Tuesday, 31 March 2020

The Big Round-Up

Edited by Harry E. Maule
Corgi edition, 1959

This is the third annual anthology issued by the Western Writers of America. 

Members of the WWA were asked to submit short stories for possible inclusion and sixty different authors sent in around 130 entries. The standard was high making the final selection difficult. The editor was looking for the greatest possible variety in theme, time, subject-matter and place and seventeen made it into this volume.

Some of the stories appear in this collection for the first time, but the majority have been published before. I’ve added a full list and background info about them at the end of this post.

The book starts with a fascinating introduction written by Harry E. Maule which looks at the evolution of western fiction and the problems facing authors of short stories, ‘The short story is a difficult and a constricted art. In its broader form it must be more than just an incident. The problem of the writer for the western audience is to create some characters, an atmosphere, a place, a complication, and a solution, all done in the terms of action and all within the scope of a few thousand words.’ Maule also considers the telling of the story in the first person instead of the third and offers some interesting insights in to the reasons for choosing the first.

Like any anthology covering the work of multi authors there are always going to be some that the reader likes better than others and some you’ll wonder as to why they were included in the first place, but that is all down to personal taste, so I won’t be mentioning which my favourites and least liked were as you will probably have a totally different viewpoint to me.

As is stated the stories do cover a broad variety of western themes and along the way you’ll meet a man who wasn’t looking for trouble – but the murder of his cousin demands revenge . . . One man who defeats a murderer with a holstered six-gun . . . One man has to finish the job he had started, and stake his life on a drunken man missing his shot . . . One man has to pit his inferior skill against a notch-crazy killer . . .

I was surprised how readable this collection was as I expected lots of old-style lingo that sometimes can be hard to read and themes/terms that would never be allowed to appear in today's publications. These thoughts were proved to unfounded. My intention had been to read a couple of stories at a time between reading other books but soon found myself racing through this collection without pausing. Overall, I found this to be a very entertaining set of tales that introduced me to many authors that were new to me and now have me wanting to try some of their longer works. 


My Father and the Winning of the West by John Prescott
Originally published in 1955. Reprinted from the Saturday Evening Post. 

The Steadfast by Wayne D. Oberholser
Originally published 1950. Reprinted from Zane Grey’s Western Magazine.

You’ll Have to Kill me First by Bennett Foster
Originally published in 1951. Reprinted from the Saturday Evening Post.

Ketch-Colt for Christmas by Walt Coburn
Originally published 1951. Reprinted from The Quarter Horse Journal. 

The Drummer by Luke Short
First publication.

The Seventh Desert by Frank Bonham
Originally published 1945. Reprinted from Liberty Magazine. 

The Contest by Will Cook
First publication.

The Hour of Parting by Norman A. Fox
Originally published 1951. Reprinted from Bluebook Magazine.

Wanted by Thomas Thompson
Originally published 1952. Reprinted from The American Magazine.

Where the Wild Geese Come From by Bill Gulick
Originally published 1942.  Reprinted from Capper’s Farmer.

Partner’s Luck by Charles N. Heckelmann
Originally published 1940. Reprinted from Wild West Weekly.

The Looting of Golconda by Harry Sinclair Drago
Originally published 1938. Reprinted from Best Western Magazine. 

One Evening in Abilene by Steve Frazee
First publication.

Notch-Crazy by S. Omar Barker
Originally published 1951. Reprinted from Zane Grey’s Western Magazine.

Caprock by Nelson Nye
Originally published 1953 under the title ‘Hoof in the Gut’. Reprinted from Western Short Stories.

A Decent Saddle by Noel M. Loomis
Originally published 1953. Reprinted from Zane Grey’s Western Magazine.

The Long Rider by Gene Markey
Originally published 1954. Reprinted from Western Tales.

Thursday, 26 March 2020

Battle Mountain

By Matt Cole
The Crowood Press, March 2018

Clay Parker and his cohorts are what is left of the once-infamous Tulley gang. They have waited five years to get the money they stole from a bank, which they believe has been hidden by one of their own – and he has just been released from prison. Now Hugh Donahoe is meeting up with his daughter Mena in the town of Battle Mountain. When his old gang mates confront him, he is killed. The money is not found, however, and the gang suspects that Mena has hidden it in a trunk, which is being carried across the Nevada plains and on its way to Oregon. Parker devises a plan to attack the mule train to get to the stolen money. But Parker is unprepared for the grit of Glen Maddox and his freighters. 

