Sunday, 31 December 2017

Westerns read during 2017

I managed to read a few more westerns this year than last even though I haven't managed to find the time to write and post reviews for all of them yet, hopefully I will catch up soon. Clicking on the book number will take you to the review.


JANUARY READS – 2 books

1. Deception Creek by Ned Oaks
2. The Range Detectives #2: Hang Them Slowly by William W. Johnstone with J.A. Johnstone



FEBRUARY READS – 3 books

3. Outlaw Express by Gillian F. Taylor
4. Cotton’s Inferno by Phil Dunlap
5. Blaze 15: Red Rock Rampage by Ben Boulden



MARCH READS – 5 books

6. Taggart’s Crossing by Paul Bedford
7. Coyote Courage by Scott Harris
8. Incident at Pegasus Heights by I.J. Parnham
9. The Iron Horse Chronicles #3: Golden Spike by Robert Lee Murphy
10. Brothers in Blood by Lee Lejeune 



APRIL READS – 4 books

11. Lady Gunsmith #1: The Legend of Roxy Doyle by J.R. Roberts
12. From the Vineyards of Hell by Harry Jay Thorn
13. Way of the Lawless by P. McCormac
14. Gideon Ryder #2: Rough Justice by Lyle Brandt



MAY READS – 5 books

15. Borrachón by Kevin Cullen
16. Wanted 2 – various authors
17. The Mountain of the Wolf by Elisabeth Grace Foley
18. Massacre at Red Rock by Jack Martin
19. To the Far Sierras by Will DuRey



JUNE READS – 5 books

20. The Gunsmith #30: The Ponderosa War by J.R. Roberts
21. The Spanish Bit Saga #24: Bearer of the Pipe by Don Coldsmith
22. LeRoy U.S. Marshal by Neil Hunter
23. To the Death by Scott Connor
24. Six Bullets Left by Barry Cord



JULY READS – 3 books

25. Rusty Spurr #2: The Old Wolves by Peter Brandvold
26. The Landon Saga #10: Midway by Tell Cotten
27. Brock Clemons #2: Coyote Creek by Scott Harris



AUGUST READS – 3 books

28. Gunpowder Empire by Matt Cole
29. A Short Ride to Hell by Paul Green
30. The Judge #10: Death Warrant by Hank Edwards



SEPTEMBER READS – 4 books

31. Widowmaker Jones by Brett Cogburn
32. Maggie O’Bannen #1: Days of Evil by Joe Slade
33. Pirates of the Desert by C.J. Sommers
34. Legacy of a Gunfighter by Terry James



OCTOBER READS – 5 books

35. John Hawk #1: Hell Hath No Fury by Charles G. West
36. The Holmbury County Seat War by K.S. Stanley
37. Remington 1894 by William W. Johnstone with J.A. Johnstone
38. Blaze #18: Spanish Gold by Ben Boulden
39. 52 Western Novels by Scott Harris and Paul Bishop



NOVEMBER READS – 5 books

40. An Arizona Christmas by William W. Johnstone with J.A. Johnstone
41. Lew Eden #1: Bugles and Blood by Ben Bridges and Brent Towns
42. Wilkie John #1: A World of Hurt by Tim Bryant
43. A Dark Dawn in Texas by Richard Smith
44. Bone Treasure by Paul Bedford



DECEMBER READS – 6 books

45. James Harding #: Lone Oak by Phillip Hardy
46. Blade #1: The Indian Incident by Matt Chisholm
47. Dead Man at Snake’s Creek by Rob Hill
48. Ride Harder by Gordon L. Rottman
49. Herne the Hunter #22: Wild Blood by John J. McLaglen
50. Iron Eyes the Spectre by Rory Black




Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Dead Man at Snake's Creek

By Rob Hill
The Crowood Press, December 2017

Credence, Texas, is a one-horse town. Dying on its feet since the closure of the Shawnee Trail, the place is divided by bitterness, resentment and feuds that have smouldered on for years.

This is what Johnny Hartford finds when he returns home for his brother’s wedding. Ten years before, he left the town in a blaze of glory to travel to Chicago and become a Pinkerton Agent. But that was before the war. Now everything has changed: his dying father will barely speak to him, his brother is running wild and longhorn rustling is rife. Determined to make amends with his family and catch the cattle thieves, Hartford turns to old Sheriff Milton for help. But the day after he arrives, a prominent local rancher is shot in the back and Hartford discovers that almost everyone in town has a reason for wanting him dead.

The story opens with the murder of the rancher by an unknown killer and it isn’t long before the author has the reader meeting a number of people who all have reason for wanting the rancher dead, and the mention of items in that opening scene take on more significance, perhaps pointing at the identity of the killer?

Rob Hill doesn’t include a lot of gunplay in this gripping tale, it isn’t needed. There is more than enough intrigue to hold any reader’s attention as Hartford struggles to solve the mystery of who killed the rancher whilst seeking out, and stopping the cattle rustlers.

Hill’s prose is very descriptive and at times almost poetic and captivates the imagination well, painting vivid imagery in the minds-eye. His story development is well paced and contains a number of surprises. Even after all the denials from a number of characters as to being the killer, imagine the frustrations Hartford faces when a handful of those people all declare themselves the murderer.

