Thursday, 27 January 2022

TALES FROM DEADWOOD


TALES FROM DEADWOOD
Book 1 of 4
By Mike Jameson
Berkley, November 2005

It’s 1876, Dan Ryan, formerly of Custer’s 7th Cavalry, is leading a party of prospectors to the Black Hills – Sioux territory – where gold was discovered two years before. Although off-limits to whites, the region is overrun by so many fortune-seekers that the U.S. Army is powerless to stop them. Besides, what’s a paper treaty worth next to gold-rich land?

In nearby Deadwood, men raise hell all night after prospecting all day. An outlaw town with no right to exist on Indian land, Deadwood is a lawless cesspool where those who strike it rich can lose everything – including their lives. Possibly the meanest man in the Dakotas, Al Swearengen sells liquor that can poison a man when gold is involved. And now, even Calamity Jane and the legendary Wild Bill Hickok – losing his eyesight but still finding trouble – are coming to stake their claim.

Dan Ryan is going to have to fend off roaming gunmen, angry Sioux, ruthless gamblers, whores and thieving prospectors in order to protect his claim, because in the Badlands of Deadwood, trouble always comes at you from behind… 

The author introduces a whole lot of characters, both real and fictional, that will form new relationships and destroy others and this was one of the elements of the story that kept me glued to the pages. There are many incidents that befall these people such as drinking some of Swearengen’s potent whiskey and suffering from doing so. There’s falling in love and losing one’s virginity to deal with too. Calamity Jane’s pursuit of Hickok and his attempts to avoid her add some humour to the tale. There’s plenty of gunplay and fistfights, twisting schemes, suspense and a mysterious relationship that’ll hook you into the story along with seeing how the characters deal with the news of the massacre of Custer and the 7th Cavalry.

If you like the television series Deadwood, starring Timothy Olyphant and Ian McShane you’ll want to read this book. Even though the books aren’t tied into the TV series in any way, they both share a number of characters, as many of the people were real. The author also includes others than those mentioned above, such as Charley Utter and Buffalo Bill Cody. Characters such as Swearengen only make brief appearances, thus distancing the book from the TV series and in my opinion doing this was an excellent decision by the author. Like the television show, the book does have its fair share of bad language, but nowhere near as much as the TV series, and it also contains some fairly explicit sex scenes.

The pacing of the book is superb and the author, James Reasoner writing as Mike Jameson, certainly knows how to create characters you’ll want to read more about. As you get deeper into the story it soon becomes clear that the author has introduced a number of plotlines that will continue further into the series and I, for one, am eager to find out what happens with these so I will be picking up book two very soon because if it’s anywhere near as good as this book I know I’ll be in for an exciting read.

Sunday, 23 January 2022

DEATH LIST


THE BADGE
Book 12 of 24
By Bill Reno
Cover art by Shannon Stirnweis
Bantam Books, August 1989

Rancher Bruce Ringle is a man to be reckoned with – and those who don’t usually live to regret it. He is the leader of the Stockmen’s Association, a ring of wealthy Wyoming ranchers bent on taking control of the cattle range, and he’s hired a ruthless band of vigilantes called the Regulators to carry his brutal message to the independent ranchers: either join the association or join the dead.

At the top of the Regulators’ dreaded death list is the name of the newly appointed sheriff, Will Iron. The legendary lawman has pinned on a dead man’s badge vowing to bring the last sheriff’s killers to justice and law and order back to the town. Ringle and his Regulators figure they have the outgunned sheriff just where they want him. But they’re wrong. For Will Iron is also a man to be reckoned with – and the day of reckoning is here.

This series of books has only been linked, so far, by the fact that the lead character wears a badge of some kind. Death List is the first to see the author bring back one of the earlier lawmen for a second outing, in this case Will Iron who first appeared in book four, Powder River.

After the brutal killings that open the book, the author slows the pace down whilst introducing his readers to the various people that will play major parts in this story. For those who haven’t met Will Iron before, the author includes plenty of information regarding his background. 

Once Iron arrives in the town of Casper, he soon starts stirring up trouble for those breaking the law and the pace of the story really picks up. A band of rustlers soon adds Iron to their own death list, and Ringle sets out to hire a professional killer to take Iron out. The body count rises impressively as everyone attempts to take control of Casper and the surrounding county.

