Monday, 22 April 2019

War Valley

By Lancaster Hill
Pinnacle, March 2019

Hank Gannon grew up on a Florida plantation. He fought alongside his brothers-in-arms in the Civil War. Then he joined the Texas Special Police to help build a more peaceful union – and a future for his beloved Constance. That was the plan. But when a prisoner dies in his custody, Gannon is forced to leave Austin and head into Comanche territory. Alone but undaunted, he meets Roving Wolf- who has just slain a former soldier from his unit. Gannon can’t let the killing go unpunished. Even here, in this godforsaken valley, the law must be upheld… 

On the one side is a bloodthirsty war party of Indians, heading for the white man’s capital. On the other side is a makeshift army of Texas Special Police and the Texas State Guard, ready to meet the threat head-on. In the middle are Hank Gannon and Roving Wolf, waging their own blood feud. Two men trapped in a war. Fighting to survive their mutual hate. Killing to get out alive…

Lancaster Hill is a pseudonym for Jeff Rovin, an author known for his Tom Clancy: Op-Center series, and this is his first western.

The author’s writing style is extremely readable and includes some great, tense, life or death scenes.  Battles, be they between two sides or individuals, are described well, and are quite brutal at times and the author isn’t above killing off some main characters, which came as a welcome surprise, as is what happens to Constance, and how this is dealt with by her and Gannon and those who know her. Relationships between friend and foe are equally well-crafted and the author did have me caring what happened to some of them.

Gannon gets kicked out of the Texas Special Police due to possible political problems centered around racial unrest, even though it is entirely unjustified. This, of course, creates tension between Gannon and his now ex-employer, Captain Keel. Racial prejudice is a theme this tale often touches on and at times slowed the story down too much for me, as did the regular flashbacks that explained Gannon’s character (and others) that repeatedly interrupted the tale just as some deadly action was about to erupt. Having said that, the rest of the story was strong enough to keep me eagerly turning the pages.

War Valley is billed as being the first in a powerful new series, and yes it has some hard-hitting storylines, but will there be another Hank Gannon western? The Epilogue seems to imply that this is a stand-alone tale but I’m sure it would be possible to bring out further books featuring Gannon and I for one would look forward to reading them.


Sunday, 31 March 2019

The Scarlet Gun

THE GUNSMITH #44
By J.R. Roberts
Charter Books, September 1985

Lots of boys dream about being gunfighters, but when the kid brother of a pretty Irish woman picks up his six-shooter in earnest, Clint Adams is forced to get involved.

The Gunsmith is asked to find the boy and convince him to give himself up. But before he can that, Clint meets an incredibly beautiful young woman named Scarlet who is gunning for a rancher the kid has been hired to protect. Now, the Gunsmith’s good deed has drawn him into a dangerous crossfire – one from which he’ll be lucky to get out alive!

Like all Gunsmith books, this is an extremely fast read. It is dialogue driven and contains a twisting plot that moves forward at a rapid pace. The characters mentioned above are joined by a few others too, all with their own ambitions, and more than one dreaming of being the person who takes out the Gunsmith and thus enhancing their own reputations. As all the plot lines converge so does the readers anticipation for the final showdown that will see many of the leading characters facing off against each other.

The Gunsmith books are classed as an adult reading, which means they contain explicit sex scenes. This being one of the earlier books the reader will find a lot more of this type of action than in the later novels. The story starts with such an act, then the author lays out the plot, introduces the many characters and moves the tale towards the exciting final confrontation, all this takes up a good portion of the book. But, before guns are drawn in anger, the author inserts many more sexual encounters one after the other, not just for Adams but for one of the other main characters too. I’ll be honest and say I did find this a bit boring and speed-read these sections as I wanted to find out who would be left alive at the end, and whether Adams managed to keep the kid alive.

