Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Blood Duel

A Ralph Compton novel by David Robbins
Signet, December 2007

Jeeter Frost may look like a mouse, but he’s as murderous as a lion. Now this serial killer has reporters on his tail wanting to know who the “Missouri Man-Killer” really is. Jeeter learns the newshounds are painting him larger than life—literally. To get to the bottom of his newfound fame, he has to tackle his one weakness and learn how to read. But what his teacher, Ernestine, gives him is more than he ever expected… 

Meanwhile, the one-horse town of Coffin Varnish gets the idea to make a buck off Frost’s bloodshed by putting the dead bodies on display. When visitors run dry, they invite more gunslingers to duel it out…for a fee, of course. As far as Jeeter’s concerned, all the funny business takes the shine off of Coffin Varnish—but soon he has a starring role in a show that’s deadlier than anyone bargained for…

This book is filled with great characters, Jeeter Frost, Ernestine, the weary lawman Seamus Glickman, and the leading citizens of Coffin Varnish. None of them are overly admirable people but they are definitely fascinating and their interactions and dealings make for a terrific read.

The story is fast moving, action packed, and contains many moments of humour. The dying town of Coffin Varnish is wonderfully described and you can feel the despair of those who live there. Greed and dreams of greatness fuel the motives of many of the characters. The mayors’ disenchantment with Dodge City – and all who live there – allows for some wonderful dialogue exchanges.

Blood Duel is a well-plotted and beautifully paced book that is virtually impossible to put down as everyone is drawn to Coffin Varnish for the final violent showdown.

Blood Duel is a book that I believe should be enjoyed by all fans of western fiction. 


Monday, 2 April 2018

THREE CROSS and DEPUTY OF VIOLENCE

SHAWN STARBUCK 2 & 3
By Ray Hogan
Piccadilly Publishing, March 2018

THREE CROSS - Shawn Starbuck had covered thousands of rugged miles through the wild Southwest, in search of his lost brother Ben. Now at last, he had a real clue. The end seemed almost in sight... Then Starbuck met up with Jim Kelso, a man who desperately needed his help. Kelso’s ranch, Three Cross, was besieged by ruthless marauders who would stop at nothing until the ranch was theirs. What were they after? What was the priceless secret of Three Cross? Starbuck swore to find out, though it might mean losing the trail to Ben—and his own neck.

DEPUTY OF VIOLENCE - For years Starbuck had searched the gruelling trails and blistering deserts for his brother Ben. Just when it seemed that the long search had ended, Starbuck stumbled through the gates of a hidden valley. Its inhabitants were being held captive in the clutches of a gang of ruthless renegades. And they weren't about to let a man like Starbuck go about his business - the only way they'd let him leave the valley was in a pine box …

Having enjoyed the first two books in the Shawn Starbuck series so much, I just had to read these as soon as Piccadilly Publishing made them available as ebooks. Three Cross was originally published in 1970 and Deputy of Violence in 1971. I didn’t intend to read them one after the other but just couldn’t help myself as Ray Hogan once again captured my imagination with his superb storytelling.

Both tales move forward at a rapid pace, contain lots of action, including fist fights which one would expect when you find out Starbuck is a trained boxer. They are both filled with excellent characterization and include plenty of twists and turns, many of which I didn’t see coming.  

Three Cross pulled me into the story with its mystery elements of why someone is out to kill Jim Kelso and what they hoped to gain from doing so. Then there is the question of how Starbuck will win over Kelso's daughter who has taken an instant dislike to him. My need to find out the answers to these questions and more kept me turning the pages and I read this story in one sitting.

Deputy of Violence starts exceptionally well with an extremely gripping sequence telling of Starbuck’s ride into a seemingly deserted town. This scene filled with atmosphere that takes on a creepy tone when Starbuck meets the man running the hotel. As well as battling a gang of outlaws single-handedly Starbuck will also have to deal with his feelings towards a young woman who wants him to take her away from the hidden valley where the town is located. Of the four Shawn Starbuck books I’ve read so far, this one is my favourite.

