Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Blind-Sided

By Billy Hall
Hale, July 2015

He could see the tip of the hat brim in the doorway of the balcony across the street. Just over the top of the ridge of the mercantile store’s roof, he caught a glimpse of another hat. That meant at least two men were waiting to kill him in cold blood.

Ike Murdo knows that awaiting him upon his arrival are several people who want him dead. The risks were clear when he chose to interfere with the gang’s plans. He’d had no choice: when the son of the woman he loved was kidnapped, Ike followed his heart.

Now, he must pay the price and confront the gunmen.

He swallowed his fear and called out to the gunfighter. ‘Cadwall! Come out and face me.’

Billy Hall begins his story in an almost gentle fashion as we witness Murdo search for and secure a job that sees him doubling as a cowboy and a farmhand. It’s the latter that provides some fascinating reading as Murdo gets to grips with new methods of ploughing and Hall’s descriptions of this put you right there to witness Murdo’s determination to master these new techniques.

During this time Murdo finds himself become more and more attracted to the ranch’s owner and he bonds with her children. But all the time Hall allows the threat of danger to simmer below the surface and throws a few questions into the mix, such as why Murdo doesn’t carry a belt gun.

Later Murdo sends a telegraph when danger threatens, but who to? Neither characters nor readers are let in on this secret which adds a touch of mystery to the storyline and this turns out to be a great surprise when the author reveals the answer.

As well as fistfights and gunfights there are some excellent confrontations in a court of law that should see off any threat of danger but, of course, they just make things worse and lead to the kidnapping mentioned in the blurb.

The rescue attempt gives birth to a legend which put a huge grin on my face and brings the book to an excellent ending that left me eager to read more of Billy Hall’s work.




Sadly, it has recently been reported that Bill Hallsted (Billy Hall’s full name) passed away in May 2015, so I would like to take this opportunity to offer my condolences to his family and friends and to let them know that for me, and his many fans, Bill will live on in the words of the many westerns he wrote and will continue to bring us pleasure for a long, long time to come. 


Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Manslaughter

SHAWN O’BRIEN #2
By William W. Johnstone with J.A. Johnstone
Pinnacle, March 2015

In Broken Bridle, Wyoming, Jeremiah Purdy, the town’s tinhorn sheriff is a college kid who wants to become governor some day. But outlaw Burt Becker couldn’t care less about anyone else’s ambitions. With Becker holding Broken Bridle in a bloody grip of terror, Purdy sends a desperate cry for help – to Shawn O’Brien, town tamer. Shawn’s mission: ride to Wyoming and pry Broken Bridle loose from Becker’s reign of fear. What Shawn finds is that something even more evil than Becker is haunting Broken Bridle. Now, in a storm of bullets and blood, in a deal with the devil, Shawn O’Brien can only tame this town by entering hell itself…

You want plenty of action? An involving plot that charges forward at the speed of a galloping horse? A storyline full of twists and turns, one of which that could be as equally at home in a horror novel? Demented bad guys with an army of killers? Draw-fighters aplenty? Good-guys escaping their own demons? Fear? Lies? How-they-gonna-get-outta-that situations? Fistfights? Gunfights? Gritty writing that demands your attention? Then this book is a must read!

The author brings together an excellent cast of characters, many of whom I hoped just might, somehow, escape the grip of terror, and high death-toll that plagues Broken Bridle, to perhaps appear in future Johnstone books. Who can forget the twins, assassins who’ve never failed to take out their target? And Becker’s gunman, Caradas? Deputy United States Marshal Brown with his bullish ways? The Chinese? The women? Thomas Clouston riding his massive horse whilst wielding a battle-axe like someone from a Frank Frazetta painting? And the strawmen – I still shudder whilst thinking about them.

Like the previous Shawn O’Brien book, Town Tamer, this delves into the darker side of humanity, where greed is all that matters and life is cheap. Where madness is the driving force and death feeds well. It seems Broken Bridle is destined to become a ghost town and that O’Brien cannot possibly stop this from happening. Does he? I guess you’re going to have to read the book to find out because I can’t answer that here and thus spoil the book for those who are yet to read it. What I will say is that I’m really looking forward to discovering just what horrors await Shawn O’Brien in the third book of the series, Better Off Dead, which I believe is scheduled for release next February.


Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Storm over Sonora

MORGAN KANE #12
By Louis Masterson
Corgi, 1971

Originally published in Norway, 1967

‘General Garranza has stated officially that the revolt will be crushed if every tree in Sonora has to bear a bandit’….