For followers of The Gunsmith series, this is a must read as one of the storylines seems to set itself up for a future book. Whether this happens I don’t know, but I certainly hope so and guess I will find out eventually as I aim to continue reading this series as time allows.

Long since out of print, Speaking Volumes has now re-issued The Scarlet Gun in book paper and ebook form.


Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Medicine Hat

THE SPANISH BIT SAGA #25
By Don Coldsmith
Bantam, February 1998
Original hardback edition published 1997

Pipe Bearer, a young holy man of the Elk-dog People, dreams of a powerful sign: a horse with curious markings on his ears and head, resembling the medicine hat of a holy man. But he cannot interpret the mysterious dream. When one of his mares foals a colt with the same markings, he undertakes a quest to the lands of the Lakota and the Pawnee to learn more about this sacred event.

Joining another pair of travelers, Pipe Bearer and his wife, Otter Woman, will pass through places of great power and inexpressible evil. On the long trek, they will experience great joy and terrible tragedy. And gradually they will discover the spirits’ true purpose for their quest….

Don Coldsmith tells this story in the first person, but not just through one character, but two. These are Pipe Bearer and Otter Woman. The narrative switches between them often and the reader will feel like they are part of the group Pipe Bearer and Otter Woman are telling their tale to. Both storytellers go off on an occasional tangent which adds depth to their character, and they often exchange banter that contains humorous observations about many things, especially how women trick their men into believing they make all the decisions about their life path.

As well as being a quest to find out more about the Medicine Hat horse, this is a tale of discovery, both in land and people. Comparisons between the Lakota way of life and that of the Elk-dog People provide fascination and revelations that cause much consideration. Without spoiling anything, I will add that the wonder of the changing landscape is extremely well told, and the reader will easily recognize places Pipe Bearer and Otter Woman see for the first time. Origin stories of how these places came to be add welcome, enchanting, elements to this captivating tale.

I’ve often felt that Coldsmith was gifted in his ability to describe human emotion, and this story is packed with that. Wonder, confusion, love, fear and heartache beautifully told so that the reader shares these feelings with the characters, making you care about them, and, when tragedy does strike the reader will experience their pain too.

Whilst not the most action-packed book in this series, it is still a gripping and appealing story, one that all fans of The Spanish Bit Saga novels will certainly enjoy reading.      


Friday, 22 March 2019

Where the Bullets Fly

By Terrence McCauley
Pinnacle, October 2018

If anyone can smell an investment opportunity, it’s railroad men and big city bankers. They’re not the kind of folks that Sheriff Mackey is used to dealing with. But greed is greed, and if anyone knows how money can drive men to murder, it’s the sheriff of a boomtown like Dover Station. But when Mackey is forced to gun down a pair of saloon rats, it brings a powderkeg of trouble – with a quick-burning fuse of vengeance named Alexander Duramont. This bloodthirsty psychopath wants to kill the sheriff for killing his buddies. And he plans to get his revenge using a highly combustible mix of fire, fear, and dynamite…

Mackey’s not sure how he’s going to stop this blood-crazed lunatic. But it’s going to be one heck of an explosive and very violent showdown…

This is Terrence McCauley’s first western and it's also billed as the first in a new series featuring Sheriff Aaron Mackey. 

When we meet Mackey he is suffering from pneumonia and this ailment sees him struggling to do his job and this somehow made him seem more real than some western heroes – how often do we read of heroes being struck down by common illnesses? This sickness doesn’t just go away and it plays an important part in Mackey’s mood as he takes on outlaws and businessmen alike.

Mackey is also part of a love-triangle. Trapped in a marriage he refuses to break-up, but tormented by his true love, Katherine, living in the same town. It’s when Katherine’s life is threatened by the superbly drawn outlaw Duramont and her fate is unknown, that Mackey allows his feelings for her to override everything else and he sets out on a mission to find out what happened to her and to kill Duramont.

