Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Whiskey River

By Ralph Compton
Signet, January 1999

They came back from the war, and their land was gone. The Texas soil they’d nourished with years of backbreaking work has been snatched away. And in a moment of fury at this Yankee plunder, Mark Rogers and Bill Harder cut down a pair of tax collectors…and wind up behind bars in Fort Worth.

But then the former Confederate soldiers are offered a choice: They can face their sentences – or infiltrate a gang of whiskey runners who have been evading the law between St. Louis and Fort Smith. If they succeed, they’ll gain their freedom…and their confiscated land.

But when the two Johnny Rebs meet up with Wolf Estrello and his fellow bandits, they wish they’d taken their chances with a firing squad….

It’s been a long, long time since I read a Ralph Compton novel by the man himself, my usual choice being the later books written by a variety of authors who kept his name alive after his passing. In fact, I seem to think I’ve only read one of Compton’s Trail Drive books and I don’t remember much about it, it was so long ago. This time I decided to pick one of his stand-alone novels to see if it would help me understand why he is held in such high esteem by so many people. 

After the opening chapters which introduce the reader to Rogers and Harder and the challenge set to them, they become just another couple of characters within the fast-moving tale that involves a wide cast of characters that are given equal prominence within the story. 

Compton’s writing style is easy to read and he includes a sprinkling of footnotes explaining in more detail about certain elements, be they places or items, he mentions in the story. There is a fair amount of action, but for me it didn’t command enough page space, often being over and done with in a paragraph or two. I’ve also never read a book where so many people get thigh wounds and nearly all the characters seemed to be able to shrug off being hit, even by a Sharps, and within a matter of hours be as good as new again. There were also one or two other things that happened that stretched my belief a little like how far horses could be galloped (120-mile round trip) and how quickly. 

The story contains very little bad language, no explicit sex or graphic violence. Although the premise of the plot was very good it was predictable and offered no surprises. Having said that, the book was enjoyable enough to keep me reading it to the end. I’m not sure it helped me discover just why Compton is held in such high regard, perhaps I picked a book that isn’t one of his best?


Saturday, 20 July 2019

Wanted Dead or Alive

By Ralph Hayes
The Crowood Press, March 2017

A year after being saved from kidnapping, Dulcie Provost is waiting for the return of her rescuer, bounty hunter Certainty Sumner. But first Sumner has to carry out one more mission – tracking down the sadistic outlaw known as the Lakota Kid.

But unbeknown to Sumner, he himself is also the quarry of an equally ruthless bounty hunter, Luther Bastian. The father of a gang member Sumner killed while rescuing Dulcie wants vengeance and has duped Bastian into believing that Sumner has turned outlaw.

Can Sumner possibly survive being hunted down by a bounty hunter as skilled and determined as himself.

Ralph Hayes is a name many western fans will recognize. He’s an author whose work has been published for many years, his popular series featuring Buffalo Hunter: O’Brien first appearing in 1971. In 2011 O’Brien got a new lease of life as he returned in four new books under the Black Horse Western banner. Hayes also began writing other new westerns that would be published as BHWs.

Wanted Dead or Alive is the third book in the Certainty Sumner’s series. The author includes enough information to explain what has happened in the earlier stories so this one can be enjoyed as a stand-alone title but readers may prefer to read The Lawless Breed and The Way of the Gun first. Not only does this book feature Sumner’s but it also has a leading role for another of Hayes’ characters, Luther Bastian, and, again, you may like to read the book he first appeared in, Texas Vengeance, to fill yourself in on his backstory.

This fast paced tale switches regularly between the main characters as it builds towards an inevitable showdown between Sumner and Bastian and the questions I soon had were would Hayes kill off one or the other, perhaps both? If Sumner survives would there be a future for him and Dulcie Provost? What of the Lakota Kid – would he have a deciding role in who lives and dies? Whatever the outcome to these questions this was another very enjoyable book written by Ralph Hayes and I look forward to any future publications.


Monday, 15 July 2019

Seven Days to Die

THE LONER #6
By J.A. Johnstone
Pinnacle, July 2010

Once he was a young, happily married businessman. Then he lost his wife to human madness and that young man was gone, replaced by Kid Morgan, the wandering son of legendary gunfighter Frank Morgan and the current occupant of a cell in Hell Gate prison. The Kid’s crime? He looked too much like an outlaw who escaped from this very prison. So the Kid teams up with a fellow inmate with an escape plan, vowing to hunt down a loo-alike killer on the loose. But in or out of prison, Frank Morgan’s boy knows better than to trust anyone. And with Hell Gate behind him, any day could be his last. So every bullet must be his best.