Roll-on May, when Piccadilly Publishing will release the next two books in the series.


Sunday, 18 March 2018

The Man Who Burned Hell!

By Sam Clancy
The Crowood Press, February 2018

The little town was Serenity: in name and nature. Then the railroad and miners came, dragging violence and death behind them. Renamed Hell, the sleepy town changed under the rule of Ike Cordis.

Known as The Devil, Cordis controlled The Three Horsemen, the fastest guns in town.

Long forgotten was the fourth horseman – a man riding a blue roan. A man determined to make The Devil burn in Hell!

The third book from Sam Clancy once more features United States Deputy Marshal Josh Ford, son of Bass Reeves. You don’t need to have read either of the previous novels as this is pretty much a stand-alone story. 

Sam Clancy is a pseudonym used by Brent Towns and he starts this book with a prologue that lasts a couple of pages and ends with the line, ‘What the hell have you done?’ Combined with the fiery scene that Bass finds himself riding in to, which leads to him uttering those quoted words, how can any reader not want to find out too?

The author knows how to pace a story well, has created a terrific cast of characters of both sexes and has come up with a hard-hitting plot that demands you keep reading. There is also a further complication for Ford as he finds his former lover in town. Action comes thick and fast, meaning there is never a dull moment in this excellent tale before it ends in a dramatic and superbly told final showdown.

I never got around to reading the earlier Josh Ford books, Valley of Thunder and Even Marshals Hang! but on the strength of this entry into the series I must rectify that oversight as soon as possible.


Thursday, 15 March 2018

Hot Lead - issue one



Issue one of Hot Lead, a new hardcopy western fanzine is now available via Amazon.

This first issue contains 60 pages and all about the books written by a group of writers known today as The Piccadilly Cowboys. Inside you will find an interview with Terry Harknett, who wrote mostly as George G. Gilman and under this pseudonym put out the following three series, Edge, Adam Steele and The Undertaker.

You’ll also find detailed looks at both Herne the Hunter and Crow, along with a review of one book from every Piccadilly Cowboy series.

Hot Lead has been put together by editor Justin Marriott, ghost editor Paul Bishop with contributions from myself, Steve Myall.

Issue two is almost ready to go and will feature the Art of the Western and issue three will be about the American Adult Westerns.

So, please grab a copy and help make this fanzine a success.


Monday, 12 March 2018

West of Fort Laramie

BALL CREEK ZACH #1
By Steve Ritchie
September 2017

Zach Fugate came home from the war to the mountains of Kentucky, only to be greeted with hostility, because he had fought for the North. So, to avoid drawing his family into a shooting feud, he loaded a canoe with trade-goods and his few belongings and headed west for the Black Hills of the Dakotas.

He left Ball Creek to avoid difficulties, but no matter where his travels take him or how hard he tries to avoid it, trouble seems to always be waiting for Ball Creek Zach. Nevertheless, romance blooms and new friendships are made as gunsmoke hangs in the air and blood covers the ground from St. Joseph to Fort Laramie and back.

A book of adventure and discovery. A tale that tells of Ball Creek Zach finding a place to set up a new home that also contains riches of more than one kind. Steve Ritchie’s descriptions of this hidden valley paint vivid imagery that place the reader right there, experiencing the wonders and grandeur of nature as if you were standing right beside Fugate.

Ritchie also has the ability to create believable characters and many of these will become new friends for Zach, one he hopes to settle down with.

Along the way Zach comes across those who want what he has, those who just like to push others around, and these are dealt with expertly and swiftly. Ritchie’s action sequences being well told and filled with tension.

I’ve purposely been a bit vague in revealing too much about the story as I don’t want to give anything away to those intending to read this book. 

The author also plants the seeds for storylines that could be developed in the sequel, plots of not just hope and happiness but also of confrontation that could threaten Zach’s new life in the worst way possible. Hopefully I will get around to finding out soon as the sequel to this story Return to the Sweetwater, was also published in 2017.


