Monday, 21 October 2019

The Bounty Killers

THE LONER #7
By J.A. Johnstone
Pinnacle, October 2010

He didn’t want much – just the chance to drift out of Texas into New Mexico Territory. That’s when the Loner discovered there was a price on his head. A victim of mistaken identity, he broke out of Hell Gate Prison a few years back. Now, he’s behind bars again, until a sheriff’s love-struck daughter decides to come to his aid, and a beautiful bounty hunter – who also has eyes for the Loner – joins in.

Riding out of the frying pan and into the fire of a land war, the Loner has all kinds of murderous cutthroats on his trail. But he doesn’t have any problem with women – as long as they’re willing to ride on the wild side once the lead starts flying.

The above blurb is taken from the back of the book and it contains one big inaccuracy, and that’s where it says ‘broke out of Hell Gate Prison a few years back’, this ought to read a couple of months back. That story is told in the previous book, Seven Days to Die, and this one follows closely on from that, the events of that tale shaping this one.

All through the series the Loner has resisted the advances of women, whilst mourning the death of his wife, and even though he will never forget Rebel, the Loner will finally give in. Please note this is not an explicit adult western. So, that’s one change for the Loner and it would seem he might be ready to give up being the Kid and return to being Conrad Browning as the story heads to its conclusion.

This author definitely knows how to spin a yarn, tell a tale that hooked me from the opening pages and ensured I kept reading as twist followed twist. Packed with plenty of action and great characters, this story proved to be as entertaining as all the previous books in the series. Everything comes a head in a final showdown that sees justice done and concludes with a dramatic revelation that guarantees I will be reading the next book very, very soon.


Thursday, 17 October 2019

A Conversation with Doc

By Tell Cotten 
Independently published, August 2019

Doc Holliday was a dentist by trade, a gambler by profession, and a gunfighter by necessity. Above all, Doc Holliday was a loyal friend to the Earp’s by choice.

When Doc Holliday arrives in Tombstone, all he wants is to gamble, live peacefully, and allow his ailing lungs to recover. However, soon Doc must choose; betray his friendship with the Earp’s, or join them in the most famous gunfight of all time.

Having greatly enjoyed reading the books in Tell Cotten’s Landon Saga I was looking forward to reading this. Tell has said it took him three years to write, due to putting out books in the Landon series and researching Holliday and the events in Tombstone to ensure he got his facts right.

A Conversation with Doc is told through Holliday as you’d expect. The opening chapter, and others, have Doc answering questions put to him by reporter Kate Fenady. The rest of the book is also told in the first person as the reader witnesses events leading up to that gunfight at the O.K. Corral and what happened after.

Political manoeuvrings provide intrigue as the Earp’s clash with a group of outlaws called The Cowboys. Loyalties are tested to the limit as Doc is also accused of robbery. Doc is superbly crafted character whose often humorous outlook on life had me laughing out loud and these comments added some welcome light relief to the darker deeds the Earp’s have to deal with, not least the loss of a family member.

All the main players of that time in Tombstone have roles to play, people such as the Billy and Ike Clanton, Tom and Frank McLaury, Billy Claiborne, Johnny Behan, Curly Bill Brocius, Johnny Ringo and Big Nose Kate to name just a few. 

The story is told in the smooth and very readable style of Tell Cotten that soon had me engrossed in this tale. Dialogue is believable, action scenes vivid and visual and the pacing superb. 

If you’re a fan of Tell Cotten’s Landon series then this is a must read as it is for anyone interested in Doc Holliday, The Earp’s and The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. If you’re just looking for a well told, exciting western, then this book could be just what you’re looking for. 


