Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Head West issue 1

Summer 2018 issue
Piccadilly Publishing

Way back in 1980 the first issue of a magazine appeared on the shelves of UK shops simply called Western Magazine. Sadly, it only lasted for four issues. The consultants for this being David Whitehead and Mike Stotter, the two men who today run Piccadilly Publishing and have now launched a new magazine.

Like the much-lamented Western Magazine Head West features a mix of articles, interviews and original fiction. Head West has a full glossy cover with everything inside being reproduced in black and white.

For me, the interviews make for superb reading as they feature two of my favourite all-time western authors, namely Keith Hetherington - who writes under a variety of pseudonyms including Kirk Hamilton and Brett Waring - and Peter Watts whose most well-known pen-name is Matt Chisholm.

Original stories come from D.M. McGowen, Jake Henry and new-comer M. James Earl. Henry’s story features his character known as The Drifter and Earl’s being the first published tale about his heroine Barbary Dove. All three of these tales proved to be very entertaining reads.

With an article by Tony Masero on creating cover art, another looking at the making of the film Vermijo along with Linda Pendleton remembering her fathers love for the western, this is a magazine that deserves to be successful.

You can get your copy from 

Saturday, 9 June 2018

Hard to Quit

By Mark Mitten
Milford House Press, September 2017

In a boom camp like Creede, most people want to get rich either mining silver or playing cards. LG and Davis have a different plan -- sell beef. Fighting the bitter temperatures and the winter storms of the Colorado high country, they string wire and bring in cattle. But there are things more dangerous than the weather. Having run out of luck and out of Denver, con man Soapy Smith brings his gang up to Creede to start over. His vision of success if different than anyone else's, and it involves rigging the odds in his favour. No matter who it affects, or how far he must reach.

Bringing back a couple of characters from his previous western, Sipping Whiskey in a Shallow Grave, Mark Mitten once again tangles their storyline with a number of others that are all seemingly unconnected to begin with. Mitten also includes flashbacks to tell of Horace Tabor’s rise to fortune. Nearly all chapter’s switch between the various characters, this technique urging you to continue reading to find out what happens next to these people.

I’ve already mentioned Horace Tabor, aka The Silver King, and he isn’t the only real-life person Mitten brings into this fast-paced story for his fictional characters to deal with, there is also Jefferson “Soapy” Smith and includes his prize package soap racket that earnt him is nickname of Soapy. Bat Masterson and Bob Ford have major roles to play and Mitten tells of the factual events involving their lives in Creede truthfully and entertainingly. 

Another storyline follows Kahopi, a Hopi native, searching for his father and the trail leading to the discovery of the man he believes to be this man is a fascinating as any other story-thread the book contains.

Although this book does contain some gun-play it is more about greed and the political or bullying tactics the various characters try to use for financial game and these are the elements of the tale that really grabbed my attention and pulled me into the story, gripping material indeed.

Mark Mitten thoughtfully includes a basic character list at the beginning of the book and a much more complete one at the end.

This book has been shortlisted as a finalist for Best Western Novel in the 8th annual Peacemaker Awards.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Mad River

By Donald Hamilton
First published in 1956

Boyd Cohoon – cowman, jailbird, knife fighter – cam home to Mad River.

Waiting for him was a girl. As her father paid him to stay away, Cohoon saw the relief in her eyes.

There was her brother, who had done the crime for which Cohoon had gone to prison. Cohoon saw the fear in his eyes.

The mine owner who’d gotten rich off Cohoon’s land gave him a smile and slapped him on the back. Cohoon saw the deceit in his eyes.

There was the sheriff. They had been boys together. Cohoon saw the suspicion in his eyes.

So there was no home welcome for Boyd Cohoon. And Mad River saw the hatred in his eyes.

Donald Hamilton is perhaps better known for his Malt Helm spy series than his westerns which is a shame going by the strengths of this twisting tale of secrets and revenge. The latter storyline adding mystery to this tale as Cohoon attempts to find out who really killed his father and brother whilst he was in prison, and why. There’s more mystery too as to the identity of ‘The General’ and who is feeding him information from inside the town. And then there’s the woman who rides into Mad River on the same stage as Cohoon, what’s her story?

Character studies are excellent and dialogue snaps off the page with a hard edge. Action scenes are well described, particularly the ride down the river depicted on the cover shown. I really liked how Cohoon’s preferred weapon is a knife rather than a firearm making him a little different from the usual fast gun heroes of the majority of westerns. 

Ok, some of the plot twists are easy to predict but you can never be quite sure which direction the tale will take you next. Hamilton’s writing is strong and riveting making this a very difficult book not to read in one sitting.