Thursday, 1 March 2018

Three Graves to a Showdown

THE UNDERTAKER #4:
By George G. Gilman
NEL, January 1982

Brought up with death, he learned to kill.

Suddenly there were a lot of folks wanting to meet up with Barnaby Gold.

The man on the Trans-Territorial Stage for a start. He got his meeting – a short one. One item only on the agenda and a final conclusion. Very final.

The woman, too. She wanted a meeting, though of a rather different sort. She was luckier. Got what she seemed to be looking for.

But the final meeting was the one that Gold himself wanted. One he’d been seeking for a very long time. No ordinary meeting. Not when the preparations included three new coffins and three freshly-dug graves.

Barnaby Gold, The Undertaker, is perhaps George G. Gilman’s coldest character, a man who will stop at nothing to achieve his aims, as he points out during this story, there are ‘just two kinds of men I kill. Those that are trying to kill me. And those that get in the way of me doing what I want to do.’

Gilman includes enough backstory to fill in those who haven’t read the previous books to explain why Gold has a ten-thousand-dollar bounty on his head, which in turn enlightens new readers as to what drives the man known as The Undertaker towards the final confrontation he engineers, and this is done in a macabre style that makes for a dramatic last showdown.

The Undertaker is, perhaps, Gilman’s least known western series, coming some years after Edge and Adam Steele. This, the fourth book was meant to be the last and the ending certainly reads like it could have been, and for me would have made for an excellent conclusion to the series, but the publisher persuaded the author to write two more.

Like Edge with the razor he carries behind his neck and Steele with his stick-pin and thugee scarf, Barnaby Gold has an unusual weapon, a swivel Peacemaker, and he also has another gimmick; his screw together shovel that he uses to bury all those he kills, in fact insists on doing so. 

Filled with tough-talking and acting characters this story races along at great pace, offering a couple of surprising revelations along the way. For those who have read the other Gilman series’, you’ll find less of the groan inducing puns, and the graphic violence somewhat toned down, but that is not a criticism in any way for this book is highly entertaining and a must read for all Gilman fans.



Friday, 23 February 2018

McClain

By Will Keen
The Crowood Press, February 2018

Deputy Marshal McClain is found in his home, kneeling over his dead wife’s body, holding the bloody knife that had killed her. Accused of her murder, he escapes from jail and stumbles across evidence pointing to her killers. So begins a long manhunt that takes him from Arizona to the Texas Gulf Coast and a town on the shores of Laguna Madre. There tangling with the Skeltons, a family of bootleggers, brings McClain more startling information that sees him heading back to Arizona. Tormented by guilt, he at lasts meets his wife’s killer, and deals with him in a way he would never have expected.

A tale that offers questions almost from the very first word that will sweep you up into the storyline with ease and keep you turning the pages as McClain tracks the Skeltons and the death toll mounts. Of course, you will have your own ideas as to who the killer is, but the author includes enough twists and turns to make you doubt your deductions. To say anymore about this aspect of the story would be a major spoiler so that’s all you’re getting from me about the killer’s identity.

McClain makes for a likable hero, one who isn’t above making mistakes which lead to him suffering both mentally and physically. The conclusion is both hard-hitting and apt, leaving me feeling extremely satisfied with how the author decided to end this story.

Will Keen is one of a number of pseudonyms used by John Paxton Sheriff, an author that I have read many times and one that I know will provide me with a very entertaining read. His expertly crafted plots, well-drawn characters, bloody violence and unforeseen surprises combine to make his books must reads. Each time I finish one I’m left looking forward to his next release, and that never comes fast enough for me. 