Friday, 13 September 2019

Death Rattle

THE GUNS OF SAMUEL PRITCHARD #1
By Sean Lynch
Pinnacle, July 2019

In 1863, a teenaged boy fled his home in Atherton, Missouri, to escape the power-hungry men who murdered his father and stole his family’s land. He joined the Confederacy under an assumed name and rode with guerrilla raiders in the Civil War. Then came a decade as a Texas Ranger. Now, after ten blood-soaked years, he is finally coming home. Finally using his real name. And finally getting revenge against the cold-hearted devils who destroyed his family and his life . . .

This is the story of Samuel Pritchard. A man with a long history of violence, a deep sense of honour, and a wild streak of justice as dangerous as the guns that made him famous . .

The first book in a new series and the first western from Sean Lynch, at the moment best known for his crime fiction but with this book that could, perhaps, all change.

Death Rattle is divided into four parts, Soldier, Ranger, Gunfighter and Home. Each section could almost be a stand-alone story in itself but Sean Lynch links them with passages about Pritchard’s surviving family members, his mother and sister, and the horrors that are befalling them back in Atherton. Will Pritchard return to his home town in time to save them?

The first three parts of the book show how Pritchard changes from boy to man, becoming a brutal killer as a death spirit seems to guide him and control him as his rage rises to drive his actions. This dark force seen by those around him, one of whom tells Pritchard how he can rid himself of it. As a reader I was gripped by this element of the story and wanted to discover if Pritchard could lose this cold-hearted blood-lust that had motivated him ever since he rose from the grave so to speak. Let me quickly add that this isn’t a supernatural tale, Pritchard isn’t dead, isn’t a zombie or anything like that, he’s a man who experience some very dark times and these horrific changes to his life seem to take a grip of his soul.

Sean Lynch writes in an extremely readable style that has produced a story that demands the reader keeps turning the pages. There is plenty of tough, violent action that sees Pritchard taking on massive odds at times. There’s even time for him to fall in love but like most things in Pritchard’s life that doesn’t end well either. The author has also created a terrific supporting cast of both friends and enemies that are a joy to read about too. Pritchard does border on the mythical a little in his abilities with his guns and to survive the situations he finds himself in, but that didn’t dampen my enjoyment of this novel and I’ll certainly be reading the second book, Cottonmouth, when it is published in January 2020. 



Also available in audio formats.

Wednesday, 28 August 2019

The Cost of Dying

By Peter Brandvold
Pinnacle, August 2019

Lou Prophet decides to cool his heels at a local honky tonk but things heat up fast when he defends one of the girls from a sadistic brute who also happens to be the deputy sheriff. And now Lou Prophet is running for his life . . . 

Heading south of the border to Mexico, Prophet isn’t the only man marked for death. The young red-headed pistolero Colter Farrow has made an awful lot of enemies, too—and now practically every bounty hunter south of the Rio Grande is gunning for blood. For money. For fun. And, now, for Lou Prophet . . . 

At over 400 pages in length, Peter Brandvold gives his readers a book that never lets up in pace and bloody, violent action from beginning to end. It’s also great to see Prophet teaming up with another of the authors heroes, Colter Fallow. Even though the story is told mainly through Prophet, Farrow is riding alongside for most of the tale and the banter between the two men is often laced with humour which provides some light relief from the savage confrontations they find themselves in.

After some chapters dealing with Prophet and Farrow individually as they attempt to outrun their different sets of pursuers the two men decide to team up for a while and it isn’t long before they rescue a very attractive young lady from a deadly situation which in turn leads to them being hired to find her sister, kidnapped by slave traders. 

Things don’t go according to plan and both our heroes soon find themselves buried up to their necks in the ground. How can they possibly escape from this certain death? Obviously, they do, and in the process meet an excellent character in Baja Jack, a drug dealer who could help them find the bandits behind the kidnapping. 

Long-time readers of the Lou Prophet books know about his relationship with Louisa Bonaventure—The Vengeance Queen—and she also has a small part to play in this story too, or does she as Prophet begins to believe he imagined seeing and speaking to her. This encounter adds a neat touch of mystery to the story.

