Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Ride the Long Night

By E.A. Alman
Ace Books, 1960
Originally published by The Macmillan Company, 1959

His name was Will Storm and he was getting to be a legend in the West. He wasn’t more than 27 years old, but his hair was completely white and he had a lifetime’s worth of hate stored up in him. He had sworn to would not rest until his gun caught up with three people:

 . . . the sweetheart who betrayed him,

. . . the treacherous saddle-partner who helped her railroad him to prison,

. . . the corrupt prison warden who tortured him for five bitter years.

It was a long rail that he rode – a long and violent trail – but it had an ending none would forget.

E.A. Alman is an author I wasn’t familiar with, and a google search doesn’t bring up anything other than this book. This publication contains a number of quotes from reviews declaring how good this story is, one stating ‘Alman promises to be one of the more stimulating writers of Western fiction, and this book should have wide appeal.’ Another says ‘One of the best westerns to come along in some time.

The story starts well, and portrays Storm as a desperate man drive by his self-imposed mission to kill those who wronged him. Storm is hurt, being pursued by a posse. He’s saved by a young woman who lives alone, who’s a man-hater. A woman many see as crazy. She see’s opportunity in Storm and decides to help him heal and hide him from the posse. In exchange he must marry her, that’s all, he can then go on his way once she has his last name. Why is that so important to her? That is something you’ll have to find out for yourself by reading the book.

During Storm’s recovery we are introduced to two other major players, a man referred to as the Preacher – that is his trade but is there more to him than that? The second person is a lawman determined to see Storm back behind bars. As their lives become entwined the plot becomes more complicated and the suspense mounts.

At times this story is quite brutal, definitely has a hard-boiled appeal to it. Storm does do something that not all readers will approve of, but I can’t say more without spoiling a major element of the book. 

During this tale Storm helps some children find their parents and this part of the story seems to lose the dark edge of the rest of the book and a different side of Storm is revealed. Although this section of the story is important to how the plot develops, I did find the pace eased off a little here and lost its grittiness that I'd been appreciating. Once this story-thread had been resolved then the toughness returned and my enjoyment rose again and I was eager to see how the story ended.

With his vengeance hunt over, and maybe not how you’d expect, Storm has to face a new demon in the woman he married. Would she kill him on sight? She was certainly full of hate for him and had promised to do so, something Storm was resigned to. The prospect of his death at her hands certainly doesn’t stop him returning to her to hand her the gun with which to take his life. Perhaps his death is the only way to conclude his life, something he welcomes?

Overall, this was a very satisfactory read and it does make me wonder why Alman never wrote anymore westerns.

Ride the Long Night is part of an Ace Double book, paired with Gordon D. Shirreffs Apache Butte.

Sunday, 21 June 2020

Murphy's War

Murphy #4
By Gary Paulsen

Cover art by Garin Baker
Pocket Books, December 1990

Sheriff Al Murphy is fed up with Fletcher, Wyoming, a two-bit hole in the wall that has no use for a real lawman. Now they’ve gone and lynched a powerful Texan’s only son and broken Murphy’s arm in the process. The streets are about to run with the blood of vengeance – and Murphy’s only half alive from hard drinking and hard fighting, and a loss so raw only whiskey numbs the memory of that lone canyon grave.

Soon Murphy’s taking them all on: the power-hungry feedstore owner and his rowdy hired hands, and the hardnosed Texas rancher and his small army of cowboys. His only weapons are a sawed-off shotgun, a Colt revolver, his trusty double-action Smith – and the knife-edged courage to go down in a blaze of white heat and lead.

Although the back of this book states it’s the third in the series, it is actually the fourth and it follows on from the correct third book, Murphy's Herd (that Pocket have wrongly named the fourth) quite closely. Still struggling to come to terms with the death of Midge, Murphy is still contemplating suicide but can’t bring himself to put a bullet through his brain. Turning to drink he hopes the alcohol will do the job for him.

The opening scenes of this story are very powerful. Murphy, with a broken arm, is powerless to stop the lynching. It’s a hard-hitting sequence of events told in tough, brutal prose. Sickened by what has happened Murphy decides to leave the town to its destruction by the soon to arrive Texan rancher.

Even though the author creates a great sense of impending doom the tale does slow down a bit at this point. Murphy spends time contemplating his life. Even though he stops drinking he still sees no purpose in living so heads back to Fletcher to go out in a blaze of glory, not to save the town, but to die.