I can’t believe seven years have passed since I read The Loner #5, especially as I enjoyed the previous books a lot, making The Loner my favourite Johnstone series at that time. The Loner is also the only series to come from the Johnstone family credited to just J.A. Johnstone rather than William W. Johnstone with J.A. Johnstone.

The author behind this series certainly doesn’t believe in giving his hero and easy time. The Kid’s experiences in Hell Gate being particularly brutal. The prison warden being a sadistic man who seems to delight in others suffering. The Kid’s eventual escape providing some tense reading that sees him on the run with another prisoner, Drake, and the Warden’s kidnapped daughter, Jillian.

Once free from the prison, The Kid begins to doubt his fellow ex-prisoners motives as his involvement with the man, Bledsoe, whom The Kid was mistaken for, start to emerge. Can he be trusted? As The Kid, Drake and Jillian begin to close in on Bledsoe so the danger mounts as the best laid plans go astray leading to an exciting, bloody finale.

Seven Days to Die is another excellent story in The Loner series and is a book I believe will be enjoyed by all western fans. I know one thing for sure, I will not let another seven years pass before I read the next one, hopefully it’ll be in the next month or two. 


Thursday, 11 July 2019

Dark Territory

Sheriff Aaron Mackey book 2
By Terrence McCauley
Pinnacle, April 2019

A rash of deadly train robberies has the chief investor of Dover Station feeling itchier than a quick draw without a target. And he wants Sheriff Aaron Mackey to scratch that itch with every bullet his battered badge authorizes him to shoot. When Mackey and his backup gun down four kill-crazy bandits, they uncover a plot cooked up by respected citizens of Dover Station – someone who can pull enough strings to replace Mackey with a disgraced marshal from Texas. Now Mackey’s badge may not say much, but his gun defies all fear. Anyone who stands between Mackey and the future of Dover Station is about to become buried in the pages of history . . . 

All the main characters who survived the previous book, Where the Bullets Fly, return in this gripping struggle for control of the rapidly growing Dover Station. Author Terrence McCauley has won awards for his crime and thriller stories and this tale borrows heavily from those genres in that Mackey and his deputy have to solve a lot of puzzles to unravel the mysteries of who is doing what and for what reasons so Dark Territory reads like a detective novel at times with a heavy dose of noir…and for me that isn’t a bad thing.

As each incident is solved either by word or gun, then another is born from that result. Even as Mackey begins to suspect the who and the why, proving it becomes another problem and it begins to look like Mackey will be on the losing side, stripped of his badge and unwelcome in Dover Station, perhaps dead as the army of gunmen stacking against him rise to unbeatable odds.

Tough, brutal, tense, edge-of-the-seat action scenes and plenty of twists, Dark Territory proved to be a difficult to put down read that has a very satisfactory ending that could lead to a third book. Let’s hope Pinnacle sees fit to continue putting out novels featuring Mackey rather than have him vanish after just two books like many of their recently launched series have done. 


Sunday, 7 July 2019

Dark Horse

By Lee Clinton
The Crowood Press, July 2019

Nettie Youcheck must fight for what is rightfully hers, the large and profitable Double U cattle ranch. If she fails, her future will be a life of servitude under the control of a vicious and vindictive father. By her side are just two allies – Hollis, the old, black house servant, and Rita, who runs the town brothel and knows Nettie’s past.

If justice prevails then all will go well for Nettie, but since when was life like a fairy tale? Certainly not with the involvement of Albert Hopkins from the Missouri Savings and Loans Bank who has his own malicious agenda. Just thank the Lord that Nettie can shoot straight – because she soon has a fight on her hands.

Having read and thoroughly enjoyed all of Lee Clinton’s Black Horse Westerns I’m always eager to read his new books as soon as I can. Like his previous work, Dark Horse, is a gripping read that is filled with interesting characters that get caught up in a plot full of suspense, surprises and twists that I don’t see coming.

Dark Horse is also different in that it is told in the first person – something Black Horse Westerns weren’t known for when published by Hale, but since being put out by Crowood this method of storytelling is appearing more frequently. Lee Clinton still manages to get a first though, at least I don’t remember any other BHW being told from this type of viewpoint, and that is telling the tale through the voice of a female lead character who is in her eighties and she is the Dark Horse of the title.