There are a number of surprises in store, the main one coming when Prophet finds the stolen girl. The tale contains a high body count and little in the way of explicit sex (something that is often found in Brandvold’s work). After plenty of lead-slinging action the story closes with a final brutal showdown that ties everything up neatly.

This is a book that all fans of Peter Brandvold should make sure they don’t miss, especially if you enjoy reading about Lou Prophet and Colter Farrow. In fact, this is a book that should be on the reading list of all western fans.  


Sunday, 25 August 2019

El Dorado Sojourn

By Paxton Johns
The Crowood Press, February 2019

Born Gallant returns to Salvation Creek on a whim, but this leads to a bloody saga he could never have foreseen. Word from the elderly Frank Lake leads Gallant on a quest to rescue a young lawyer, who has been kidnapped to prevent her from blocking a corrupt Kansas City politician’s chances of fame. To the north of the town of El Dorado, an old line cabin becomes the focus for Gallant’s efforts. But it’s back in Kansas City that the climax unfolds, when Gallant confronts old enemy Chet Eagan in a clawing fight to a bloody finish.

This is the fourth book in Paxton Johns’ series featuring Born Gallant. The story does mention events of the earlier three books and the author does provide enough information for a new reader to the series to understand how those events shape what happens in this tale, along with the relationships between the various characters, so that the book can be read as a stand-alone tale, but I would recommend reading the earlier books first to get the most from this one. Those books being Encounter at Salvation Creek, The Killing of Jericho Slade and The Bloody Trail to Redemption. It’s not just Born Gallant who links the books and once again Gallant finds his life entwined with that of Melody Lake and Stick McCrae, to name but two. 

The plot seems fairly straight-forward to begin with, but the author soon slips in a number of twists and turns that soon had me wondering how Gallant and friends could possibly rescue Melody in time to bring down the corrupt politician. It’s these surprising elements that keep me returning to this author’s work along with his ability to tell his stories in a gripping and entertaining style that is a pleasure to read. 

There may only be four Born Gallant books at the moment but there are plenty of other Black Horse Westerns from this author to choose from as he writes under other pseudonyms too, Will Keen, Matt Laidlaw, Jim Lawless and Jack Sheriff. His real name is John Paxton Sheriff and you can read an interview I did with him here. If you are looking for a new western author to try then this author is certainly one worth considering. 


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 señorita.

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. 


Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Gunsmoke Express

By Gillian F. Taylor
Crowood Press, June 2019

Thanks to a tip-off, Sheriff Alec Lawson and his deputies fight and capture the notorious outlaw Saul York. But the trouble doesn’t end there. Alec falls desperately ill and when he recovers, he finds that York’s lawyer has got him out on bail.

Although still weakened by his illness, Alec is determined to get back to work. He soon finds himself in the action again, but fatigue leads to a terrible mistake and he begins to doubt his abilities. Will his frailty endanger his friends? York is still out there somewhere, protected by his ambitious lawyer.

When York becomes his prime suspect in a murderous robbery, Alec Lawson must push himself to close the net on the elusive outlaw. He’ll have to face down a lynch mob, the killer outlaw and his own doubt to get the job done, whatever the cost to himself.

I’ve read a number of Gillian F. Taylor’s Black Horse Westerns and thoroughly enjoyed them all, so was looking forward to reading this, the fourth of her books to feature Sheriff Alec Lawson. The books in this particular series all have the word Express in the title and all involve a train at some point in the storyline.

Each book in the series is a self-contained novel, so you can jump in anywhere. The only real connections the books have to each other are characters and their relationships, and this one finds Alec having to deal with his feelings for and confusion in the way two women react to him now as well as hunting down York and proving that he has done the crimes the sheriff believes he’s committed. 