With Dead Man at Snakes Creek, Rob Hill once again proves to me that he is an author worth reading as this story is every bit as enthralling as any of the others I’ve read by him and once more I’m left eagerly looking forward to the release of his next book.


Friday, 22 December 2017

Lone Oak

JAMES HARDING #2
By Phillip Hardy
BHC Press/Gelan, October 2017

James Harding rides into the small town of Lone Oak and straight into trouble. Dean Morrish and his pals have been running roughshod over the townsfolk, but that is all about to come to an end. The spoiled son of the largest rancher in the area has never run into someone quite like the average-looking, sarsaparilla-drinking man on the dusty buckskin horse.

The mild-mannered stranger will allow himself to be belittled and pushed to a point. Then he pushes back, hard! But will the town of Lone Oak learn its lesson, or will James Harding finally meet his maker?

I’ve not read the first book, Vengeance is Mine, in this series but Phillip Hardy includes enough information in this one to give plenty of details as to what happened to Harding, his family and friends to fill in Harding’s backstory thus explaining how he became the man he is in this chapter of his life. 

Harding is a man who tries to live as a good Christian but also allows his darker side to emerge in an explosion of violence when required. These two sides of his character make James Harding a fascinating person to read about, especially as you can never be sure how he’ll react in any given situation. His inner conflicts between dark and light will also cause problems with developing feelings for the woman he attempts to help.

Phillip Hardy has crafted a well-structured story that revolves around a set of terrific characters. There is plenty of action and hard-hitting scenes and the outcome for some people is surprising, certainly not as expected. Even though this story contains a lot of dark elements the tale ends, as you’d expect from a Christian western, with encouraging expectations for a brighter future. But will these hopes become reality as a third book has been announced, Fool’s Gold, for a 2018 release. I for one am looking forward to finding out.



Also available as an ebook

Monday, 18 December 2017

The Indian Incident

BLADE #1
By Matt Chisholm
Piccadilly Publishing, January 2018

Originally published in 1978 by Hamlyn Paperbacks

Blade – Tough, tender and temperamental. Slow to anger, fast with a gun and no slouch with women. A man tempered by the West, dangerous living and a perpetual gamble with death.

The Women – The Indian girl: lovely waif of a grisly massacre. The Mexican girl: mettlesome as a thoroughbred filly and heiress to half New Mexico. Both of them more desirable than the women of men’s dreams.

The Killers – Drawn to gold like steel to a magnet, blind to mercy, indifferent to death, they plundered the living and the dead. The scourge of the West.

Matt Chisholm is an alias for English author Peter Watts, who also wrote westerns under a couple of other pen-names. Matt Chisholm is the name he is best known by though and he wrote both series and stand-alone titles under this pseudonym. He is also one of the authors I actively sought out each new release back in the day. For me, it is great to see Piccadilly Publishing bringing the superb Blade series back into the limelight.

At the beginning of the story we find Joe Blade shoeless, horseless and without weapons, all having been stolen from him. Blade is hunting down those responsible for his current predicament and it’s whilst doing this he stumbles onto the site of a massacre of Indians and discovers the only survivor and the action never lets up from there.

Chisholm introduces a whole load of terrific characters such as Crazy Annie, someone I don’t think any of us will forget quickly. Then there’s the half-breed, George McMasters, and a great selection of outlaws. The story switches between the various groups before they all come together for a prolonged final showdown that offers a number of twists and surprises along with a variety of deadly situations that will have you wondering how anyone can possibly escape with their lives, never-mind the gold.

If you’ve never read any of Matt Chisholm’s books, then this is a great place to introduce yourself to his work. His pacing is excellent, his characters are tough, his plots gripping, his action vivid without being too graphic and he doesn’t include explicit sex scenes and bad language is used sparingly. 

I will also add that to get the best enjoyment from the Blade series you should try to read them in order as a number of characters appear in more than one book.

Top entertainment from yesteryear that more than matches anything being written today.


Sunday, 10 December 2017

Bone Treasure

By Paul Bedford
The Crowood Press, November 2017

In a sheltered basin, high up in Colorado’s remote Rocky Mountains, two field collectors discover an awesome array of dinosaur bones. Knowing that two competing and irreconcilably hostile palaeontologists will pay big money for knowledge of such a find, the men realise that they have struck bone treasure. Unfortunately for all concerned, a supposedly extinct race of Anasazi Indians regard these relics as sacred and are prepared to slaughter anyone who tries to remove them.

Only one of the men makes it back to Denver, his hair turned prematurely white by his horrifying experiences, but what he brings with him touches off an unstoppable chain of events.

Joe eagle, a frontiersman desperately in need of money, agrees to lead a large party into the Rockies to plunder the fossil beds, but word of the find has got around and their ruthless competitors are never far away. And, somewhere up ahead, the terrifying Anasazi await them all…

From the opening scenes of almost palpable tension Paul Bedford had me hooked. His story is filled with superb characters, from the out-of-their-depth scientists to tough hired guns, the hard-as-nails Joe Eagle and the savage Anasazi I was soon wondering how many would be left alive at the end. The author also includes elements of mystery, such as why Joe Eagle needs money and who is supplying information to the rival bone hunters?

