Thursday, 22 October 2020

BLOOD OF RENEGADES


THE LONER
number 10 of 15
By J.A. Johnstone
Pinnacle, July 2011

The damsel is in distress, or so it seems to Conrad Browning. On his way across the wide, tall Utah territory to California, the Loner meets a beautiful Mormon girl on the run from a forced wedding – and the gun-toting faithful trying to hunt her down. But there are two sides to every story – and the ones you don’t hear are the ones that can get you killed.

The runaway bride has a little history of her own. Soon, the Loner touches off a storm of unholy gunfire, drawing blood from an outlaw and a death sentence from a patriarch. Among murders and Mormons, Bibles and bullets, the Loner finds himself riding to a wedding – a ceremony he intends to crash with a vengeance…

Browning’s search for his missing children is interrupted by the runaway Mormon girl and the trouble she brings to the Loner. This is a story of the younger generation not wanting to follow the path of their elders. The Loner gets caught up in the middle of this as he decides to help the youngsters escape the grip of the Mormon leader and his band of Avenging Angels. 

There is plenty of exciting action that doesn’t always involve gunplay, such as a very different method of escape across the salt flat of the likes I can’t remember reading about before. The Loner also has to deal with unfounded jealousy that could see him killed by one of those on the side he his trying to help. 

The author is an expert at pacing and creating tension and that made it hard for me to put this book down as I just had to find out what happened next. The final battle proving to be spectacular in its destructive power. 

When the Loner finally gets to continue with his search for his children the author springs a surprising twist to the tale that instantly had me wanting to read the next book in this terrific series.


Sunday, 18 October 2020

BOOTHILL BRAND


By Kirk Hamilton
Cougar Books, date unknown

It was three years ago they’d run him out. Lou still bore the mark of Boothill on his chest – the brand he’d carry till he died. And the old man had waited for him to scream as they did it, and looked somehow disappointed when he didn’t.

“Come back here, Lou,” the old man had said meaningly, “And you die!”

They had thrown him off the ranch then. Without a horse, without his guns, with only what he stood up in. And Shane had stood and watched, her face expressionless.

He’s come back now. Come back to kill the old man, to kill Johnny Wena if he was still around, to humble the proud Shane and break her life for her as she had broken his.

Cougar books were part of Cleveland Publishing and like the majority of their publications they don’t carry a date, so it’s not easy to find out when they were published. This story is a re-issue, complete and unabridged, except for a title change from Danger Spread to Boothill Brand, which was originally put out under the Cleveland name. I’ve included the original below and I think the cover art of that first issue fits the story a lot better as it does illustrate a scene from the tale.

Lou Masters makes for an engaging lead character. He’s tough, quick with a gun, yet na├»ve, blinded by his love for Shane which leads him into many dangerous and life-threatening situations. Shane isn’t the only woman who will cause problems for him as he’s caught the eye of Lena Blair. There are some excellent twists and turns to the plot that sees both of these women get Lou on the wrong end of a gun.

The story never lets up in its fast pace as Lou is framed, struggles to recognize who is his enemy and who he can trust. Vicious gunmen arrive and it seems no-one is safe from their desire to take what they want and kill anyone who opposes them. There’s plenty of gunplay before everything leads to Lou having to face unbeatable odds which makes for a nail-biting climax. 

Boothill Brand proved to be an excellent read, but then again, I thought it would having enjoyed many westerns by this author already. Kirk Hamilton is a pseudonym, one of a handful, used by Keith Hetherington, an Australian author who has had well over 600 stories published – probably closer to 1,000 – and he comes highly recommended by me.


Tuesday, 13 October 2020

DESERT STAKE-OUT


By Hondo Wells
Cover art by Colin Andrews
Mews Paperbacks, November 1976
Originally published by Fawcett, 1961

Any chance Merrick’s party had of escaping the Indian fury was gone now – destroyed by the gun-happy youth who had just killed the Apache who lay before them on the desert.

Now they could only wait the Apache revenge – and hope the three renegade white men didn’t turn on Merrick first.

And clear in Merrick’s mind was the fate that waited them all if the Indians took them alive – staked out in the sun, their mouths full of sand, praying they were dead . . .

Hondo Wells is a pseudonym for Harry Whittington. In America the book was published under the authors real name, so what lead to the use of a pen-name in the UK I have no idea. Mews published three other westerns by Whittington, Shadow at Noon and Prairie Riders both as by Hondo Wells but the third one, High Fury was put out as by Harry Whittington. Why the switch to his real name for the last one?

The book begins by describing the harsh land through which Merrick is travelling. This inhospitable place offering a place of respite from a waterhole. It’s around this life-giving pool that most of this brutal tale takes place. Is it possible to escape this small waterhole as the Apaches are closing in, slowly, tormentingly? The author’s prose is as tough as the landscape and the despair and desperation of those trapped by the waterhole comes over extremely well.