There’s plenty of gunplay as well as battles of words to trick York into admitting his guilt. Alec confronting York’s lawyer, Hart, makes for some fascinating reading too. Alec’s banter with his deputies adds some welcome light-hearted humour to the story. Taylor brings everything together in an exciting, tense, conclusion that brings the book to a brutal ending that leaves me hoping Gillian won’t take too long in writing another story about Sheriff Alec Lawson as I’ve got to know if the lawman will ever work out what is going on with the two women in his life.


Saturday, 15 June 2019

Six-Gun Law

WIND RIVER #7
By James Reasoner and L.J. Washburn
Five Star Publishing, June 2019

Ransom Valley: The Wyoming Territory town of Wind River has gotten so peaceful that some people think it's downright civilized. But they don't know that a gang of outlaws is planning a raid that will clean out the bank. Anyone who gets in their way will be cut down in a hail of bullets. A beautiful young woman finds herself taken prisoner by the outlaws, and it's up to Marshal Cole Tyler and Texas cowboy Lon Rogers to rescue Brenda Durand . . . if they don't wind up on the receiving end of some outlaw lead first!

Outlaw Blood: Outlaw Blade Kendrick's wife runs away from him, taking their two young sons with her. Knowing that he will come after her, she leaves the boys with different families to raise. Kendrick does catch up to her and she dies accidentally during their confrontation. Kendrick is sent to prison for another crime. When he gets out ten years later, he starts tracking down the boys. The older son is with a family that's moved recently to Wind River to start a new church. When Kendrick arrives with his younger son, whom he has found and recruited into his gang, the older brother tries to turn bad in order to save his adopted family, but he can't do it. Instead he ruins his outlaw father's plans, which leads to a showdown between Marshal Cole Tyler and the dangerous gang.

Way back in June 1994 the first Wind River book was published and five more entries in this series swiftly followed, the last appearing in November 1995. Then, in November 2012 the authors published a new book in the series, Ransom Valley. Now, that story, revised, has been republished in a double book containing a brand-new tale, Outlaw Blood.

For anyone who followed the original series then these two new stories are a must read, as they are for any fans of James Reasoner and Livia Washburn’s work. You don’t need to have read the previous six books to enjoy these two new tales as the authors include enough backstory to explain Marshal Tyler’s background and that of other characters that appeared in those earlier books. 

Both these new tales regularly switch between their various characters as Tyler finds himself dealing with deadly situations once more that will have you wondering how he can possibly achieve his tasks of upholding the law. He also has to deal with town dignitaries that want to scale down the number of lawmen Wind River has as they believe civilization has arrived…boy, are they in for a shock. The first story also sees Cole having to reign in a love-sick cowboy whose rashness could bring about the Marshal’s death.

The second story concentrates more on Kendrick and his sons and is told more from their viewpoint than that of Tyler’s. This tale is quite dark in its themes and it includes some heart-breaking decisions that the older son finds himself forced to make. 

Both tales move forward at a tremendous pace. Descriptions are visual, dialogue believable, tense situations aplenty, superb characterization, hard-hitting decisions, and beautifully choreographed violence, combine to make these stories exciting, gripping reading that will defy the reader to put the book down before the end.


Wednesday, 12 June 2019

The Rail Warriors

THE DERBY MAN #9
By Gary McCarthy
Bantam Books, January 1983

The Derby Man, the West’s hardest-hitting, toughest-fighting, fastest-thinking hero, now charges into what threatens to be his most unbeatable challenge: helping the Union Pacific win the great railroad race across the continent. With time running out, the Derby Man must overcome ferocious Sioux and Cheyenne, brutal weather and terrain, the treacherous Missouri River and the toughest collection of men ever assembled to lay track. Then he must face the most dreaded danger of all – sabotage.

As with any fictional story woven into historical events then a number of real people and situations will make an appearance and this quick moving tale contains a fair few of both, such as Thomas Durant and a disastrous attempt by the Cheyenne to halt a train by stretching a rope across the tracks. Gary McCarthy blends reality and fiction seamlessly in this gripping read.