Once the searchers begin to home in on their prize the book becomes one long struggle to stay alive and the author paints some horrific scenes, not least what happens to one man caught by the Anasazi. As well as this ancient race of Indians wanting to protect what they see as their property they also set out to kill all those who venture onto the land as they need to keep their presence a secret as well as the location of the bones. You’d have thought the white men would have the advantage with their guns against the Anasazi’s stone tipped weapons but the ferocious Indians prove to be more than a match for the bone seekers.

As Joe Eagle’s party is whittled down you have to wonder how the survivors will get out with any bones assuming they get to them, as there is the second group of fossil hunters waiting to ambush them on their return journey.

So are the bones worth the cost in human life? Does anyone survive? Not for me to reveal the answers to those questions here but I will suggest you grab a copy of this book and find out for yourselves and at the same time you’ll discover why I keep reading Paul Bedford’s books and am looking forward to his next. 



Also available as an ebook

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Bugles and Blood

LEW EDEN #1
By Ben Bridges and Brent Towns
Bookends, October 2017

Lew Eden was thirteen when he killed his first man. A lot more died at his hand before he finally had his fill of blood and bullets. Then he decided to enlist in the newly-formed Seminole-Negro Scouts, hoping to do what he could to broker peace between white man and red.

But an Indian-hater named Cramer killed Lew’s Sioux woman. After that, Lew wouldn’t rest until he’d put one last man in his grave. But Fate had other ideas. Scouting for General Crook, he was to take part in the Battle of the Rosebud, where the killing started up all over again …

Two well-known authors in the western genre have teamed up to write a series of novels featuring Lew Eden, a scout first met in their Company ‘C’ series, who they’ve now decided to write a spin-off series about.

The Lew Eden books should appeal to all western readers, either those who enjoy purely imaginary tales or those that put fictional characters into true historical events. It’s the latter category that this book falls into.

The book starts with events that see Eden becoming romantically involved with a Sioux woman, Morning Dove after she nurses him to health after he's wounded in a vicious fight saving a well-known Sioux leader from being killed. After six men rape and murder Morning Dove, Eden is consumed with rage and rides out after the killers but he fails in completing his quest for vengeance and one of the killers escapes his justice and Eden finds himself scouting for Crook only to learn that the man he’s hunting is also a soldier but Eden has to keep his anger in check as more important events unfold as the army rides towards the Rosebud.

There has already been plenty of action in this very fast moving tale but the story now becomes one long fight as the soldiers find themselves facing superior numbers of warriors in a battle that they will struggle to come out of alive. 

The story is now told in chapters that are broken by headings that help keep track of which part of the battle is taking place and who is involved. The majority of characters we now read about were real people and the authors also include a lot of historical fact. The skill of the writers comes to the fore as this part of the tale could read like a history lesson but it doesn’t as they blend fact and fiction together seamlessly in a desperate fight for survival.

So does Lew Eden find the last killer of Morning Dove among all the carnage around him? I guess you’ll just have to read the book to find out. What I will add is that the Battle of the Rosebud may come to some kind of conclusion but the war isn’t over yet and the authors leave the storyline open to ensure the reader will be looking out for the second book in the series, Ride to Glory, to find out what happens next, something I for one am eager to find out.

If you have any interest in the Indian Wars and in particular The Battle of the Rosebud then this is a must read. If you just like action packed westerns that feature soldiers and Indian confrontations then grab yourself a copy of this as I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.


Sunday, 3 December 2017

A Dark Dawn in Texas

By Richard Smith
The Crowood Press, September 2017

On her deathbed, Laura Peters shocks her son by belatedly revealing that his uncle did not die alongside Paul’s father in the bloody confrontation at Gettysburg in July 1863. She urges Paul to ride west in a quest to find his relative who holds a guilty secret from those dreadful Civil War days. With mixed emotions he takes up the challenge, eventually arriving in the Texas town of Ongar Ridge, only to find himself accused of murdering the man he had been seeking.

Richard Smith’s third Black Horse Western and the second I’ve read. His first book, Revenge for a Hanging proved to be an excellent read so I had high hopes this would be a match for that in quality and entertainment value and it certainly turned out to be so.

Like in the previous book of Richard Smith’s I read this one also features a court case as Paul Peters is put on trial for killing the man he was seeking – although at the time no-one knows this was Paul’s uncle. This all leads to the reader having to wonder how Paul will ever find out what his uncle’s secret was and it soon becomes apparent that Paul will really struggle to discover why his uncle was killed and by whom.

Richard Smith includes plenty of mystery elements as to the killing of Paul's uncle that kept me turning the pages and there were soon a variety of suspects, people who seemed to want Paul out of the way too, but are these for the same reasons his uncle was killed?

There’s mistrust too. Paul only shares his relationship to the dead man with the marshal and it isn’t long before the lawman’s deputy becomes a suspect throwing doubt on whether Paul should even be trusting Marshal Rowland.

The author tells his story in an easy to read style that builds through a vicious beating, ambush and plenty of gunplay, to a final violent confrontation in increasing pace. Along the way you’ll meet a great set of characters of both sexes and those that fall into the good and bad categories of people. Even though Paul often decides to give up on his seemingly impossible quest to discover why his uncle died events keep him in Ongar Ridge and the truth finally emerges in a shocking revelation that I didn’t see coming.

