Sunday, 19 January 2020

Fortress Iron Eyes

number 24 of 30 to date
By Rory Black
The Crowood Press
Hardback, January 2016
Paperback, November 2018
Cover art by Salvador Faba

Tracking outlaws Dobie Miller and Waldo Schmitt into a deadly desert, the notorious bounty hunter Iron Eyes is closing the distance between them with every beat of his determined heart.

Yet the magnificent palomino stallion beneath his ornate saddle is starting to suffer. For years the deadly Iron Eyes has never been concerned about his horses, but since acquiring the powerful stallion, his attitude has changed.

Iron Eyes knows that the horse has saved his life many times, due to its remarkable strength, but now it needs water badly. Every instinct tells the bounty hunter to stop his relentless hunt for the wanted outlaws, but then his steely eyes spot something out in the sickening heat-haze. It is a towering fortress. Iron Eyes presses on.

Once again Rory Black has his hero up against far superior odds, for the abandoned fortress that lures Iron Eyes is already inhabited, not only by the two outlaws he is pursuing, but also by a band of men ready to trade with the Indians who inhabit the desert. These vicious men aren’t the only problems facing the bounty hunter for the two wanted men have gunned down some of the Indians and they want revenge and are planning an assault on the fortress. 

The author creates an air of tension well, his prose often dark in tone as Iron Eyes rides into more danger than expected. There is plenty of violent action before all the well-drawn characters come together for the bloody conclusion which sees Iron Eyes having to act fast to escape with his life.

Fans of this series will know that Iron Eyes is the object of unwanted affection from Squirrel Sally who follows him everywhere in her stagecoach. This time she arrives at the fortress ahead of the bounty hunter and her presence adds further complications to the deadly situation Iron Eyes finds himself in. Squirrel Sally also provides some moments of welcome humour to the otherwise vicious storyline.

Rory Black is one of the pseudonyms used by Michael D. George, an author who never fails to entertain and Iron Eyes is probably his best-known character. If you’ve never tried any of his work, then this could be the perfect place to start.

Black Horse Westerns are usually only available as hardbacks, now The Crowood Press are putting some out as paperbacks of similar size. The paperback versions are virtually half the price of the hardbacks. A lot of Black Horse Westerns have also been released in ebook format. 

Wednesday, 8 January 2020

Murphy's Herd

By Gary Paulsen
Pocket Books, January 1992
Cover art by Garin Baker
Originally published by Walker and Company, 1989

After Al Murphy resigned his sheriff’s badge and swore off the violent, dusty streets of Cincherville, Colorado, he followed the directions of an old Indian to Wyoming’s land of wide green valleys. There under the broad sky, with a good woman by his side, he would ranch with a few dozen horses – far from the knives and guns of his lawman’s past.

But his enemies, deadly gunslingers, follow him. Returning from Casper with provisions for his new home, Murphy rides into the wrecked scene of their most savage attack…at the heart of his homestead. The blood and charred wood shatter his peaceful life and drive him back – to the hard kick of his heavy gun, the rip of outlaw bullets, the agony of manhunting in a lawless land – and the determination to die for what is right.

If anyone has the first four Murphy paperbacks put out by Pocket Books then please take note that this publisher put out books three and four in the wrong order. The book they’ve numbered as four is really the third book and vice-versa. To get the most enjoyment from this series you need to read Murphy’s Herd after Murphy’s Gold as there are strong continuation plot lines from book to book.

The first two books in this series were tough and brutal so it came as a surprise when the first half or so of this book was almost light in tone, dealing with Murphy’s joy of embracing a new life away from violence and being with the lady he loves, Midge. There are a couple of fights to be had during their journey but nothing Murphy isn’t capable of dealing with quickly and efficiently, incidents soon to be forgotten.

Paulsen’s writing is so good that I soon found myself swept up in this time of happiness, sharing the wonder at discovering the valley in which Murphy and Midge set up home. Their easy-going attitude and simple life can’t fail to appeal to anyone. Then comes that trip to Casper and the return to horrors that Murphy will blame himself for and it’s at this point that the book switches in mood, the dark tones of the previous books rise up as Murphy is consumed with hate, the need for vengeance and after that there is only the welcome desire to blow his own brains out to escape the nightmare, after all he will have nothing else to live for.

Paulsen’s hard hitting prose is beautifully paced, moving at times such as when tranquil life is ripped away by brutal violence. Murphy’s anguish will have you feeling for him, hoping he will succeed in his intense need for revenge. Paulsen doesn’t let Murphy’s suffering end there though, the final savage showdown leads to more self-doubt, more agonizing questions as he rides back to the destroyed homestead to end his own life but what he finds there may just change his mind.