The Derby Man is soon up to his neck in trouble and fighting the Cheyenne is only one of his problems. He also has to deal with a woman, Miranda, who vows to marry him, even though she knows Darby is due to marry his long-time girlfriend, Dolly Beavers, at completion of the railroad. Miranda is a beautiful lady and many men become besotted with her and jealousy rises its ugly head and strikes out at Darby, both face-on or through treacherous deception. 

Then there’s a man, Laramie, whose obsession for revenge could see the destruction of the railroad and the deaths of those building it. Darby finds himself fighting alongside this man without realizing what a threat to everyone he really is. 

As the race to finish the railroad speeds up then so does the story and you’ll soon be wondering how Darby can possibly survive and escape the attentions of Miranda. Gary McCarthy adds a few twists to the tale that offer surprising solutions to some of these problems, those that a sledgehammer punch from Darby or a bullet don’t solve with a deadly finality. 

Even though this story does end with the meeting of the railroads at Promontory Summit, McCarthy dangles a huge plot carrot to ensure readers will search out the next book in the series. Unfortunately for those reading this excellent series when the books were first published there would be a ten-year gap before the next book appeared, how frustrating would that have been? I’m certain I won’t be waiting that long to find out what happens next.


Monday, 10 June 2019

Hellraiser!

By Sam Clancy
Crowood Press, March 2019

After his last indiscretion, Bass sends Josh Ford to Texas. Let him be someone else’s headache for a while. The marshal there is an old friend and welcomes the badge-toting hellraiser with open arms and a whole wagon load of trouble.

Then word comes that Bass is missing and Ford swears he’ll walk through the fires of Hell itself to find out what has happened to his father.

In the end, he does just that. Shoulder to shoulder with a marshal called Willis and a fast gun named Laramie Davis.

Like the other books I’ve read by this author, Hellraiser! is an action-packed tale that moves forwards at a terrific pace as Ford finds himself involved in two different missions. In fact, the book is divided into two parts, so it’s almost like you are getting two stories for the price of one.

The first part sees Ford taking on the Dent clan, a vicious family that nearly everyone in town is related to in some way and most of them are out to kill Ford. There’s a neat twist as to one of the Dent’s careers that is the cause for even more anger and bloodshed. 

The second part covers Ford’s attempt to find his missing father and as the death toll rises it becomes apparent this is a tale of revenge that sees Ford forced into becoming an executioner for those who’ve taken Bass. This of course causes a dilemma for Ford as he has to decide between enforcing the law or committing murder.

I don’t think it’s much of a secret that Sam Clancy is a pseudonym used by author Brent Towns who also writes as B.S. Dunn. Under this latter name he wrote a five book series about Laramie Davis, and it’s great to see him appear in Hellraiser!, the teaming of Ford and Davies making for a terrific partnership in the quest to find and free Bass.

Hellraiser! is the fourth book starring Josh Ford, and even though it ends like it could be the last, I hope it isn’t. Here’s wishing Sam Clancy/Brent Towns will write another soon as I’ve yet to read any work by this author I haven’t enjoyed, and Josh Ford is one of my favourite characters he’s created. 


Monday, 3 June 2019

Blood at Sundown

By Peter Brandvold
Pinnacle, January 2019

Lou Prophet and the deadly Louisa Bonaventure have torn a bloody swath across Dakota territory in search of the Gritch Hatchley gang. When they finally catch up to them, an epic blizzard threatens to turn the Dakota prairie into a frozen hell. To bag their prey before the storm hits, Prophet and Louisa split up – and take separate paths towards damnation.

Prophet’s course takes him into a town packed to the gills with the deadliest outlaws that roamed the frontier, while Louisa gets caught in Sundown, a one-horse town where a hatchet-wielding maniac threatens to paint Main Street red. When spring’s thaw comes, they’ll find a city of corpses beneath the snow.

