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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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.

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

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

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.