Duramont is beautifully evil, the perfect adversary for Mackey. But can Mackey bring the outlaw leader to justice as he always seems to be one step-ahead of the lawman? 

The book is tough, dark in tone, has plenty of violent scenes and moves forwards at a relentless pace. With an excellent cast of colourful characters in both the main storyline and subplots I soon found myself totally immersed in the tale. The ending was savage and not quite what I expected. McCauley also left a few openings for the next book in the series, Dark Territory, which will be published in March 2019, and I for one can’t wait to get my hands on a copy.


Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Easy Company and the Blood Feud

By John Wesley Howard
Jove, March 1983

The Wilsons and the Blantons fled the Texas drought together, the best of friends. But they arrived in Wyoming as warring enemies – and now, Seth Wilson and Maybelle Blanton must hide their passionate love in the night’s darkness.

To make matters worse, the Sioux are attacking the night patrols and a buffalo hunter is shooting Indian cattle in their pens. It’s up to Lt. Matt Kincaid and Easy Co. to stop all the shooting and bring peace to Thunder Basin – before there’s nobody left!

Book 26 in this excellent series involves a number of separate incidents, all taking place at the same time, that are only linked by Easy Company having to resolve them all with as little bloodshed as they possibly can. Frustration, deadly confrontations, and a medicine show complete with an enticing young lady, means there isn’t a moments peace for the men of Easy Company.

By having so many problems to deal with, the author is able to utilize most of the soldiers who make up Easy Company, along with scout Windy Mandalian, so if you have any favourites you’re sure to find them having a role to play in this book.

The author behind the pseudonym of John Wesley Howard this time is Paul Lederer, and he sure knows how to write a fast-moving tale that holds interest from the first page to the last. Action scenes are tough, frantic and exciting, dialogue is snappy and believable, and everything is tied up neatly.

The more deadly situations are nicely balanced by the girl from the medicine show who soon has a number of soldiers believing she wants to marry them, this leads to some very funny moments and also allows the book to end on a comical note. 

Overall, this is a very satisfying and entertaining read that has left me eager to discover just what problems Easy Company will have to face in the next book as soon as I can.

Thursday, 14 March 2019

STRAIGHT SHOOTER

A Ralph Compton Novel by Marcus Galloway
Signet, June 2013

Outlaw Wes Cavanaugh knows that crime doesn’t always pay – at least not that much. That’s why he and his partner, Mose, are willing to buy information from Jimmy Stock on a job that’s guaranteed to pay off big.

Jimmy’s made a career of selling tips to bandits, but the job he sells Wes – a payroll train about to leave Omaha – requires more than information. It requires a straight shooter who can hit targets from a long distance away…and in the outlaw business, even a straight shooter can’t be trusted.

With the passing of Ralph Compton, Signet decided to keep his name alive by continuing to put out books under his name written by other writers, eleven of them I believe. Signet also decided to print the name of the real authors on the books too making it easy for readers to identify who had written each new book. Marcus Galloway’s name appearing on ten of them, placing him only behind David Robbins and Joseph A. West in numbers of books written under the Ralph Compton brand.

The above blurb is perhaps a little mis-leading as to the contents of this book. Sure, Wes and Mose buy information from Stock but this takes up only a short part of the novel, as does the train robbery. Wes and Mose don’t have enough money to give to Stock so steal it from a traveling gunsmith. Most of the story follows the fortunes of said gunsmith, Zeke Hayes and his helper, ex-boxer, Aldus Bricker. The central character is Aldus, and it’s his need to discover why the tone of the letters he gets from his childhood sweetheart, Bethany, has changed, that sees them cross paths once again with Wes and Mose.

During the journey to Bethany’s hometown, Zeke and Aldus find themselves in a deadly fight for control of a town and this is resolved in an exciting battle that is one of the highlights of the book.

There’s also a neat outcome to the train robbery that brings that part of the story to an almost underplayed and perfect ending.