Gary Paulsen then picks up the momentum again and writes a superb, tense, violent final showdown that makes for some terrific gripping reading as Murphy takes on the Texan and his men alone. This really is a savage gunfight that sees Murphy hit again and again. Among all the blood and gore it seems Murphy’s wish to die is to be fulfilled.

Murphy’s War more than matches the strength of the previous books, apart from the slight slag in the middle, yet this slowing of pace could just be what makes the beginning and ending such powerful reading. It will be a long time before I forget that final gunfight. 

If you are a fan of raw, hard-hitting westerns and you’ve yet to read the Murphy series by Gary Paulsen then may I suggest you do so as soon as you can. To get the most from this series the books need to be read in the correct order. 

Saturday, 13 June 2020

Blood Trail

number 10 of 24
By Bill Reno
Bantam, April 1989
Cover art by Shannon Stirnweiss

“Mad Dog” Duke Malone has some scores to settle, and he likes killing – a lot. When he breaks out of a Texas prison hell-bent on revenge, a lot of folks stand a good chance of dying. Chief among them is Sheriff Colby Tucker, who arrested the outlaw and put him away. But Mad Dog guns down Tucker’s son by mistake, and then leaves a trail of blood clear across the state as he goes to dig up the loot from a previous holdup. Tucker sets out to avenge his son and bring Mad Dog to justice. The lawman had planned on retiring, and this hunt will be his last act as sheriff. It might be his last act – period.

This is another very good entry in what, for me, has been an excellent series so far. It’s a series you can dip in to anywhere as each book is a standalone novel featuring different people. The books are linked by the fact the one of the lead characters wears a badge of some kind. Having said that, there are a couple of lawmen who appear in more than one book.

Mad Dog rides with a couple of ex-prison guards who helped him escape. They’ve been promised a share of the hidden loot for their reward. These two men begin to have second thoughts as they witness brutal killings carried out by Malone, and are shocked at his total disregard for human life, guilt or innocent.

The mistaken killing of Sheriff Colby’s son is handled well by the author, and the reason for this happening is totally plausible. The heartbreak of this incident is moving and this is the kind of scene Bill Reno excels at. 

The author regularly switches between Mad Dog and the pursuing lawman. As the death toll mounts you do have to wonder if Colby will catch up with Malone before he kills all those on his hit list. Colby is joined on the trail by his other son, who’s also a lawman, and soon matters are further complicated as a young woman, the only survivor of a Mad Dog massacre, insists on riding with them too. She could be a major problem as she is Malone’s daughter. The final showdown makes for some exciting reading and is as savage as all that has gone before it.  

I’ve always enjoyed the dark tones that some of the previous books have had, but this one doesn’t match them in that sense. This story is more of a straight-forward gritty read that includes a lot of bloody hard-hitting action. I found Blood Trail to be a very entertaining tale and I look forward to reading the next book very soon.

Bill Reno is a pen-name of Lew A. Lacy who has written many other westerns under his own name and other pseudonyms.

Monday, 8 June 2020

Apache Butte

By Gordon D. Shirreffs
Ace Books, 1960

The towering butte stood like the symbol of death, and Ken Driscoll rode right into the rocky bastion in the pursuit of his prey.

Loco and his Apaches were on a bloody warpath. The killing and ravaging would continue until Ken could find the men who were supplying the contraband whiskey that was driving the Indians to their deadly orgies.

Outnumbered by both savage red men and renegade white men, further burdened by the necessity of having to find legal proof, Ken knew that his chances of succeeding were about a thousand to one and his chances of surviving about a million to one. But high as the odds were, Ken was just that one man in a million who might dam the tidal wave of slaughter and live to tell.

Tough, gritty and at times brutal this fast paced story gripped from the very beginning, which sees Driscoll trying to avoid the Apaches and discovering a wandering little girl whilst doing so. Sadly, he has to kill her puppy to stop it yapping and giving their position away and this unfortunate act will have a part to play later in the tale.

It isn’t long before Driscoll is the unwanted guest of a group of hardcases and then their prisoner when a man from his past shows up. There are women too, as sensuous as the men are dangerous. Mistrust and double-cross become themes of the plot as Loco and his Apaches seem to keep Driscoll and his companions trapped in a ranch. There are questions about why Driscoll is here and his past, what is it he is really after?

