Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Have Brides, Will Travel

By William W. Johnstone and J.A. Johnstone
Pinnacle paperback, October 2019
Kensington hardcover, April 2019

Bo Creel and Scratch Morton are lifelong drifters who keep one eye on the horizon, one finger on the trigger, and one foot out the door. Roaming the West is what keeps them young, or so Scratch tells Bo. But when they save the life of Cyrus Keegan – the owner of a matrimonial agency – they receive an unexpected proposal that’s hard to resist. Keegan needs to deliver five mail order brides to a mining town in New Mexico Territory. All Scratch and Bo have to do is get these gals to the church on time – and alive, if possible . . . 

The job seems easy enough – and the brides-to-be are even easier on the eyes. Cecilia, Beth, Luella, Rose, and Jean all need good husbands. But their prospects look bad when the journey to the alter includes Mexican banditos, scheming silver robbers, and one overbearing rancher who won’t take no for an answer. Bo and Scratch promised to keep the ladies safe – and keep their hands to themselves – but it could be the last vow they’ll ever make . . . 

This book is billed as the first in a new series but the two main characters, Bo and Scratch have starred in another Johnstone series, Sidewinders that ran from 2008 until 2014, and it is great to see them back. They aren’t the only characters making a return, fans of the Johnstone books may well recognize Cyrus Keegan too as he appeared in Ride the Savage Land, book four in the Those Jensen Boys! series. 

Bo and Scratch are a very likeable pair of old-timers, whose long friendship and background is explained briefly during the opening chapters of this story. Escorting the brides-to-be offers plenty of opportunity for danger and humour. There’s plenty for these ladies to learn, such as the art of firing a handgun and a rifle. It’s during these lessons that the author really brings out each ladies’ personality. 

After a violent clash with bandits, the small group finally reach their destination – the boomtown of Silverhill, and it’s here that the first twist to the tale takes place. Many more characters are introduced as the plot gets more complex as different groups of outlaws and individuals use the arrival of the brides as a distraction as they put their own plans into motion, one of which involves kidnapping one of those young ladies. 

The author builds his story extremely well to the last desperate battles in the streets of Silverhill and the descriptions of the action scenes are very visual. The author has another surprise waiting for the final scenes with the arrival of someone who further complicates matters. The conclusion of this book does bring an end to most of the story-threads but a couple are left hanging. Maybe they’ll be continued in book two of the series, Shotgun Wedding, and I for one am very much looking forward to reading that.

Available in hardback, paperback,
ebook and audio CD.

Friday, 14 February 2020

Lone Star and the Hangrope Heritage

By Wesley Ellis
number 23 of 153
Jove, July 1984

Who was the mysterious gunman who burst into Jessie’s room shivering with fear? He had come to talk, to tell everything he knew about the cartel, the mortal enemy of the Starbuck empire. But as he opened his mouth to speak, a well-aimed bullet struck him dead.

Now all Jessie and Ki had to go by was a faded old photograph the gunman claimed was the “key.” It wasn’t much of a clue, but it might unlock the secret plot in time to save Jessie’s life!

This story features Ki more than Jessie, she almost takes a backseat in this fast-paced action-packed episode in the Lone Star series. The Lone Star duo have to do some investigative work to discover who the photograph is of and why it is so important. What it leads to is a devious plot where life is cheap and no-one is safe. Double-cross, hooded riders and sensual women combine in a page-turning read.

The Lone Star books are classed as adult westerns and they do contain explicit sex scenes but don’t let that put you off reading them as these encounters are easy to skip and you’ll be left with a gripping tale of intrigue, gunfights and martial arts – Ki is a martial arts expert and prefers to use his talents in this kind of fighting rather than using traditional western weapons.

I believe the person behind the pseudonym of Wesley Ellis this time around is Jeffery M. Wallmann, who wrote book one in the series along with many others. I usually find this writers’ work to be very entertaining and this book is right up there with his best. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I’m sure I’ll be reading another Lone Star book very soon.

The Lone Star series may long be out of print but they are now available as ebooks.