In Sonora, Mexico, a revolution was taking place. It started in a small way – and then it gathered speed. Villages were plundered and troop trains ambushed. The rebels, it was rumoured, were being supplied with arms smuggled across the border. And this is where Morgan Kane was called in. In a dusty one-horse-town in Arizona, he discovered one of the main sources of the contraband ammunition – in the charge of a wicked, greedy old man….

When we first meet Kane he is suffering, trying to drown the pain that tears at his soul in alcohol. Hurt and anguish that have battered his being during his last two assignments in particular. Louis Masterson seems to enjoy tormenting his hero, but in this story he doesn’t add to Kane’s mental distress – although he does take some physical blows from both friend and foe. This tale is much more of a straight-forward western that is packed with bloody action and sees Kane struggle with where his loyalties lie.

One of Masterson’s strengths is describing landscapes, he paints such vivid imagery with his choice of words and these place the reader right there with his characters, sharing the beauty, heat and harshness of Sonora.

The story contains a couple of neat twists too that will see Kane riding towards certain death without a weapon to defend himself against hopeless odds. Something that will have you wondering how he can possibly emerge from this deadly situation in one piece. Kane’s fear and near panic is written so well you can almost see his sweat oozing from the pages.

The book concludes with a terrific battle as the rebel army launch an attack on a fort, which brings this tale to a violent end. The final lines of the story will definitely have readers wanting to find a copy of the next book in the series to discover just what horrors Kane will have to face next.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Track of the Bear

THE SPANISH BIT SAGA #22
By Don Coldsmith
Bantam, January 1995
First published by Doubleday, May 1994

For as long as anyone can remember, the People have had a sacred Covenant with their brother Bear. Now, without warning, the bond has been shattered as a bear stalks the People on their annual trip to summer council. Fearing the bear is an evil spirit in disguise, Singing Wolf knows he must take matters into his own hands – even if it means breaking the Covenant, wresting power from his father, holy man Walks in the Sun, and alienating his beloved Rain. But as Singing Wolf and Walks in the Sun each struggle to understand the broken Covenant, their crisis foretells an even greater challenge facing the People – both from within and without.

Once again Don Coldsmith’s exceptional ability to write a gripping tale shines through in this story of the struggle to understand spiritual beliefs. The question of why the bear has begun killing the People needs an answer before they can begin to plan how to stop the animal without destroying it and thus giving a death sentence to the creatures’ killer.

Amid the beautiful described landscapes and seasonal change Coldsmith really does capture the frustrations of lack of understanding that twists the soul of Singing Wolf and those he confides in. You’ll share those torments with the People as Coldsmith’s words captivate your imagination, you’ll feel their sorrow as the death count mounts, you’ll find yourself wondering just how this bear, that never shows itself except to those it kills, can possibly be stopped without bringing even greater tragedy down on the People.

Coldsmith solves the problem in an obvious yet unpredictable way that both shocks and surprises. Followers of the series will definitely feel the pain that this conclusion brings to the People, making this book a not to be missed read in the series.

It’s been a while since I read a Spanish Bit novel and this one has left me very eager to read the next in the series as soon as possible.


Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Gila Monster

By Colin Bainbridge
Hale, June 2015

A stagecoach is winding its way towards the small town of Medicine Bend when it is attacked by outlaws. However the coach’s passengers manage to beat them off. This unusual array of characters – the new town marshal Wade Calvin, insurance salesman Taber, and Miss Jowett, on her way to care for her relatives – thus find their lives intertwined.

As the new arrivals settle in, the outlaws’ vicious leader ‘Gila’ Goad hears news of the botched robbery from his base in a disused silver mining camp in the surrounding hills. Named after the deadly Gila lizard he keeps as a pet, Goad is brutal and unpredictable. He learns of Calvin’s presence in town and believes he is the same man who once imprisoned him. Goad is determined to get his revenge.

When Miss Jowett’s young relatives are kidnapped, Calvin knows the race to find the outlaws is on. He must take the fight into the hills as he searches for Goad and his camp, and the stolen children – before it is too late.

Like other books I’ve read by Colin Bainbridge this one features a creature, so I’m guessing that Mr Bainbridge must be an animal lover. As Goad keeps his Gila lizard in his coat pocket I’d say it’s a youngster as an adult would be far too large to be kept this way. Goad’s habit of discussing his problems with the Gila are both entertaining and strange at the same time.

