Friday, 7 August 2020

MONTANA TERRITORY

 

JOHN HAWK 3
By Charles G. West
Pinnacle, August 2020

Raised among the Blackfoot, John Hawk is a valuable asset to the US Army. As a military scout at Fort Ellis, he is able to cross the line between two worlds – and help keep the peace. But when he disobeys a direct order from his commander, Hawk is immediately dismissed from his post. That was the army’s first mistake.

The second was losing track of a small mule train en route to Helena. At the request of his former lieutenant, Hawk leaves his cabin on the Boulder River to help find the missing party. The mule train, it appears, was ambushed by a savage gang of outlaws. Most of the travelers were murdered. Only a few survived to tell the tale. And now it’s up to Hawk to stalk the killers across the lawless Montana territory – alone. No Backup. No calvary. No mercy . . . 

It’s been over two years since the last John Hawk western was published, and now we have the third. Was the wait worth it? For me, it definitely was.

Charles G. West has once again written a gripping story that has as its main theme a manhunt. To start with Hawk is reluctant to pursue five killers alone, would prefer to have the backing of a calvary troop, but events he can’t control find him having to continue the hunt unaided. Along the way, Hawk meets a variety of characters that both hinder and aid him in his quest to track the outlaws down.

There’s one particularly tense scene where Hawk meets David Booth, the leader of the outlaws, unknowingly and that was just one of the highlights of this fast-moving tale. A character named Frog made a lasting impression too.

Eventually, all trails lead to Helena and a number of people from the earlier books make an appearance and have major parts to play in how the story concludes. 

I’ve yet to read a book by Charles G. West that I haven’t enjoyed and this is another one to add to that list. Now, I just have to hope we don’t have to wait another two years or so before another John Hawk western appears.

Friday, 31 July 2020

WHISKEY CREEK




THE DERBY MAN 10
By Gary McCarthy
Doubleday, July 1992

Darby Buckingham – known because of his dandy hat as the Derby Man – is a former bareknuckle prizefighter turned dime novelist whose flamboyant exploits are as spellbinding as any he invents.

When his darling fiancĂ©e, Dolly Beavers, fails to meet him for their announced wedding, the Derby Man strikes out for Reno in search of his one true love, convinced that she must be the victim of foul play. What other possible reason could there be for the bride-to-be’s disappearance?

Darby’s companion on this noble quest is one Austin Applegate, a privileged and overzealous aspiring writer determined to prove himself worthy of inheriting Darby’s position as popular chronicler of Western adventure. Looking after this young tenderfoot fan while tracking down Dolly’s captor on a danger-ridden trail that winds through Nevada, Wyoming and Colorado, Darby wonders if he will live long enough to rescue his ladylove.

As distressing disclosures about his voluptuous intended’s past keep smacking up against the chivalrous Darby’s fondest illusions, he must face the possibility that Dolly’s abduction was not against her will – and wonder if wedding bells are really in the cards for the incomparable Derby Man.

Ten years after Bantam Books published The Derby Man #9: The Rail Warriors, leaving readers with a cliff-hanger ending as to why Dolly Beavers didn’t meet Darby Buckingham at Promontory Point for their wedding, Doubleday put out the 10th book as a hardback. Finally, fans of the series could find out what happened.

This new story starts shortly after book nines ending and sees a depressed Derby Man setting out to find Dolly, a hopeless task as he has nothing in the way of leads. It is on this first train journey to Reno that he meets Austin Applegate. 

Like all the other Derby Man novels this one contains a great mix of excellent characters, exciting action and humorous passages. Darby’s dislike for riding horses providing some comical scenes. Darby gets to use his fists regularly and his experience as an ex-circus strongman comes in handy too.

As the Derby Man gets closer to finding his missing intended, so the story picks up in pace and there are attempts on his and Applegate’s lives. Once the truth is out, there are more shocks in store for various people and anger is unleashed in swift and deadly violence that brings the book to a satisfying end.