So, as you can probably guess, I’ve been left looking forward to Richard Smith’s next book and can only add that if you’ve never read any of his work then this one could be the perfect place to introduce yourself to his writing.



Also available as an ebook.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

A World of Hurt

By Tim Bryant
Pinnacle, December 2017

Wilkie John Liquorish is an outlaw as unusual as his name, facing trial in 1882 Fort Worth for the deaths of sixty people and eight hundred head of cattle. Is he responsible? Not really. Is he guiltless? Not at all …

For a young man of seventeen, Wilkie John Liquorish has lived one sorry life. From his ill-fated stint in the U.S. Army to a back-breaking job as a gravedigger, Wilkie just can’t seem to catch a break. His latest gig – working a cattle drive from Mobeetie, Texas, to Fort Worth – is no exception. The food-poisoning death of a chuckwagon cook has everyone spooked, and fear spreads like a disease. Wilkie barely makes it out alive. But when he shows up in Fort Worth, he has another kind of death waiting for him – in the unlikely form of Gentleman Jack Delaney …

A fancily-dressed bounty hunter from New Orleans, Gentleman Jack is ready to nail and hang young Wilkie as soon as he arrives in town. He claims the boy is the most wanted outlaw in Texas. If Wilkie can manage to outsmart, outrun, or outgun this not-so-gentle man, he just might go down in history. Or swing from a tree. Or both …

Although Tim Bryant has had a number of books published, this, the first western to carry his name, is my introduction to his writing.

The book is written in the first person and is filled with colourful characters. Most of the story follows Wilkie John’s trial but this is broken up by many flashbacks that tell the sorry tale of how Wilkie has ended in this deadly situation. Tim Bryant builds the tension extremely well and you’ll soon be wondering how Wilkie can possibly escape with his life as Gentleman Jack and a preacher argue the points for either taking or saving his life.

Wilkie John’s backstory is one of adventure, love and violence. Wilkie has a wonderful way of getting round people who get in the way of him achieving his goals, yeap he ups and shoots them. So a white-hatted hero he isn’t.

Tim Bryant tells his story with style and includes a lot of dark humour in both Wilkie’s observations and some of the situations Wilkie finds himself in. Bryant’s descriptions are top class too, painting vivid imagery of both characters and surroundings. The author also has a number of surprises waiting in store too, but to say more would ruin the story for those intending to read it and those readers ought to include all fans of the western genre.

A World of Hurt is the first Wilkie John Western and the second, Dead and Buried is due out in June 2018 and I am certainly looking forward to reading it.


Tuesday, 7 November 2017

An Arizona Christmas

By William W. Johnstone with J.A. Johnstone
Pinnacle, November 2017

Like most families, the Jensens gather together to celebrate the holidays. This year, since half the clan is scattered across the American West, they've decided to split the difference and meet up in Tucson. Matt and Luke will be there, for sure, and maybe Ace and Chance, too. That leaves Sally, Preacher, and Smoke Jensen, who've reserved three seats on a westbound stage to make sure they don't miss out on the festivities. What could possibly go wrong? 

Mother Nature is the first to strike, dusting up the trail with a sandstorm as blinding and deadly as any northern blizzard. Then comes an Apache ambush, forcing the passengers and drivers to seek shelter in a cave. Even if Smoke and Preacher manage to shoot their way out of this, they have another big surprise waiting--a ruthless gang of outlaws after the cargo of cash on the stage, happy to slaughter anyone who tries to stop them. If the Jensens hope to save Christmas this year, they'll need to save their own lives first . . .

The seventh Johnstone book set at Christmas and the first one I’ve read. Great to see the author bringing together some of the Johnstone’s greatest characters but as expected the trail to their Christmas rendezvous doesn’t run smoothly.

Most of the story concentrates on the dangers facing Smoke, Sally and Preacher as they journey together first by train and then stagecoach, and it’s whilst travelling on the latter that most of this tale revolves. The stage is also filled with a number of interesting characters too and the author often switches between them as well as those attempting to stop one of them reaching Tucson.

With outlaws, Apaches, and Mother Nature out to destroy the stagecoach and its passengers the book offers plenty of action and there is an impressive body count. Once the travellers are pinned down in a cave the tension mounts as you’ll be wondering just how they can possibly escape.

One thing I particularly enjoyed was the names of some of the characters, Ballard and Tuttle for instance which many long-time readers of westerns will recognize as past authors of the genre. A nod to those old time pulps which is strengthened by the comments in the last part of the story about newspaper reporters and writing for those pulps.

If you’re looking for a fast read that is packed with gunplay then this is certainly worth adding to your ‘want to read’ list. 


  

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Pirates of the Desert

By C.J. Sommers
Hale, December 2015

The locals call the sand dunes of the Arizona Territory south-land a white ocean. One man, Barney Shivers, carries the comparison a little further when he decides to monopolize the shipping industry. Ordering his men to attack any freight shipping that he does not control, goods are stolen and held to ransom on the high seas.

No one dares to fight back until one little old lady Lolly Amos, stands up to the bully. When the local law refuses to help, Lolly contacts her nephew, Captain Parthenon Downs of the Arizona Rangers. Restless to leave his desk duty behind, Captain Downs eagerly takes on the challenge. Little does he realize that his decision will draw him into a war between two bands of pirates, and a young woman with a Winchester rifle….