There’s also the fear that the three outlaws may try to kill Merrick at any moment, steal his horses and make a break for freedom. The author creates a tense atmosphere that will have the reader on the edge of their seat. 

As the story progresses then more questions need answers. Does Merrick know the three renegades? Who is in the grave by the waterhole that had been dug by Merrick? Why has the army sent him on a mission, alone, through a land filled with hostile Apaches? 

The tale moves through a series of twists and turns as allegiances switch from one person to another. No one can trust anyone it seems. 

There’s plenty of tough talk, eruptions of gunplay and double-cross before the Apaches close in, and when they do the plot takes on a much more vicious tone that sees some horrific, graphic acts of torture that lead to a surprising turn of events.

For me, Desert Stake-Out proved to be a gripping read that captured my imagination superbly and left me hungry to read more of Harry Whittington’s work as soon as I can.

Thursday, 8 October 2020

DIVINE WIND


By Lee Clinton
The Crowood Press, October 2020

Robert Brodie was always a practical man. It helped him survive the war as a Texan Confederate - as a miner in Death Valley - and now as a muleskinner hauling borax across one of the most inhospitable places on the earth's surface. So, when an old Indian bestows the Divine Wind upon him from Tanka the Great Spirit, it is accepted with both bewilderment and scepticism. Especially, as Brodie is trapped under a four-ton borax wagon at the time and expecting to die of thirst...

The opening scenes of this book provide some excellent, tense reading that results in Brodie becoming trapped beneath the borax wagon. The arrival of the old Indian adds an extra element to the story. Is he real or just a figment of Brodie’s mind? From then on, the tale edges into the supernatural as strange events shape Brodie’s future, events that have no rational explanation. It’s these storylines that shape the rest of the tale as Brodie struggles to comprehend these twists of fate.

Amid all the strangeness there is plenty of action as Brodie finds himself helping a young lady deal out God’s justice as they track four killers. There are some particularly gruesome deaths, one killing done by the girl that will make all male readers shudder. The bond between Brodie and the girl becomes stronger and they begin to fall in love, but can this really work as Brodie is quite a lot older than Chastity? 

I’ve got to mention the two mules, Sergeant Smith and Corporal Jones, whose antics at times had me laughing. Brodie’s relationship with these two animals being one of the many highlights of this book. 

I’ve read and enjoyed all of Lee Clinton’s previous Black Horse Westerns. One of the things that I really like about his books is that they all have very different storylines and this one certainly keeps that trend going. The supernatural elements, real or not, taking this tale down a totally different trail to any of his others. Not being able to predict where the next Clinton plot will take me is one of the reasons that I always look forward to his next release. 

Lee Clinton is a pseudonym used by Australian author Leigh Alver.

Divine Wind is released on October 23rd but is available for pre-order now.

Wednesday, 30 September 2020

GUNS ACROSS THE PECOS


By Jackson Cole
Popular Library, 1965

In the fertile oasis of the Delnorte Valley seethed a full-scale range war. Lynch fever spread. Bombs exploded along the wire fences – reflecting the hate that filled the valley. The Coral River ran red with blood and open war was expected at any moment. Ranger Jim Hatfield had to find the man responsible for the violence before Delnorte became a valley of death.

The man Hatfield had to stop was protected by a terror organization called “The Black Cappers.” Their specialties were killing and destruction and they had forced the nesters and the ranchers into two armed camps. Hatfield found himself caught in the crossfire – an easy target for anyone with an easy six-gun. He was running on sheer power and had to get his man in a hurry . . . before the powder-keg of Delnorte Valley exploded!

This story was originally published under the same title in the November 1937 issue of Texas Rangers (see below). I’d guess the 1965 version has been expanded to create the length needed for a book. Jim Hatfield was created in 1936 by A. Leslie Scott and all the stories were published under the pseudonym of Jackson Cole. Scott was the main writer for the long running series alongside Tom Curry. A few other authors wrote for the series too. Guns Across the Pecos was written by Curry.

This is a tough, fast-paced story that contains a number of surprises and plenty of action – more or less every chapter containing gunplay or fist fights. Although the tale does include women, they don’t have very big roles – even the girl who provides the love interest.

Hatfield is extremely fast with his guns, talks to his horse Goldy, and has a quick mind that helps him solve all the problems he faces almost effortlessly. Hatfield occasionally comes across as superhuman when it comes to second-guessing his enemies and when he gets shot – the latter occurring more than once in this tale but Hatfield seems able to shrug his wounds off and carry on as if nothing had happened.

Being such an old story there is some of the kind of lingo we don’t see much of nowadays, such as ‘dawggone it’, ‘keerful-like,’ and ‘shoot yuh daid.’ This, to me, is part of the fun of reading these old tales but at times can be a challenge when there’s a lot of it in one sentence. 