Many of the previous Derby Man stories have revolved around historical events as Darby bases his pulp novels around them. This time Gary McCarthy keeps everything fictional but this isn’t in anyway detrimental to the story and this tenth book proves to be just as entertaining as all the others.


Monday, 27 July 2020

Thrilling Western May 1958



British edition, Vol. 9, No. 12

Contents:

Featured Novelette

Holdup at Stony Flat
By Clair Huffaker
Taw was being framed, Christine warned . . . but how could he believe a woman who had already betrayed her own husband?

Short Stories

To the Last Man
By Ben Frank
A man should be ready to shoot, if need be, to uphold his family’s honor . . . but Johnny had to have a better reason before he could kill.

Track the Man Down
By Robert J. Hogan
Grace was all the things Vermilion Smith wanted in a woman . . . and the sister of the man he had to shoot on sight.

Fair Warning
By Larry Powell
To Dave Morris, there was a right and a wrong way to act . . . even if doing the right thing meant he would have to kill a man.

As far as I understand it, Thrilling Western continued in the UK after its original American run came to an end. This is one of those later issues. Were the stories written for the UK publication? Nope, they are taken from other American pulps, namely Ranch Romances. The first three stories all coming from the April 1957 issue of Ranch Romances and the final tale from the November 1956 issue. 

I’ve included the cover of the April 1957 issue of Ranch Romances as it shows how the cover art has also been re-used too, or at least a new version of it painted – if you look at them closely, you’ll see there are a number of differences between the two. 


But what of the stories themselves? I’ve read work by three of these authors before, the odd one out being Larry Powell. Ben Frank (r.n. Frank Bennett) I’ve only read in a similar pulp, whilst the other two I’ve read in full length books and greatly enjoyed, so I was really looking forward to trying some of their earlier work.

I found all four tales to be entertaining reads, but did enjoy those by Huffaker and Hogan more than the other two. I do wonder if this is because Frank and Powell’s tales are much shorter so their storylines weren’t as complex. Hogan’s tale had the most memorable ending for me due to its hard-hitting nature. To say all these tales came from a publication with romance in the title I did wonder whether they would be more of a love story than an action packed western but this wasn’t the case. Yes, all the tales have some element of romance but they are traditional westerns filled with twisting plots and plenty of gunplay. On the strength of these four stories, I’ll certainly be on the lookout for more work by all the authors.

I have quite a few western pulps and my enjoyment of this one has me eager to read some more as they certainly contain some first-class western entertainment. 

It would be remiss for me not to add some further comments about the Huffaker novelette, Holdup at Stony Flat. This would later become a full-length novel under the title of Badman which was published in 1958, the year after it first appeared in its original shorter form. Later, in 1962, Huffaker wrote a screenplay based on Badman and in 1967 the film The War Wagon was released, directed by Burt Kennedy, it starred John Wayne and Kirk Douglas. Later publications of the book saw it have a name change to The War Wagon. 



Although I have the full-length book version, I’ve never read it, so what has been added to lengthen the tale I couldn’t say. It’s also been many years since I saw the film and I don’t remember much about it, but from what I can gather it differs quite significantly after the opening scene which closely portrays the start of the original short-story.


Friday, 24 July 2020

Hell on Wheels

SHERIFF STILLMAN 8
By Peter Brandvold
Berkley, September 2006

When Sheriff Ben Stillman accompanies Judge John Bannon and friends to a wedding in Sulfur, Montana Territory, he aims to have a nice long weekend of rest and respite from gunslinging. But Angus Whateley has other plans. He’s just been released from prison, and he’s out to avenge the hanging of his cattle-rustling sons – hangings ordered by Bannon.

Backed by a gang of the most violent and vicious members of his family, Whateley strikes when the judge takes the stagecoach back home. Soon, Stillman finds himself fighting a wheel-bound war against a clan of killers out for bloody revenge…

Peter Brandvold puts Sheriff Stillman into the middle of a fight not of his making in this excellent entry in the series. With his wife accompanying him and other friends too, the lawman really has no choice but to take on the outlaws.

There is plenty of bloody violent gunplay to be found in this book, a lot of which is described in all its gory horror, just witness a couple of brutal killings at the stage station to see what I mean. 