I’ve only read a handful of Marcus Galloways’ westerns and so far I’ve enjoyed them all. They haven’t contained quite as much gunplay as a lot of the books I read, but that isn’t a criticism as Galloway certainly knows how to grab the readers attention and build his plots in gripping prose that makes you want to keep reading. 


Sunday, 10 March 2019

WEBB'S POSSE

By Ralph Cotton
Signet, July 2003

When the Peltry Gang swoops into Rileyville, the attack is sudden and merciless. Before the townsfolk know what hit them, one of their own lies dead in the dirt street, Deputy Abner Webb is caught with his pants down, and just for good measure, the desperadoes shoot the sheriff and leave him for dead as they head out.

Webb knows he must capture the outlaws for what they’ve done, but that won’t be easy for the inexperienced lawman. Yet with the help of a shady horse trader and an ornery schoolmaster, Webb just might bring the gunslingers in on their feet – or slung over their saddles.

Ralph Cotton has created a superb bunch of characters for this extremely fast-moving story that barely takes a breath between each savage bout of gunplay. As well as having to deal with the outlaws, soldiers, gunrunners, scalphunters and Federales, the posse has its own internal conflicts for Webb to tackle – he himself being one of the problems for one of the posse members which sees hate and jealousy rise viciously.

Then there’s the suspicions about the horse trader, Will Summers, just what is his angle? And what of the schoolteacher, Sherman Dahl, just why would a schoolmaster be so proficient with a gun and cool under fire? Can either of them be trusted? As the posse begins to face the brutal reality of their task some die, some leave and other people join them, including some who won’t think twice about double-crossing the posse.

As the chase takes all sides into Mexico, all these groups find themselves fighting for possession of a Gatling Gun and no one is safe from death. That’s one of the traits I like about Ralph Cotton’s writing, the fact that you can never be sure who he’ll kill off, and when.

If you like hard-hitting, action-packed westerns that offer surprises, twists and engaging characters then Webb’s Posse is a book you should consider tracking down. I don’t think I’ll be spoiling anything by adding that this book saw five sequels featuring two of the survivors of the hunt to bring the Peltry gang to justice, and I’m certainly going to be reading them very soon.


Monday, 18 February 2019

DAKOTA MASSACRE

THE SCOUT #2
By Buck Gentry
Zebra, 1981

The cry is “massacre!” when a town is brutally stormed by a band of rampaging Indians. Before anyone can retaliate the surprise attack, Eli Holten sets out for Sioux territory. Since he spent six years of his life learning the ways of the Plains, the Scout knows the tribe and the territory like the back of his hand. And his instincts tell him that someone’s been playing a dirty trick.

Holten soon learns that army deserters have been masquerading as deadly Indians. They have been killing and scalping their victims – and now they’ve kidnapped his girl. Holten won’t take things lying down, not when his lady is held hostage, and not when his name is at stake – 

Emblazoned on the cover and spine of this book are the words adult western and this book is part of a number of series launched around this time by Zebra and other publishers under this banner. The opening scenes of Dakota Massacre fitting this theme perfectly, lasting a number of pages and described in explicit detail. But once Holten and Rebecca go their separate ways this story moves quickly into an all-out action-packed battle between Holten, the deserters, and the Sioux. Of course, there are a few more adult sessions but the vast majority of the book concerns the desperate fights to survive.

The author certainly doesn’t give Holten much time to catch his breath between adult or violent encounters. Most of the deadly bouts begin only a few lines after the previous bloody fight. At the rate Holten was eliminating Sioux warriors I did begin to wonder if he’d wipe out the entire nation in this one story. Holten doesn’t get it all his own way though, but he does seem to be able to shrug off wounds in minutes and continue with his mission as if he was never hit.

The battles are described in gory detail, spurting blood, shattered bone and spilled body contents vividly defined. At one-point Holten is tortured and what he has to endure is painfully detailed. The torture sequence leads to a truly nail-biting how is he going to get out of that alive scene acted out in the aptly named Canyon of Death.

