Friday, 20 May 2022

THE MULESKINNER

By Robert MacLeod
Coronet, third impression, 1974
Originally published by Fawcett, 1967

They called him the ox – too big to resist – too good to beat – and just too stubborn to die . . . 

Among the savage, ceaseless horizons of this godforsaken country, nobody gave a damn who or what a man really was. All that counted was what he seemed to be. And Ben Davis seemed to be a walking, breathing challenge to every brawling drifter with a pair of itchy fists and a hot gun hand.

Only a fool would brace him in a fair fight. And the gang of cut-throat killers who wanted him out of the way were anything but fools. They loaded their guns and laid a trap as certain as death and taxes. What they had in mind no man could survive. No man except, maybe, the Muleskinner.

Although this book, and Six-Guns South, have been in my collection for many years, I’ve never read them or any other book by Robert MacLeod. Two of MacLeod’s novels have been made into films, the Appaloosa starring Marlon Brando and The Californio filmed as 100 Rifles starring Burt Reynolds, Raquel Welsh and Jim Brown. I can remember seeing and liking the latter, but can’t recall every watching Appaloosa. 

The first few pages of The Muleskinner didn’t immediately grip me. Nothing really happened other than introducing Ben Davies, the man known as Ox and his swamper, Jake – a dependable man even though he’s constantly drunk. The author also includes a lot of detail about driving freight wagons pulled my mules which whilst informative did seem to slow the narrative down a little. After a couple of short chapters, the pace began to pick up and events started to get more interesting and I started to enjoy the tale. 

Stagecoach robberies are the main theme to the story. Who is behind them? Apaches? Someone else? Love interest is mixed into the plot too when Ox falls for Gwen, but she seems to prefer another man, Lew. This causes all kinds of problems as jealousy pushes Ox to do and say things he probably shouldn’t if he wants to win Gwen’s heart. Further complications arise when Ox saves a young Mexican boy who has been living with the Apaches and taking part in their raids. When Ox brings Flaco to town there are people who want to see the boy dead. This includes a couple of buffalo hunters who are friends with Lew. 

There is plenty of hard fist action as Ox isn’t above punching anyone who annoys him. This leads to plenty of hand-to-hand fights, one of which leads to a surprising death. There’s gunplay too, often during freight drives. Everything is resolved in an exciting final showdown which finished the book as I expected.

Overall, a story that entertained me enough to want to read the other MacLeod book that I have but not enough to add it to my must read soon pile.

Sunday, 15 May 2022

THE FIRES OF BLACKSTONE


BUCK TRAMMEL 4
By William W. Johnstone and J.A. Johnstone
Pinnacle, May 2022

“King” Charles Hagen is dead. The empire he carved out of Blackstone, Wyoming, by hook and by crook now lies in the hands of his children. Caleb Hagen has long stood in his father’s shadow, ambitiously plotting, and ready to stake his claim. Young and impetuous Bart Hagan planes to expand the family legacy across the nation. Debora Hagan’s ruthless nature believes the time has come for a queen to reign over the Hagan kingdom.

Only Adam, their estranged brother, has a different plan. His vengeance against their father requires him to tear down everything “King” Hagan ever built, even if that means shedding family blood. But none of the siblings reckoned that the bloodthirsty crime honcho Lucien Clay was prepared to send a murderous pack of gunslingers against them all for control of the territory.

Blackstone has been ruled by lawlessness long enough. The town is Buck Trammel’s jurisdiction. And he will protect it as judge, jury, and executioner . . . 

Those of you that have read the previous three books in this series will know that each story is self-contained, yet carries plotlines and characters from book to book. If you’ve been following the difficulties that have faced Buck Trammel as he tries to bring peace to Blackstone this book will be a must read for you. If you’ve not read the earlier books then you might prefer to do so before beginning this one, but if you do dive right in to this story, you’ll find the author includes enough information for you to understand what has happened before.

The introduction of “King” Hagan’s sons and daughters adds a great set of new characters to those that have survived the series so far. And it’s not just them that add fresh blood to the storyline, there’s the hired assassin Stanton who seems to be more than a match for Trammel, perhaps he’ll be the man who’ll finally put the lawman in his grave. If you enjoy courtroom drama, then this story has that too, as the validity of “King” Hagan’s will is contested in some gripping scenes that offer surprise after surprise. There’s an interesting turn of events in Trammel’s relationship with Emily. Trammel also gets an offer he finds impossible to turn down. All this and more, makes for a complicated and gripping plot that made the book difficult to put down.

The author neatly brings everything to a rousing and violent climax played out on the streets of Blackstone that seems to bring a close to all the storylines in this tale and those that have continued book to book. I say seems to bring a close, as a neat twist at the end could mean there’s more trouble in store for the survivors. One can only live in hope.


Wednesday, 11 May 2022

THE FLYING WAGON


FERGAL O’BRIEN 4
By I.J. Parnham
Avalon Books, 2007

The showman Fergal O’Brien and his assistant Randolph McDougal come to the aid of a damsel in distress who has been attacked by the bandit Van Romalli. She pays their kindness by riding off with their display of authentic historical memorabilia.