Filled with colourful and strong characters of both sexes, this tale gallops along. The author regularly switches between the different groups of people before bringing most of them together for a tense final fight that involves some blood and whiskey thirsty Paiute warriors too.

Maddox and his crew, along with Mena Donahoe and some of her fellow travellers have no idea there might be money hidden amongst the freight. The author doesn’t reveal its whereabouts until near the end, but for the reader it doesn’t take much working out as to where it is hidden. This doesn’t lessen the enjoyment of this fast-paced tale and I’m now looking forward to picking up another of Matt Cole’s books soon.

As he does in some of his other books, Matt Cole begins this one with a poem. This time he’s chosen Dreams by Helen Hunt Jackson from 1886. You can easily find this and in-depth analysis of it on the internet. Beginning his westerns this way makes them somewhat unique in the Black Horse Western line as I can’t think of any others that begin in this way.

Friday, 20 March 2020

Man Killer

By Thom Nicholson
Signet, July 2006

Out of the ashes of Confederate defeat, soldier Martin Keller heads west for a new life as a rancher. But hard times like these call for a more practical means of survival – such as riding posse alongside the Texas Rangers. It’s not a job that comes without risk or enemies, as Keller discovers the hard way when his family is brutally murdered.

Hopped up on rage and burning for revenge, Keller severs ties with the Rangers, tracks the cutthroats into the Indian Nations, and restyles himself as an unforgiving bounty hunter with no rules of remorse. To good citizens and desperadoes alike he’s known as Man Killer. And he’s not giving up until the men who murdered his family are planted in boot hill…. 

This is the second book in the four book series featuring Marty Keller, the first, Ride the Red Sun Down was published a year earlier. Strangely, Man Killer tells of events that take place and lead up to those that take place in the first book, and that book also contains a recount of what happens in Man Killer. Perhaps the publishers mixed up the order they put them out in? Whatever the reason let me stress that to get the most from these two books you need to read them the opposite way around to their publishing dates. 

Seeing the changes in Keller makes for some fascinating reading. The transformation from a tough Texas Ranger and loving family man to a colder, determined killer is the core storyline of this tale.

Thom Nicholson doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to describing violence. It’s graphic and brutal, especially the killing of Keller’s family. 

Nicholson tells the story from a variety of viewpoints and switches fairly regularly between the main characters, these being Keller and the men he is hunting. Having the outlaws split up makes Keller’s task virtually impossible. In fact, there are times that Keller is at a total loss with how to find the men he desperately wants to kill. Lack of finance to fund his quest sees Keller having to take other jobs and this is how he becomes a bounty hunter.

Keller stands out from nearly all the other characters due to his speech; he is a very well-spoken person whereas all the others use slang and some western lingo. 

If you’ve read Ride the Sun Down first, as I did, you’ll have some idea as to how the story will end for certain characters which did spoil this book a little for me. Still it was interesting to see how this happened. 

Hopefully the next published book is really the third in the series. I guess I’ll find out soon enough as I’m looking forward to reading it in the very near future. 

Monday, 16 March 2020

Bad Apple

By Lancaster Hill
Pinnacle, March 2020

John Apple is a simple man. A gardener and preacher who lives a quiet life in Ohio. Then a broken heart sends him south. A chance encounter with a very drunk Jim Bowie leads him to join the Texian Army. And the struggles for independence from the brutalities of Mexican President Santa Ana teaches Apple a valuable new skill: Killing.

Working with Bowie, Sam Houston, Stephen Austin and their ragtag army, Apple becomes a secret courier and bloody advocate for the cause. As a calling card, he plants apple seeds in the chests of every soldier he slays – and sparks fear in the hearts of Santa Ana’s men. But nothing could prepare him for the fate that awaited them at the Alamo Mission. Nothing could save his brothers in arms from the devastating slaughter that would go down in history. And now, for John Apple, nothing would be sweeter than revenge . . . 

