Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Bounty by Chance

By J.L. Guin
The Crowood Press, May 2018

Jeremiah Hackett is a young man searching for a future. On his quest, he teams up with huckster George Finimin, a tonic salesman. When Finimin is murdered, Jeremiah dedicates himself to finding the killer.

But things do not prove straightforward for Jeremiah, and he needs to mature and learn some harsh lessons before he can finally achieve his aim.

I have a few short stories by this author but this is the first full-length book I have read by him. This is not his first for the Black Horse Western line, and titles for this publisher have appeared under two variations of his name; J.L. Guin and Jerry Guin.

The first chapter tells of Finimin’s killing and the next couple go back in time to explain why Hackett left home and how he teamed up with Finimin. The rest of the book follows Hackett’s attempts to track down Emil Croft (the man who killed Finimin) and it’s during this part of the story that the books’ title becomes clear as Hackett takes out two men by chance and learns of a bounty on their heads. Can Hackett take up bounty hunting whilst still selling tonic to finance his hunt for Croft?

Hackett’s quest for vengeance takes a number of years and it’s during this time that his life changes somewhat and he takes a youngster under his wing and the parallels to his life with Finimin become apparent. It’s then you begin to wonder if the story will end in a similar fashion too, especially as since Crowood took over publishing the Black Horse Western line from Hale they seem to be more open to stories that are harder hitting, that are darker in tone and don’t always have a happy ending. Is this one of them? I’ll leave you to find that out for yourself.

Guin writes in a very easy to read manner, his words urging you not to put the book down. Character studies are excellent and the action scenes are vivid, killings quite graphically described. All the story threads are tied-up neatly after a final bloody gunfight bringing the book to a satisfying conclusion.



Available as both ebook and hardback

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Hawk

By Bret Sanders
Award Books, 1973

A man of steel, a brutal man who knew how to kill without pity. He came out of prison, escaping the hangman’s noose in return for helping the law get a renegade killer. Hate welded him into a savage hunter who always got his prey.

This hunt led him on the trail of a man he’d sworn to kill for years – the sadist who’d once branded him with a hot iron, then tortured and killed the woman he loved.

No lawman’s badge could keep him from the revenge he sought – or the bloody carnage that followed in his wake!

This is the first in a series that lasted for four books. The author behind the pseudonym of Bret Sanders being Dudley Dean McGaughy I believe.

Web Steele aka Hawk is freed from jail to find and free a young newly-wed bride from kidnapper Keegan who is demanding $500,000 for her return. It just so happens that a man Hawk wants to kill, Colonel Spate has teamed up with Keegan in this ransom plot, so Hawk has two reasons to track the outlaws.

The book is fast moving and contains a lot of graphic violence, including rape and torture. Hawk himself takes some punishment, a whipping at the beginning for instance which doesn’t slow him down at all, even though the author describes chunks of Hawk’s flesh being ripped away and splattered across his cell. Not sure I believe Hawk could just shrug this off and carry on as normal but there have been many heroes before and after Hawk that keep going as if nothing has happened to them after being brutally wounded so why should he too?

Hawk and Colonel Spate’s back-story is told in a series of flashbacks, explaining why both have sworn to kill each other on sight and just what Spate branded on Hawk.

The author comes up with some vicious ways to kill man and woman and there’s a neat twist for Hawk to overcome when he finally battles his way through to the kidnapped girl, Amalie, and the passages dealing with her trauma at witnessing so much savage death are very well written.

Like many series the author leaves a storyline hanging to ensure you’ll read the next book and I for one will be doing so soon even though there were a couple of scenes that stretched my belief a little but not enough to stop me enjoying what is essentially a non-stop action tale containing a lot of blood-letting. Takes me back to when I first started reading westerns, those violent UK series from the group of writers known as the Piccadilly Cowboys in particular. 


Tuesday, 14 August 2018

The Crooked M Killings

By Frank Ellis Evans
The Crowood Press, May 2018

Marshal Reuben Kane is charged with finding the men who have spread terror and violence in an unprecedented bank robbing spree. It’s a routine, albeit dangerous, assignment. Routine, that is, until Reuben discovers Sal McIntyre, badly beaten and left to die by the men he is hunting. Near to her is the body of her murdered husband.

Reuben postpones his search in order to nurse the woman back to health, but from the moment she regains consciousness, vengeance is the only thing on her mind. Sal’s hatred is all-consuming and, against his better judgement, Reuben finds himself drawn to her ill-conceived plot to killing the men who murdered her husband.

