Sunday, 15 November 2015

The Smiling Hangman

By Owen G. Irons
Hale, October 2015

The town of King’s Creek is in uproar. Young Matthew Lydell has been found guilty of murdering the beautiful Janet Teasdale, daughter of a local banker. Lydell, mute throughout his trial, is to be hanged.

But the town marshal has been delaying proceedings, and he has sent for a hangman from the county seat. The roughs in town try to rush the jail three times; they won’t wait to exact revenge.

When the hangman arrives, he does so quietly and unnoticed. The man in black tours the jail and the town, smiling, always smiling. What secret lies behind that smile and what intentions does he have for the Colt that rides on his hip?

Owen G. Irons blends western and mystery superbly in a tale that defies you to put it down before all the story elements are resolved, and, of course, this doesn’t happen till the end.

Why doesn’t Lydell defend himself? Janet Teasdale may be dead but why hasn’t her corpse been found? And what of the bank robbery that seems to be the perfect crime? Puzzles that will soon have you wondering as to just what is going on and whether these events are linked in some-way. As more questions arise during a savage gunfight to take Lydell from the jail and lynch him, you have to wonder if anyone will be left alive to provide the answers.

Owen G. Irons’ latest story moves forwards at a tremendous pace, mixing frustrations, explosive action and humour – the latter mainly provided by two waitresses methods to fend off unwanted attention. And then there’s Storm Hiller, the smiling hangman of the title. Just who is he and what does he really want? These questions are answered fairly early on but transform into the gripping problems of how he can succeed in his aims. 

Once more Owen G. Irons (a pseudonym used by Paul Lederer) has written a terrific book that again strengthens my belief that he is one of the best writers producing westerns for the Black Horse Western line today.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Shadow of the Hawk

By Ron Honthaner
July 2015

Mountain-man Mike McCloskey, a run-away slave Thaddeus, and a young orphan Jericho, lives cross paths and they become lifelong friends. As time passes Jericho becomes a sheriff, Thaddeus moves into town, but Mike continues to live and trap with his Indian wife and daughter in the mountains even though the days are numbered for his kind of life.

When Mike heads into town to purchase supplies, he defends an Indian friend’s life from outlaw cowboys and sets in motion a collision of mishaps—a single mistake changes his life and the lives of friends and enemies alike.

Ron Honthaner is a film and TV veteran whose first script for Gunsmoke landed him a job on the series, going on to write other scripts for the show, then working as post production supervisor and later, associate producer. He was the recipient of two Cowboy Hall of Fame awards for his work on the Gunsmoke producing team.

The first half of this fast moving tale includes many flash-back sequences to explain the relationship between the three main characters, although much of the emphasis is on McCloskey’s life working on flat-boats and steamboats. Most of the books other characters have their backstories explained too as a group of very different people find themselves riding in a posse.

Once McCloskey becomes the target of the posse after a bloody and vicious rage driven rampage then the emotional side of hunting a friend becomes a major issue of the story and you can never be sure which way the tale will go next when it comes to who will kill who if the opportunity arises and how much the bond of friendship will dictate the state of play.

Honthaner’s writing is a pure joy to read and his background in writing for TV is very evident in how easily this story paints visual imagery in the mind-eye. Character development is excellent and the action scenes brutal and graphic. What happens to McCloskey to make him go on a killing spree comes as a complete surprise. After that the story is a straight chase tale that may not end how you think it will.

If anymore westerns by Ron Honthaner are published you can be certain I’ll be reading them.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Two Guns North

By Neil Hunter
Piccadilly Publishing, August 2015

Jason Brand’s latest assignment took him into the San Juan Mountains of New Mexico. He was looking for a Deputy US Marshal and a government geologist, both of whom had gone missing. But what should have been a routine assignment turned out to be anything but—with an unexpected surprise for him along the way.

Bodie the Stalker, on a hunt for a brutal killer, rode the same trail. For him it was just another manhunt … until he found himself on the wrong end of the chase.

Then there was the Monk clan … They were a family that had no time for visitors because they had secrets to hide and were more than prepared to kill in order to keep them.

But then Bodie met Brand. And when they joined forces, the Monks found themselves fighting for their lives.

Brand and Bodie—when they teamed up it was like hell had come to the high country.

So who are Bodie and Brand?