C.J. Sommers has created a wonderful cast of characters that will find themselves taking part in a lethal game, all due to the price of a bag of sugar.

Good, bad, male or female, the author soon has you rooting for or against them. The plot moves forward at an extremely fast pace and there are a few twists to the tale waiting to surprise the reader with the revelations they bring, not least as to the real identity of some of these characters.

It’s fascinating to see how Parth will bring down these land pirates, even though he knows, or believes he knows, who they are, getting the proof to arrest them is the hard part. Proving their guilt leads to plenty of gunplay as this tale weaves its way to its deadly conclusion.

I’ve read quite a few books by the author behind the C.J. Sommers pseudonym, that person being Paul Lederer who also wrote other Black Horse Westerns as Owen G. Irons and Logan Winters, and I’ve yet to come across one that I haven’t thoroughly enjoyed. If you’ve yet to try anything by this author then this book would certainly be a great place to introduce yourself to his writing, and I’m sure after you’ve read it you’ll be hunting for his other books too.


Monday, 30 October 2017

Spanish Gold

BLAZE! #18
By Ben Boulden
Rough Edges Press, October 2017

The only thing Kate and J.D. Blaze had in mind when they rode into the settlement of Unity, Utah, was celebrating their wedding anniversary. But then J.D. is forced to kill a corrupt deputy in order to save a woman’s life, and suddenly the Old West’s only husband-and-wife gunfighters are plunged into a deadly mystery involving a sinister albino, missing men, and a lost treasure in Spanish gold.

This is Ben Boulden’s second entry in this fast moving series and it’s every bit as good as his first (#15: Red Rock Rampage).

The Blaze! books aren’t very long, this one coming in at 140 pages, but Ben Boulden still manages to pack a lot of action and intrigue into his story. His characters are well thought out and all have important parts to play during the search for Emma’s husband - Emma being the young woman J.D. saves from the unwanted advances of the deputy at the beginning.

Kate Blaze is just as tough as her husband and it’s often her that makes the major decisions as to just what trail they will follow in order to solve their current problems. She also has a tender side as we find out when they take a young boy under their wing.

The Blaze! books are marketed as being an adult western series but please don’t let that put you off trying this one if you don’t like explicit sex in your reading material. There is only one short chapter that deals with this aspect of the tale and that can easily be skipped without ruining the rest of the story.

Ben Boulden writes in a very readable style, never letting up on the rapid pace that leads to a gripping final gunfight that answers all the questions that have risen before this deadly confrontation. Once again I’m left looking forward to Ben Boulden’s next entry in this series.


Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Remington 1894

By William W. Johnstone with J.A. Johnstone
Pinnacle, November 2017

As a teenager, John McMasters won the Medal of Honor as a sniper for the Union Army during the Civil War. Thirty years later, McMasters lives a peaceful life in the Arizona Territory, raising a family and running horses. These days, he needs eyeglasses to hit a distant target. But that doesn’t stop his wife and four children from buying him a special present for his fiftieth birthday: a beautiful new Remington shotgun. Turns out, he’s going to need it . . .

The Butcher gang has come to town. By the time McMasters learns of their arrival, they’ve invaded his ranch and slaughtered his family, hightailing it out of the country. McMasters wants revenge, using his new shotgun to hunt down those butchers like the animals they are, but he can’t do it alone. His friend, Deputy U.S. Marshal Daniel Kilpatrick, is hauling six of the deadliest criminals in the country to a prison in Yuma. They’re cutthroat killers, every bit as ruthless as the Butchers. But when McMasters points his Remington at their heads, they will become his killers . . .

A stand-alone novel from the Johnstone’s, which is a straight-forward tale of revenge. This story rattles along at a great pace, switching from one person to another regularly, as well as jumping back in time to fill in some of the backstory of a number of characters. These past events told in passages presented in italics.

The author has created a terrific bunch of characters on all sides. The change in McMasters is fascinating to read, as he goes from a man at peace with the world to one consumed by hatred and the lust for vengeance that will see him become a wanted man alongside those he frees to help him in his deadly mission.

His posse of prisoners include a broad mix of personalities, and more than one of these people would like nothing better than to kill one or two of their traveling companions, and of course most want to be free of McMasters too. How McMasters manages to keep himself awake so they don’t jump him during the night is both gruesome and ingenious. A neat touch is that one of these prisoners is a woman who seems to have a personal grudge against the Butchers too.

The book begins mid gunfight and then goes back to before the massacre of McMasters’ family and it takes nearly all the rest of the story to get back to that opening point. The pace is breathless, the action vicious and graphic. Part of the fun for me was wondering just who would be alive at the end, and that included McMasters. Of course I can’t answer that here but I will say that everyone who enjoys violent westerns full of brutal characters will find this to be a thoroughly entertaining read. This book certainly confirms why the Johnstone books are so popular with readers today and left me eager to pick up another as soon as I can.