In my opinion Mad River is certainly a book worth tracking down. 

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Strong Ambitions

By GP Hutchinson
January, 2018

Tiny, yet prospering Benficklin, Texas, wants a clean, respectable town marshal to safeguard their pristine community from the kind of riffraff that turned neighboring Santa Angela into a raucous string of blood-spattered saloons and bawdy sporting houses. Former Texas Ranger Emmett Strong seems to be just the man Benficklin’s town fathers are looking for, once they’re satisfied that his Chinese wife, Li, is “sufficiently civilized.”

Reputations aside, Benficklin—not Santa Angela—is the town with the next scandal on its hands, when the ravaged body of a young, murdered Mexican girl is found lying in the middle of Main Street.

Initial signs suggest hard-drinking cowboy Quirt Langdon may have done the deed. Emmett, however, senses that things aren’t exactly as they appear. Nearby Fort Concho’s Captain Roderick Prentiss seems peculiarly interested in what is clearly a civilian case. And Santa Angela’s most eccentric resident gambler, Nate Chaffin, gives the impression he knows things he’s not telling. To top it all off, two of Benficklin’s leading citizens end up assassinated in their own backyard.

While local officials pressure Emmett to hastily hang either a suspect or a scapegoat, honor drives the former Ranger to seek true justice for the poor murdered girl, as well as for the two prominent citizens. Ill-tempered townsfolk, pilfered evidence, and somebody taking potshots at him and his wife make Emmett wonder whether he’ll live to unravel the mystery or become the next corpse folks find in the dusty streets of Benficklin.

Like the first two excellent books in this series, this one also sees racial prejudices playing an important part in the story, something the author handles sensitively, yet still reflects the biases of the time the story is set without pulling any punches.

GP Hutchinson has come up with a terrific set of characters and once the murdered Mexican girl is discovered the author manages to place an air of suspicion over the majority making me wonder as to just who did the killing and why. So, this novel is a murder mystery set in the West, yet it never loses the feel of being a western.

The pacing is superb, as Strong has to deal with a series of set-backs and attempts on his life before the story reaches its shocking culmination. There’s plenty of brutal action and plot twists that made this a page-turner. 

You don’t have to have read the previous books to enjoy this one, as like the other two each stands well on its own. I do feel, though, that once you’ve read one of them you’ll be wanting to read the others. 

When the first book came out it was announced there would be two more. Now they have been published I hope it doesn’t mean we’ve seen the last of Emmett Strong as I for one would like to read more, so let’s hope GP Hutchinson has plans for another.

Saturday, 5 May 2018

Return to Vengeance Creek

By Robert J. Randisi
Five Star Publishing, June 2018

Career lawman Daniel Shaye has returned to the town of Vengeance Creek, Arizona with his two sons, Thomas and James, to take on the jobs of sheriff and deputies. Before long, they find themselves embroiled in cases of murder and revenge. When Red Fleming and his gang come to town to break brother, Harry Fleming, out of jail, they kill a jailer in the process. Since it was Thomas who arrested Harry, Sheriff Shaye sends his sons out to bring the Fleming brothers back. It’s the first time the Shaye brothers have gone on a manhunt without their father. Meanwhile Sheriff Daniel Shaye can’t leave town because Cole Doucette has been released from prison and is rumoured to be on his way to Vengeance Creek to gain revenge on the man who sent him to jail – Mayor Snow, formerly a district attorney. With the Shaye brothers trailing one gang, and their father, Daniel, waiting for another to arrive in town, the tension is high for the Shaye men, risking their lives to stand behind the symbol of the law they wear on their chests, the badge.

In 2004, 2005 and 2006 HarperCollins published the first three Sons of Daniel Shaye books and now, through Five Star, Robert Randisi has brought the Shaye’s back. Having only read the first book I did wonder if it would have been beneficial to have read books two and three before starting this new story to fully comprehend their backstory, to understand their reasons for returning to Vengeance Creek. The answer is no, you don’t need to have read those earlier books to fully enjoy the fourth entry into the series as the author includes any information you need to know, and to be honest, that is very little, as this book stands on its own.

Many western readers will be aware that a lot of Robert Randisi’s novels fall into the adult western category but this book doesn’t delve into that area at all, meaning it is a book that all western fans can enjoy.

The story is very fast moving and full of great characters, some of whom will have you wondering just what their role in this tale will be, Tate Kingdom for instance. 