And nobody gives a damn about the law…

After a joint and bloody assault on a roadhouse full of outlaws it isn’t long before Prophet and The Vengeance Queen head in different directions to bring in the last of Hatchley’s gang. Peter Brandvold then pretty much splits the tale in two, switching between Prophet and Louisa regularly as they each track down a pair of outlaws. Once cornering, and dealing with, their targets, both Prophet and Lousia become involved in violent incidents that have to be dealt with before they can meet up again. It’s these troubles that make up the bulk of the story and give the book a feel of it being two separate tales combined into one.

As expected from any story written by Peter Brandvold the book is ram-packed with vividly descriptive ferocious violence, especially Louisa’s struggle to identify and deal with the killer who dispatches his victims with a hatchet, although the mystery to discover just who this is gets easier as the corpses pile up. 

Prophet finds himself involved with visiting Russians, and a rich man’s jealousy, never mind this man’s arrogance which leads to bloody slaughter. Yes, this book contains a very high death toll and you have to wonder if anyone will be left alive by the end.

It’s no secret that I enjoy Peter Brandvold’s tales and this book is right up there with his best work and I’m now very much looking forward to the next Lou Prophet novel, The Cost of Dying, due to be released in July.


Friday, 31 May 2019

River of Blood

THE FRONTIERSMAN #2
By William W. Johnstone with J.A. Johnstone
Pinnacle, August 2015

Breck Wallace was turning into a true mountain man on the American frontier. As a teenager in Tennessee he killed in self-defence, then left behind a woman he loved. With a gun and trap lines he is learning how to survive in the Rockies, braving the punishing elements, ruthless outlaws, and forging an uneasy peace with the Indians. But as dangerous as life is, nothing is worse than a powerful man with a murderous grudge. Breckenridge has left two such men in his past – and they both send cold-blooded killers for hire after him. Now the young frontiersman must fight a whole new kind of enemy – armed with his courage, strength, and raw skill with knife and gun…

Although this tale continues storylines begun in the first book you don’t need to have read that earlier publication to enjoy this one. The author includes enough information to fill readers in on what happened before to explain how he met his three fellow trappers and why the killers have been sent after him.

The story is filled with colourful characters such as the two warring men who bring whiskey and women to the rendezvous, which is the major event around which the attempts on Breckenridge’s life will revolve. At first Breck doesn’t realize he is the target and even when he does, he still has to figure out the why. Chapters mainly end on cliff-hangers ensuring the reader will keep turning the pages and they will soon be wondering how Breckenridge can possibly survive with so many people determined to kill him.

There are plenty of savage fights, both with fists and guns, to satisfy all western fans who like their books to be action-packed. The story also contains a few more light-hearted moments mainly in the form of dialogue, especially that of trader Nicodemus Finch. 

By books end it does seem as if all the storylines begun in both this novel and the previous one have been tied up neatly and a new future beckons for Breck, but there are more books in this series so it’s doubtful a happy life awaits The Frontiersman, and I for one am looking forward to reading book three as soon as possible.

Fans of Johnstone’s work will be pleased to discover that one of his other long running series heroes appears in this story, but I’ll leave you to read the book and find out who that is yourselves.


Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Home is the Outlaw

By Lewis B. Patten
Fawcett Gold Medal Books, 1958

Morgan Orr stepped clear as the horse fell. He looked at the dying animal with pity, then he drew his gun and put a bullet into the horse’s head. Then, weary and empty, he turned and stared down at the town.

Ten long years and this is what it came to. Ten years of violence while the name of Morgan Orr became whispered from one end of the frontier to the other, while his gun became a legend told in a thousand saloons. Ten years of watchfulness etched in his bony face, of wildness and caution stamped in his long, lean stride.

And this is what it came to. A ragged, hungry man, limping down the slope of the mountains – tired of killing, sick of his life, heading back to his home at last. Back to a place called Arapaho Wells – the last town in the world that would let him hang up his gun….