Bainbridge brings together a very different set of characters for this novel, and each will have a vital role to play in freeing the kidnapped children and bringing an end to the outlaws’ plans, for Goad has a much bigger prize in his grasp than just robbing stagecoaches and banks.

Bainbridge breaks each of the six chapters into a series of scenes that switch from character to character regularly. He includes plenty of action as the story builds smoothly to its bloody conclusion.

On finishing the book I’m again left looking forward to Colin Bainbridge’s next, not least to discover just what kind of animal will have a starring role.


Tuesday, 23 June 2015

The Gun Master

By Rory Black
Hale, June 2015

Rex Carey arrives in the township of Willow Creek on his way to visit an old friend. Unknown to him, the infamous Zane Black is staying in the same hotel.

Soon Carey, known throughout the West as the Gun Master, clashes with Black and blood is spilled. Black had been planning the perfect bank robbery and was awaiting his brother and gang to execute his plans.

As Forrest Black rides with his men into the remote settlement, he has no idea he is about to find his brother dead. He sets out to find the killer and his outlaw gang collides brutally with Carey. Who will come out on top?

Up until now Michael D. George has used the pseudonym of Rory Black for his Iron Eyes series only so this is the first time he’s put out a book about someone other than Iron Eyes under that pen-name. My initial thoughts were why when he writes under a variety of other names too, and could this be the first book in a new series?

Those familiar with this authors work will find everything they expect in this very fast moving tale; savage outlaws, a lightning fast hero, plenty of deaths, and a writing style that paints vivid imagery within the mind, in particular the final showdown that can easily be imagined as playing out before you on a cinema screen.

As I read this I became certain the Gun Master was to become a new series but the surprising ending made me doubt my thoughts, so I guess time will reveal whether Rex Carey will ride again. If he does I’m sure I will be reading his next adventure.

The Gun Master has an official release date of June 30th but is available now.


Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Once More into the Breech

By Peter Brandvold
Five Star Publishing, May 2015

When Doctor Clyde Evans is kidnapped from his home in the middle of the night to tend a wounded outlaw, Sheriff Ben Stillman’s problems are only just beginning. Stillman tracks the doctor to a remote cabin deep in the Two Bear Mountains. He springs the doctor, shoots the outlaws, and confiscates the bank loot. He also arrests a beautiful young outlaw, Hettie Styles, who promptly puts a bounty on Stillman’s head. Compounding his problems, his old foe Jacob Henry Battles rides into town with a steel hook replacing the arm Stillman shot off years ago before sending Battles to prison. 

Dying from consumption, Battles was recently let out of Deer Lodge Pen. He says he’s in town merely to settle down, but after a shot is fired into Stillman’s house in the middle of the night, the sheriff thinks Battles is out for revenge. 

Meanwhile, Doc Evans must navigate more personal torments when young Evelyn Vincent, the waitress from Sam Wa’s CafĂ©, professes her love for the older sawbones only weeks before Evans is due to be married to the Widow Kemmett! 

In this, the 10th book in the Sheriff Ben Stillman series a long occurring problem really takes a grip making this a must read for fans of the Stillman stories.

For all the deadly dangers Stillman faces in this violent tale it’s something he is powerless to control that could be his downfall. The bullet in his back is causing him to stiffen up, near paralysing him. How can he protect his family, let alone continue being a lawman if he ends up in a wheelchair? Peter Brandvold comes up with some powerful storytelling as he writes about Stillman’s fears of what the future may hold for him.

Doc Evans’ women problems are a major part of this tale as the Stillman books are about the people of Clantick too, and this makes for a neat subplot and will have you wondering who he will choose.

Peter Brandvold has always been very good at creating terrific characters and this one is filled with them; Battles, a dying man who says he isn’t after revenge: Miller, who’s trying to engineer the ultimate gunfight between Stillman and Battles: Hettie, female outlaw who seems to be able to wrap men around her little finger and is out to double-cross her gang, to name but a few.

The story is packed with bloody action that is quite savage at times and also contains some explicit sex. There’s mystery too, such as who is taking sniping shots at the Stillman home. All overshadowed by the fear I’ve already mentioned that Stillman may not be capable of protecting his friends and family when the time comes which makes for some edge-of-the-seat moments before the final tension filled confrontation.

Here’s hoping Peter doesn’t make us wait too long before we get to find out what he has in store for Sheriff Ben Stillman next.