In many ways this book is a combination of two tales, Daniel Shaye’s waiting game for Doucette and his men, and the story of his sons tracking down the Fleming brothers. Robert Randisi regularly switches from one set of characters to another, often leaving them in life or death situations, which will have you eager to keep reading. Deadly action erupts frequently and this sometimes happens off-screen so-to-speak, making you wonder just what the outcome has been, bringing tension to the tale as you share the emotions of those struggling to find out the answers.

There are a number of surprises too, mainly to be found in the storyline revolving around Doucette’s return to Vengeance Creek. I found it very entertaining discovering the different ways Daniel Shaye goes about whittling Doucette’s gang down. I was also intrigued to find out why Doucette didn’t seem to mind losing his men, the answer to which I can’t reveal here.

The book ends very satisfactorily and left me wondering if Robert Randisi will write a fifth book as I would definitely be wanting to read it. In the meantime, I’ll be digging out books two and three to get fully up to date on the adventures of Daniel Shaye and his sons.

Monday, 30 April 2018

The Ramseys

By Will McLennan
Jove, May 1989

Kyle and Matt Ramsey were lucky to return home alive from The War Between the States – Kyle wore his empty left sleeve as a badge of honor. Crossing the Texas border, the fearless brothers expected a heroes’ welcome. Instead, they found that their fight for freedom had only just begun.

War profiteers had taken over the town and plundered the Ramsey homestead. As the family’s future lay in jeopardy, Kyle and Matt squared off for a shoot-out the carpetbaggers would never forget…

Having read a few of the later entries in this eighteen-book series I’ve been keen to go back to the beginning and discover how it all began. The first three entries were written by Gary Clifton Wisler, an author I don’t remember reading anything by before. Three other authors would then write behind the Will McLennan pseudonym, these being, I believe, Ed Gorman, Robert J. Conley and John Legg, the latter writing the lions share.

When Matt and Kyle return home I was surprised to discover how young their younger brothers were but as the book progressed it covered a couple of years so I could see how the brothers would grow if each book continued at this pace.

Like most of those I’ve read Matt is the center character, a man who hoped to find peace when returning home from the horrors of the Civil War. Yet a combination of carpetbaggers, family tragedy and white hooded riders calling themselves the Knights of the Silver Circle soon wipe away happiness and replace it with bitterness. An anger that can only be satisfied by hitting back but will this be enough to cleanse that resentment?

Gary Clifton Wisler has written a very readable book, his study of changing emotions as equally gripping as his action scenes, and some of the latter paint very vivid images in the minds-eye and are extremely hard-hitting. 

The close of the story promises new adventures for the surviving Ramsey’s and on the strength of this opening tale I’d certainly be wanting to read more. 

Monday, 23 April 2018

52 western novel recommendations

By Scott Harris and Paul Bishop
October 2017

The Old West is uniquely American. It is a legend brought to life in sagas of blazing six-gun justice in wide-open towns and across vast ranges. 52 Weeks – 52 Western Novels is a fun guide to some of the best of these Western tales. Step into the Old West. Ride dusty trails, slap leather with outlaws, and get ready to battle Indians and the elements – all from the comfort of your favourite reading spot.

Scott Harris and Paul Bishop, along with a number of guest contributors, have brought together 52 western books that are favourites of theirs. Among them you’ll find old favourites and hopefully discover some new works to add to your collection.

This book is beautifully designed by Kari Kurti and Nerissa Stacey making it a pleasure to browse. Its presentation is well thought out, each entry including clear renditions of covers and film posters, many of which are supported by portraits of the authors too. Every entry is broken down into the same five or six sections depending whether the book in question has been filmed, these being; Book Facts, Author Facts, Beyond the Facts, Fun Fact, Movie Facts and a Favourite Quote. Every now-and-again you’ll come across a double-page spread Celebrating some aspect of the western genre such as the work of Louis L’Amour, the Piccadilly Cowboys and Western Comics. The book closes with profiles of the editors and the guest contributors.

52 Weeks was never intended to be a “Best of” collection, it’s purpose is to bring together some excellent examples of the western, gathered together by fans of the genre. This ensures there is a wide selection that covers all types and eras of these books being written, from 1902 to 2015.

This book offers much in the way of information behind the creation of those novels you love to read and will certainly have you searching for those you don’t yet have in your personal library. The book is intended for dipping into at your leisure, but I’m sure many readers will devour it all as soon as you get hold of a copy like I did and I can guarantee you’ll return to it time-and-again to re-read those entries whilst struggling to choose just which of the many great books to be found within its pages you’ll want to hunt for next.

52 Weeks – 52 Western Novels is a reference book every fan of the western genre should own as it’s a sheer pleasure to read and proves to be a valuable resource for discovering new books and authors that you’ll enjoy adding to your must-read list.