Before the end Driscoll and a handful of men and women must take the fight to a much larger band of Apaches that are camped out on the top of the mesa, a monument of rock with only one trail up that is easy to defend. How they scale the heights provides some extremely suspenseful reading and as the death toll rises, I began to wonder if Driscoll, or any other person, would be alive by the end.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a story by Gordon D. Shirreffs, his sparce, hard-hitting writing style makes for a fast read and I found it to be an enjoyable book. I wasn’t quite convinced by the sudden attraction between Driscoll and one of the women – they hadn’t really had any interaction with each other and then they were kissing – but the rest of the tale more than made up for that.

Apache Butte is a short story, it comes in at 113 pages in this Ace Double Novel. It’s paired with the slightly longer Ride the Long Night by E.A. Alman, an author I’m unfamiliar with, so I’m looking forward to reading that very soon. 

Monday, 1 June 2020

Longarm and the Bank Robber's Daughter

By Tabor Evans
number 301 of 436
Jove, December 2003

U.S. Deputy Marshal Custis Long opens his door to a visitor—just in time to see him die in a hail of gunfire. The killers get away…and the victim leaves Longarm with the words “stolen gold” and “Sweetwater Canyon”…

The dead man once shared a cell with Clete Harrigan, a notorious bank robber Longarm put behind bars years ago. The army payroll that Harrigan’s gang stole was never recovered. Now Longarm thinks it just might be hidden in Sweetwater Canyon in New Mexico.

Before he can depart, Harrigan’s daughter Emily arrives, wanting to make amends for her father’s crimes by helping retrieve the money. With outlaws in pursuit, Longarm can use the help. But is she as lovely as she seems—or as lowdown as her daddy?

This time, the author behind the pseudonym of Tabor Evans is James Reasoner and he provides us with a cracking tale. The action comes thick and fast as Longarm searches for the long missing army payroll.

From the word go someone is out to stop Longarm getting to Sweetwater Canyon but he battles through. Once there Longarm finds himself in a range war and the canyon is part of the land being fought for.

There are plenty of suspects in the well-drawn characters that Longarm meets during his hunt for the payroll. Any one of them could be behind the attempts on his life and I didn’t guess who that was as this person’s identity was kept well-hidden until the author was ready to reveal who it was. Once you think the investigation is closed James Reasoner springs a sting in the tale that I didn’t see coming that rounds the book off well.

This is an excellent entry in the long running series and is certainly worth checking out.

Tuesday, 26 May 2020

The Gallowsman

By Will Cade
Leisure, November 1998

Ben Woolard is a man ready to start over. The life he’s leaving behind is none too pretty, filled with ghosts and pain. When he lost his wife and children, he took to the bottle so hard he almost couldn’t find his way out again. And his career as a Union spy during the war still doesn’t sit quite right with him, even if the man sent to the gallows by his testimony was a murderer. But now Ben’s finally sobered up, moved west to Colorado, staked out a claim, put the past behind him.

But sometimes the past won’t lie still. Sometimes it just won’t stay buried. And, as Ben learns when folks start telling him that the man he saw hanged is alive and in town – sometimes those ghosts come back.

This is a book filled with intrigue. Not only is the main storyline laced with mystery but also the sub-plot involving an attractive young woman who disguises herself as a man to hide her identity from her half-brother who she claims will kill her if he finds her.

The author has come up with a great set of characters and has plenty of surprises waiting for them, and the reader, as the plot unfolds. Gold teeth, ghosts and the young lady I’ve already mentioned all having important roles to play as this story builds to its deadly conclusion.

This isn’t a story filled with gunplay, although it does contain some vicious action scenes, but a lot of the killings take place off screen so to speak. Don’t let that put you off reading this though, as the author certainly knows how to write a suspenseful story that keeps you turning the pages in a quest to discover just what is going on. Arson, murder, beatings and kidnapping all raise their ugly heads during this twisting tale that sees Ben Woolard questioning his past and whether he can trust those he becomes involved with whilst trying to forge a new life for himself. Woolard will have to endure both physical and emotional batterings before discovering the truth. Neither storyline being resolved as I expected which enhanced my total enjoyment of this book.

Will Cade is a pseudonym used by Cameron Judd and this book certainly has me looking forward to reading more of his work soon. 

Thursday, 21 May 2020

Once Late with a .38

number 7 of 8 *
By Peter Brandvold
Berkley, October 2003

Sheriff Ben Stillman has enough of a hard time keeping peace in the town of Clantick without having to worry about the likes of Matt Parish. Since his father died, Matt has been responsible for the Circle P Ranch – and his hot-headed streak has been responsible for a lot of trouble with the other ranchers . . . including his future father-in-law, Tom Suthern. 