Bodie is a bounty hunter known as The Stalker. He appeared in a six book series published in the UK back 1979. Brand’s publishing history is a little more complicated. This series was originally written for Norwegian publisher Bladkompaniet (who put out the Morgan Kane series). Later some of these books appeared in English, published by Linford Western Library and it was rumoured there was a planned book that would see Neil Hunter’s two heroes team up, something fans of these series really wanted to see happen. Sadly it didn’t until now, some 35 years later!

Piccadilly Publishing have recently put out all six Bodie novels as ebooks and have done the same with the nine Brand stories. And now they are pleased to publish as an ebook that long hoped for team-up tale, Two Guns North.

The book offers everything one could have hoped for. A superbly told tale that really is action packed as the Monk clan seem to have a never ending extended family ready to try their luck against Bodie and Brand.

Neil Hunter tells the story more from Brand’s point-of-view than that of Bodie. This was probably necessary due to the unforeseen surprise that’s waiting for Brand early on in this tale, a shock that could be life-changing for him that makes this a must read for followers of the Brand series.

It takes a little while for Bodie to appear but when he does the blood and bullets fly. In fact virtually every time Bodie is featured you are guaranteed gunplay – and lots of it.

As I don’t want to spoil this excellent story for anyone all I’ll say is that if you’ve yet to read a Bodie or Brand tale then this is a great place to start and I’m sure once read you’ll be snapping up the earlier titles. And for those who are already fans of both series there is great news as the end of the book advertises the fact the Mike Linaker (the author behind the pseudonyms of Neil Hunter) will be writing new books, with Bodie #7: Desert Run due for publication on December 1st. Brand #10: The Killing Days and Bodie #8: The High Riders to follow and hopefully there will be many more too.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Coyote Moon

By Ralph Hayes
Hale, September 2015

Buffalo hunter O’Brien has made an effort to settle down to a more civilized life in Fort Revenge, in Indian Territory, helping his friend run a stage line there.

However, it isn’t long before trouble comes at O’Brien from two directions: first in the form of an outlaw gang from Tulsa who want to buy his friend’s stagecoach company and won’t take no for an answer, and second from a family of killers who are seeking revenge for the death of their kin at his hands.

O’Brien must respond to these challenges with his own brand of gunsmoke, while he wrestles with two life decisions: whether or not to return to the trail, and whether to take Sarah Carter, the girl he brought to Fort Revenge, with him when he leaves.

Ralph Hayes first wrote about O’Brien back in the early 1970s, bringing him back in 1992. 2011 saw the publication of a Black Horse Western in which O’Brien returned once more, and this is the third BHW to feature him.

The books do mention events from those very first O’Brien westerns, in fact the family gunning for him in this one tangled with him in the 1973 book The Secret of Sulphur Creek (later republished under the title Gunslammer). Hayes gives just enough backstory to understand why they want revenge but not enough to spoil that pervious book should you read it after this one.

O’Brien seems to take all the life and death situations in his stride, in fact provokes some of the gunplay himself and lets rage rule his actions when Sarah’s wellbeing is threatened. It’s Sarah who also provides the biggest battle for O’Brien as he struggles to understand his feelings for her and whether they can possibly compete with the lure of the wild.

Ralph Hayes does tie-up a number of loose threads that have been hanging throughout this series which makes me wonder if this will finally be the last we’ve seen of O’Brien. I certainly hope not as he makes for a great western hero.

For fans of the O’Brien books this is a must read. As a stand-alone novel it proves to be a very entertaining and action packed story that should satisfy most western readers and I’d be surprised if it doesn’t make you want to check out more of Ralph Hayes work.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

The Gamblers of Wasteland

By Jim Lawless
Hale, September 2015

Convinced that Blackjack Chancer is behind the death of his youngest brother, Lukus Rheingold steals the Saturday night takings from the gambler’s Wasteland Eldorado.

Led by Marshal Jed Crane, the Wasteland posse is outwitted by Lukus’s surviving brother, Kris. The Rheingold brothers head for their home at Nathan’s Ford, where they are followed by a mysterious woman calling herself Lil Lavender, and later by Chancer and his hired gun, Fallon. All three have their own reasons for hunting Lukus Rheingold, and the hunt leads to a final bloody climax in the Rheingold family cemetery.

Jim Lawless is one of a fistful of pseudonyms used by John Paxton Sheriff and if anyone has read any of his previous books you’ll know the story won’t be as straight-forward as the blurb above might indicate, for the author always includes many plot twists and turns, many of which will take the reader completely by surprise. It’s these elements that makes Sheriff’s work such a joy to read.