Now Fergal must find a new way to earn a living. An opportunity arrives when Jim Broughton sells him an attraction called the Treasure of Saint Woody. But all is not as it seems. Jim is really a U.S. Marshal and the only patron he wants Fergal to attract is Van Romalli. Blissfully unaware he is being used a bait, Fergal is starting to rebuild his fortune when Ezekiel T. Montgomery rides into town to promote the wondrous maiden voyage of his flying wagon – a Conestoga dirigible. 

Faced with a seemingly unbeatable competitor, Fergal tries to solve all his problems with a reckless wager, which leaves him facing the greatest challenge ever. He has twenty-four hours to learn how to fly or he’ll lose everything.

I’ve enjoyed many westerns written by I.J. Parnham, especially the Fergal O’Brien series and I couldn’t believe I’ve let ten years slip by since I read the third book in the series, Miss Dempsey’s School for Gunslingers

The majority of the main characters are showmen or conmen – sometimes they’re a mixture of both, as is our hero Fergal O’Brien. Once again Fergal and his sidekick, Randolph McDougal, find themselves in a self-made situation that had me wondering how they could possibly come out on top? 

I.J. Parnham is a master at blending western action with a humorous plot and I found myself grinning and laughing out loud many times as I read this book. As twist after twist further complicated the problems Fergal and Randolph faced, I found myself unable to put the book down before I found out how it all ended.

The horse Fergal and Randolph find themselves lumbered with is just one of the very memorable elements of this book. The slowest pursuit of an outlaw ever is another. 

Catching Van Romalli became a small problem compared to the challenge Fergal takes up. A race in a straight line across a lake without touching the water. Fergal has just a day to work out how to make his wagon take-off and fly to beat Montgomery’s flying wagon. The scenes of Fergal’s wagon racing down a slope as it attempts to make enough speed to launch itself into the air with attached wings flapping like mad were so visually written that it felt like I was there, laughing along with the crowd gathered lakeside to watch this historical event.

Did Fergal’s wagon get into the air? Did Montgomery’s for that matter? Who won the race? That is something I can’t reveal here as that really would spoil the ending for anyone planning to read the book. If you want to know, I guess you’ll just have to grab yourself a copy and I’ll sure you’ll have fun finding out the answer.

If you struggle to find these hardback books, and don’t mind reading ebooks, then you’ll be pleased to know that I.J. Parnham has recently made all the Fergal O’Brien novels available in this form.

Saturday, 30 April 2022

BULLETS DON'T DIE


THE LONER
Number 15 of 15
By J.A. Johnstone
Pinnacle, September 2012

Conrad Browning, a.k.a. The Loner, knows what it’s like to have a family and a home. And he knows what it’s like to lose it all. Now, he has met a man living on the edge of sanity: a good man, a flawed man, a solitary man who might just cost The Loner his life…

Jared Tate is an aging U.S. marshal who has saved lives, made enemies, and planted a lot of bad men in hallowed ground. But Tate is in deep trouble, the kind that comes from a troubled mind. Not remembering as much as he wants to, not forgetting as much as he should. Tate has one person to trust. Because the Loner has made Tate’s enemies his own, taking on Tate’s demons and Tate’s fight. In the lawless and violent Kansas territory, a young wanderer and an again lawman will journey side-by-side one last time – into a fight that will take every bullet they have…

The theme of memory loss due to age is a storyline that doesn’t turn up that often in westerns, and having this tale revolve around that condition makes this story a bit different to other books. Tate’s condition provides one or two humorous moments, but mainly his mixed-up memories will trigger feelings of sadness within the reader. The author handles these scenes with a sensitivity that’ll soon have you hoping you won’t suffer in a similar way when you get older.

The Loner and the lawman get involved in a number of deadly situations as the former escorts Tate to his daughter’s home. At first The Loner doesn’t realize that Tate is suffering from memory loss but it soon becomes very evident and The Loner has to confiscate Tate’s gun when the lawman tries to kill him when he confuses the Loner for an outlaw he tracked down many years before.

An unfortunate newspaper report reveals Tates’ whereabout to both old and new enemies and several attempts on his life are made. As well as gunfights the Loner gets involved in a couple of vicious fistfights as he tries to protect the old lawman. 

I don’t want to make any comments about the ending so as not to spoil it for those who are planning to read the book, except to say that it didn’t quite turn out as I expected.

Talking of endings, Bullets Don’t Die is the last book in the Loner series and for me that is a shame as I’ve thoroughly enjoyed them all. But I will be able to read more about Conrad Browning as in 2021 the Johnstone’s put out a book called The Morgans which sees the Loner team up with his father, Frank Morgan a.k.a. The Last Gunfighter, and I’ll be reading that very soon.


Monday, 25 April 2022

BLOODY JOE


BLOODY JOE MANNION 1
By Peter Brandvold
Wolfpack Publishing, April 2022

“Bloody” Joe Mannion is a town tamer of great renown. His temper is just a famous. Known as the most uncompromising lawman on the Western frontier, he’s been the town marshal of Del Norte in the Colorado Territory for the past five years. When his temper gets the better of him and he badly beats Whip Helton, the son of a prominent rancher, Joe’s house is burned down and his daughter kidnapped and raped. Joe goes on a vengeance-fuelled warpath, putting him at odds with the whole town he’s sworn to protect.