Bill Reno includes a couple of excellent female roles too, one is Iron’s wife, Vanessa, and the other being Nora Bramley who seems to be hiding a dark secret. 

Even though Iron soon figures out who is behind the Regulators, there’s the matter of proving it, and that is the main problem that Iron struggles with. Whilst trying to get the proof he needs, Iron will find himself taking on impressive odds, sometimes by himself, other times with the backing of those that live in or around Casper. The final showdown sees Iron facing his own death as he stands alone against far superior odds.

Perhaps not my favourite book in the series so far, but Death List was readable and enjoyable and I’m certain it won’t be long before I read the next one.

Bill Reno is a pseudonym used by Lew A. Lacy.

Wednesday, 19 January 2022

RAVEN MOCKER


THE SPANISH BIT SAGA
Book 27 of 29 + three Super editions
By Don Coldsmith
Cover art by Tom Hall
Bantam Books, July 2002

Demon…or Healer?

For years Snakewater, the aging medicine woman of Old Town, has been respected – and feared – by her Cherokee village. Now, as a series of mysterious deaths plagues her village, she finds herself accused of being a Raven Mocker, the legendary creature of evil that steals life from its victims in its relentless quest for immortality. Driven from her people, Snakewater journeys west for the first time with a traveling band to the Cherokee settlements far beyond the Mississippi.

Her trail will be one of perilous discovery. Accepted by a culture new to her, admired and loved by its children, she finds herself feeling more vibrant and youthful. But is her newfound vigor a gift from the spirits…or a sign that her people were right, that she is a life-stealing Raven Mocker? As the annual Sun Dance approaches, Snakewater will learn the fateful truth about herself and the unexplained deaths – a surprising revelation that will confirm her new life…or destroy it.

In this book Don Coldsmith moves away from telling a story about his fictional tribe and spins an intriguing and captivating tale of an old Cherokee woman set circa 1800, who is accused of being a mythical Raven Mocker. Coldsmith explains that this evil spirit steals the life breath of the dying and adds their unlived years to its own life. Coldsmith never mentions the missing hearts that legend says this creature harvests without leaving a mark on the body.

Seeing Snakewater struggle with the horror of whether she could be a Raven Mocker without knowing is the main storyline. Coldsmith also includes other spiritual elements, as he does in many of the book in the Spanish Bit series, and one of the unseen Little People has a major role to play in this story too.

Once Snakewater decides to leave her Cherokee home, the story becomes much more familiar to fans of this series. It turns into a tale of discovery, of meeting new peoples and learning their ways. Unknown to Snakewater there are people on her trail seeking revenge for the deaths of their loved ones. Eventually Snakewater meets up with the Elk-Dog People, Coldsmith’s tribe that has been followed throughout all the previous books, and it is with them that she will finally face her demons, real or imagined. 

As usual Don Coldsmith captures emotions superbly, be they joy, wonder, fear or hate. His dialogue is believable and descriptions of time and place are beautifully told. Even if you are sceptical about the supernatural elements of this tale, Coldsmith will make you a believer, such is the power of his prose. 

In Raven Mocker, Don Coldsmith again proves that he was up there with the very best writers of fiction and, for me and many others, his work is unmissable.

I feel I must mention the artwork fronting this book. Tom Hall’s covers to the entire series are wonderful but his painting on Raven Mocker must rank as one of his very best. The careful thought-out placement of items within the image lit by the fire to cast the giant shadow of a raven is terrific and captures the mood of this story superbly.

Note: Wolfpack Publishing have recently begun republishing the complete series.

Saturday, 15 January 2022

BURY THE HATCHET


BUCK TRAMMEL 2
By William W. Johnstone and J.A. Johnstone
Pinnacle, September 2020

There are two things a man can never escape: his past and his destiny. For Buck Trammel, that past includes a fatal mistake that ended his career as a Pinkerton – and a deadly shootout with the Bowman gang in a Wichita saloon. Call it luck or call it fate, but the famous Deputy Wyatt Earp was there to give Buck some advice: Run for your life. Maybe it was Earp’s warning that saved him from the gang’s wrath. Maybe it was destiny that brought him to the town of Blackstone, Wyoming, where his biggest problem is a brewing father-son war. But Trammel’s luck is about to run dry . . . 

The gang’s ruthless boss, Old Man Bowman, knows where Trammel lives. He’s assembled a small army of gunslingers. He’s hired a Pinkerton with a grudge against Trammel. And he’s coming to town to bury the hatchet . . . 