Lancaster Hill tells this gripping and enthralling story in the first person through the viewpoints of two men, more or less alternating chapters between them. John Apple and Ned, a bar owner. Apple seems to need to tell his story of events leading up to and including the massacre at The Alamo, and has something else to do, but what? A third character is soon introduced into the books present, reporter Hulbert.

Can Ned and Hulbert believe what they are hearing as Apple tells his tale of horror? Is Apple really who he says he is? Did he really fight alongside Bowie and Crockett, and how did he survive the slaughter at The Alamo? Hulbert certainly needs proof and this leads to some tense situations as he challenges Apple’s story.

Gun-running plays a major role in this book. Someone is stealing American rifles and is selling them to the Mexicans. The author keeps this person’s identity a secret until the final chapters. I had my suspicions but they where totally wrong, so the revelation came as a great surprise and added a neat twist to the tale.

Lancaster Hill mixes fiction and real events seamlessly. He includes a lot of fascinating facts about the proceedings that lead to the massacre at The Alamo and the eventual downfall of the Mexican Army. 

There is a dark tone to much of this story and the violence is brutal at times. Apple’s anguish is well described and I was soon sharing his feelings, caring about his fate, whether he was good or bad. The planting of apple cores with the dead added an original touch to this excellent tale.

After all the bloodletting and gloom the final chapter – a second chapter one (you’ll need to read the book to find out why), provided some welcome light-heartedness that in my mind was the perfect ending.  

Lancaster Hill is a pseudonym used by Jeff Rovin. 

Tuesday, 10 March 2020

Starlight Range

By Barry Cord
Ward, Lock, 1961
Originally published 1959

For years Gil Barnes and old Arrant Canady had been partners, ranching together in Montana. Then they had a violent quarrel and Gil had started off to seek new horizons, but within a short distance he had been shot in the back, paralyzed and left for dead. It had taken him years to regain his health, to learn to ride and to draw a gun again. Now he was on his way back to get retribution from the one man he hated above all others.

But Gil arrived too late. Canady had died – and ironically, had left Gil a half-interest in his Starlight spread. The other half was being claimed by a woman who said she was Arrant’s daughter-in-law, the widow of his son. But she had no marriage certificate; there was not even proof that young Phil Canady was no longer living.

I’ve always enjoyed Barry Cord’s books and this one proved to be as entertaining a read as any others. Short and fast-moving this is a tale that sees many characters playing their cards close to their chests. Secrets, mystery and surprising twists and turns easily held my interest and made this a hard to put down read.

Barnes is a bitter and hard man who decides to make a go of the Starlight ranch even though there are others who’ll do anything to own the ranch. Then there’s the puzzles of people who may be who they say they are, or not. If they are imposters, then what is the purpose behind their pretence? To say much more about the plot would have to include major spoilers so this is as much as I’m going to reveal about the storyline.

As expected, by the end everything is tied up neatly and I closed the book feeling very satisfied, thinking I need to read another Barry Cord tale very soon.

For some reason this book was reprinted under another title. In 1961 the book was republished as Slade with Gil Barnes having a name change to Slade. 

Barry Cord is a pseudonym used by Peter B. Germano.

Saturday, 29 February 2020

Vultures Over The Elk Fork Country

Gideon Safford series, book 1
By Bill Yenne
DS Productions, December 2019

Gideon Safford drifts into town quietly and unpretentiously, fully and completely expecting to drift out again in that same manner, just as he has passed like a shadow through so many other settlements and fading boomtowns across the West.

It is not to be. Guns are drawn. Safford kills a man to save a man, but quickly finds that he has helped to upset a delicate balance of conflicting interests in the foothills and placers across the remote Elk Fork country of Montana Territory.

As the wind ruffles the golden leaves of the aspens, war explodes between avarice and innocence. Cold hearts exact cold-blooded revenge. Safford puts a thumb on the scales of justice, but a mysterious malevolence lurks within the deepest ravines.

Winter falls hard upon the country, icy winds blow, death stalks the mountains, and vultures circle in the sky.