Despite failing health and loss of profits, Tom refuses to sell his spread to Matt, even if he is marrying his daughter. So, when Matt is discovered in the presence of Tom’s bullet-riddled corpse, people naturally assume he murdered the old man. Now, it’s up to Ben Stillman to protect Matt from a trigger-happy posse and find the real killer – before it’s too late . . . 

Sheriff Ben Stillman has always been one of my favourite characters to come from the pen of Peter Brandvold, perhaps because reading the first Stillman book was the one that introduced me to the authors writing and I’ve been a fan ever since. 

Peter Brandvold’s work can often be very graphic when he describes the violent scenes in his stories and the intimate moments between male and female characters. Language can be very colourful too, but in this book all these elements are kept to a minimum.

A number of other people from the town of Clantick have parts to play in this fast-moving story that sees Doc Evans taking a central role. In this series Stillman often tracks known outlaws but this time he has to become a detective, questioning suspects (and there’s a fair few of them) before the pieces of the jigsaw come together. Even as they do the plot thickens with twists and turns as double-cross and triple-cross further complicate the situation. 

The story regularly switches between a variety of characters as the violence escalates. Stillman eventually blundering into a situation that it seems he cannot possibly escape. Tension mounts as surprising revelations come one after the other leading to a thrilling conclusion. 

Once Late with a .38 is another excellent entry into the Sheriff Ben Stillman series and I’m certain it won’t be long before I read the next book.

* I’ve indicated at the top of this review that Once Late with a .38 is book seven of eight, which is true if we look at the original run of the series published by Berkley. Some eight years after book eight appeared Peter Brandvold started writing the series again. There are now 14 and they are all available through Wolfpack Publishing. 

Sunday, 17 May 2020

Hot Lead: All Reviews Special

Editor Justin Marriott
May 2020

Over 215 capsule reviews from a century of western fiction!

This is a fanzine that should be on the shelves of every western fiction fan. 

With more than 160 pages this is a weighty publication that will provide hours on entertainment. It’s not a book to read cover to cover, but a collection to be dipped into, savoured and returned to time after time.

This beautifully put together fanzine is divided into separate sections covering ten year time periods, the first review is of a book that was published in 1927 and the final one being a novel from 2015. There are many cover illustrations to savour too, all produced in black and white. 

Comic book writer and author Chuck Dixon’s forward is both charming and entertaining and I can’t help but picture him practicing his fast draw whilst jumping up and down on his bed as a child.

Editor and producer Justin Marriott’s introduction tells of how this volume of Hot Lead came about and of how it developed as the reviews came in from enthusiastic western book fans resulting in him hoping it will become a yearly publication.

There are three special essays too. Paul Bishop looks at ten of his favourite western authors, Howard Andrew Jones explores the Gold Medal line of westerns and Gary Dobbs waxes lyrically about Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove Saga.   

To close the fanzine there is a contributor’s section where you can read a bit of background about many of the reviewers.

But what of the reviews themselves? As it states on the back of the fanzine it covers The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, although there are far more that fall into the good rather than the other two categories. Of course, we must remember that each review is one person’s opinion so it may not match your own thoughts on a particular book. Indeed, there are some that have received low star ratings that I’d have marked higher, and vice-versa, and that is part of the fascination of such publications.

Amid the many classic westerns reviewed you’ll also find lesser known novels. There are books from well-known authors and those who’ll be new to you. The passion of the reviewers for the genre comes across strongly and is very infectious. As well as traditional westerns you’ll find reviews of books from a variety of sub-genres such as adult westerns, cow-punk, SF-westerns, weird westerns, ultra-violent westerns and comic books.

There are reviews of stand-alone novels and those that form part of a series. Some authors have been reviewed more than once by different people and this helps give a more in-depth appreciation to those writers’ work. You’ll also discover who the authors are behind some of those pseudonyms. 

Whatever your taste in western fiction, I’m sure you’ll find some of your favourites in this collection and discover many more authors that you’ll want to try. One thing I can certainly guarantee is that it will have you rushing out to those used book stores and internet sites in search of the many gems you’ll read about in this issue of Hot Lead. 

If you haven’t bought a copy of the All Reviews Special then may I suggest you do so right away as it is something all fans of western fiction, and those who just have a passing interest, will find themselves reading over and over for both entertainment and reference.  If I may borrow the rating system from this book, I'll give it *****

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

Damnation Valley

number 4 of 4
By William W. Johnstone with J.A. Johnstone
Pinnacle, July 2018

A Rocky Mountain winter has left Breck reeling from the carnage unleased by bloodthirsty trapper Jud Carnahan – and readying a quest for vengeance as ruthless as his prey. It gets even deadlier when Carnahan lays siege to a trading post on the Yellowstone River. He’s left the owner dead and kidnapped a pretty hostage who can turn a nice profit once he puts her to work.