This book continues storylines begun in the first Buck Trammel western, North of Laramie, so if you haven’t read that story, you may find it advantageous to read the earlier book before this one, although it isn’t necessary as the author includes enough information in this second book to fill new readers in on any background detail you need to know to understand how those previous events shaped the plot in this tale.

The author develops relationships further between characters from the first book and introduces others too. All find themselves struggling to stay alive in a twisting plot that easily pulls you into its enthralling storyline. A bounty placed on Trammel’s head ensures there’s plenty of gunplay as all kinds of people try to make themselves a quick fortune. It was the coming confrontation between Trammel and the Pinkerton’s that added suspense to the tale and kept me eagerly turning the pages.

Trammel’s broken friendship with Adam Hagan and his uneasy alliance with Adam’s father, King Charles Hagan, is tested a number of times and there is a shocking revelation that could cause unfixable damage. 

The story involves fast violent action scenes, political wrangling, double-cross, and devious twists, in a well-crafted tale that proved to be a gripping read. The book neatly ties up the main threads of the story and leaves a couple of the sub-plots still dangling, thus ensuring readers will want to read the third book, The Intruders, to find out what happens next, something I hope to do very soon.

Wednesday, 5 January 2022

THE PROUD HORSEMAN

By Matt Chisholm
Mayflower, 1963

The McDaid’s came down from the high country, ruthless and strong. They killed his brother and invaded his grass.

He was alone, backed by treacherous friends, faced by powerful enemies. A man with sense would have forked his horse and got out of there but he didn’t have sense. He only had cold courage and a gun.

Like all the other books by Matt Chisholm I’ve read, this story moves forward at tremendous speed and is almost non-stop action. It’s a tale of a land grab as a superior force in the shape of the McDaid clan arrive in a valley filled with lush grass which is just what they need for their cattle. Only thing is Si and Jim Deverey live there, as do one or two other people and they won’t be pushed off what they see as their land. Shortly after a stand-off between the McDaid’s and the Deverey’s, Jim is found viciously beaten to death and Si hits the vengeance trail and soon finds himself blamed for the death of one of Lon McDaid’s sons, and the old man screams for revenge. It isn’t long before Si is wondering if there is a third party playing a hand in the killings, and if he is right then who is it and what is their motive?

The author has created a wonderful set of tough characters, both male and female, for this gripping read. One thing I like about Chisholm’s stories, is that you can never be sure of who will be alive or dead by the end, and that is certainly the case in this novel. There’s a couple of excellent twists and plenty of ‘how are they going to get out of that’ situations. I also like that Chisholm’s characters aren’t perfect shots and often miss their targets and that they don’t escape being hit by all the lead that is flying around. 

Chisholm’s work comes from a time when bad language wasn’t used in stories that much, if at all. There aren’t any sex scenes either, although I was surprised by the inclusion of a bit of nudity. The story is told over 154 pages, with 44 lines per page and chapters starting just a few lines below where the previous one finished, meaning you get a decent length read from a fairly slim book compared to those being published today.

Matt Chisholm is a pseudonym for English author Peter Watts, who also wrote westerns as Cy James and Luke Jones, and I recommend his books to all who enjoy action-packed westerns.

Friday, 31 December 2021

WESTERNS READ DURING 2021

Here’s my annual list of westerns read during the year, in this case 2021. Not as many as last year for a variety of reasons. As usual I’ve tried to read books by past authors and those writing today that include favourites of mine and a sprinkling of new to me writers. To read a review just click on the number.

