Sunday 25 February 2024

ON THE DODGE


BANNISTER
ON THE DODGE
By D.B. Newton
Cover art by Jerome Podwil
Berkley Medallion, 1962

Jim Bannister hoped he wouldn’t be recognized when he rode into the tiny town of Antelope, Colorado, but he had to take the risk. His life depended on Syndicate Agent Boyd Selden whom he hoped to find there . . . 

A few months earlier he had busted out of a jail in New Mexico, and there was a $12,000 price tag on his head . . .

Things were going smoothly enough – until he accidentally got pulled into a fight over Kelsey Harbord, daughter of the murdered ex-foreman of the powerful Buckhorn Ranch . . .

Jim knew that he was getting involved in a potential range war – but he couldn’t help feeling that this was his only chance to convince Selden that he had murdered in self-defence . . . 

I have a few books by Dwight Bennett Newton and a handful of short stories in my collection. I think I’ve only read one of them though, and that was a long, long time ago, so I had no real recollection of reading him before I decided to read On the Dodge. I’d never wanted to start this series until I owned all 11 books, and I’ve still got four to find, but having given up on finding those absent books at a sensible price, I thought I’d give the first one a try. 

Newton doesn’t tell the reader why Bannister is wanted for murder straight-away, or why he’s intent on tracking down Seldon who works for the syndicate that has placed the bounty on his head. This adds an air of mystery to the story which pulled me in and kept me turning the pages. Newton does eventually reveal why Bannister is on the dodge but I was still left wondering whether Seldon would help him or have him arrested and their meeting didn’t turn out as I expected. 

The story is fairly straight-forward, and mixes plots that have turned up in many westerns, such as helping a damsel in distress and getting involved in a fight that isn’t one of the heroes making. Newton manages to make it all feel fresh and new though with his strong storytelling and believable characters that are flawed – Bannister often makes mistakes that could see him arrested or killed. Newton’s dialogue is well done and the whole tale has a tough edge to it. The story moves forward at a great pace and never had a dull moment.

On the Dodge is a very well told traditional western that easily held my interest, and left me looking forward to reading the second book (which I have) as soon as I can. 

BANNISTER series
1. On the Dodge
2. The Savage Hills
3. Bullets on the Wind
4. The Manhunters
5. Hideout Valley
6. The Wolf Pack
7. The Judas Horse
8. Syndicate Gun
9. Range Tramp
10. Bounty on Bannister
11. Broken Spur

Wednesday 14 February 2024

PARTNERS IN CRIME


HOLMES ON THE RANGE 8
PARTNERS IN CRIME
By Steve Hockensmith
Rough Edges Press, November 2023

Saddle up for adventure with the eccentric cowboy detectives, Big Red and Old Red Amlingmeyer, as they embark on a thrilling journey to establish their dream detective agency in the Wild West.

In this action-packed collection of five stories, join the brothers as they navigate disastrous homecoming trips, strange newspaper feuds, supernatural kidnappings, deadly Christmas celebrations, and a high-stakes conspiracy threatening to tarnish their budding careers.

With their Sherlock Holmes-inspired wit and determination, can they crack the cases and outsmart the culprits?

Contents:
Partners in Crime
My Christmas Story
Curious Incidents
Bad News
Can the Cat Catch the Rat?

This is the second collection of short stories featuring the Amlingmeyer brothers, the first collection being Dear Mr. Holmes. Four of the tales were originally published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, with the other being a brand-new story. Like before, each tale is told through a letter written mainly to Big Red’s editor Mr. Smythe of Smythe & Associates Publishing, Ltd., who publish the Amlingmeyer stories in Smythe’s Frontier Detective Magazine. 

One of the greatest draws for me in this series is Big Red’s humorous observations in his narration of the brothers’ latest cases and the words he speaks during these events, which had me laughing out loud often. 

The title story takes us back to their hometown in Kansas and readers are filled in a little more about their past, before they became cowboys, which in turn lead to them becoming detectives. 

Each of the five tales offers a very different storyline, one changing quite dramatically mid-way through. Not all their cases involve murder either, which helps keep the stories fresh and individual. I don’t really want to say anything more about the stories as I don’t want to spoil what happens in them, other than to say there are some great twists to some of the plots. There are also lots of references to Sherlock Holmes and his methods of investigating a crime, with Old Red trying to use Holmes’ approaches to solve their own mysteries. 