Those who’ve followed this series will be aware of Stillman’s medical issues, and here they get worse, striking him down at the worst moments possible, adding extra tension to his frantic struggles to protect the stagecoach occupants. 

The author switches between the various groups of characters at regular intervals. This allows him time to fill in the backstory of what happened to make Whateley so intent on killing Bannon. We also discover secrets about one of the other stage passengers that adds more depth to the story. 

As the passengers are forced to split up so Stillman’s attempts to save them all become more desperate. As some of Stillman’s friends fall into the clutches of the Whateley clan it seems as if they are doomed to die.

I’ve always enjoyed the Sheriff Stillman novels, they are certainly some of my favourites of Peter Brandvold’s many series. Filled with tough, resourceful characters of both sexes, plots that hit as hard as a .45 bullet and nerve-tearing action scenes, I find these books extremely difficult to put down and this one is right up there with the very best that this series has to offer.

Unfortunately Berkley didn’t publish anymore books in this series, but Peter Brandvold didn’t let that stop him putting out more Stillman stories. Through self-publishing and then with Wolfpack Publishing (who’ve also made all the old books available again) Sheriff Stillman continues to battle the lawless and the series has now reached its fourteenth book, and I’m very much looking forward to reading them all as soon as I can.


Monday, 20 July 2020

Stalked

WILDERNESS 71
By David Robbins
Mad Hornet Publishing, July 2020

Two families from the East want to make a new life for themselves in the Rocky Mountains. They think they can handle whatever the wilderness throws at them. They are wrong. Something is after them. Hunting them. Stalking them. Killing them one by one.

Enter Nate King. The Mountain Man known as Grizzly Killer. He is their one….their best….hope to survive. But even being the best is not always enough.

This is another terrific entry in the long-running Wilderness series that is filled with edge-of-your-seat moments. David Robbins really builds up the tension superbly as two green families are stalked by a kill crazy grizzly. A giant silver-tip that seems to kill for the sake of it, seems to enjoy tearing its victims into bloody shreds. 

The book doesn’t have a large cast. There are the two families, Nate King and his wife, Winona, along with their adopted daughter Bright Rainbow and three Ute braves. By the end their numbers will be greatly reduced. 

David Robbins creates a gripping sense of rising fear as the grizzly begins to stalk its prey. The kills are described in horrific detail, each ripped apart victim adding to the heightening terror that the two families experience, grief driving some of their decisions. 

The storyline isn’t completely dark in tone as David Robbins injects moments of humour to lighten the mood, mostly through conversation. The author also includes a comical visual during the musical instrument incident – a picture I got in my mind at this moment had me laughing out loud.

Can Grizzy Killer defeat his monstrous foe before all those he’s trying to protect die? Animal savagery against human prowess, teeth and claw verses tomahawk and knife. Finding out made for an exciting read, the story being a real page-turner as each chapter and scene ended on a cliff-hanger making it impossible to put the book down before the enthralling conclusion. 

A must read for all fans of the Wilderness series, and one that will be enjoyed by everyone who likes reading about the mountain man era or tales about battles between man and beast.


Tuesday, 14 July 2020

The Searcher

By F.M. Parker
Sphere Books, 1990
Originally published by Doubleday, 1985

His parents were dead, slaughtered by marauding Comanches.

His thirteen-year-old sister was gone, sold into slavery – or even worse – in Mexico.

Sixteen-year-old Sam Tollin was alone, and his sole chance of survival hung on whether a brutal outlaw gang would let him join them. It was a long trek from the edge of a desert grave to the fortress ranch where his sister was held captive but Sam vowed he would make it; no matter how high the odds against reaching his goal; no matter how many bullets it took to gun them down . . . 

Like all the other books I’ve seen by F.M. Parker this one begins with a prologue describing the formation of the land the story takes place in. Throughout the book Parker adds more fascinating facts about the terrain, its harshness and vastness. All this adds a great sense of time and place, making the reader appreciate the challenges of travelling through a desert all the more.