Reuben sets out to bring them to justice. But Sal McIntyre wants revenge. At any cost.

A new author name on the front of a Black Horse Western and Crowood once again choosing their cover art with care so it reflects the content of the story. The young woman in the painting could easily be Sal McIntyre, right down to the confident way she’s shown using her pistol. Sal used to be a trick-shooter in a circus, so knows how to use firearms but can she use them against a human being instead of a target? This question provides one of the most gripping threads of the storyline.

Sal’s transformation from a happy ranchers’ wife to a cold, determined hunter of men makes for fascinating reading. Even when Reuben is wounded, she continues with her quest, totally out of her depth but will blind rage give her the edge when needed?

Frank Ellis Evans tells a hard-hitting story that doesn’t pull any punches. At times it’s shocking brutal but that’s what gives this well-told tale its power. Violent acts are described in all their savagery, but, as I’ve already hinted, it’s the emotional outbursts and changes to character that pulled me deeply in to the story, made me keep turning the pages.

Can a story like this have a happy ending? I can’t reveal that here as it would be a major spoiler, but I will say it has a fitting conclusion, one that ties the tale up neatly and certainly leaves me looking forward to Frank Ellis Evans’ next Black Horse Western.



Available as both ebook and hardback book.

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

The Sins of Motherlode

By Gillian F. Taylor
The Crowood Press, April 2018

Sin was a profitable commodity in a mining town like Motherlode. Lust made money for the madam, wrath and avarice created targets for the manhunter, and the newspaperman was greedy for stories.

‘He had no right to take you against your will.’ When a prostitute is raped during the robbery of the Motherlode stage, Jonah Durrell seems to be the only man who cares. The handsome manhunter can never resist a damsel in distress. He is determined to get justice for Miss Jenny’s girl, and recruits Robinson, an enthusiastic newspaperman who witnessed the attack. The women are not meek and passive though. They are willing to take matters, and guns, into their own hands to survive in a tough world. Together with Durrell and Robinson, they begin to uncover the layers of lust, avarice and envy in town, bringing down the wrath of their enemies. Can the women of sin get the justice they deserve?

The Sins of Motherlode is Gillian F. Taylors’ seventeenth Black Horse Western and sees her revisit characters first introduced in Two-Gun Trouble, a story that also takes place in Motherlode. I haven’t read this particular book and there are brief mentions of some of the events that happened in that story in this sequel, but you certainly don’t need to have read that previous tale to enjoy this one.

Durrell is incredibly vain, and this leads to some amusing dialogue at times. But it’s when his good-looks are threatened by a knife that Taylor really shows her expertise in creating tension and making her readers share her heroes fear. Taylor also writes action scenes extremely well, and this book contains robbery, fistfights, and a lengthy gun battle that are as vivid as they are exciting.

The plot is fast-moving, and although the mastermind is easy to work out, it’s finding out who actually robbed the stage and raped Louise Waterford that adds mystery to the storyline. When everything is worked out by Durrell and Robinson there is the problem of finding evidence to pin the guilty to the crime. This all leads to that excellent gunfight towards the end of the book that shows just how capable the women of this story can be with a shotgun in their hands.

I’ve read a few of Gillian F. Taylors’ westerns and have enjoyed them all, and this one strengthens my belief that she is a writer worth reading. 


Saturday, 28 July 2018

No Justice in Hell

By Charles G. West
Pinnacle, May 2018

Three desperate women. One deranged killer. No way in hell is John Hawk going to sit back and let the innocent get slaughtered. He first meets the three lovely ladies as they’re fleeing in a wagon – alone – through Blackfoot country. What’s their rush? They’re being pursued by a wanted outlaw who wants them dead. Their only chance is to reach the Last Chance Saloon in Helena – and John Hawk is their last hope . . .

Hawk can track down a low-life like nobody’s business. But this time he has to stay two steps ahead, keeping the ladies safe and sound until they get to the saloon. There’s just one problem: the outlaw got there first. He’s the notorious Zach Dubose. He’s waiting for Hawk and his girls. And he’s ordering them a round vengeance with a bullet chaser – and death on arrival . . . 

This is the second book in Charles G. West’s new series featuring army scout John Hawk. It’s while on a mission for the army to try and persuade some Blackfoot to live on a reservation that he meets the three fleeing women. The Blackfoot assignment then becomes a sub-plot as saving the women becomes his main goal.