Partners in Crime is another extremely entertaining read from Steve Hockensmith, and I can only hope he has many more adventures lined up for his fans. 

Thursday 8 February 2024

TEACHER WITH A TIN STAR


TEACHER WITH A TIN STAR
By Harriet Cade
Hale, March 2015

Mark Brown is hoping to become a minister of the church, but for now he is teaching the elementary school in the little town of Barker’s Crossing in Wyoming.

When a local landowner begins to terrorize the homesteaders around Barker’s Crossing, Brown realizes that it is time to act. He has not always been a teacher; in fact, he was a lawman for over ten years.

Now, before he can fulfil his ambition of becoming a minister, he must take up his gun one last time and fight to defend the helpless.

This is the first book I’ve read written under the penname of Harriet Cade, but it’s not the first I’ve read by the author behind that nom de plume, whose real name is Simon Webb. Webb wrote for the Black Horse line of westerns under 10 pseudonyms plus his own name, which I’ll list at the end of this review.

Simon Webb’s plots move forward at a fast clip and usually contain a twist or two. This book is no exception and in this one it’s how some of the main characters die that took me by surprise. Overall, though, the storyline is very straightforward and it’s easy to predict how everything will turn out – except for one or two of the deaths as I’ve already mentioned. 

Brown’s mask of being a teacher and wannabe minister is easily seen through by his elderly landlady, and it’s through her urging that he straps on his gun again. Brown finds that the majority of the men in Barker’s Crossing won’t stand by him as he faces the rancher and his hired guns. Brown is only backed by a young kid and an old-timer, which is typical of many westerns. Everything comes to a neat ending, if predictable, and even offers a nick-of-time rescue.

Webb does have a writing style of his own, which can take a little getting used to. This is mainly in the speech. Here’s an example: “I see a mort of dust being kicked up over yonder. Less’n I’m greatly mistook.” 

Simon Webb’s Black Horse Westerns aren’t those I pick out that often to read from the many I’ve got. But if I want a quick easy to read traditional western then he is someone I’ll consider.

Here's the list of pseudonyms Simon Webb wrote Black Horse Westerns as:

Clyde Baker
Harriet Cade
Bill Cartwright
Jay Clanton
Ethan Harker
Jethro Kyle
Brent Larssen
Ed Roberts
Fenton Sadler
Jack Tregarth

He also wrote BHW’s under his own name.

Wednesday 31 January 2024

ASSASSIN'S TRAIL

CANYON O’GRADY
Number 13 of 25
ASSASSIN’S TRAIL
By Jon Sharpe
Cover art by Jerome Podwil
Signet, May 1991

Canyon O’Grady had a long way to go to get his man. The big redheaded U.S. special agent had to catch up with the kingpin of an assassination ring making tracks for Oregon – and the trail cut through Blackfoot land. Canyon was ready to handle both assassins’ bullets and Blackfoot arrows – but not a blonde built for trouble, a pair of greenhorns dead set on sure-fire suicide, and a tangle of treachery and deceit that left Canyon wondering whom to save, whom to kill, and how not to make the dead wrong choice…

After a run of books written by Chester Cunningham, we have a new author writing behind the pseudonym of Jon Sharpe. I’ve seen two different authors suggested as being the writer of this book but haven’t read enough of either to make a guess as to which it could be, Jon Messmann or Will C. Knott. Perhaps neither?

The author’s prose is very readable and the plot doesn’t offer much in the way of surprises or gun action – of course there is some gunplay but not as much as I’d expect from a book carrying the name of Jon Sharpe. The storyline did hold my attention though and introduced some great characters, such as Jake Gettis, bodyguard to Judge Langley who O’Grady has been sent after. 

I found it strange that O’Grady would allow himself to be talked into babysitting some greenhorns, even though they are travelling in the same direction as he, instead of racing ahead to track down a man assumed to be planning to assassinate the President. Somehow, I’d have thought this would have been the special agents’ number one concern and nothing would get in the way of taking down the judge before the President could be killed.

A lot of the book is taken up with O’Grady’s attempts to stop the spread of cholera, which is wreaking havoc among the people of a wagon train that the judge is travelling with. 