Bill Yenne had a couple of westerns published by Berkely back in 2012 and 2013 and then disappeared from this genre, which was a shame as I really enjoyed those books. I was really pleased to discover that Bill had written another western, the first in a new series, and I was very eager to read it.

Gideon Safford makes for an excellent lead character, but as the opening chapter reveals Gideon Safford isn’t his real name. This, and the reason he rides under an alias, adds a great sense of mystery to this man. As the story develops, we discover a little more about his past and his hopes for the future. One thing is for certain, he’s very good with a gun.

Yenne has also created a superb cast of supporting characters, each having important roles to play as the tale unfolds. Hired guns are killing off settlers, is this part of a landgrab? As Safford begins to whittle these gunmen down, he discovers someone else is taking them out too. Who is this mystery sniper and what is his motive? It isn’t long before the vultures of the title have plenty of corpses to feast on as the story races forward at a fast pace, and before the conclusion is reached the author springs plenty of surprises as to the who and whys of the tale. 

Yenne’s writing is extremely readable, his dialogue is believable and bad language is kept to a minimum. His action scenes are visual and graphic. The descriptions of emotions after innocents’ die are beautifully written and are very moving at times. 

All too soon I found myself reading the final page so all I can do now is patiently await the arrival of the second book in this series. If it’s anything like this one I’ll be in for another exciting and entertaining read. 

Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Have Brides, Will Travel

By William W. Johnstone and J.A. Johnstone
Pinnacle paperback, October 2019
Kensington hardcover, April 2019

Bo Creel and Scratch Morton are lifelong drifters who keep one eye on the horizon, one finger on the trigger, and one foot out the door. Roaming the West is what keeps them young, or so Scratch tells Bo. But when they save the life of Cyrus Keegan – the owner of a matrimonial agency – they receive an unexpected proposal that’s hard to resist. Keegan needs to deliver five mail order brides to a mining town in New Mexico Territory. All Scratch and Bo have to do is get these gals to the church on time – and alive, if possible . . . 

The job seems easy enough – and the brides-to-be are even easier on the eyes. Cecilia, Beth, Luella, Rose, and Jean all need good husbands. But their prospects look bad when the journey to the alter includes Mexican banditos, scheming silver robbers, and one overbearing rancher who won’t take no for an answer. Bo and Scratch promised to keep the ladies safe – and keep their hands to themselves – but it could be the last vow they’ll ever make . . . 

This book is billed as the first in a new series but the two main characters, Bo and Scratch have starred in another Johnstone series, Sidewinders that ran from 2008 until 2014, and it is great to see them back. They aren’t the only characters making a return, fans of the Johnstone books may well recognize Cyrus Keegan too as he appeared in Ride the Savage Land, book four in the Those Jensen Boys! series. 

Bo and Scratch are a very likeable pair of old-timers, whose long friendship and background is explained briefly during the opening chapters of this story. Escorting the brides-to-be offers plenty of opportunity for danger and humour. There’s plenty for these ladies to learn, such as the art of firing a handgun and a rifle. It’s during these lessons that the author really brings out each ladies’ personality. 

After a violent clash with bandits, the small group finally reach their destination – the boomtown of Silverhill, and it’s here that the first twist to the tale takes place. Many more characters are introduced as the plot gets more complex as different groups of outlaws and individuals use the arrival of the brides as a distraction as they put their own plans into motion, one of which involves kidnapping one of those young ladies. 

The author builds his story extremely well to the last desperate battles in the streets of Silverhill and the descriptions of the action scenes are very visual. The author has another surprise waiting for the final scenes with the arrival of someone who further complicates matters. The conclusion of this book does bring an end to most of the story-threads but a couple are left hanging. Maybe they’ll be continued in book two of the series, Shotgun Wedding, and I for one am very much looking forward to reading that.

Available in hardback, paperback,
ebook and audio CD.

Friday, 14 February 2020

Lone Star and the Hangrope Heritage

By Wesley Ellis
number 23 of 153
Jove, July 1984

Who was the mysterious gunman who burst into Jessie’s room shivering with fear? He had come to talk, to tell everything he knew about the cartel, the mortal enemy of the Starbuck empire. But as he opened his mouth to speak, a well-aimed bullet struck him dead.