Saturday, 21 October 2017

Days of Evil

MAGGIE O’BANNEN 1
By Joe Slade
Piccadilly Publishing, Nov. 2017

Kidnapped at the age of sixteen, Maggie has survived the fickle temper of notorious outlaw Mad Dog Frank O’Bannen for seven years. Now he is dead and she is about to find out that there are worse ways to live and die than as the wife of a wanted man.

Frank had prepared her as best he could for what would follow and when she leaves her prison in the hills. She has the blood of three men on her hands and knows the feel of hot lead. Soon her hard-won freedom is in doubt and she finds herself pursued by Frank’s old partner, a man with a vicious reputation and more than one score to settle.

Maggie has Frank’s gun, her keen wits and new friends to help her, but will they be enough to save her from the brutality of a maniac bent on revenge?

As well as bringing past western series back in the electronic format, Piccadilly Publishing also produces new works and Days of Evil is one of the latter. It is also the first to appear with the author name of Joe Slade.

It’s no secret that the name Joe Slade is a pseudonym and that the author behind it is Joanne Walpole who has had a number of excellent westerns published under another pen-name, that of Terry James and I’m sure that fans of those books will be eagerly looking forward to this one when it is released in a couple of weeks.

So is this new book similar to those put out under the Terry James name? The answer is both yes and no. Yes, because it is told in the same gripping, easy to read, style that this author is known for, and that the story is well constructed and filled with excellent characters – both good and bad. No, due to the fact that this tale is much grittier than Jo’s previous works and contains hard hitting graphic violence.

Maggie O’Bannen is a fascinating character, a victim that has the chance to rise up and take control of her destiny. But this is no easy task for she will have to face some savage hardships to gain her freedom. The opening sequence of Maggie digging a grave really sets the tone of this book well and it isn’t long before Maggie finds herself confronting a killer who likes nothing better than murdering women with his bare hands.

Maggie isn’t alone in her fight as she soon finds herself sided with a terrific cast of misfits. Events escalate quickly to a final savage showdown and before the end the author certainly makes Maggie suffer. Maggie also has a tough decision to make regarding her past and future.

This book is definitely a page-turner that I couldn’t put down. Jo has created a superb new western heroine in Maggie O’Bannen and I’ve been left hungry for the second book in the series and can only hope it isn’t too long before it appears.


Wednesday, 18 October 2017

The Holmbury County Seat War

By K.S. Stanley
The Crowood Press, September 2017

Who really was involved in the brutal massacre of a small village at the start of the American Civil War and what became of them? In this bitter tale, the truth doesn’t finally emerge until 1887 when good men turned bad fight ruthlessly to ensure that their town is elected as the Holmbury County Seat.

This is the second Black Horse Western to carry the author name of K.S. Stanley and the first I’ve read by this writer.

There’s a fair amount of action as people getting close to the truth of that long ago massacre end up with a bullet through their forehead, put there by an unknown assassin whose identity is one of the mysteries that make up this plot. Mostly this is a tale of political intrigue and hidden secrets that finally become a race against time to stop vote fixing through intimidation that sees some unusual items being used to halt the bullies crossing a river.

Lots of terrific characters, many seemingly not being completely truthful about who they really are or what they are really after, meant there were lots of plotlines to hold my attention in this well-crafted tale. There was one little mistake, when it was said that some messages would be sent via the pony express which wasn’t around at the time this story takes place, but this small slip-up didn’t spoil my enjoyment of this book.

K.S. Stanley’s writing is extremely readable, the story being told in 19 chapters, each of which is broken down into many different scenes which in turn often sees a change in who is the featured character. 

The Holmbury County Seat War is one of the longer Black Horse Westerns so you certainly get value for your money.


Sunday, 15 October 2017

Hell Hath No Fury

JOHN HAWK #1
By Charles G. West
Pinnacle, November 2017

To make a new life, Jamie Pratt and his young bride join a westward wagon train bound for the Rocky Mountains. They get as far as Helena when their unscrupulous wagon master deserts them, leaving them as good as dead in a godforsaken, blood-scorched land. Even still, the other settlers agree to set stakes where they are, but Jamie and his bride press on towards the Bitterroot Valley, deep into Sioux territory.

They never come out the other side.

Jamie’s brother Monroe enlists the legendary scout John Hawk to find them. A hardened veteran of the range, Hawk is living off the land in a little cabin on the Boulder River when Monroe comes begging for his help. To rescue Jamie and his bride, Hawk – and his guns – will come out fighting, riding fast and fierce into deadly odds. For any other man, it’s a suicide mission, for Hawk, delivering justice is what he was born to do… 

Charles G. West starts this first book in a new series by introducing his readers to Hawk and a number of other characters that will have major roles to play as the story develops. These people include another scout, some soldiers and some Lakota and Blackfoot warriors. It’s after this that Monroe arrives and the search for his missing brother and his bride begins.

The hunt for Jamie and Rachel is actually just a small part of this story but the author links all the events in this tale by more than just Hawk, to say more would have to include major spoilers so I won’t add anything else about this here.

Later, when Hawk finds himself trying to solve the mystery of some cattle rustling, we meet the character that I believe the title of the book comes from, and what a terrific adversary she proves to be. The action content of the story really picks up when her family enter the tale.

Fans of Charles G. West’s many other books should enjoy this, as I did, and like me be left looking forward to the second John Hawk novel, No Justice in Hell, which has a publication date of May. If you’ve never read any of Mr. West’s work then Hell Hath No Fury could be the ideal place to discover his excellent ability to write terrific westerns. 