The book contains an exciting duel with a Blackfoot warrior who is determined to kill O’Grady and part of the story follows this warrior and his band as they discuss how to wipe the encroaching whites from their country, none of which had much baring on the story other than filling pages. One of these scenes contains some gruesome descriptions of what happens to a couple of prisoners.

There is also a glaring error that will annoy purists. Each of the O’Grady books contain a page at the front that outlines the time and setting the story takes place, which I believe is written by the author, and this one announces that the book is set in 1859. Throughout the story O’Grady uses a Henry rifle, which were not introduced until 1960.

After Cunningham’s entries into the series, this one did feel like a let down if I’m honest. It was still an ok read and I would read more by whoever wrote this book, which is a good job as there is another coming from this author in a couple of books time I believe.

Cover artist Jerome Podwil has once again produced a superb cover, each of the illustrations capturing a scene from the story. He must also have been told about O’Grady’s switch of horses as Canyon is depicted on the animal he rides for much of this tale instead of his usual mount.

Assassin’s Trail is one for the completist, not a book to judge the whole series on. 

Thursday 18 January 2024

A NEED FOR VIOLENCE


THE BATTLING HARRIGANS OF THE FRONTIER
A NEED FOR VIOLENCE
By Dusty Richards and Matthew P. Mayo
Pinnacle Books, December 2023

Spring, 1850. After a brutally long winter in the Rockies, Mack Harrigan and his growing family have learned to manage the harsh realities of frontier life. Their new friends, the Shoshone, have taught them the skills they need to survive in this rugged land, from tracking and hunting to fishing and foraging. But the skills they need most are those of the Shoshone warrior, when their camp is attacked by an enemy tribe…. 

Sometimes there is a need for violence. This is one of those times.

The attackers are merciless. They crush the skulls of their victims. Slice off their scalps. And kidnap children as prisoners of war. The Harrigans are horrified by the bloodshed and brutality of the attack – and are determined to fight back alongside the Shoshone. But their mission to save the children will ultimately send the battling Harrigans even deeper into the wild frontier. Farther west than most dare travel. And closer to finding the American dream – if they survive…. 

After only a handful of pages, Matthew P. Mayo plunges the reader into the midst of a vicious battle for survival as the Shoshone camp comes under attack. The Harrigan’s are split up and the author keeps switching between them as they fight frantically to save themselves, each other, and their Shoshone friends. Most of the combat is hand-to-hand, knife-to-knife, club-to-head, and is described graphically. This has to be one of the longest opening battles I’ve read in a western as it continues for around 80 pages, yet never outstays its welcome. Then it’s straight into a desperate chase to track down and rescue the stolen children.

The second part of the book sees the Harrigan’s continue on their journey, heading towards California. As expected, there is plenty of deadly danger waiting to pounce on them. One of my favourite characters from the first book, Bearpaw Jones, makes a very welcome return and it’s through him that one of the Harrigan’s will meet a famous person and get a job offer that is difficult to turn down, but will it be taken? It’s not just humans that pose a threat to the Harrigan’s as a bear has a large part to play and Mayo writes some nail-biting sequences involving this animal. 

The seeds for possible future storylines are also planted, and I can only hope that we don’t have to wait too long before a third book appears. 

Sunday 31 December 2023

WESTERNS READ DURING 2023

In 2023 I didn't have as much spare time for reading as I would have liked. Other interests and life in general taking up most of my free time. I also read some none westerns, which meant even less time for my favourite genre. The books listed below cover a broad publishing period, from the late 1950's right up to the current day. To read any review just click on the book number. 