Character studies are as equally well done. Sam, his sister Sarah, the outlaws, all have unique personalities that will have you sharing their pain, joy, fears, expectations and frustrations. 

Sam’s search for his sister has to be put on hold once he meets the Kiowa brave, Two Foxes, who rides with the outlaw band Sam joins up with. Two Foxes’ belief that Sam is a bad omen makes for a gripping plotline.

The outlaws have a massive crime planned, similar to a rustling storyline of many westerns but very different in the type of animal they are setting out to steal and the quantity. Then there are the added problems of escaping with these creatures, not-least finding enough water for them as they head back through the desert and staying ahead of their pursuers. 

There is also plenty of action, which at times is quite brutal and fairly graphic in its description. Sam quickly learns to become very proficient with a gun. Along the trail Sam gets the chance to settle accounts with those who robbed him and those who killed his parents. 

But what of finding his sister? As the pages began to run out, I did begin to wonder how this would be achieved. A lucky break revealed her whereabouts and Sam heads out alone to free Sarah from her captors. The odds are heavily against him. I don’t want to say anything more so as not to spoil the ending for anyone intending to read this book, other than to say the final showdown is tense and dramatic.

I have a few books by F.M. Parker in my collection but this is the first time I’ve read one and I found it to be a thoroughly entertaining read, so-much-so that I’m certain I’ll be reading another very soon.

Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Ride the Long Night

By E.A. Alman
Ace Books, 1960
Originally published by The Macmillan Company, 1959

His name was Will Storm and he was getting to be a legend in the West. He wasn’t more than 27 years old, but his hair was completely white and he had a lifetime’s worth of hate stored up in him. He had sworn to would not rest until his gun caught up with three people:

 . . . the sweetheart who betrayed him,

. . . the treacherous saddle-partner who helped her railroad him to prison,

. . . the corrupt prison warden who tortured him for five bitter years.

It was a long rail that he rode – a long and violent trail – but it had an ending none would forget.

E.A. Alman is an author I wasn’t familiar with, and a google search doesn’t bring up anything other than this book. This publication contains a number of quotes from reviews declaring how good this story is, one stating ‘Alman promises to be one of the more stimulating writers of Western fiction, and this book should have wide appeal.’ Another says ‘One of the best westerns to come along in some time.

The story starts well, and portrays Storm as a desperate man drive by his self-imposed mission to kill those who wronged him. Storm is hurt, being pursued by a posse. He’s saved by a young woman who lives alone, who’s a man-hater. A woman many see as crazy. She see’s opportunity in Storm and decides to help him heal and hide him from the posse. In exchange he must marry her, that’s all, he can then go on his way once she has his last name. Why is that so important to her? That is something you’ll have to find out for yourself by reading the book.

During Storm’s recovery we are introduced to two other major players, a man referred to as the Preacher – that is his trade but is there more to him than that? The second person is a lawman determined to see Storm back behind bars. As their lives become entwined the plot becomes more complicated and the suspense mounts.

At times this story is quite brutal, definitely has a hard-boiled appeal to it. Storm does do something that not all readers will approve of, but I can’t say more without spoiling a major element of the book. 

During this tale Storm helps some children find their parents and this part of the story seems to lose the dark edge of the rest of the book and a different side of Storm is revealed. Although this section of the story is important to how the plot develops, I did find the pace eased off a little here and lost its grittiness that I'd been appreciating. Once this story-thread had been resolved then the toughness returned and my enjoyment rose again and I was eager to see how the story ended.

With his vengeance hunt over, and maybe not how you’d expect, Storm has to face a new demon in the woman he married. Would she kill him on sight? She was certainly full of hate for him and had promised to do so, something Storm was resigned to. The prospect of his death at her hands certainly doesn’t stop him returning to her to hand her the gun with which to take his life. Perhaps his death is the only way to conclude his life, something he welcomes?

Overall, this was a very satisfactory read and it does make me wonder why Alman never wrote anymore westerns.

Ride the Long Night is part of an Ace Double book, paired with Gordon D. Shirreffs Apache Butte.