Even as it becomes obvious Lil Lavender isn’t being exactly truthful we learn that Lukus Rheingold has a past that may become his downfall. In fact the lawmen he encounters seem more interested in arresting him than finding who has kidnapped his brother Kris.

Filled with plenty of action this story gallops towards its deadly finale, one that throws up yet more questions that have to be answered before Sheriff brings his tale to a close. Even then there is another surprise in waiting, and there is also a hint that we haven’t heard the last of some of the characters, that there could well be a sequel further down the line. I certainly hope so.

Hale must be complimented on their excellent cover choice.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Guns on the Praire

By David Robbins
Signet, September 2015

Alonzo Pratt, alias Robert Grant has always survived by his wits, working his way up from petty pickpocket to polished con artist. Saddlebags bulging with disguises, he is a master impersonator, whether limping in Civil War uniform or toting a Bible and dressed in black. On occasion, a tin star pinned to his vest is just the ticket to winning the trust of his innocent marks.

When Federal Marshal Jacob Stone happens to come across another lawman while taking in a wounded prisoner, he’s grateful for some assistance. And when he hears tell that Cal Grissom’s gang is roaming these parts, he enlists Deputy Grant to help him track down the thieves. But he does wonder why his new partner seems so…reluctant.

Alonzo never planned to join a manhunt. But now he’s shooting Sioux and rescuing an outlaw’s gorgeous daughter. His disguise may have fooled the marshal, but it won’t stop lead….

David Robbins has come up with a top class western with Guns on the Prairie. Excellent characters on both sides of the law will soon have you laughing with them, fearing for their well-being, hoping they survive or met their demise. Alonzo Pratt’s frustrations, confusions and despair at the situation he finds himself in is superbly described by David Robbins. Fleshing out of characters is to tell their backstories, all which will have a part to play in how they deal with the dangers that face them.

There’s plenty of action and cliff-hanger chapter endings making this a truly difficult to put down read. You will certainly be wanting to find out what happens next. The pacing is perfect as the tale races towards its gripping final standoff that could end in any one of a number of ways, and I doubt you’ll guess how the book does conclude, as one of the surviving characters says, “This didn’t end as you thought it would, did it?” No it certainly didn’t, but it does finish in fine style making for an extremely unforgettable ending.

If you only read one David Robbins western this year then make sure it’s this one. If you’ve yet to try his work then I urge you to grab a copy of this book, it really is a great read.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Desperate Straits

By Janet Squires
Whiskey Creek Press, December 2014

Sarah Ryan’s hope for a new life in the Arizona Territory is shattered in an instant by gunfire. Suddenly, she has to rebuild an uncertain future with her orphaned nephew, Will, and take on the challenges of a cattle ranch.

Just when order returns, veteran lawman, L.T. McAllister rides in. He’s a dangerous man determined to do what’s right regardless of the personal loss. L.T. believes himself ready for anything until he meets Sarah. Her ideas about the man he’s become soon pit his lifetime of duty against desire.

L.T.’s and Sarah’s loyalty to Will catapults them into a life for which neither one is prepared. And when L.T. and Sarah defy Sheriff Grant Simpson, they trigger a cataclysm of retaliation that escalates into kidnapping and murder. L.T. and Sarah are forced into a battle for justice…and their lives.

Janet Squires tells her story in visual prose, her descriptions of places make you believe you are right there viewing them first-hand. Her character studies are excellent too, you share their feelings be they happiness, sadness, frustration, anger and fears. Her words flow smoothly making this book a joy to read.

There aren’t that many characters in this story and Squires mainly switches between Sarah and L.T. as they become drawn to each other, yet fear acting on these feelings. But the growing love between them must take second place to the search for stolen gold and the running of the ranch.

The opening chapters deal with Sarah struggling to adjust to her new life in America, but her strong will sees her dealing easily with all the hardships thrown at her. It’s when L.T. arrives on the scene, and the anger he brings with him that attracts violence, that we see cracks appearing in her character.

Although the storyline follows the trail seasoned western readers would expect it does offer some neat surprises, not least what happens to Sarah and L.T. emotionally and physically making for a powerful ending in a tense and exciting final showdown with Sheriff Simpson.

If you like westerns filled with terrific character development and gripping action scenes, believable dialogue and touches of humour, then, like me, I’m sure you’ll enjoy reading this book.