1. Hawk 3: Death’s Bounty by William S. Brady
2. Wolf Stockburn, Railroad Detective 4: One Way to Die by Max O’Hara
3. The Man Who Shot Jesse Sawyer by Scott Connor
4. The Ramseys 2: Ramsey’s Luck by Will McLennan
5. The Trailsman 139: Buffalo Guns by Jon Sharpe
6. Sundance: The Wild Stallions by John Benteen
7. Bloody Joe Mannion 3: Saints and Sinners by Peter Brandvold
8. Fort Misery by William W. Johnstone and J.A. Johnstone
9. Longarm and the Golden Death (178) by Tabor Evans
10. Slattery 2: Bullet Welcome for Slattery by Steven C. Lawrence
11. The Battling Harrigans of the Frontier 1: Westbound by Dusty Richards and Matthew P. Mayo
12. Western Adventure, Vol. 3 No. 4, October 1958
13. Slocum 171: Powder River Massacre by Jake Logan
14. Abilene 9: The Tracker by Justin Ladd
15. Will Tanner 2: A Stranger in Town by William W. Johnstone with J.A. Johnstone
16. Jeremiah Halstead 3: The Revengers by Terrence McCauley
17. Morgan Kane 15: Between Life and Death by Louis Masterson
18. A Town Called Bastard by William Terry
19. The Carey Blood by Irving A. Greenfield
20. Gunn 5: Winter Hell by Jory Sherman
21. Devil’s Gulch by William W. Johnstone and J.A. Johnstone
22. Longarm and the Golden Lady (32) by Tabor Evans
23. Captain Tom Skinner 1: Ride a Fast Horse by Kevin Warren
24. Hunter’s Moon by Ty Walker
25. Trail Boss from Texas by Barry Cord
26. Stranger in Town by Clifton Adams
27. Carson Stone 2: A Short Rope for a Tall Man by Nate Morgan
28. Jubal Cade 6: The Burning Man by Charles R. Pike
29. Buck Trammel 5: This Man Must Die by William W. Johnstone and J.A. Johnstone
30. Breed 8: Blood Debt by James A. Muir
31. Cactus Jim Clancy 15: Colt Fever by Stetson Cody
32. Shadow at Noon by Hondo Wells
33. Western Story – January, 1958
34. Holmes on the Range 7: Hunters of the Dead by Steve Hockensmith
35. Easy Company and the Bullwhackers (30) by John Wesley Howard
36. Jeremiah Halstead 4: Born to Hang by Terrence McCauley
37. The Pearl Bothers 1: Trouble on the Smoky Hill by Andrew Weston
38. Devil’s Gulch 2: Shooting Iron by William W. Johnstone and J.A. Johnstone

Review of book read a few years ago and other items
1. The Gunsmith 33: The Posse by J.R. Roberts
2. Slocum by Jake Logan series Bibliography

Sunday 24 December 2023

SHOOTING IRON

DEVIL’S GULCH 2
SHOOTING IRON
By William W. Johnstone and J.A. Johnstone
Pinnacle Books, November 2023

One of the deadliest, crime-infested towns in Colorado Territory, Devil’s Gulch needed more than a sheriff. They needed a gunslinger. So, they pinned a badge on hardcase lawman John Holt. And the rest is history….

As the town’s new sheriff, John Holt achieved the impossible: He drove the devil out of Devil’s Gulch. Corrupt, cutthroat rancher Joe Mullen – who ruled the land with an iron fist – is finally behind bars, all thanks to Sheriff Holt. But the tables are turned when Mullen manages to overturn his prison wagon and make his escape – with an army of prisoners, outlaws, and lowlifes to do his bidding.

It doesn’t take long for the streets of Devil’s Gulch to run red with blood. Again. Or for John Holt to be marked for death. Again. But this time, the sheriff’s up against more than a hundred men – all of them gunning for him – and his only allies are an all-too-young deputy, an all-too-angry farmer, and a wayward wagon cook. With odds this bad, Holt is sure of only one thing: When you shoot at the devil, it’s best not to miss.

Picking up shortly after the first book ended, this story sees Holt once again battling against Joe Mullen. Mullen wants revenge, particularly against his wife who betrayed him. That desire gets stronger when Mullen finds out she is seeing another man. Mullen soon sets in motion a plan to satisfy his need for vengeance and to clear his name – and he doesn’t care who he has to kill to achieve his aims. Town politics will also have a part to play and this throws a few twists into the story. Many of the characters from the previous books have parts to play in this one, as do some great new people, such as the cook, Bob, who isn’t all he seems. 

The plot is gripping, and offers some excellent bursts of violent gunplay. The author also takes time to develop his main characters too, exploring their thoughts regarding the situations they find themselves in and how they can use these circumstances to further their greed for power and fortune. New relationships are formed that could cause more problems for John Holt, although not all of these team-ups are wanted by all the parties involved.

Shooting Iron offers a great combination of western action and intriguing political wrangling that easily held my attention throughout and left me eagerly looking forward to the next book in the series.