Sunday, 8 October 2017

Widowmaker Jones

By Brett Cogburn
Pinnacle, August 2016

With a bag full of gold dust, Newt “Widowmaker” Jones is set for life. Then he makes his first mistake, trusting a cheerful stranger. By dawn the stranger – Javier Cortina, the son of the famous Texas border bandit Juan “Red” Cortina – is gone. So is the gold. So are Newt’s horse and even his fearsome Winchester rifle. It’s enough to make a man want vengeance. And vengeance will be Newt’s.

Newt chases Cortina into Mexico, where the man is legendary for the horses he’s stolen, the women he’s bedded, and the men he’s killed. As for Newt, he has a unique talent for choosing the wrong partners, from an angry, addled judge named Roy Bean to a brother and sister pair of circus Gypsies, Fonzo Grey and Buckshot Annie. The more Newt pursues the cunning and deadly Cortina, the angrier he gets, until somewhere on the border the whole crazy journey explodes into an all-out battle of bullets and blood….

This is the first book I have read by Brett Cogburn and it certainly left me eager to hunt out his previous works and I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for any future publications, especially in this series (the second book Buzzard Bait is already out and a third, Gunpowder Express, is listed for a February release).

Cogburn has created a wonderful set of characters for this book and switches between Newt and the Gypsies as misfortunes befall them, these hardships putting them on converging trails. Cogburn’s portrayal of Judge Roy Bean is top class, he’s a colourful character whose court hearings had me laughing out loud, and he certainly painted some vivid imagery in my mind’s eye, such as riding his horse with a cockerel perched behind him.

Newt is a great lead character who earned the name “Widowmaker” (a nickname he hates) as a fist-fighter and due to this he is recognized every now and again, usually at the most inappropriate moments.

Cogburn's prose is extremely readable, and he mixes plot twists, action and plenty of humour perfectly making this a very enjoyable read.


Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Legacy of a Gunfighter

By Terry James
The Crowood Press, September 2017

Following his release from prison, all gunfighter Luke Nicholls wants is revenge against William Grant, the man who almost killed him. Unfortunately, when the two meet, things don’t go the way Luke had imagined. Struck down by a mysterious malady, his confidence is shaken. More complications arise when Kate Portillo, a woman out to avenge the murder of her husband, tries to enlist his help. He refuses, determined not to lose sight of his own ambition, but Grant has other ideas. Dragged into a fight for survival, the odds are suddenly stacked even higher against Luke. As outside forces emerge and the game starts to take shape, Luke realizes that his part in it was never in doubt. This is the legacy of a gunfighter and he will have to dig deep to claim his reward.

Having read all of Terry James’ previous Black Horse Westerns I was looking forward to the publication of this one. Almost as soon as it arrived I began to read it and was soon swept up into the story, a tale filled with intrigue that had me wondering as to just what was going on. Not only to what Nicholls' illness was but as to just who was pulling the strings to the unfolding deadly events.

Even when the identity of the person behind the twisting storyline was revealed there were still many questions to be answered, especially what would happen if this mysterious figure managed to get everyone together to play out the lethal game. I can’t really say any more about the plot without including major spoilers so will conclude my thoughts on the plot here.

It’s no secret that Terry James is a pseudonym used by Joanne Walpole and once more she has come up with a gripping tale, fascinating characters of both sexes, well-crafted action scenes and believable dialogue. All written in very readable prose.

On finishing this book I was left hoping it won’t be too long before her next work hits the shelves.

Legacy of a Gunfighter is a book that should be enjoyed by all fans of the western genre.


Tuesday, 26 September 2017

The Impostor

THE BADGE #7
By Bill Reno
Bantam, October 1988

Outlaw Jack Decker and his gang are in Dodge City, and they’re out for blood – gunfighter Johnny Valentine’s blood. When Decker makes the mistake of gunning down Valentine’s brother instead, Johnny vows to find Decker and make him pay. Valentine dons the badge of a U.S. marshal and heads out onto the range, looking for Decker’s murderous gang. But he finds more trouble than he bargains for: a killer tornado, a renegade pack of bloodthirsty Kiowas, and a scorned woman who has vowed to find Johnny Valentine and put a bullet between his eyes.

The Badge is a series of 24 books that are linked only by the fact that their heroes wear a badge of some kind, although I believe one or two characters do appear in more than one story. Each book, therefore is a stand-alone tale.

Bill Reno is a pseudonym used by Lew A. Lacy and he is an author that knows how to write page-turners that capture the readers’ imagination easily through excellent characterization, visual descriptions of both landscape and action, and with gripping story-lines that twist and turn and offer surprising outcomes for some of his characters, both good and bad.

The Impostor has as its main theme the desire for revenge and this drives a number of different people, including Suzanne Lane, whose need for vengeance is as just as that of Johnny Valentine’s. When Valentine takes on the identity of a dead lawman it isn’t long before he’s riding alongside the unsuspecting Suzanne, and the story builds to the moment Suzanne discovers his deception superbly. The need to find out how she reacts to this discovery, especially as she’s falling in love with this fake lawman, the man she’s vowed to kill, is what makes this book so hard to put down.