Saturday, 17 February 2018

A Sidekick's Tale

By Elisabeth Grace Foley
Published, November 2017

Illustrations by Annie Grubb

Meredith Fayett needed to marry someone before the week was out or she would lose her ranch. It sounded simple, so ranch hand Chance Stevens agreed to take on the job, in spite of his friend Marty’s warnings that it could only lead to trouble. But even Marty, a loyal though opinionated sidekick, couldn’t have predicted the mayhem that ensues when his own eccentric relatives appear on the scene, dragging Chance, Marty, and Meredith into the latest skirmish in a long running family feud.

What follows is a hilarious tangle involving an emerald ring, a fearsome aunt, a scheming suitor, and a term of runaway mules – by the end of which Chance finds that even a marriage just on paper has its complications, and that it never hurts to have a good sidekick.

Elisabeth Grace Foley takes the age-old plot of a young, pretty, girl about to lose her ranch to the bank, and comes up with a fresh, and extremely enjoyable, approach to resolving this problem.

Elisabeth’s character studies are superbly portrayed and the story is beautifully told through Marty, and it’s his observations that offer most of the witty and laugh aloud moments that come thick and fast throughout this fun read.

Marty’s extended family and their polite generational feud provide the complications to what should have been a straightforward solution to retaining the ranch and I don’t think any reader will be able to forget Aunt Bertha for a long time. 

There are also a number of surprises that offer some great plot twists that will have you wondering how the lead characters are going to solve them satisfactory.

I’ve read a number of Elisabeth Grace Foley’s stories, and reviewed them on Western Fiction Review, and like those I found this one to be as thoroughly entertaining as any of them. In fact I’m even thinking it’s time I read her non-western books too.


Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Wanted: Dead

MAGGIE O’BANNEN #2
By Joe Slade
Piccadilly Publishing, April 2018 

‘Frank O’Bannen wanted five thousand dollars to let you go. I offered him ten thousand to kill you.’

Kidnapped at sixteen, Maggie O’Bannen returns home after seven years to be reunited with her father. No longer the idealistic girl she once was, her return is meant to help put her demons to rest. Instead, it sets in motion a series of events that will put her on a collision course with trouble, and this time, Maggie has no qualms about speeding towards it.

Discovering who was behind her abduction is just the beginning. Murder with no apparent motive and no suspect soon brings her under the scrutiny of the local sheriff. As the body count rises, Maggie fights for her life against a foe who will stop at nothing to win.

As events escalate, Maggie will need to rely on her friends more then ever before if she is to survive. But at what cost?

After the excellent first book I’ve been eagerly looking forward to the second entry into this series and the author has once again written a superb story that is, perhaps, even better than the pervious tale. I say perhaps because that will be down to individual taste as that opening story is a lot more graphic in its descriptions of violence and in this one it’s been toned down a little. Don’t get me wrong, that isn’t a criticism in any way, and there is certainly some very hard hitting bloody action to be found in this story, especially towards the end that will satisfy all readers who like this kind of content in their reading material. 

This time around Joe Slade includes a perfect blend of murder mystery into the story that never loses its western atmosphere and this very welcome element grabs hold of the reader urging you to keep turning the pages as you will want to discover who is poisoning Maggie’s father, and more importantly why. There are also numerous attempts on Maggie’s life and this brings forward additional questions of whether this is the same person who is slowly killing her father or is it someone else? All this makes for some gripping reading.

Like in the first book, Maggie must suffer some brutality, and not all her friends will escape unscathed. The final confrontation makes for an exciting and satisfying conclusion to this very fast paced tale and, once again, leaves me impatiently waiting for the third book to be released.



Sunday, 4 February 2018

THE RIMROCKER and THE OUTLAWED

SHAWN STARBUCK 1 & 2
By Ray Hogan
Piccadilly Publishing; January 2018

THE RIMROCKER – It was more than Shawn Starbuck had reckoned for. Unceasingly he had searched for his brother – a legacy at stake for them both – asking endless questions on numberless trails, in sun baked-towns, at desolate huts and sprawling ranches . . . and now it seemed, at long last, his search would end. Only it wasn’t that simple. Suddenly there were three desperate men on the scene – cutthroats and renegades – each staunchly determined to see Starbuck dead. If they couldn’t do the job, the richest man in the territory would hire gunslingers who could. Starbuck had a choice. He could turn tail, clear out, and save his hide. But he wasn’t the kind of man who dodged trouble – no matter what the odds.