Monday, 10 February 2020

A Man Called Crow

By Chris Adam Smith
The Crowood Press
Paperback edition, November 2018
Hardback edition, January 2016

Old time lawman Charlie Crow finds peace and tranquillity in Wyoming, but before he can settle down with the woman he loves, he must face a distant and dangerous past. 

The long forgotten trail leads back to the lawless Texas borderlands and a date with destiny. Old ghosts, graves and range wars; greed and double cross mark the long trail back to his youth.

His quick gun is wanted one last time if the town of Carol Creek is to survive the threatened chaos. From behind a county badge, Crow tries desperately to ride out the storm and return to Cheyenne, and the woman he left behind. Young gunfighter Billy Joe Watts rides hard on the lawman’s trail, determined to kill the one man he fears.

It is a long, hard ride for a man named Crow. . . .

I’ve read quite a few Black Horse Westerns by Chris Adam Smith, under his own name or pseudonyms, and have yet to be disappointed by any of them, and this one is right up there with his very best.

Crow is an engaging hero and he’s supported by a variety of characters equally as well-drawn as he is, especially Billy Joe Watts. The author uses flashbacks to fill us in on Crow and Watts' background, they used to ride together and separated with much animosity.  The tale revolves around their inevitable meeting, especially as Watts has been hired to kill Crow. 

The threat from the arrival of Watts isn’t all Crow has to deal with.  There are soon others eager to blast Crow into eternity. Then there’s a growing attraction to a woman much younger than himself that Crow has to ignore – at least he tells himself he has to as he has a lady waiting for him back in Wyoming.

Chris Adam Smith tells the majority of the story from a first person point-of-view through Crow, although he occasionally switches to the third person when the plot needs carrying forward through others. There is also a nod to the horse owned and ridden by singer and actor Roy Rogers that put a smile on my face, as it should any fan of westerns.

Packed with action that is graphically described, this story races through a number of twists and turns before it reaches its bloody climax. But does it have a happy ending for our aging hero Charlie Crow? I guess you’ll just have to read it to find out and hopefully you’ll enjoy making that discovery as much as I did. 

Available in hardback, paperback and ebook.

Tuesday, 4 February 2020

Buzzard Bait

number 2 of 3
By Brett Cogburn
Pinnacle, September 2017

Newt Jones is none too proud of his deadly nickname. But when you tangle with the likes of Judge Roy Bean and the notorious Mexican outlaw Juan Cortina, a man’s bound to earn a reputation. Or get stuck with a moniker like “Widowmaker.” Even so, Newt is ready to put his gunslinging days behind him, hang up his Winchester, and take it easy. There’s just one problem: Ain’t nothing easy about living in Apache country . . . 

When Newt gets word that a renegade tribe has kidnapped Matilda Redding’s grandson, he can’t just sit back and let the local authorities bungle it. Matilda once did him a good turn up on the Pecos and – flat broke and half-drunk or not – he’s got to help the old gal out. So, he saddles up his horse, straps on his dead man’s gun, and sets off to save the boy before he’s buzzard chow. Sure, Newt’s outnumbered, outgunned, and probably out of his mind. But they don’t call him Widowmaker Jones for nothing . . . 

Brett Cogburn once again has Newt Jones riding alongside a real person from the history of the West. This time it’s a young, and very talkative, Tom Horn. Other real people make an appearance too, such as Al Sieber. According to the author’s notes at the end the story is based on the kidnapping of Charlie McComas and this child has a role to play in this tale too. It is unknown what really happened to this boy and Cogburn puts forward some facts so you can make your own mind up. There are other real characters too but to say more will spoil some of the books surprises.

Cogburn mixes truth with fiction superbly. He counters the more horrific aspects of the tale with comical moments, mostly through conversation. Jones and Horn couldn’t be more unalike – Horn likes to run off at the mouth whilst Jones prefers silence – and it’s often their clashes of personality that create the humour. 

