and whether Adams managed to keep the kid alive.

For followers of The Gunsmith series, this is a must read as one of the storylines seems to set itself up for a future book. Whether this happens I don’t know, but I certainly hope so and guess I will find out eventually as I aim to continue reading this series as time allows.

Long since out of print, Speaking Volumes has now re-issued The Scarlet Gun in book paper and ebook form.

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Medicine Hat

By Don Coldsmith
Bantam, February 1998
Original hardback edition published 1997

Pipe Bearer, a young holy man of the Elk-dog People, dreams of a powerful sign: a horse with curious markings on his ears and head, resembling the medicine hat of a holy man. But he cannot interpret the mysterious dream. When one of his mares foals a colt with the same markings, he undertakes a quest to the lands of the Lakota and the Pawnee to learn more about this sacred event.

Joining another pair of travelers, Pipe Bearer and his wife, Otter Woman, will pass through places of great power and inexpressible evil. On the long trek, they will experience great joy and terrible tragedy. And gradually they will discover the spirits’ true purpose for their quest….

Don Coldsmith tells this story in the first person, but not just through one character, but two. These are Pipe Bearer and Otter Woman. The narrative switches between them often and the reader will feel like they are part of the group Pipe Bearer and Otter Woman are telling their tale to. Both storytellers go off on an occasional tangent which adds depth to their character, and they often exchange banter that contains humorous observations about many things, especially how women trick their men into believing they make all the decisions about their life path.

As well as being a quest to find out more about the Medicine Hat horse, this is a tale of discovery, both in land and people. Comparisons between the Lakota way of life and that of the Elk-dog People provide fascination and revelations that cause much consideration. Without spoiling anything, I will add that the wonder of the changing landscape is extremely well told, and the reader will easily recognize places Pipe Bearer and Otter Woman see for the first time. Origin stories of how these places came to be add welcome, enchanting, elements to this captivating tale.

I’ve often felt that Coldsmith was gifted in his ability to describe human emotion, and this story is packed with that. Wonder, confusion, love, fear and heartache beautifully told so that the reader shares these feelings with the characters, making you care about them, and, when tragedy does strike the reader will experience their pain too.

Whilst not the most action-packed book in this series, it is still a gripping and appealing story, one that all fans of The Spanish Bit Saga novels will certainly enjoy reading.      

Friday, 22 March 2019

Where the Bullets Fly

By Terrence McCauley
Pinnacle, October 2018

If anyone can smell an investment opportunity, it’s railroad men and big city bankers. They’re not the kind of folks that Sheriff Mackey is used to dealing with. But greed is greed, and if anyone knows how money can drive men to murder, it’s the sheriff of a boomtown like Dover Station. But when Mackey is forced to gun down a pair of saloon rats, it brings a powderkeg of trouble – with a quick-burning fuse of vengeance named Alexander Duramont. This bloodthirsty psychopath wants to kill the sheriff for killing his buddies. And he plans to get his revenge using a highly combustible mix of fire, fear, and dynamite…

Mackey’s not sure how he’s going to stop this blood-crazed lunatic. But it’s going to be one heck of an explosive and very violent showdown…

This is Terrence McCauley’s first western and it's also billed as the first in a new series featuring Sheriff Aaron Mackey. 

When we meet Mackey he is suffering from pneumonia and this ailment sees him struggling to do his job and this somehow made him seem more real than some western heroes – how often do we read of heroes being struck down by common illnesses? This sickness doesn’t just go away and it plays an important part in Mackey’s mood as he takes on outlaws and businessmen alike.

Mackey is also part of a love-triangle. Trapped in a marriage he refuses to break-up, but tormented by his true love, Katherine, living in the same town. It’s when Katherine’s life is threatened by the superbly drawn outlaw Duramont and her fate is unknown, that Mackey allows his feelings for her to override everything else and he sets out on a mission to find out what happened to her and to kill Duramont.

Duramont is beautifully evil, the perfect adversary for Mackey. But can Mackey bring the outlaw leader to justice as he always seems to be one step-ahead of the lawman? 

The book is tough, dark in tone, has plenty of violent scenes and moves forwards at a relentless pace. With an excellent cast of colourful characters in both the main storyline and subplots I soon found myself totally immersed in the tale. The ending was savage and not quite what I expected. McCauley also left a few openings for the next book in the series, Dark Territory, which will be published in March 2019, and I for one can’t wait to get my hands on a copy.