Now all Jessie and Ki had to go by was a faded old photograph the gunman claimed was the “key.” It wasn’t much of a clue, but it might unlock the secret plot in time to save Jessie’s life!

This story features Ki more than Jessie, she almost takes a backseat in this fast-paced action-packed episode in the Lone Star series. The Lone Star duo have to do some investigative work to discover who the photograph is of and why it is so important. What it leads to is a devious plot where life is cheap and no-one is safe. Double-cross, hooded riders and sensual women combine in a page-turning read.

The Lone Star books are classed as adult westerns and they do contain explicit sex scenes but don’t let that put you off reading them as these encounters are easy to skip and you’ll be left with a gripping tale of intrigue, gunfights and martial arts – Ki is a martial arts expert and prefers to use his talents in this kind of fighting rather than using traditional western weapons.

I believe the person behind the pseudonym of Wesley Ellis this time around is Jeffery M. Wallmann, who wrote book one in the series along with many others. I usually find this writers’ work to be very entertaining and this book is right up there with his best. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I’m sure I’ll be reading another Lone Star book very soon.

The Lone Star series may long be out of print but they are now available as ebooks.

Monday, 10 February 2020

A Man Called Crow

By Chris Adam Smith
The Crowood Press
Paperback edition, November 2018
Hardback edition, January 2016

Old time lawman Charlie Crow finds peace and tranquillity in Wyoming, but before he can settle down with the woman he loves, he must face a distant and dangerous past. 

The long forgotten trail leads back to the lawless Texas borderlands and a date with destiny. Old ghosts, graves and range wars; greed and double cross mark the long trail back to his youth.

His quick gun is wanted one last time if the town of Carol Creek is to survive the threatened chaos. From behind a county badge, Crow tries desperately to ride out the storm and return to Cheyenne, and the woman he left behind. Young gunfighter Billy Joe Watts rides hard on the lawman’s trail, determined to kill the one man he fears.

It is a long, hard ride for a man named Crow. . . .

I’ve read quite a few Black Horse Westerns by Chris Adam Smith, under his own name or pseudonyms, and have yet to be disappointed by any of them, and this one is right up there with his very best.

Crow is an engaging hero and he’s supported by a variety of characters equally as well-drawn as he is, especially Billy Joe Watts. The author uses flashbacks to fill us in on Crow and Watts' background, they used to ride together and separated with much animosity.  The tale revolves around their inevitable meeting, especially as Watts has been hired to kill Crow. 

The threat from the arrival of Watts isn’t all Crow has to deal with.  There are soon others eager to blast Crow into eternity. Then there’s a growing attraction to a woman much younger than himself that Crow has to ignore – at least he tells himself he has to as he has a lady waiting for him back in Wyoming.

Chris Adam Smith tells the majority of the story from a first person point-of-view through Crow, although he occasionally switches to the third person when the plot needs carrying forward through others. There is also a nod to the horse owned and ridden by singer and actor Roy Rogers that put a smile on my face, as it should any fan of westerns.

Packed with action that is graphically described, this story races through a number of twists and turns before it reaches its bloody climax. But does it have a happy ending for our aging hero Charlie Crow? I guess you’ll just have to read it to find out and hopefully you’ll enjoy making that discovery as much as I did. 

Available in hardback, paperback and ebook.

Tuesday, 4 February 2020

Buzzard Bait

number 2 of 3
By Brett Cogburn
Pinnacle, September 2017

Newt Jones is none too proud of his deadly nickname. But when you tangle with the likes of Judge Roy Bean and the notorious Mexican outlaw Juan Cortina, a man’s bound to earn a reputation. Or get stuck with a moniker like “Widowmaker.” Even so, Newt is ready to put his gunslinging days behind him, hang up his Winchester, and take it easy. There’s just one problem: Ain’t nothing easy about living in Apache country . . . 