THE OUTLAWED – Starbuck had ridden endless miles over the trackless southwest on an unending quest for his brother. Now he was almost on the heels of the man who might be Ben. But deep in the wilds of Arizona, Starbuck stopped to aid a stranger against savage Apaches, a man on a mysterious mission of his own, a man who led Starbuck into a web of vengeance and bloody violence.

Piccadilly Publishing continue their own quest to bring back excellent westerns from the past so that those who may have missed them the first time around can discover new authors or heroes. This is the case for me. I have long been aware of Ray Hogan, and his twenty-four-book series published in the 1970’s featuring Shawn Starbuck, but have never got around to reading these books, or any others by this author. Packaging two books in each ebook edition at very attractive prices made it a perfect opportunity for me to try Ray Hogan’s work and I’m extremely glad I did.

The first thing that struck me was how well these books, both originally published in 1970, stand up with those being published today. True, Starbuck may have a very obvious belief in the difference between right and wrong, whereas modern western writers often grey that area, but this was one of the things that appealed to me about Starbuck. The fact that he won’t back down until justice is served as he sees it should be is a strong and memorable trait of the character.

As expected the first book tells of Starbuck’s past, of why he is hunting his brother. It also explains Starbuck’s ability of using his fists and this type of fighting features heavily in both these stories, as I imagine it will in the rest of the series. Both tales seem to be straight-forward in plot but then Hogan injects twists that took me by surprise and heightened my enjoyment of these well written and very readable books.

It is rare for me to read two books by the same author one after the other, but on finishing The Rimrocker I just had to dive straight into The Outlawed and on finishing the second story I found myself wondering how it is I’ve only just discovered this terrific series and author and now I’m chomping at the bit waiting for the next two books to be published, and as it seems Piccadilly are hoping to put these double volumes out bi-monthly I haven’t got long to wait.


Sunday, 21 January 2018

Ride Harder

By Gordon L. Rottman
The Hartwood Publishing Group, January 2017

Cowpuncher Bud Eugen and his resourceful fiancĂ©e Marta confront all kinds of dangers in late 1880’s Texas, both old and newfangled. When the seed money for Bud and Marta’s ranch is stolen from a local bank out of its Yankee-made safe, along with an Army arms shipment, Bud and Marta go back to Mexico to secure their future and that of Texas itself, come hell, high water, or steam-powered locomotives.

This is the second book in what has now become known as The Ride trilogy. I read the first book, The Hardest Ride, some time ago and really enjoyed it. That book also won the 2014 Peacemaker Award for best western novel. Finding out that Gordon had published a sequel to that book put it on my must read list.

The story is told in the first person through Bud and I soon found myself becoming involved in the lives of both him and his mute wife-to-be Marta, and the many other excellently crafted characters that this story revolves around.

Once again the relationship between Bud and Marta is extremely well told and you’ll share their frustrations and joys as Bud tries to have Marta stay at home whilst he goes on his dangerous assignment to retrieve or destroy some stolen Gatling guns whilst at the same time getting back his stolen money in the face of impossible odds. Even though Marta is unable to speak you’ll have no problems understanding her motivations and thoughts through Rottman’s descriptions of her actions. 

Throughout the story the author includes a lot of information about the workings of not just the Gatling guns but a variety of other weapons too.

As Bud infiltrates the rebel Mexican army whose General intends to carve out a piece of both Mexico and Texas for himself you’ll soon be wondering along with Bud how he can possibly achieve his aim. The more characters we meet the more complicated the plot becomes and as the rebel army grows into hundreds Bud comes up with a reckless, spur of the moment plan to complete his task which involves a stolen steam locomotive.