The more I read of Gary Paulsen’s work the more I enjoy his writing and I’m sure it won’t be long before I read another of his books.

Sunday, 5 January 2020

Trail of Blood

number 8 of 15
By J.A. Johnstone
Pinnacle, February 2011 

The son of legendary gunman Frank Morgan, Conrad Browning goes by the name of the Loner – and forged a growing reputation of his own. But in the midst of a fight for his life, the Loner discovered that he too was a father: of twins he’d never met. Now, the Loner heads back east to pierce a mystery guarded by murderous criminals for hire. Why is his ex-fiancĂ©e hiding his children from him? And why is this secret worth killing to keep? The answers lead the Loner back to a small Kansas town and a tale of cruelty, greed and power – the kind of story his father always knew how to end: with courage and a gun… 

This story closely follows the previous entry in this excellent series. The ending of book 7 introduced the possibility of The Loner being a father and Conrad’s desire to discover whether that is true forms the main thread of this tale. 

After an exciting, bloody train robbery attempt, the story shifts to Boston as Conrad tries to hunt for truths that his children really do exist. Even in the domain of millionaires’ death lurks, and there are attempts on his life that lead to more questions. Eventually Conrad becomes the Loner again and heads West, following every lead he can. Each town he finds himself in seems to have its own problems and The Loner finds himself caught up in them, fighting for his and others lives before moving on.

Well read western fans will recognize one of the lawmen the Loner finds himself fighting alongside in Abilene, and will know another who only gets mentioned by name. This was a neat inclusion for me as I’ve long been a fan of the series these two characters star in and I’ve always liked it when different series characters appear in another series. 

As the body count mounts and trail goes from hot to cold and back again, you’ll soon be left wondering if the Loner will ever find out the truth. Maybe the answers lie in an orphanage near the town of Powderhorn but a lot of blood will have to be spilled before the Loner can find out.

This is another terrific entry in The Loner series. It’s a story that is episodic in a way, all the separate troubles being linked by the Loner’s search to discover if his children exist. The tale is peopled with many memorable characters and descriptions put me right there in the midst of the action. Like the previous book, this one finishes in such a way that I’m going to have to read the next one very soon. 

The opening blurb mentions the Loner’s father, Frank Morgan. For those who don’t know Morgan starred in his own twenty-three book series called The Last Gunfighter put out under the author name of William W. Johnstone and the latter editions also carry the name J.A. Johnstone. Both series ended in 2012 but in 2018 a new Johnstone series was launched called The Morgans that features both father and son. 

Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Westerns Read During 2019

I've managed to read more westerns this year than I did in 2018 and hopefully this upward trend will continue in 2020. To read the review of any title listed below just click on the number.

1. Wilderness #70: Love and Cold Steel by David Robbins
2. The Frontiersman by William W. Johnstone with J.A. Johnstone
3. The Badge #8: The Stranger by Bill Reno
4. Lou Prophet: Stagecoach to Purgatory by Peter Brandvold
5. The Judge #11: Iron Road by Hank Edwards
6. The Derby Man #8: Rebel of Bodie by Gary McCarthy
7. The Scout #2: Dakota Massacre by Buck Gentry
8. Webb’s Posse by Ralph Cotton
9. Straight Shooter a Ralph Compton novel by Marcus Galloway
10. Easy Company and the Blood Feud (#26) by John Wesley Howard
11. The Spanish Bit Saga #25: Medicine Hat by Don Coldsmith
12. The Gunsmith #44: The Scarlet Gun by J.R. Roberts
13. Hank Gannon #1: War Valley by Lancaster Hill
14. Two Thousand Grueling Miles by L.J. Martin
15. Blood River by Will Black
16. Home is the Outlaw by Lewis B. Patten
17. Wind River #7: Six-Gun Law by James Reasoner and L.J. Washburn
18. The Frontiersman #2: River of Blood by William W. Johnstone with J.A. Johnstone
19. The Judge #12: Lady Outlaw by Hank Edwards
20. Hot Lead #3: The Adult Western Special
21: Lou Prophet: Blood at Sundown by Peter Brandvold
22. Canyon O’Grady #10: The Great Land Swindle by Jon Sharpe
23. Longarm and the Sonora Siren (#426) by Tabor Evans
24. Hellraiser! by Sam Clancy
25. Gunsmoke Express by Gillian F. Taylor
26. The Derby Man #9: The Rail Warriors by Gary McCarthy
27. Sheriff Aaron Mackey #2: Dark Territory by Terrence McCauley
28. Wanted Dead or Alive by Ralph Hayes
29. The Loner #6: Seven Days to Die by J.A. Johnstone
30. Dark Horse by Lee Clinton
31. Whiskey River by Ralph Compton
32. The Ranger #2: Border Bandits by Dan Mason
33. Petticoat Marshal by George Snyder
34. Lou Prophet: The Cost of Dying by Peter Brandvold
35. El Dorado Sojourn by Paxton Johns
36. Death Rattle by Sean Lynch
37. The Loner #7: The Bounty Killers by J.A. Johnstone
38. The Other Madden by Brent Towns
39. A Conversation with Doc by Tell Cotten
40. The Badge #9: Backlash by Bill Reno
41. Gun Lust by Matt Chisholm
42. Abilene #6: The Hangman by Justin Ladd
43. Crow Creek Crossing by Charles G. West
44. Massacre at Crow Creek Crossing by Charles G. West
45. The Trailsman #62: Horsethief Crossing by Jon Sharpe
46. The Loner #1: Where Guns Talk by Sheldon B. Cole
47. Murphy #3: Murphy’s Herd by Gary Paulsen
48. Long Ride to Serenity by Harry Jay Thorn
49. The Loner #8: Trail of Blood by J.A. Johnstone
50. Remington #1: West of the Pecos by James Calder Boone
51. Fighting Men by Ralph Cotton
52. Fortress Iron Eyes by Rory Black