Following his trail takes Breck clean to Santa Fe, where Carnahan’s set up a brothel bursting with hardened beauties, a saloon for cutthroats and thieves, and a trap for the frontiersman who’s tracked him every bloody step of the way. But over the rough, merciless miles it’s taken Breck to get here, he’s built up a raging fury that’s going to make this unholy town swim in blood.

The winter feud between Breck and Carnahan formed the major storyline of the previous Frontiersman book, The Darkest Winter. Although it’s not essential to read that book before this one it may be in the readers interest to do so. Damnation Valley does contain enough information to fill a new reader in on what happened before so this book can be read as a standalone. 

It takes around half the book before the siege at the trading post is resolved which results in the kidnapping of Ophelia Garwood. It’s also during Breck’s time at the trading post that we are introduced to a variety of characters that will play with the frontiersman’s emotions in different ways. Soon Breck’s hatred for Carnahan will reach new heights and he will stop at nothing to kill this evil man.

The author describes the battle scenes and smaller confrontations extremely well, places the reader right in there amid the action. At times the bloodletting is vicious but not gratuitously so. The atrocities performed by Carnahan will soon have the reader urging Breck on with his mission. Problem is Breck doesn’t have a clue as to where Carnahan is headed but his desire to both save Ophelia and kill his foe keeps him going when the odds are against him.

The book takes on a slightly darker tone once Breck arrives in Santa Fe and it’s here that the author has a brutal twist waiting, something that took me completely by surprise. Before his final bloody clash with Carnahan, Breck will team up with two characters long time readers of the Johnstone books will have met before, Audie and Nighthawk, and they will have important roles to play in the outcome of Breck’s quest for vengeance.  

This story, in fact all four books in this series, are gripping, fast-moving reads. Breckinridge Wallace is likeable as are many of the supporting characters, some of whom appear in more than one book. I particularly like the time period these stories are set in, and it makes a pleasant change from the many other westerns I read that are set in the 1880’s. I can only live in hope that one day further tales about the Frontiersman will appear. 

Tuesday, 5 May 2020

Kill Town

2 of 2
By Cotton Smith
Pinnacle, November 2016

Agon Bordner is dead, and the ranch he cheated for has been handed over to Deed Corrigan and his brothers. But before he can get the Bar 3 back on its feet, Deed, Holt, and Blue must fight to rebuild the town by buying the bank and appointing a marshal. For a moment, peace looks possible for these three weary veterans of the trail – until the guns begin to fire.

Seeking vengeance for their boss, eight of Bordner’s killers storm the town. They rob the bank, kill the marshal, and break the rest of their gang out of the jail. To save the town, Deed and Holt hit the trail, planning vengeance the only way they know how. Blue stays behind, stepping into the marshal’s role to guard the jail, as the Corrigans risk their necks to save the only place they have ever called home.

This book continues some plot lines that were starting in the first Corrigan Brothers book Ride Away, and readers may prefer to read that before this one, although Cotton Smith includes enough background information to explain what has happened before so the storyline will make sense to those readers new to the series.

After the violent attack on the town, Holt, now a lawman, along with Deed, lead a posse in pursuit of the outlaws who’ve ridden off with the bank money. This chase and the bloody fight to retrieve the stolen money takes up a good portion of the book. This hunt and the desperate flight back to town hampered by Comanche attacks makes for some thrilling reading.

Once the survivors make it back to town the story’s momentum slumps a bit as we follow Holt as he makes himself known to some of the families that live around the town. Although a couple of these new characters have further roles to play, I wondered if we were being introduced them for a future book? The story picks up again as the remaining outlaws head back to town to take their revenge on the Corrigans and the town and we have another bloody battle to bring this plotline to an exciting close. 

Overall, this is a very readable book filled with great characters that include a samurai and the stray dog Tag. The action isn’t overly graphic, there aren’t any sex scenes and bad language is none existent. The plot isn’t complicated and is easy to follow. By the end of the story we are introduced to new characters and a major plotline setting us up for the next book. Unfortunately, that wasn’t to be as Cotton Smith passed away at the age of 76 before either of the Corrigan Brother books were published.   