When Newt gets word that a renegade tribe has kidnapped Matilda Redding’s grandson, he can’t just sit back and let the local authorities bungle it. Matilda once did him a good turn up on the Pecos and – flat broke and half-drunk or not – he’s got to help the old gal out. So, he saddles up his horse, straps on his dead man’s gun, and sets off to save the boy before he’s buzzard chow. Sure, Newt’s outnumbered, outgunned, and probably out of his mind. But they don’t call him Widowmaker Jones for nothing . . . 

Brett Cogburn once again has Newt Jones riding alongside a real person from the history of the West. This time it’s a young, and very talkative, Tom Horn. Other real people make an appearance too, such as Al Sieber. According to the author’s notes at the end the story is based on the kidnapping of Charlie McComas and this child has a role to play in this tale too. It is unknown what really happened to this boy and Cogburn puts forward some facts so you can make your own mind up. There are other real characters too but to say more will spoil some of the books surprises.

Cogburn mixes truth with fiction superbly. He counters the more horrific aspects of the tale with comical moments, mostly through conversation. Jones and Horn couldn’t be more unalike – Horn likes to run off at the mouth whilst Jones prefers silence – and it’s often their clashes of personality that create the humour. 

The story is fast moving and vividly described. There are some memorable bad guys, such as a man called The Hatchet and a Federal Colonel. Violent action comes frequently as The Widowmaker strives to fulfil his promise to Matilda. 

Like the first in series, I found this to be a hard to put down book that left me very eager to read the next Widowmaker Jones tale. Hopefully I’ll get to that very soon as the third book, Gunpowder Express, has finally been released.

Available in paperback, ebook and large print.

Thursday, 30 January 2020

Fighting Men

By Ralph Cotton
Signet, May 2010

Civil War veteran and former schoolmaster Sherman Dahl rides the Southwest as a gun for hire. Known by both the law and the lawless as “The Teacher,” Dahl sells his services to those seeking justice, and he is relentless in his pursuit of wanted men.

Chester “Big Chicago” Goines and his band of outlaws have been raising hell across Arizona, thieving and killing everything in their path. When he learns that Dahl has been set on his trail, Goines welcomes the opportunity to settle an old score….

As expected from a story by Ralph Cotton, this book contains a large cast of colourful characters doing their best to kill one another. Mistrust, double-cross, revenge and the lust for money entwine in this very entertaining tale that includes the use of a bullet-proof vest – this later being something I can’t remember reading about in a western before. 

Dahl is an interesting and engaging lead character who first appeared in the book Webb’s Posse. He’s a man who doesn’t seem to care how much suffering he might have to endure or how many bullets he might have to take as long as he completes his mission. 

Like all the Ralph Cotton books I’ve read this one is divided into three sections. Dahl has a large part to play in the first and third sections whilst the second is pretty much given over to the exploits of Goines and a number of other bandit groups. We also meet a young, inexperienced deputy who is out to kill those who gunned down his sheriff and he causes complications for Dahl, as does the man who hired him to take out Goines. A dancing bear that seems to relish wrestling with humans also has a part to play. 

The book is packed with vicious bloody action and at no time was I sure of who would get to kill whom and who would be left alive by the end. 

Once again, Ralph Cotton provided me with a thoroughly gripping story where every page was a joy to read, leaving me eager to read another very soon. 

Available in paperback, hardback, audiobook and as an ebook.

Monday, 27 January 2020

West of the Pecos

number 1 of 7
By James Calder Boone
Avon, June 1987

Judge Samuel Parkhurst Barnstall never makes Remington’s assignments easy. It’s hard enough to track down a trio of cutthroats who plundered a north Texas town, leaving a lawman strung up for the coyotes to finish. But bringing them back for trial – alive? That’ll take some sand.

Especially when their leader is the legendary Ramsey Clagg, 300 pounds of knife-wise buffalo skinner with a sweet tooth for torture. To even the odds, Remington must talk his way into Clagg’s Hell’s Door hideout. A door no lawman has ever seen swing open…and lived.

Judge Barnstall is a terrific character. His no-nonsense approach to law and order and his desire to hang outlaws to make an example of them to other would-be offenders is the reason he instructs Remington to bring back his prey alive. This, of course, leads to all kind of problems for the lawman.