Buck Gentry is a pseudonym behind which a number of different authors wrote, and this one was probably written by Steve Clark and I believe he wrote most of the early entries in this series. 

If you enjoy violent westerns that contain almost non-stop savage action and don’t mind some explicit sex scenes then this a book, and series, that should be on your reading list. Dakota Massacre left me looking forward to reading the next one very soon.

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Rebel of Bodie

THE DERBY MAN #8
By Gary McCarthy
Bantam, June 1982

When Rebel Morgan was the law, Bodie, California had been a town of hope and promise. Bodie was “the Wildest Town in the West” now, and ex-sheriff Rebel was the whiskey-soaked town joke. A broken and bitter man since his wife’s brutal murder, Rebel had been unwilling to stem the rising bloody tide of violence and corruption that now threatened to destroy Bodie. But Darby Buckingham hits Bodie with both fists swinging, fiercely determined to whip Rebel back up to his former strength and to lend his muscle to wipe out the town’s savage criminals. Every low-life in Bodie rises to Darby’s challenge, unleashing a relentless onslaught of terror and killing. But the hard-hitting, quick-witted Derby Man would give Bodie the roughest judgement day the West had ever seen.

Gary McCarthy’s Derby Man has got to be one of the most unusual western heroes ever. He’s a large ex-circus strongman and prize-fighter who is now a dime novel author roaming the west searching out real people to write about in his books and he feels Rebel Morgan could be the star of his next pulp.

Darby’s quest for the truth about Rebel’s fall from grace will unearth some heart-breaking truths, truths that have been suspected but purposely ignored. As friendships are tested the death toll rises and Buckingham soon has a number of people looking to bury him as fast as possible.

McCarthy has brought together a great cast of characters for this tale, both male and female, good and bad. The story is told from various people’s viewpoints and later on its mainly from characters other than Buckingham. Connor O’Grady, who was introduced in the previous book, North Chase, has a large part to play in this tale, and as well as getting in some deadly situations that seem to offer no avenue of escape, he provides most of the more light-hearted moments in the story too.

For me, this is another great entry into a series that offers a western hero who is a little bit different from the norm. 


Long out of print, this series is now available as ebooks.


Monday, 11 February 2019

Iron Road

THE JUDGE #11
By Hank Edwards
Harper, December 1993

First there’s fire on the tracks a few miles short of Whiskey Flat, then cannon shots turn the Great Western’s locomotive into a mass of twisted steel. Tempers flare and the stakes are high as two rival railroads race to drive a spur through Wolf Creek Pass – a line that will make a fortune freighting gold and silver from the rich Colorado mines.

Suddenly Clay Torn stands alone against vicious saboteurs led by men who think their powerful political connections put them above the law. But Judge Torn is going to make sure Great Western gets a fair shake – even if it means giving Coastal & Northern a righteous run for the money.

A storyline that has turned up in many western books but I can’t remember reading another where one railroad company employs a band of ex-confederate soldiers who refused to surrender using a cannon to destroy the oppositions locomotives. This alone adds a neat twist to this tale. Torn’s method for dealing with this is nicely done too but does lead to complications later on.

The story mainly follows Torn but some chapters and scenes are told from other characters viewpoints so the reader knows who is doing what and for what reason. Having said that there is one person who I thought wasn’t quite who they said they were and I was proven correct but not as I expected and this revelation and the violent act it leads to came as a complete surprise adding a welcome twist to the tale.

Hank Edwards is a pseudonym for Jason Manning who wrote ten out of the twelve books in this series, and he keeps the story moving forwards at a fast pace as Judge Torn tries to discover who are the spies and saboteurs and then work out a way to stop their deadly tactics. In doing so Torn will have to face a lethal adversary who he first met in the previous book, Death Warrant, and this time there isn’t any way to escape a face-off Torn knows he can’t win.