Thursday, 30 April 2020

Trail to Nowhere

By Sheldon B. Cole
Piccadilly Publishing, December 2019
Originally published by The Cleveland Publishing Co., 1967

Blake Durant was on his way to Crimson Falls when he stopped by Jessica Gray’s ranch for water. Before he could move on again, the young widow’s son came galloping into the yard, badly beaten. Three men had stolen their two calves and beaten young Jess when he tried to stop them. Much as he knew he should just ride on. Blake knew he couldn’t. So, he stood shoulder to shoulder with the young widow and her son against a vicious land-baron with an army of gunnies on his payroll. And when the gunsmoke finally cleared, the winner would take all!

A few months ago I read the first entry in this series and really enjoyed it. Finally, I’ve found time to read the second. That first book only revealed a sketchy background to hero Blake Durant and I surmised that the author would probably reveal more as the series progressed. I was correct, as this tale divulges more about Durant’s background, which explains more about his character and hints at why he seems reluctant to act on the advances of the three female leads.

This is a gritty tale, full of hard men and tough women. Durant isn’t backwards in taking the fight to those who he determines are in the wrong, and he’ll do that through threats, fists or guns. These books aren’t long, around 90 pages in length, and the author manages to include a lot of action in his fast-paced, weaving plot. As expected, there isn’t any really graphic sex although sexual desire does play a part in the tale and the descriptions of this are tame, mainly left to the readers imagination. 

If you’re looking for a hard-hitting fast read then the books in this series are certainly worth considering. I’ll definitely be picking up the third real soon as this one proved to be just as enjoyable as the first.  

Sheldon B. Cole is a pseudonym for Australian author Desmond Robert Dunn.

Available from Piccadilly publishing as an ebook.

Trail to Nowhere has just been published in hardback by The Crowood Press under their Black Horse Western line.

Saturday, 25 April 2020

Comanche Massacre

Number 2 of 10
By Chet Cunningham
Cover art by Bruce Minney
Leisure, 1987

The Comanches had been pushed too far by the corrupt government in Washington, driven to anger by the whiskey traders and formed into a deadly fighting force by cold-blooded gunrunners. They were killing mean and vowed to sweep across the territory like a cyclone – murdering, scalping, and raping….

The Pony Soldiers were a dirty, undisciplined rabble, but they were the only chance a thousand settlers had to see another sunrise. They were an unyielding rock in a sea of bloodshed, determined to fight to the last – each man swearing to kill ten Comanche before he died.

This story starts shortly after the events of the first book. Captain Colt Harding using his newly formed Lightning Troop to attack the Comanche whenever he can whilst also searching for his kidnapped daughter. Harding’s hate comes across strongly and he and his troopers’ willingness to kill their enemy sees them committing many similar atrocities to their foe. The opening massacre carried out by the Lightning Troop seeing them slaughter men, women and children without remorse. Seeing how Harding tries to justify this to himself makes for some interesting reading even though readers may not agree with his rationalizing. 

After the opening destruction of the Comanche camp the author mixes a number of different storylines. There’s further training for the Lightning Troop. A man-hungry young lady who doesn’t care if her conquests are married or not, nor for the consequences of her dalliances. Then there’s White Eagle’s band of Comanche and his quest to pregnant a wife with a son. They are also the Comanche who killed Harding’s family and stole his infant daughter, Sadie, now known as Laughing Golden Hair. A fair amount of the book deals with the Comanche way of life. Each of these plotlines slowly entwine and deadly confrontations are inevitable and much blood will be spilled, the death toll high as the soldiers face superior odds.

Chet Cunningham has written a decent, almost episodic, follow up to the first book. It’s very readable, contains some brutal action scenes and a little graphic sex. Harding and White Eagle’s characters are developed further as are other recurring individuals. Not all the storylines come to an end thus ensuring readers will want to pick up the next book, something I hope to do very soon.

I’ve stated this is the second book of ten, which is true of the original paperback series. Many years later Chet Cunningham continued the series, publishing three more stories as ebooks.

Monday, 20 April 2020

Reunion in Hell

A Ralph Compton novel by Carlton Stowers
Cover art by Dennis Lyall
Berkley, April 2020

Brothers Clay and Cal Breckenridge, sons of a hardscrabble East Texas farmer, never did see eye to eye. Clay, the eldest, returned home after the Civil War to help his father run the family farm; Cal deserted his military post and disappeared into a new life with a new name. Everyone knew who was the good son and who was the bad.

Clay had almost forgotten his wayward brother until the morning a limping horse approached the farm with young Cal Breckenridge’s body slumped in the saddle, shot in the back.