Tracking down and capturing the first two cutthroats is easy enough and it seems like the lawman will be able to fulfil his task without killing anyone. But the leader of the trio of killers has a band of outlaws to back his play and Remington has no choice but to turn his guns on them in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse, where the lawman is the hunted. 

The story moves swiftly forward and is well-written. The prose made me want to keep turning the pages to see if Remington could possibly bring back all those he was charged to find alive. One of the highlights of the book is when Remington enters Clagg’s Hell and plays the part of an outlaw. I had in my mind that surely there would be someone in the gang who would recognize such a well-known lawman and I wasn’t disappointed with my guess, and from that moment the book really picks up in the action stakes. 

James Calder Boone is a pseudonym and this first book in the series was written by Jack Zavada and his storytelling and plotting made this a fine read. So much so that I’m looking forward to reading the next one soon, although it isn’t written by Zavada. In fact Zavada only wrote book one. A couple of much more well-known western authors, Robert Vaughan and Jory Sherman, came on board for the rest of the series. 

Sunday, 19 January 2020

Fortress Iron Eyes

number 24 of 30 to date
By Rory Black
The Crowood Press
Hardback, January 2016
Paperback, November 2018
Cover art by Salvador Faba

Tracking outlaws Dobie Miller and Waldo Schmitt into a deadly desert, the notorious bounty hunter Iron Eyes is closing the distance between them with every beat of his determined heart.

Yet the magnificent palomino stallion beneath his ornate saddle is starting to suffer. For years the deadly Iron Eyes has never been concerned about his horses, but since acquiring the powerful stallion, his attitude has changed.

Iron Eyes knows that the horse has saved his life many times, due to its remarkable strength, but now it needs water badly. Every instinct tells the bounty hunter to stop his relentless hunt for the wanted outlaws, but then his steely eyes spot something out in the sickening heat-haze. It is a towering fortress. Iron Eyes presses on.

Once again Rory Black has his hero up against far superior odds, for the abandoned fortress that lures Iron Eyes is already inhabited, not only by the two outlaws he is pursuing, but also by a band of men ready to trade with the Indians who inhabit the desert. These vicious men aren’t the only problems facing the bounty hunter for the two wanted men have gunned down some of the Indians and they want revenge and are planning an assault on the fortress. 

The author creates an air of tension well, his prose often dark in tone as Iron Eyes rides into more danger than expected. There is plenty of violent action before all the well-drawn characters come together for the bloody conclusion which sees Iron Eyes having to act fast to escape with his life.

Fans of this series will know that Iron Eyes is the object of unwanted affection from Squirrel Sally who follows him everywhere in her stagecoach. This time she arrives at the fortress ahead of the bounty hunter and her presence adds further complications to the deadly situation Iron Eyes finds himself in. Squirrel Sally also provides some moments of welcome humour to the otherwise vicious storyline.

Rory Black is one of the pseudonyms used by Michael D. George, an author who never fails to entertain and Iron Eyes is probably his best-known character. If you’ve never tried any of his work, then this could be the perfect place to start.

Black Horse Westerns are usually only available as hardbacks, now The Crowood Press are putting some out as paperbacks of similar size. The paperback versions are virtually half the price of the hardbacks. A lot of Black Horse Westerns have also been released in ebook format. 

Wednesday, 8 January 2020

Murphy's Herd

By Gary Paulsen
Pocket Books, January 1992
Cover art by Garin Baker
Originally published by Walker and Company, 1989

After Al Murphy resigned his sheriff’s badge and swore off the violent, dusty streets of Cincherville, Colorado, he followed the directions of an old Indian to Wyoming’s land of wide green valleys. There under the broad sky, with a good woman by his side, he would ranch with a few dozen horses – far from the knives and guns of his lawman’s past.

But his enemies, deadly gunslingers, follow him. Returning from Casper with provisions for his new home, Murphy rides into the wrecked scene of their most savage attack…at the heart of his homestead. The blood and charred wood shatter his peaceful life and drive him back – to the hard kick of his heavy gun, the rip of outlaw bullets, the agony of manhunting in a lawless land – and the determination to die for what is right.