Sunday, 29 December 2019

Long Ride to Serenity

By Harry Jay Thorn
The Crowood Press
Hardback March 2016
Paperback, July 2019

This is the story of a range war, the story of a railroad right of way, of murder, of greed and corruption littering the long dark trail from the East Coast of America, to south Texas. This is the story of the township of Serenity, and the people who live and die there. Above all it is the story of Louise Kettle, a frontier woman and her love for the aging gunfighter, a living legend, a man with a voice in the White House.

He rides that long dark trail leading back from the hollows of western Kentucky, and on to the slaughterhouse they call Shiloh. He is the fastest gun south of the Picket wire, and always behind him is a stone-cold killer on a mission from God. This is the story of the pistolero, shootist and gentleman, Rio Jack Fanning: The Undertaker…. 

As many will know, Black Horse Westerns have been issued as hardbacks only for many years, although they are now also coming out as ebooks once the hardbacks have reached their market. Crowood have also decided to test the market for paperback versions and have put out a small number of books from their backlist in this format which sell at roughly half the price of the hardbacks. The paperbacks are very similar in size to the hardbacks. The book I read was the paperback version.

Harry Jay Thorn is a pseudonym used by English author Chris Adam Smith, an ex-movie magazine producer, merchant sailor and military policeman. He writes westerns for the Black Horse Western line under both those names. I have read quite a few of his books and have always found them to be entertaining reads. 

Fanning is a compelling character but he is not the only one who grips the imagination, the killer does too and his history with Fanning adds a neat twist to this fast-moving tale that involves many people from all over America. Fanning’s relationship with Louise Kettle adds a touch of romance, and her struggle to accept the more vicious side of The Undertaker is fascinating to read. 

As Death claims more an more victims you have to wonder who will be alive by the story’s conclusion, an end that sees all the plot-threads tied up neatly with a promise of a bright future for those who survive. 

This is a book that I think would appeal to all fans of the western genre and like the books I’ve previously read by this author I was once again left with the desire to read more of his work very soon.

Tuesday, 24 December 2019

Massacre at Crow Creek Crossing

By Charles G. West
Pinnacle, November 2019

Cole Bonner will never forget what happened to his family at Crow Creek Crossing. His wife, her parents, and their three young children – brutally slaughtered by outlaws. The horror of the massacre drove him into the wilderness. Drove him nearly mad. And drove him to seek an equally brutal revenge . . . 

Now, against his better judgement, Bonner is returning to the place that almost destroyed him. While hunting in the mountains, he discovers that a man has been murdered and a woman abducted. He manages to track the killers and free her. But to bring the widow to safety, he will have to face his own demons. Return to his old homestead. And relive the violence – and the vengeance – of another massacre at Crow Creek Crossing . . . 