The book contains plenty of bloody action, particularly when the Gatling’s are used in anger and the final bid for freedom is filled with some dramatic and tense scenes.

Gordon L. Rottman concludes his tale with a chapter that explains what happens to the survivors for the rest of their lives which brings a very satisfying ending to his stories of Bud and Marta. So how does the third book, Marta’s Ride fit in? All will be revealed when I get around to reading it and if it’s anywhere near as good as the first two books then I’m sure I’m in for a very entertaining read indeed. 


Sunday, 14 January 2018

Iron Eyes the Spectre

By Rory Black
The Crowood Press, December 2017

Having delivered the body of wanted outlaw Mason Holt to the sheriff at Diablo Creek, infamous bounty hunter Iron Eyes collapses, badly wounded, and his would-be sweetheart Squirrel Sally desperately tries to find a doctor to help him.

However, unknown to Sally, she is heading into a dangerous and uncharted desert where a mysterious tribe of Indians live. Then when Holt’s older brothers discover their sibling is dead, they vow revenge and set out after the man who killed him. Soon both outlaws and Indians alike realize how dangerous Iron Eyes is.

The Iron Eyes series began way back in June 1999 and has gone from strength to strength ever since. Iron Eyes the Spectre being the twenty-eighth book in the series. Rory Black is a pseudonym used by Michael D. George and under his own name and other pseudonyms he’s written many Black Horse Westerns making up a variety of series along with a few stand-alone titles. Whenever I want a fast, action packed read I’ll often reach for one of his books because I know for sure I’ll be getting just that.

Iron Eyes the Spectre starts with the wounded bounty hunter travelling unconscious in the back of Sally’s stagecoach. It isn’t long before Sally is fighting for their lives as the Indians attack. This makes for some tense reading as you have to wonder how a heavy stagecoach can outrun the assault.

Every now and again the author leaves Sally and Iron Eyes in a deadly situation to write a chapter detailing how the older Holt brothers find out about the death of their younger sibling. This discovery leads to a violent reaction that eventually sees them heading into the desert in pursuit of Iron Eyes.

The author is extremely good with his descriptions of both characters and action scenes. Iron Eyes attempt to free Sally from the Indians is both dramatic and entertaining. His plan desperate and foolhardy leading to a humorous exchange to finish the book that left a grin on my face and the hope that it isn’t too long before the next Iron Eyes adventure is published.


Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Wild Blood

HERNE THE HUNTER #22
By John J. McLaglen
Piccadilly Publishing, February 2018

Originally published by Corgi, 1983

Herne has been hired by Major Russell to stop the man who was blackmailing him over his youngest daughter’s gambling debts. What Herne discovered was that Cassie was involved in much more than just gambling – she was living in a world of violence, pornography and murder – and it was up to Herne to get her out.

Herne the Hunter is one of my favourite series written by the group of authors known today as The Piccadilly Cowboys. The writers behind the John J. McLaglen pseudonym being Laurence James and John B. Harvey, the latter of which wrote this entry into the series.

In many ways this book reads like a detective mystery as Herne delves into the background of the Russell family and those running the gambling house. This leads to attempts on his life and then we get the western elements back in full as Herne pursues two hired guns and shows he isn’t above treating the culprits brutally to get the information he needs. Of course everything isn’t as straight-forward as it seems and Harvey includes many twists and turns, not least the fact that no-one seems concerned with finding who killed a man named Conners, this dead man being the previous person Major Russell hired to stop the blackmail.

One of the things that makes this book stand-out from other westerns is the plot involving pornography, something that doesn’t appear to often in the genre, so if you are looking for a story that offers something a bit different then this book could be worth considering.

Harvey’s character studies are well done, each having their own personalities. His descriptive scenes creating an intense backdrop against which the plot is played out in all its brutality, and the violent acts are graphically illustrated.

Fans of this series, and others written by the Piccadilly Cowboys, will not want to miss this one and I believe any western reader will find much to commend in this book too.