If anyone has the first four Murphy paperbacks put out by Pocket Books then please take note that this publisher put out books three and four in the wrong order. The book they’ve numbered as four is really the third book and vice-versa. To get the most enjoyment from this series you need to read Murphy’s Herd after Murphy’s Gold as there are strong continuation plot lines from book to book.

The first two books in this series were tough and brutal so it came as a surprise when the first half or so of this book was almost light in tone, dealing with Murphy’s joy of embracing a new life away from violence and being with the lady he loves, Midge. There are a couple of fights to be had during their journey but nothing Murphy isn’t capable of dealing with quickly and efficiently, incidents soon to be forgotten.

Paulsen’s writing is so good that I soon found myself swept up in this time of happiness, sharing the wonder at discovering the valley in which Murphy and Midge set up home. Their easy-going attitude and simple life can’t fail to appeal to anyone. Then comes that trip to Casper and the return to horrors that Murphy will blame himself for and it’s at this point that the book switches in mood, the dark tones of the previous books rise up as Murphy is consumed with hate, the need for vengeance and after that there is only the welcome desire to blow his own brains out to escape the nightmare, after all he will have nothing else to live for.

Paulsen’s hard hitting prose is beautifully paced, moving at times such as when tranquil life is ripped away by brutal violence. Murphy’s anguish will have you feeling for him, hoping he will succeed in his intense need for revenge. Paulsen doesn’t let Murphy’s suffering end there though, the final savage showdown leads to more self-doubt, more agonizing questions as he rides back to the destroyed homestead to end his own life but what he finds there may just change his mind.

The more I read of Gary Paulsen’s work the more I enjoy his writing and I’m sure it won’t be long before I read another of his books.

Sunday, 5 January 2020

Trail of Blood

number 8 of 15
By J.A. Johnstone
Pinnacle, February 2011 

The son of legendary gunman Frank Morgan, Conrad Browning goes by the name of the Loner – and forged a growing reputation of his own. But in the midst of a fight for his life, the Loner discovered that he too was a father: of twins he’d never met. Now, the Loner heads back east to pierce a mystery guarded by murderous criminals for hire. Why is his ex-fiancĂ©e hiding his children from him? And why is this secret worth killing to keep? The answers lead the Loner back to a small Kansas town and a tale of cruelty, greed and power – the kind of story his father always knew how to end: with courage and a gun… 

This story closely follows the previous entry in this excellent series. The ending of book 7 introduced the possibility of The Loner being a father and Conrad’s desire to discover whether that is true forms the main thread of this tale. 

After an exciting, bloody train robbery attempt, the story shifts to Boston as Conrad tries to hunt for truths that his children really do exist. Even in the domain of millionaires’ death lurks, and there are attempts on his life that lead to more questions. Eventually Conrad becomes the Loner again and heads West, following every lead he can. Each town he finds himself in seems to have its own problems and The Loner finds himself caught up in them, fighting for his and others lives before moving on.

Well read western fans will recognize one of the lawmen the Loner finds himself fighting alongside in Abilene, and will know another who only gets mentioned by name. This was a neat inclusion for me as I’ve long been a fan of the series these two characters star in and I’ve always liked it when different series characters appear in another series. 

As the body count mounts and trail goes from hot to cold and back again, you’ll soon be left wondering if the Loner will ever find out the truth. Maybe the answers lie in an orphanage near the town of Powderhorn but a lot of blood will have to be spilled before the Loner can find out.

This is another terrific entry in The Loner series. It’s a story that is episodic in a way, all the separate troubles being linked by the Loner’s search to discover if his children exist. The tale is peopled with many memorable characters and descriptions put me right there in the midst of the action. Like the previous book, this one finishes in such a way that I’m going to have to read the next one very soon. 

The opening blurb mentions the Loner’s father, Frank Morgan. For those who don’t know Morgan starred in his own twenty-three book series called The Last Gunfighter put out under the author name of William W. Johnstone and the latter editions also carry the name J.A. Johnstone. Both series ended in 2012 but in 2018 a new Johnstone series was launched called The Morgans that features both father and son.