Having read, and been thoroughly entertained by a number of books written by Charles G. West I was pleased to see the publication of this book and eager to read it too. But something in the back of my mind began to ring a bell and had me running to my shelves to search through my collection of Mr. West’s work – yes, there was a book called Crow Creek Crossing that I had yet to read that had been published five years earlier. Reading the blurb, it became obvious that this earlier book tells the tale of the loss of Bonner’s family so I felt I had to read it before Massacre at Crow Creek Crossing. I read both books back to back, and would suggest to anyone intending to read the new release that they ought to read Crow Creek Crossing first as it will heighten your enjoyment of both books as a couple of storylines are continued in the second book and some characters return and their relationships with Bonner develop further.

Signet, July 2014

Wyoming holds the promise of a bright future for newlyweds Cole and Ann Bonner. Alongside Ann’s sister, her husband, and their children, the young couple has braved the long, hard road across Nebraska in hopes of building a new life for themselves on a tract of land near Crow Creek Crossing.

But their dreams of a fresh start are quickly cut short. While Cole is away in town, a gang of outlaws led by the vicious Slade Corbett raids the family homestead, leaving behind a smoking ruin and the mutilated bodies of everyone Cole holds dear.

The horror and anguish are almost too much for him to bear, and they transform this once easy-going man into a grim avenger. With cold, merciless determination, Cole vows to track down every last member of the gang and make them pay in blood.

The first book is a straight-forward tale of revenge and deals with Bonner’s grief and his lust for revenge and follows his struggles to track down the outlaws. Along the way Cole finds himself sided by an old mountain man, Harley, who prefers living with the Crow rather than the white man. The inclusion of this tribe, and the help they give Bonner in a moment of need, add a welcome element to the tale. There are strong female characters too, Maggie and Mary Lou, the latter of whom develops more than a passing interest in Cole, one he seems oblivious to, or is he intentionally turning a blind-eye to her? This leads to a great ending to the book in my opinion, but other readers found it a little annoying as the book didn’t end how they hoped it would. Now, with the publication of the second Cole Bonner book perhaps they’ll get the ending they wanted?

In a way the second book is similar to the first, in as much as a good part of it deals with Cole tracking down a bunch of outlaws. But there are some neat twists to the plot too, especially when we find out who the woman, Carrie, Bonner saves really is, and what her profession was. Carrie will also be the cause of jealously, which further complicates Bonner’s relationships with others. 

Charles G. West has created an excellent bunch of characters in these books, people he soon had me caring about and hoping they’d all get what they deserved, be this vengeance, love or death. The storylines move swiftly forwards and contain well-written action scenes and moments of humour before racing to their satisfying endings. The second book seems to tie-up all the story threads so this may well be the last time we read about Cole Bonner and for me it has certainly been a joy to read about him. 

After reading these two books I'm glad I still have a number of Charles G. West’s novels sitting on my shelves unread so I can enjoy more of his work anytime I so choose whilst waiting for Montana Territory, the third book in his terrific John Hawk series, to published in August 2020.  

You can read an interview I did with Charles G. West here.

Thursday, 19 December 2019

Horsethief Crossing

#62 of 398
By Jon Sharpe
Signet, February 1987
Cover art by Jerry Podwil

There were six of them. They rode into town, looted the bank, and gunned down the innocents who got in their way. That was bad enough, but even worse, they took off with Skye Fargo’s Ovaro steed, with its saddlebag loaded with all his cash.

Skye was left with the clothes on his back, the gun in his belt, and the rage in his heart. He was going to get those horsethieves…even if he had to chase them clear across Texas…on a bucking mare that liked to throw any rider…with a luscious girl who could drain any man of energy…and with a Colt .45 loaded with just the right number of bullets to cut down the odds of six against one….

Most of the Trailsman books I’ve read have been from number 100 onwards and it’s always fun to see how differently Skye Fargo is presented in his earlier adventures, if at all. The author behind the pseudonym of Jon Sharpe this time around is, I believe, Frank Roderus, and he gives us a Fargo who isn’t that much different to how he is portrayed in the later books. The only real difference being that it was never mentioned that Fargo carried an Arkansas toothpick.

The story contains plenty of action, both gunplay and explicit sex. The violence is hard-hitting and at times graphic. As well as tracking down the horsethieves, Fargo finds time to get involved with a troop of Texas Rangers fighting a superior in numbers band of Comanches which results in some very exciting, and bloody, battles.

I think Frank Roderus only wrote three books in this series, one of which I’ve already read, #64: Fargo’s Woman, and on the strength of these two I look forward to reading his other, #60: The Wayward Lassie, very soon. I have read many other books by Roderus too, and have yet to be disappointed in any of his work.