What is described in the blurb above takes place over the first 70 pages or so and Hawk soon sets himself a new task, hunting down Dubose and his two partners, but this isn’t an easy job as Dubose disappears leaving no trails as to his whereabouts, so Hawk finds himself working with the army again which leads to disaster.

I’ve read a few books written by Charles G. West and have enjoyed them all, and this one is as equally entertaining as any of them. West’s character studies are excellent, his plots move forward at pace and his action scenes put you right there amidst the flying lead and dust. Another of West’s strengths is making his readers share the emotions of his characters and this is done particularly well in this book, especially when describing the turmoil Hawk feels that sets him out on his self-imposed mission.

The book concludes with justice being served although not quite in the way I expected, but in a way that lets everyone get in on the act and that was the perfect ending to this story. Now I must keep my fingers crossed that there will be in a third John Hawk book in the not too distant future.


Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Coyote

By Lee Clinton
The Crowood Press, June 2018

A family is brutally murdered and their homestead burnt to the ground. The bodies are so badly disfigured that identity is difficult to determine, but one of the daughters is known to be missing. Is it eighteen-year-old Grace Mayfield or her younger sister, Chrissy?

The missing Mayfield girl must now be found and the killers brought to justice. Some say it was the work of renegade Cheyenne. Sheriff August ‘Gus’ Ward has his doubts, but evidence is scant.

When the mysterious shooting of a stock agent on the streets of Laramie is linked to those who may have been responsible, Gus is faced with the savage reality that justice may not be served unless he is willing to take matters into his own hands. If he does, is he still a man of the law or has he crossed the line to become an executioner, and no better than those he is willing to kill?

Lee Clinton creates superb atmosphere in the opening chapter that is both gripping and terrifying as the Mayfield family meet their pitiless destiny. This horrific mood continues as Gus searches the ravaged homestead for human remains.

Frustration is another well written emotion Lee Clinton excels at which Gus and his search party must deal with when hunting for the missing girl. Gus must also fight with these feelings whilst trying to prove who’s responsible for the savage murders of the Mayfield family and when trying to discover the motive for these killings. When finding the one survivor of this massacre there’s the challenge of trying to bring her out of her shell, a dark place she’s withdrawn to that seems to have robbed her of her ability to speak.

Lee Clinton is a pseudonym used by Australian author Leigh Alver and with his seventh Black Horse Western he once again proves he’s a writer to be reckoned with. His pacing is terrific, his characters well defined, dialogue and emotional content believable and his action scenes brutally real.

The book closes with Gus having to make the decision outlined at the end of the blurb and this makes for a dramatic and exciting ending that didn’t finish the story in quite the way I expected, adding a welcome concluding twist. 


Monday, 23 July 2018

The Last Red Cent

By David Fetter
HuBBuB Books, February 2018

He taught them to steal—they left him for dead. 

The War Between North and South is over—but the wounds are still raw. Now, the expanding country unites around the connection of East and West by the railroads. Fortunes travel by train daily and desperate men will stop at nothing to take, by force, what isn’t theirs. 

Three men who share a dark history clash over a fortune in U.S. Treasury money. One is a Pinkerton agent, and two are outlaws and brothers. One man is honor-bound, one is bound by blood, and the other knows no bounds. 

They all have one thing in common—they all want The Last Red Cent! 

This is David Fetter’s debut novel and he certainly proves he knows how to write a gripping, twisted tale that will hold the readers attention from the opening words.

Switching between a number of well-crafted characters, I started to wonder if the book was going to feature a hero, or anti-hero as everyone seemed to have dark secrets and would stop at nothing to get what they wanted. Slowly a central character does emerge as flashbacks create a violent past that explains motivations.

The action scenes are very well told, the violence being hard-hitting and brutal. As the death-toll mounts so do the twists and turns that make this book difficult to put down as you just have to know what happens next.

As the lead character strives to achieve his aims we see how his determination begins to become all consuming to the extent that nothing else matters to him. Surely this can only end in tragedy? 

The story also offers some interesting and thought-provoking insights into life and death, I particularly liked the offered reason as to why old people die.

As Fetter’s story reaches its conclusion and everything seems to be turning out as perhaps expected the author surprises the reader with another twist and swiftly follows this up with a superb sting-in-the-tail that I didn’t see coming that finishes the story in style.

This is definitely a first western novel worth reading, and I was left looking forward to David Fetter’s next.

Also included in the book is the short story Rattletrap. This isn’t a western but it's certainly worth taking the time to read if you like gritty noir tales.