Like all the other books in this series I found this one to be a quick and entertaining read and I’m sure it won’t be long before I pick up the final book to see if the series comes to an end and Torn finds the woman he’s been searching for since it began. 

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Stagecoach to Purgatory

By Peter Brandvold
Pinnacle, September 2018

After many years of ebook and/or hardback only releases it’s great to see the name of Peter Brandvold fronting a mainstream paperback again. Lou Prophet is one of Pete’s most popular characters and this book contains not one but two stories about the bounty hunter.

LAST STAGE TO HELL
What do you get when you take one stagecoach out of Denver, add a thousand-or-so bullets whizzing past your head, while sitting next to two headless corpses caught in the crossfire? If your name is Lou Prophet, you get raucous, rowdy, ruthless revenge. Next question?

DEVIL BY THE TAIL
How do you catch a fork-tongued demon who’s busted out of prison to wreak unholy hell on a small Texas town? If you’re Lou Prophet, you team up with red-hot Louisa Bonaventura, aka “The Vengeance Queen,” and cut a swath of merciless Prophet mayhem in return.

Due process be damned…

Each of these stories clocks in at just under 200 pages long so Pete has plenty of time to create devious plots that move forward at an extremely fast pace and involve regular bouts of gunplay. Prophet’s shotgun being used to devastating effect on many occasions, perhaps most memorably in the first story when the bounty hunter is trapped in an overturned stagecoach.

Peter Brandvold writes tough, brutal tales filled with fascinating characters that don’t let up with the action for a second. As mentioned in the blurb for the second story it’s great to see him working alongside Louisa Bonaventura again (she’s appeared in most of the previous Prophet books) and Prophet has to deal with the green-eyed monster of jealousy in this one as well as some vicious people.

The first story sees Prophet’s lust for the ladies get him into real trouble and a letter from another woman seems to be a way out of this deadly situation. Of course, this letter asking for help turns into another life and death struggle. Long-time readers of the Prophet books should remember the lady asking for help for she is Lola Diamond who appeared in the first book in the series.

Whereas the first story is more of a straightforward tale the second is filled with twists and turns. Many of these surprises quite shocking – and I can’t reveal more without spoiling them – as who did what to whom and what the real relationships between characters are come to light, not to mention the whereabouts of a missing baby.

I’m sure all fans of Peter Brandvold’s work have probably already read this and enjoyed it as much as I did. If you’ve yet to discover Mean Pete’s writing then this could just be the perfect place to start as it seems to be the beginning of another run for Lou Prophet in paperback. The second book is already out and a third is scheduled for release in July. Stagecoach to Purgatory is a superb read and I’ll certainly be picking up the next one as soon as I can.


Thursday, 31 January 2019

The Stranger

THE BADGE #8
By Bill Reno
Bantam Books, December 1988

When Denzel Murdoch was sent to the gallows for strangling a young woman, he shouted that he was innocent and vowed he would come back from the grave and take revenge on the judge, the six jurors and the marshal and deputy who had arrested him. And now it’s happening – Green River’s marshal is discovered in a freshly dug grave with the initials D.M. carved on his brow – and there are more deaths to follow. The townspeople are terrified. They can only turn to the man they call John Stranger – a mysterious drifter they found in the Green River cemetery after a shoot-out that left three bank robbers dead – a man who can’t remember his own identity after being grazed by one of the robbers’ bullets. All people know about him is that he’s faster with a gun than anyone they’ve ever seen before – and that’s enough.

This is another strong entry in what, for me, has been a superb series so far. Each book is a stand-alone title linked by the fact that one, or more, of the main characters wears a badge of some kind. 

Like the previous books this story has a fairly dark content and the author is very good at describing the grip of fear that begins to motive many of the characters as they try to convince themselves that Denzel Murdoch’s ghost has not risen from the grave to kill those he holds responsible for his death. But what other explanation is there? As terror brings forth desperate acts, can the lawman and John Stranger keep control before mob rule will see more innocents put to death?