Tom Curry keeps the main plot twist a secret until near the end, and it was one I didn’t see coming, although I did work out who was behind whatever it was that was going on. The story ends with a classic hero chasing bad guy across country scene, making for a final dramatic showdown that ends the tale in suitable style. 

I’ve read a few Jim Hatfield tales in pulp magazines and found them to be very entertaining and this extended book length story proved to be as equally enjoyable. 

Saturday, 26 September 2020

THE JACKALS


By William W. Johnstone with J.A. Johnstone
Pinnacle, February 2019

With Apaches on the prowl, ex-cavalry sergeant Sean Keegan, bounty hunter Jed Breen, and ex-Texas Ranger Matt McCulloch take shelter in a West Texas way station – along with a hot-as-a-pistol female bound for the gallows, a spiteful newspaper editor, and a coward with $50,000 who promises them five grand if they’ll deliver his blood-soaked stash to his wife.

Turns out, Indians might be the least of the problems for the trio, soon to be known as the Jackals. The loot’s stolen property of the vengeful Hawkin gang, and these prairie rats are merciless, stone-cold killers. And the brother of the man the woman killed wants to butcher her himself rather than watch her swing. McCulloch, Keegan, and Breen are ready for a showdown – but the Jackals may not live to spend that $5,000.

These Johnstone books are getting longer and the author certainly packs a lot of excitement into those 359 pages. This story fairly gallops along and there’s never a dull moment as gunfight follows gunfight. 

At the start the author switches between his three main characters, to tell the stories of how two become ex-cavalry and ex-ranger and of the events that see them and the bounty hunter following separate trails that will see them arrive at the way station under siege by the Apaches. We are also introduced to the outlaws, the coward, and the woman. There is another character waiting at the way station, an actor with a wagon load of props and both he and his items will have an important role to play in the bloody, violent outcome of this tale.

I found the book an easy read that urged me to keep turning the pages. There were some terms used that I don’t often see in westerns, such as the words bubba, punk and arse – the latter appearing only once before being replaced by the more commonly used ass in books about Americans. 

Once knowledge of the $50,000 become known to the people trapped in the way station it was interesting to see how some of their character traits changed as greed took its grip on them.

Amidst all the violence there are some moments of humour, mainly coming from the actor, in either deeds or words.

The final desperate attempt to break-out of the way station makes for gripping and dramatic reading. The race for freedom being a real out of the frying pan and into the fire situation that leads to more gunplay and double-cross that very few of the characters survive in one piece.

This book is the first in a new series and the second one has just been released and I’m looking forward to reading it very soon.

Sunday, 20 September 2020

EL DORADO


STAGECOACH STATION
Number 28 of 52
By Hank Mitchum
Cover art by Guy Deel
Bantam Books, March 1987

The stage carrying Andrea King never made it to Placerville. Solomon King, her husband, knew she was somewhere in the Sierra Nevada mountains, but was she alive or dead? With Andrea’s sister Lorraine and the Indian guide Gray Hawk, King began his grim search. 

Then the first storms of winter hit with blinding fury. Accompanied by a lost party of miners carrying gold, King made it to the relay station of El Dorado – only to find that someone in the party wanted all the gold for himself and thought eleven lives was a small price to pay. 

The snows made them prisoners of El Dorado, and one by one they died. King had to find the killer before the killer found him – and ended his desperate search for his wife.

The Stagecoach Station series of books are stand-alone novels that are linked by having a story that revolves around a stagecoach or stagecoach station. One or two books do see returning characters, so those tales probably need reading in order, but generally you can dip into this series anywhere and enjoy each book for what it is.

Hank Mitchum is a pseudonym behind which 14 authors wrote. The writer of this entry is Lew A. Lacy and he wrote more books in this series than anyone else.

As well as being a western, this is a murder mystery tale too. The author keeps the reader in suspense as to who the killer is until the end. Of course, as the victims fall the list of suspects gets smaller. Lew A. Lacy writes the growing sense of fear well, and his characters become more and more on edge with each death. Accusations fly and friendships crumble. No-one trusts anyone and being trapped in a snow bound stage station doesn’t help.

This is a well told story that had me on the edge of my seat a number of times. The characters are all engaging and the desperation to discover who the killer is provides some great tension to the story. Being murdered isn’t the only threat to the trapped people’s lives, dying of starvation is another fear.

Lew A. Lacy also keeps the fate of Andrea a secret too. This only to be discovered after the murderer is unmasked and dealt with. Lacy also has a couple of twists waiting to surprise the reader which added to my enjoyment of this story.

This book proved to be a very entertaining read and I’m sure it won’t be long before I read another by Lew A. Lacy, or try one or two of the other books in this series as there are some great authors  behind the pen-name of Hank Mitchum.