This book has a fairly dark tone throughout. Patten excels in his writing of despair, frustration and empty hope. The surprise that greets Orr when he meets Tena again – the woman he left behind but never stopped loving – causes more grief to rise within him, all written so well the reader will share the pain Orr feels.

Even though Orr tries to lay down his gun (he even sells the weapon) and step away from fights, you just know he won’t be able to do so forever. One man cannot control his own destiny it seems.

Orr is an interesting, and troubled man, and Patten doesn’t give him an easy ride, even having a childhood friend wanting to draw on him, to be the man who kills fast gun Morgan Orr. This is a confrontation Orr does his best to avoid.

All this mixed into a plot that includes mistaken identity, a crime that will completely destroy the town that can only be kept secret by killing, and you have a twisting storyline that you can never be sure of where it will go next, thus providing a gripping and exciting read.  

I’ve only read a handful of Lewis B. Patten’s work and they always leave me hungry for more and this book has reinforced that desire.

Sunday, 26 May 2019

Lady Outlaw

THE JUDGE #12
By Hank Edwards
Harper, April 1994

If it wasn’t for a bunch of renegade Pawnee, Clay Torn might have made it to Lonesome Pine sooner and avoided the wild shootout that left three men and Sheriff Logan dead. All because Miss Chancey Lane stirred up a ruckus and chose jail and justice over outlaw suitor Ash Wheeler. Ready to strike again, Wheeler doesn’t care who he has to kill to get her back.

Now Torn wants something, too – to see Ash Wheeler behind bars. Using the pretty, deadly Chancey as bait, Torn rides across the meanest country in Nebraska to smoke out the infamous Blue River Gang and nail the most wanted man on the western frontier.

Book twelve is the last of The Judge series. Would it bring the run to a satisfactory end or just be another fast-paced action-packed entry in this enjoyable series by Hank Edwards and vanish from the shelves with no indication that this would be the final book?

You don’t need to have read any of the other books to enjoy this one, as it is a self-contained tale like all the rest in the series, only linked by a single story thread that runs through the entire series, that of Clay Torn’s hopes of finding his missing fiancée as he travels the west dealing out his kind of justice as a federal judge. Would he finally discover what had happened to her in this book? We do discover that Torn is now beginning to think he may never find her, and in Chancey Lane there might just be a woman to replace his intended.

Hank Edwards is a pseudonym, ten of the books written by Jason Manning. Robert W. Broomall writing books two and four. Like all the other entries in this series it is a very entertaining read that sees Torn having to make some tough decisions and deal with some brutal outlaws by using his gun rather than a gavel. 

For me, and other fans of The Judge books, it's a shame it doesn’t bring the series to a close. Presumably the publisher decided to bring the series to an end after this book had been written so that the author couldn’t make it obvious this was the last one. 

Overall, this series has provided me with hours of reading pleasure and I believe many other western readers will have enjoyed it too. 

Monday, 20 May 2019

Hot Lead: Adult Western Special


HOT LEAD #3:
THE ADULT WESTERN SPECIAL
The Paperback Fanatic, May 2019

Hot Lead is a beautifully produced fanzine and this, the third, concentrates on the rise of the adult western. This issue contains 52 pages of fascinating articles backed-up by many reproductions of book covers and associated artwork, all illustrated in full colour.

The main feature, Sex and Six Guns by Paul Bishop, delves into series adult westerns, looking at a variety of them in well researched detail. This section of the fanzine taking up sixteen pages and is essential reading for anyone who enjoys this kind of western.

Three western series get their own sections, Cimarron and Ruff Justice, both written about by editor Justin Marriott and The Trailsman by Steve Myall. All three providing some great insights into why these contributors liked these books so much. 

Then there’s a terrific article by Andreas Decker that looks at how the American series Lassiter by Jack Slade took Germany by storm. Starting with some of the original novels, the German publisher then continued the series and the number of books that have been put out featuring Lassiter is just staggering. Those long running American series like Longarm and The Gunsmith, don’t even come close! 