And what of John Stranger himself? Who is he? A robber? A killer? A lawman? Where is he from and why is he in Green River? Bonnie Bodine, the murdered marshal’s sister, convinces herself that Stranger is a good man and the two begin to fall in love. But is Stranger already married? Are they setting themselves up for the agonizing pain of heartbreak if Stranger does indeed have a wife, a family?

Bill Reno packs this story with questions and mysteries that become more and more tangled as the death toll rises. Once you think you may have some idea as to what is going on the author springs more twists to the tale. One of my suspicions did turn out to be correct, kind of, as to the identity of the killer, but Reno had a major surprise in store where that person is concerned that provides another excellent twist that I doubt anyone will see coming.

Does Stranger get his memory back? Is he the kind of man who Bonnie would want to spend the rest of her life with? Is he married? Are either, or both of them alive by the end? The quest for Stranger to discover his identity keeps throwing up surprise after surprise – and that is all I can say without ruining this story.

Bill Reno is a pseudonym for Lew A. Lacy who once again presents the reader with a hard-hitting, at times brutal tale that is a gripping read. On finishing this book I find myself eager to pick up the next one in the series and to try some of the other westerns he has written, such as a number of entries in the Stagecoach Station series as Hank Mitchum. 



Sunday, 27 January 2019

The Frontiersman

By William W. Johnstone with J.A. Johnstone
Pinnacle, April 2015

In Tennessee, 17-year-old Breckinridge Wallace knew the laws of nature. When his life was in danger, he showed a fearless instinct to fight back. Killing a thug who was sent to kill him got Breckinridge exiled from his Smoky Mountain home. Brutally wounding an Indian attacker earned him an enemy for life… Now, from the bustling streets of St. Louis to the vast stillness of the Missouri headwaters, Breckinridge is discovering a new world of splendour, violence, promise and betrayal. Most off all, he is clawing his way to manhood behind the law of the gun. Because the trouble he left in Tennessee won’t let him go. A killer stalks his every move. And by the time he joins a dangerous expedition, Breckinridge has only had a small taste of the blood, horror and violence he must face next – to make his way to a new frontier…

This is the first in a series launched under the William W. Johnstone with J.A. Johnstone brand. Currently there are four in The Frontiersman series, with a fifth announced for release in 2019.

Like in any opening book to a series we are introduced to Breckinridge and his family and the relationships between them. We also witness Breckinridge’s impressive strengths and ability to fight as the opening scenes describe a bloody battle between him and some Chickasaw braves. Breckinridge’s belief that he’ll marry Maureen Grantham is important to the plot too, and it’s the latter that leads to events that see Breckinridge go on the run.

The plot thread of Breckinridge being wanted links each new adventure he finds himself having as he teams up with various parties in his bid to reach the Rocky Mountains. It’s these encounters that will see Breckinridge’s resolve tested time and again in a series of deadly and violent situations.

The author tells this very fast-moving tale in gripping prose that kept me turning the pages. Characters are well-crafted and each has an important part to play in the storyline and the writer is not afraid to kill them off to add to the suffering Breckinridge must endure. Action scenes – and there’s plenty of them – are extremely well-written, brutally desperate struggles for life that are very visual. 

As the story races to its end, it becomes obvious not all the plot threads are going to be tied-up thus ensuring the reader will pick up the next book in the series and that is something I will certainly be doing very soon.

A book that should appeal to all western readers, especially those who enjoy mountain men tales.