Vowing to avenge Cal’s death, Clay sets off on a perilous journey across the West to find the man responsible and bring him to justice – and take down an outlaw enterprise in the process.

It was back in March 2016 when Signet stopped publishing Ralph Compton westerns and now Berkley has decided to re-launch the line. Starting in April 2020 they are putting out two brand new books each month, and like before, they are printing the real authors name on the cover of the books. Carlton Stowers had just started writing for the Compton line when publication of them came to a halt. In fact, one of Stowers two earlier books, Phantom Hill, was the last one to be published. This is my first time reading anything by him.

When this book was first announced it was called The Breckenridge Boys but as you can see it had a title change to Reunion in Hell, a much harder hitting sounding title. The flames, the pursued riders, that title, all give promise of a violent action western, so did it live up to my expectations? Not really, at least not the brutal action-packed content I’d hoped for. Having said that, the story did pull me in and I enjoyed reading it.

The book is split into four parts a prologue and an epilogue – the prologue explains Cal Breckenridge’s reasons for deserting the army in the last days of the Civil War. The first part covers Clay’s reactions to the death of his brother and his hunt for whoever killed him. Part two is a flashback that tells of what happened to Cal and the other two parts deal with Clay’s revenge and what comes after.

The story is filled with great characters and deals with how they all deal with the events triggered by Cal’s death. Relationships are formed whilst others break under strain. When stolen money goes missing the outlaw leader is driven by a destructive need to recover it and no-one is safe from his wrath. Throw some Comanche into the mix and you have a recipe for a lot of action. And there is plenty of that, particularly in the third part of the book. I’d have liked the action scenes to have been a little longer as they were often over in a flash, but that is just my taste.

The epilogue explains what happens to most of the main characters after the main plot is resolved and is a neat and fitting way to end this very readable story. 

As you’ll have noticed, the book cover carries a tag saying this is part of the Gunfighter series, which may confuse long time fans of Ralph Compton books if they’re expecting this to be a continuation of the older Compton books that carried this series title which were about Nathan Stone and then his son Wes Stone as it has nothing to do with them, and neither do any of the coming books that are also being published as part of the Gunfighter series. As far as I can tell they are all going to be stand-alone titles.

Amazon UK still have the paperback version listed under the title The Breckenridge Boys but the ebook is listed as Reunion in Hell.

Thursday, 16 April 2020

The Way of the Gun

By Ralph Hayes
The Crowood Press, March 2018

Fired from the Provost ranch and humiliated in front of the whole bunkhouse, Duke Latham swears vengeance on the owner Maynard Provost. Pursuing a life of crime and violence at the head of a small gang of outlaws, six months later Latham kidnaps Provost’s beloved daughter Dulcie.

Provost’s ranch hands scour the country searching for the girl, but in vain. Then fate throws them, and Provost himself, into the path of notorious bounty hunter Wesley Sumner, known as ‘Certainty’ because of his countrywide reputation for never failing to find and kill his man. Sumner is persuaded by the desperate father to take up the search for Duke Latham and his kidnapped prisoner.

This is the second of three books to feature bounty hunter Certainty Sumner from author Ralph Hayes who wrote the popular Buffalo Hunter series that first appeared in 1971. Hayes would later add four more books to that series published under the Black Horse Western banner, the last of which appeared in 2016. The following year the first of the Certainty Sumner books was published.

Unfortunately for me I had already read the third book in this series so knew how part of this tale would end as the books do have some continuity to them. Having said that, it was great to be able to find out what had happened that lead to the relationships that are further developed in that third book. Each book can easily be read as a standalone novel as the author includes just enough background information to explain what has happened before, but readers yet to discover these stories may prefer to read them in order.

Certainty Sumner is an excellent lead character, although in this book he doesn’t appear for quite a while. He’s more than capable of taking on odds that should see him on the losing end but his ability with a gun seems unbeatable. In this story he meets someone who may just get through his tough exterior. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that this person is a young woman, the very one he has been hired to rescue.

Duke Latham is another well-drawn character, who’s driven by hate. An all consuming desire to hurt Maynard Provost in the worst way possible, something that all his gang members don’t quite agree with and this provides some conflict of interests within the outlaw gang that you can never be sure of how it will turn out.

Dulcie’s infatuation with her rescuer adds another element to the tale and you have to wonder if Sumner will be able to resist her charms. 

Mix all this together and you have another great read from Ralph Hayes that fans of his work, or western readers in general, will not want to miss. 