Nettie tells of events in her past. A tale of devious events, of greed and learning, of shocking revelations and new experiences that held my attention superbly. Nettie seems to be in a no-win situation and her attempts to gain control of what should be hers could see her branded a murderer and face a life-time in jail and as the story progresses this seems to be the only possible outcome. 

Lee Clinton resolves all these seemingly impossible situations with clever solutions that bring the plot to a fitting end but he has one last twist waiting for the final short chapter that left me wondering and with a big satisfied grin on my face, eagerly looking forward to his next book.

Lee Clinton is a pseudonym used by Australian author Leigh Alver and I can honesty say he is one of my favourite Black Horse Western writers working today and more than matches the best of the past too. 



Available in both hardback and ebook at the end of July.

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

The Great Land Swindle

CANYON O’GRADY #10
By Jon Sharpe
Signet, November 1990

When Canyon O’Grady rode into Santa Fe for relaxation, he ran into his boyhood buddy Paddy McNamara. Right now, Paddy was a friend in need of an extra gun, and he figured Canyon would go for some foul play for pay. The redheaded law enforcer went far enough to find out about a plot of assassination and the landgrab he had to stop. But unless he outshot a swarm of savage shootists, outsmarted a snake-slick politician, and loosened the tongue of a senator’s tight-lipped daughter, his old sidekick was going to kick dirt into O’Grady’s grave…

To beat the assassination attempt O’Grady has to solve a few puzzles to work out why someone has ordered the hit and who that person is. This means O’Grady has to play detective, but as he’s a Government Special Agent, this is a role he’s comfortable and capable in.

Canyon does a lot of questioning and meeting of various people in his attempt to stop the assassination. There is also a fair bit of gunplay as someone is out to bury O’Grady. As this is an adult western series there are a couple of ladies eager to share his bed and some of the sex scenes are as explicit as expected but as the story goes on these scenes are glossed over quickly as the race to find the assassin and the men behind it takes center stage.

I believe the author writing behind the pseudonym of Jon Sharpe this time around is Chet Cunningham and at times I felt I could have replaced Canyon with Spur McCoy – the series he wrote as Dirk Fletcher – as the plot could have worked well in the Spur series too.

I found the book to be an enjoyable quick read that held my attention well and as much as wanting to discover how Canyon resolved the assassination plot I was also eager to see how he would deal with his boyhood friend, McNamara. 

Sunday, 23 June 2019

Longarm and the Sonora Siren

By Tabor Evans
Jove, May 2014

#426 in the series

As thunder booms and lightning flashes and wolves nuzzle the bloody, bullet-ridden corpses of Longarm’s fallen foes out in the wet, muddy streets of a Mexican ghost town, the lawman is warm and cozy inside – and happy to be alive, receiving a sweet reward for rescuing a kidnapped seƱorita.

Deputy U.S. Marshal Custis Long has technically gone rogue – crossing the border into Mexico to recover a stolen Army payroll. He hadn’t planned on encountering hot-blooded hostage Claudia Cordova, but now he’s sure glad he saved her…

Until he wakes up after a night of passion tied to the four posts of a bed – his seductive siren long gone, her saddlebags bulging with those “gringo greenbacks”…

It’s been a while since I last read a Longarm book and this one proved to be an exciting, fun read. The story is crammed full of action, both of the violent kind and sexual – descriptions of both extremely explicit at times. Longarm is also presented as a tougher, more brutal, man than some of the other writers behind the pseudonym of Tabor Evans depict him, and the lawman, along with other characters, uses some quite crude language at times that some readers may find offensive.

The author (in this case Peter Brandvold) has his tale moving forward at a gallop from the opening scene and the pace never lets up until the final words. As the story progresses Longarm finds himself struggling to make sense of who the real Claudia Cordova is as different people paint her with different colours, all of which add a number of surprising twists and turns which kept me guessing until the end.

Does Longarm retrieve the payroll? Does Cordova get her comeuppance? Does Longarm’s border crossing create a major incident between Mexico and the United Sates? Obviously, I can’t reveal any of that here, but I can certainly say that fans of the Longarm series and Peter Brandvold’s work won’t want to miss this one. This is definitely one of the best adult westerns I’ve read in some time.