Wednesday, 23 January 2019

The Double-A Western Detective Agency

Holmes on the Range #6:
by Steve Hockensmith
Independently published, Dec. 2018

Big Red and Old Red Amlingmeyer’s dream has come true: The Sherlock Holmes-worshiping cowboy brothers are finally in business as professional detectives. But their fledgling A.A. Western Detective Agency faces a few challenges. Their partner, Col. Crowe, is almost as cantankerous and secretive as Old Red himself. The colonel’s daughter, Diana, insists on tagging along for the Amlingmeyers’ first assignment. And that assignment lands them smack dab in the middle of a range war — with Big Red and Old Red expected to shoot it out with rustlers rather than rustle up clues and solve a mystery.

When the violence claims an unexpected victim, however, the Amlingmeyers are called upon to holster their guns (for a moment) and use their “Holmesifying” skills to track down the killer. But someone else is tracking them...someone who seems to set one ambush after another for the brothers. Will the Double-A Western Detective Agency’s first case also be its last?

It's been just over two years since the last Holmes on the Range book appeared which was more mystery than western, but this time Steve Hockensmith was writing it for fun rather than a mystery imprint so he decided to ‘pump up the western vibe’. Due to that decision this book certainly reads like a western that contains a couple of mysteries that need solving as only the Amlingmeyer’s can.

As usual the story is told through Big Red Amlingmeyer, his many humorous observations making me laugh out loud. The tale seems to be a typical range war type of plot but it soon becomes clear it’s much more than that and it spirals into a twisting and complex storyline that provides Old Red with plenty of opportunity to use his deducifying skills. I can’t really say anymore about that without giving to much away and thus spoiling the book for those intending to read it.

The story moves forwards at a fast pace and chapters often end on a cliff-hanger that will keep you turning the pages. There is also plenty of action – standoffs, gunplay, fistfights and other tense situations – that will be enjoyed by all western fans. Something that really caught my attention was the town a lot of the tale takes place in, it’s unusual set up being one I can’t remember reading the likes of before. 

If you’ve not yet read any of the Holmes on the Range books then this is certainly a great place to jump in as it seems to mark a new beginning for the Amlingmeyer’s due to it being their first assignment for their new Double-A Detective Agency. Let’s just hope that Mr. Hockensmith doesn’t keep us waiting too long to find out what their next job will be.



Also available as an ebook

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Love and Cold Steel

WILDERNESS #70
By David Robbins
Mad Hornet Publishing, December 2018

The heart wants what the heart wants.

Evelyn King yearns to get hitched. Eager for her dream to come true, she won’t let anything stand in her way.

But the frontier has many dangers. Killers and hostiles and beasts abound.

As Evelyn is reminded when she and the man she loves run into a pack of two-legged wolves…and something far worse.

At last another Wilderness book has appeared, two years after the previous title, The Avenger. Since Leisure Books closed David Robbins has been publishing new Wilderness books under his own name rather than the pseudonym of David Thompson.

How I tried to read this book slowly, to savour every word, every scene, but my ambition failed miserably as each short chapter ended with a question or cliff-hanger that made it virtually impossible to put the book down as I just had to know what happened next.

Love and Cold Steel could be described as two separate storylines running parallel to each other – Evelyn and Dega’s dangerous travail to reach Bent’s Fort and hopefully find a preacher to marry them, and the tale of a wagon train and it’s guide, Quay, to solve the mystery of his gruesome discoveries that threaten all the travellers lives – although you know at some point these gripping tales are going to converge in some way that will intensify the already deadly situations the main characters find themselves in.

Fans of the Wilderness series, and/or David Robbins writing style will know what to expect in the way the story is told; the how are they going to get out of that scene endings already mentioned, the endless struggle of man and women to understand each other which often results in laugh-out-loud moments, the witty dialogue which again left me grinning much of the time, the desperate savage fights to survive – both against man and beast – which are vividly written and plotlines that will keep you guessing to the end.

Wilderness 70 might have been a long time coming but it certainly lived up to my expectations and I believe it should be enjoyed by all western fans, especially those who like the mountain man era. All I can hope is that David Robbins doesn’t keep us waiting quite so long before he gives us another instalment in this excellent series.