Saturday, 11 April 2020

Tin Star

A Ralph Compton novel by Jackson Lowry
Cover art by Chris McGrath
Berkley, April 2020

Luke Hadley never imagined he would be left for dead with a chest full of bullets on the day of his wedding. All he wanted to was tend to his farm with his new wife, Audrey, and begin their lives together.

But when the Rhoades hang crashes his wedding party, they wreak havoc and abduct his bride, leaving the lifeless bodies of his guests. Luke has only a sparse trail of clues to follow, but with help from a phony Pinkerton bade and a mysterious woman with many skills – including breaking him out of jail – he finally rides down those who’ve wronged him….

It’s been four years since the last Compton novel appeared on the shelves. The line came to an end at the time many publishers ceased producing westerns. Now Berkley have decided to bring the Compton books back, the first two appearing in April 2020 and two more have been announced for each and every month of this year and into the next. As many western fans will know, Ralph Compton passed away in September 1998, but with his books being so successful the publisher decided to keep his name alive by putting more new novels out under his name but written by a variety of other authors, their names also printed on the covers. Berkley have continued with this trend. Looking at the coming books they have been written by old favourites and some newer western authors, all promising some great reads for fans of the western genre.

Tin Star has been written by Jackson Lowry. He’s not a new author to me, although I have only read a short story by him and that was sometime ago, so I was keen to try a full-length novel by him.

Lowry has created a wonderful cast of characters for this book, each having their own personalities which is very evident in the three main female roles in his story. The hero, Luke Hadley, is also an engaging character, a farmer who is totally out of his depth tracking, and fighting, seasoned outlaws. Hadley’s ability with a gun is poor and he mostly misses his target. He’s also prone to charging into situations with thinking the consequences through and takes some heavy punishment for his rashness.

The story begins like many other westerns that have a man seeking vengeance against those who wronged him. The author adds an element of mystery in the unknown woman who appears to be helping him and this throws up the question of why? Lowry also has a couple of surprises waiting in store, one that proves to be a shocking revelation that proves to be a great twist to the plot, one I didn’t see coming.

Due to that great twist I don’t want to reveal anymore of the plotline here so as not to spoil the book for those planning to read it. What I will say is I really enjoyed reading this story and will be keen to read Jackson Lowry’s next Compton’s – two more have been announced, Never Bet Against a Bullet in June and The Lost Banshee Mine in July. 

Tuesday, 7 April 2020

The Darkest Winter

number 3 of 4 to date
By William W. Johnstone with J.A. Johnstone
Pinnacle, August 2017

Exiled from the Smokey Mountains for gunning down a man in self-defence, Breck Wallace tries to make a new home in St. Louis, even tries his hand at romance, but some men are too wild to settle down. Breck is soon back on the trail, where a vicious gang of trappers, after his goods, picks up his scent and begins to dog his every step, until Breck’s only choice is to bed down for the winter with a tribe of friendly Indians. In the frigid, brutal cold of a Rocky Mountain winter, he hopes to find peace . . . but death is not done with Breck Wallace. When Breck’s partner, Morgan, is left for dead, the frontiersman must ride deeper into the mountains than he has ever gone before. Peace be damned. The blood with flow until vengeance is his alone . . . 

Book two in this excellent series ended with Breck Wallace heading for a new life which included getting married. It soon becomes apparent that this happy day never happened and Breck is unwilling to discuss why, even with his best friend Morgan. The reason is eventually explained, told in a heart-rendering flashback sequence. The rest of this story introduces us to some terrific new characters that will cause Breck’s actions to be driven by an all-consuming blood-lust.

The book is packed with violent encounters for Breck, both with rival trappers and Indians. But it’s the trappers who are his main adversaries and this leads to a deadly trap being set that Breck willingly charges into with no regard to his well-being, just that he satisfies his need for revenge.

Strangely, the book’s blurb isn’t correct when it tells of Breck’s reason for vengeance. He had no idea that Morgan has been attacked and is presumed dead. This isn’t revealed to Breck until after the final brutal battle with the trappers. I’m not going to say why Break goes on the rampage as that will spoil one of the main storylines for readers or tell here of Morgan’s fate.

This author really does know how to spin a gripping yarn. The pace of the book is relentless and the majority of the chapters end on cliff-hangers, making it almost impossible to put this book down before finding out what happens next. And that is exactly how one of the story threads ends too, promising of things to come in the next book that guarantees I’ll be reading it very, very soon.

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. Overholser
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.