The final article by Ian Millsted moves away from adult westerns and is a personal look at his top ten western comics and it offers a couple of surprise entries in the countdown. One especially bringing back fond memories for me, that of El Mestizo in Battle Picture Weekly, a comic I read without fail and it now has me wanting to track down a copy of the mentioned hardback book of this comic strip. 

This issue of Hot Lead, is a must read for any fan of adult westerns. It, and the two previous fanzines, provide a lot of informative and entertaining reading that fans of this genre will find themselves returning to time and again. 


Thursday, 16 May 2019

Blood River

By Will Black
Crowood Press, August 2017

Gold was becoming harder to find as panners by the hundreds swarmed to any site where even the smallest nugget was found. One mine was still operating north of the Sierra Nevadas. And that was the problem. Transporting the gold down narrow, sandy, and rocky trails, wagons were easy targets for outlaws.

The Pinkerton Agency was charged with the security of a large haul of gold. But they had a daring plan. If it worked, 500 gold bars would make it East. If it failed, all was lost. Unknown to them, the Greeley gang had inside knowledge of their plan and were intent of stealing the gold.

At any cost.

I really enjoyed the last Will Black book I read, Death Comes Easy, so I was looking forward to this one and it more than matched the entertainment value of that previous story.

Will Black has a knack for creating interesting characters and plunging them into ingenious plots, and the plan that the Pinkerton’s have come up with is as fantastic as it could be foolhardy. The method of transporting the gold containing many edge of the seat moments.

The author regularly switches between the different groups of people fighting for possession of the gold as he tells his story that is filled with danger, double-cross, gunplay and deadly weather, before everything comes to a nail-biting and satisfying climax that could see many more folk decide to help themselves to the gold, which adds even more problems for Sheriff Brad Morgan to deal with.

Will Black is a pseudonym used by Adam Smith, and on the strength of this book, and others I’ve read by him, he has firmly established himself as one of my favourite Black Horse Western writers. 


Sunday, 12 May 2019

Two Thousand Grueling Miles

The Oregon Trail
by L.J. Martin
Wolfpack Publishing, April 2019

Young but determined, the man of the family too soon, Jake Zane comes of age with the help of a massive mute escaped slave. It’s conquer the wilderness, protect your mother and sisters, or die trying.

A grueling challenge…2,000 miles of rutted trail with little or no civilization, no water or far too much, wild animals, wicked weather, and savages both red and white. The good news: you have family and friends, and hundreds more making the trip. That is, until disease and accidents threaten everything. 

The Oregon Trail is the artery that brought lifeblood to the west, long before wagon or rail. It was the ultimate challenge for thousands who wanted land and opportunity. 

This is the first full-length story I’ve read by L.J. Martin and I found his writing to be very readable in what is an episodic tale of travelling the Oregon Trail as told in the first person through teenager Jake Zane. The author points out many details of what life would have been like undertaking such a journey, such as the countless graves marking the trail, emphasizing how dangerous this long trek would have been. Martin also includes a number of surprises, for instance in who lives and who dies.

One thing I did wonder, though, was at what age group this book is aimed at. I’d say young readers most likely as Martin has Jake’s mother teaching him and his sisters a new word everyday and Martin includes a lot of them and their meanings. The author also explains a lot of history about people and places which at times came over like he was trying to educate his readers rather than entertain. The first couple of chapters read like lists of items being taken on the journey, and Martin told us about some of them a number of times, such as where the chicken crate was hung. Even though this got a little monotonous for me I’m glad I stuck with it as the story really picked up once the Zane’s joined the wagon train and their journey began.

Martin’s story is filled with well-drawn characters and well described action scenes. He tells of the wonder of discovery, and the agony of losing those you love, that the reader will find themselves sharing those emotions with those experiencing them.

Overall, I found the book to be an enjoyable read and I liked it enough to want to try one of L.J. Martin’s many other westerns sometime down the trail.