1. The Loner 11: Crossfire by J.A. Johnstone
2. The Gunsmith 46: Wild Bill’s Ghost by J.R. Roberts
3. Luke Sutton: Lawman (8) by Leo P. Kelley
4. Spur 2: Arizona Fancy Lady by Dirk Fletcher
5. The Lawman by Lyle Brandt
6. The Derby Man 11: The Comstock Camels by Gary McCarthy
7. The Running Iron Samaritans by Barry Cord
8. Gun Law by Ralph Cotton
9. Canyon O’Grady 11: Soldier’s Song by Jon Sharpe
10. Cody’s Law 6: Renegade Trail by Matthew S. Hart
11. McAllister Makes War by Matt Chisholm
12. The Bozeman Trail War 1: Bluecoat Patrol by Alfred Wallon
13. Wolf Stockburn, Railroad Detective by Max O’Hara
14. The Feud at Broken Man by Frank Callan
15. Thrilling Western, Vol. 5, No. 10. (British Edition) October 1953
16. The Guns of Samuel Pritchard 2: Cottonmouth by Sean Lynch
17. The Loner 12: Inferno by J.A. Johnstone
18. The Spanish Bit Saga 26: The Lost Band by Don Coldsmith
19. Caleb Marlow 1: High Country Justice by Nik James
20. Man on the Buckskin by Peter Dawson
21. The Comanche Kid by James Robert Daniels
22. The Trailsman 141: Tomahawk Justice by Jon Sharpe
23. Stark’s Justice by James Reasoner
24. Wolf Stockburn, Railroad Detective 2: Hell’s Jaw Pass by Max O’Hara
25. The Badge 11: Dark Canyon by Bill Reno
26. Have Brides, Will Travel 3: Till Death by William W. Johnstone and J.A. Johnstone
27. The Guns of Samuel Pritchard 3: The Blood of Innocents by Sean Lynch
28. The Saber Brand by Herbert Purdum
29. Medicine Pony by John Q. Pickard
30. Pursuit in the Sun by Matt Chisholm
31. Buck Trammel 1: North of Laramie by William W. Johnstone and J.A. Johnstone
32. Longarm and the Rock Springs Reckoning (434) by Tabor Evans
33. Abilene 7: The Prizefighter by Justin Ladd
34. Sudden – Goldseeker by Oliver Strange
35. Trusty Dawson, U.S. Deputy Marshal 1: Lost Mountain Pass by Larry D. Sweazy
36. Easy Company and the Dog Soldiers (27) by John Wesley Howard
37. The Loner 13: Brutal Vengeance by J.A. Johnstone
38. Iron Eyes 22: The Tomb of Iron Eyes by Rory Black
39. Breed 1: The Lonely Hunt by James A. Muir
40. Powell’s Army 1: Unchained Lightning by Terence Duncan
41. The Guns of Samuel Pritchard 4: The Trainwreckers by Sean Lynch
42. Rain of Fire by Merle Constiner
43. The Proud Horseman by Matt Chisholm

Monday, 27 December 2021

RAIN OF FIRE


By Merle Constiner
Ace Books, 1966 

Fane was just a quiet storekeeper in a small Montana rangeland town who had a hobby. He was a gun collector and an amateur gunsmith. But he was no gunman. 

Nevertheless, when a call came from an old friend, Fane picked up one of his best shooting irons and joined up with a couple of gunslicks to clear up the trouble.

His killer companions didn’t think much of Fane. He was a deadshot, sure, but he had a real slow draw. And in their business, a slow draw was a ticket to Boot Hill.

But there were a lot of other professional gun throwers around who were to test their skill against this amateur – and came out second best, even with a gun out first.

Not having read any of Constiner’s work before, I really didn’t know what to expect from this short novel that is told in thirteen chapters over 112 pages. The reason I picked this particular book was that the blurb caught my imagination so I was a little disappointed that Fane’s hobby played a very small part in the tale.

At first the plot is a little confusing, intentionally so, as Fane and his two companions, Arapaho and Crezavent, try to find out who they’ve been hired by and for what purpose. Even when they know whose payroll they are on, they still have questions as to the reasons. Throughout their attempts to find the answers, gunmen come out of the shadows trying to kill them. 

Constiner throws more twists into the tale through new characters, one of whom gives Fane cryptic messages that could help save their lives and possibly reveal the answers to why they’ve been hired and who they’re expected to kill. 

The story moves forward well, although it is occasionally slowed down when the author includes lengthy descriptions of places or buildings that Fane finds himself at but most of the time Constiner doesn’t waste words and gets straight to the point, so much so, that if you don’t pay attention, you’ll find yourself wondering how the story has progressed from one point to another.

Summing up, I’d say this tale held my interest fairly well, although it didn’t grip me as much as I hoped it might as I found myself putting the book down to do other things rather than read it in one or two sittings. Will I read another Constiner book? Possibly, but having so many to choose from, I think it might be a while before I do so.

Rain of Fire is one half of an Ace Double and it is backed by Bitter Brand by Tom West and I hope to get around to reading that soon.