The story is fast moving and vividly described. There are some memorable bad guys, such as a man called The Hatchet and a Federal Colonel. Violent action comes frequently as The Widowmaker strives to fulfil his promise to Matilda. 

Like the first in series, I found this to be a hard to put down book that left me very eager to read the next Widowmaker Jones tale. Hopefully I’ll get to that very soon as the third book, Gunpowder Express, has finally been released.

Available in paperback, ebook and large print.

Thursday, 30 January 2020

Fighting Men

By Ralph Cotton
Signet, May 2010

Civil War veteran and former schoolmaster Sherman Dahl rides the Southwest as a gun for hire. Known by both the law and the lawless as “The Teacher,” Dahl sells his services to those seeking justice, and he is relentless in his pursuit of wanted men.

Chester “Big Chicago” Goines and his band of outlaws have been raising hell across Arizona, thieving and killing everything in their path. When he learns that Dahl has been set on his trail, Goines welcomes the opportunity to settle an old score….

As expected from a story by Ralph Cotton, this book contains a large cast of colourful characters doing their best to kill one another. Mistrust, double-cross, revenge and the lust for money entwine in this very entertaining tale that includes the use of a bullet-proof vest – this later being something I can’t remember reading about in a western before. 

Dahl is an interesting and engaging lead character who first appeared in the book Webb’s Posse. He’s a man who doesn’t seem to care how much suffering he might have to endure or how many bullets he might have to take as long as he completes his mission. 

Like all the Ralph Cotton books I’ve read this one is divided into three sections. Dahl has a large part to play in the first and third sections whilst the second is pretty much given over to the exploits of Goines and a number of other bandit groups. We also meet a young, inexperienced deputy who is out to kill those who gunned down his sheriff and he causes complications for Dahl, as does the man who hired him to take out Goines. A dancing bear that seems to relish wrestling with humans also has a part to play. 

The book is packed with vicious bloody action and at no time was I sure of who would get to kill whom and who would be left alive by the end. 

Once again, Ralph Cotton provided me with a thoroughly gripping story where every page was a joy to read, leaving me eager to read another very soon. 

Available in paperback, hardback, audiobook and as an ebook.

Monday, 27 January 2020

West of the Pecos

number 1 of 7
By James Calder Boone
Avon, June 1987

Judge Samuel Parkhurst Barnstall never makes Remington’s assignments easy. It’s hard enough to track down a trio of cutthroats who plundered a north Texas town, leaving a lawman strung up for the coyotes to finish. But bringing them back for trial – alive? That’ll take some sand.

Especially when their leader is the legendary Ramsey Clagg, 300 pounds of knife-wise buffalo skinner with a sweet tooth for torture. To even the odds, Remington must talk his way into Clagg’s Hell’s Door hideout. A door no lawman has ever seen swing open…and lived.

Judge Barnstall is a terrific character. His no-nonsense approach to law and order and his desire to hang outlaws to make an example of them to other would-be offenders is the reason he instructs Remington to bring back his prey alive. This, of course, leads to all kind of problems for the lawman.

Tracking down and capturing the first two cutthroats is easy enough and it seems like the lawman will be able to fulfil his task without killing anyone. But the leader of the trio of killers has a band of outlaws to back his play and Remington has no choice but to turn his guns on them in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse, where the lawman is the hunted. 

The story moves swiftly forward and is well-written. The prose made me want to keep turning the pages to see if Remington could possibly bring back all those he was charged to find alive. One of the highlights of the book is when Remington enters Clagg’s Hell and plays the part of an outlaw. I had in my mind that surely there would be someone in the gang who would recognize such a well-known lawman and I wasn’t disappointed with my guess, and from that moment the book really picks up in the action stakes. 

James Calder Boone is a pseudonym and this first book in the series was written by Jack Zavada and his storytelling and plotting made this a fine read. So much so that I’m looking forward to reading the next one soon, although it isn’t written by Zavada. In fact Zavada only wrote book one. A couple of much more well-known western authors, Robert Vaughan and Jory Sherman, came on board for the rest of the series. 

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.