The Badge books are hard-hitting, action-packed and often quite dark in tone. You can never be sure who will be left alive at the end either. All this adds up to compelling reading that leaves me eager to pick up the next in the series straight away. 

Sunday, 17 September 2017

The Boot Hill Breed

By Ned Oaks
The Crowood Press, November 2016

Upon learning his mother is seriously ill, Jack Marric leaves his carefree life in California to return home to the tiny village of Jasper, Oregon. He is a quiet man, slow to anger but good with a pistol, who minds his own business and doesn’t look for trouble. But before he reaches Jasper, he is forced into a shootout in a saloon, leaving two of the notorious Harper brothers dead.

Back home, Marric reunites with his family, and he is particularly happy when he learns his sister is engaged to the town marshal. Then some local ranch hands kill the marshal, reigniting an old feud between Marric and their boss, Chance Elson.

As Marric takes over as lawman, he is determined to bring the murderers to justice. Little does he know that one of the surviving Harper brothers is stalking him, just waiting for the opportunity to take vengeance on Jack Marric… and his family.

Ned Oaks doesn’t give his hero Jack Marric an easy time as he has to endure physical and mental pain in a story that revolves around different characters desires for revenge, which will eventually include Marric being driven by the need for vengeance whilst hunting for his sister’s kidnapper.

This book starts with gunplay, then dips slightly in the action stakes as the author paints a picture of happy family life that will be ripped apart violently and that is when the pace picks up again and it becomes an action-packed tale again and by the bloody end all the story threads will be tied up neatly.

Ned Oaks writing is extremely readable, he has created a great set of characters that will keep you turning the pages as you’ll want to find out what happens to them. The Boot Hill Breed is a western that I believe should be enjoyed by all fans of the genre. 


Monday, 11 September 2017

The Old Wolves

RUSTY SPURR #2
By Peter Brandvold
Berkley, August 2013

Deputy United States Marshal Spurr Morgan’s ticker isn’t what it used to be. After Spurr suffers a heart attack on the job, the chief marshal convinces him it’s time to step down. Unwilling to go out on a sour note, Spurr asks for one last assignment.

The chief sends him to bring a prisoner back to Denver from the Medicine Bow Mountains. The mission seems routine for an old hand like Spurr, until he discovers that the criminal in question is his old nemesis, Boomer Drago – the former lawman turned train robber that Spurr’s been trying to run down for years. Now, with Drago’s gang on his trail and a young girl named Greta needing help out of the mountains, Spurr is ready to face his dangerous final job and prove that even old wolves still have a mean bite…

There might only be two books dedicated solely to Spurr Morgan, but followers of Peter Brandvold’s work will know that this likeable old lawman has also appeared in a number of the authors other books under his own name and his pseudonym Frank Leslie. I for one am glad that Peter managed to write a book that brings an end to Spurr’s career before Berkley stopped publishing westerns so that Spurr didn’t become another hero that just vanished as a publisher cancelled a series without giving the author a chance to bring about a satisfying conclusion to his characters escapades.

This book offers everything Brandvold’s followers could ask for; a fast paced plot, tough characters – both male and female, some explicit sex, plenty of brutal action and occasional moments of humour. In fact there are some great one-liners to be found in this book, mainly coming from Morgan or Drago as they reflect on old age.

So does Spurr survive this assignment or does he meet his end by bullet or heart attack? I guess you’ll just have to read the book to find out, and hopefully enjoy this excellent story as much as I did. 


Thursday, 31 August 2017

Bearer of the Pipe

THE SPANISH BIT SAGA #24
By Don Coldsmith
Paperback edition, Bantam, March 1996

From his auspicious birth, Wolf Pup has demonstrated an instinct for the ways of the wild. Yet it is in the lodge of his grandfather Singing Wolf that he seeks his true calling: medicine man and future bearer of the story skins, the pipe, and the sacred Spanish bit. But before he can claim his destiny Wolf Pup must undertake a perilous vision quest. He must learn to see through the eyes of the deer, soar with the red-tailed hawk, sit coiled with the snake in the grass. Then a whirlwind of terror, an instant of destruction, will leave his village in ruins and chase the life-giving herds of buffalo across the horizon and beyond the People’s reach. Suddenly Wolf Pup discovers the burden of being Pipe Bearer may require the most profound and painful sacrifice of all.

As this is a generational saga it comes as no surprise that Don Coldsmith has to return to similar themes in some of the entries to this superb series. Here it’s the vision quests and the calling of a medicine man. Coldsmith tells this kind of tale so well, confusing both his characters and readers with the true meaning of these vision quests and only revealing the truth when he is good and ready.

Wolf Pup has a distraction though, a girl he hoped to marry someday is courting another, so jealously is an emotion to cope with, something that Pup struggles with. These feelings beautifully written and make Wolf Pup so very human.

Don Coldsmith also describes events in such a way that you’ll feel you are sharing the dangers, excitement and wonders with his characters. The whirlwind build up and destructive force being one of the highlights.

As I said the story may revisit certain themes we’ve read about in this series before, but Coldsmith combines them with new elements that makes the tale seem fresh and new making this a worthy entry into what has to be one of the best, if not the best, series written about the native Americans.