To make sure Whip Helton hangs for the kidnapping and rape, Bloody Joe will risk everything, including his life, the town, and a hail of hot lead!

Bloody Joe is the first book in a tough new series from Peter Brandvold, an author I’ve long been a fan of, and for me he’s yet again come up with a terrific lead character who I’m going to enjoy reading more about. Once Joe sets his mind on doing something, he’s going to do it, and to hell with everything and everyone else. This single-minded determination could see him lose his job, his woman, and his life.

There are loads of excellent confrontations throughout this fast-moving tale and you have to wonder how Blood Joe can emerge victorious as the rancher has a small army ready to take on the lawman and bust Whip Helton out of jail. How Joe gets Whip into jail is just one of the thrilling parts of this brutal tale.

Peter Brandvold excels at fast and furious action scenes and hard-hitting violence, yet he can also write tender scenes just as well, Joe’s love for his daughter comes across superbly. Joe’s haunted mind regarding eyes and his almost uncontrollable temper are appealing traits to his character too.

One of the scenes that built-up tension to breaking point for me was when Joe daughter, Vangie, took her first steps into the streets of Del Norte after her horrific ordeal. I had no idea how this was going to play out. Was she going to snap, be ok, or perhaps take her own life?

There are other great characters to discover too, such as Stringbean, one of Joe’s deputies who doubts his abilities as a lawman, with the opposite sex and as a man and it isn’t long before he’s battling with his belief that he is a coward.

Everything is resolved in a gripping final showdown that has a high death toll and includes a couple of surprising moments making for a very satisfying ending to this great book. 

If you are a fan of Peter Brandvold’s work, then you’ll not want to miss this book, this series. If you love fast-paced action-packed westerns then this is a book that should be on your must-read list. If you’ve never read anything by Peter Brandvold then this is a great place to start, to find out what you’ve been missing.

Book 2, Revenge at Burial Rock is due out in May 2022.


Wednesday, 20 April 2022

BOBBIES, BAUBLES AND BLOOD


DOC & RAIDER
Book 21 of 73
By J.D. Hardin
Playboy Paperbacks, January 1983

Let loose in London, Doc and Raider are supposed to help Scotland Yard find a master jewel thief. Instead, they crash Victorian society and smash Victorian morals, unable to resist those lusty ladies of nobility who find Western ways so exciting – and who need protection from a crazed medieval-style killer. From the West End to Ascot, from Buckingham Palace to the Tower of London, the Pinkertons take on the high life and the low, while Britain holds its breath.

The fact that this tale takes place in London was what made me decide to read this book as I was curious to see how the author presented the English capital city and its people. As expected, it was full of stereotypes and the fact that the upper-class finished many of their sentences with the word ‘what’ was fun to start with but got a little tedious as the story progressed, almost like the author was using the way people speak to differentiate the Americans from English and the privileged form the poor. I certainly wasn’t going to let this spoil my enjoyment of this book though.

Doc and Raider were forbidden of taking part in any investigation to apprehend the jewel thief. They were there so Doc could confirm the identity of the crook as he was the only person to have seen the criminal when the Pinkertons had pursued the criminal in America. Sightseeing and visiting with the super-rich was how they would pass their time, and this was how they got involved with a vicious killer who hacked his victims up with medieval weapons – this killer possibly being the jewel thief too.

As usual Doc and Raider squabble about how to pass their time. This leads to some funny moments, especially when Raider meets a young Winston Churchill. The killings are gruesome and the body count mounts up quickly and soon both Raider and Doc find themselves battling to survive. After a few twists and turns, they have some idea of what they are dealing with but can they defeat this madman? Of course, both plots, killer and thief, entwine and the Pinkertons find themselves involved in a robbery to steal jewels from Queen Victoria which becomes part of the final showdown. 

The Doc and Raider books fall into the adult category of westerns so they do contain some explicit lengthy sex scenes but these are easy to skip if you don’t like reading this kind of thing.

If you want a different kind of western to read, due to where it takes place, then this is certainly a book worth considering. At times it felt like a crime murder mystery rather than a shoot ‘em up western but that was ok with me as it added a bit of variety to my reading.

J.D. Hardin is a pseudonym in this case the real author is Neal Barrett Jr. who wrote three books in the series. There isn’t any continuation in the Doc and Raider series, so you can jump in anywhere and enjoy each as a stand-alone story. Raider would go on to appear in his own 42 book series.

Tuesday, 12 April 2022

BUTLER'S WAGER


GAMBLER 1
By Robert J. Randisi
Wolfpack Publishing, April 2022
Originally published by Harper, April 2007

Ty Butler came from Eastern wealth—but ruthless killers destroyed everyone—and anything—who shared his name. Seeking a safe haven in the open West, he discovered refuge among the outlaws and fugitives who staked their claims at the gaming table. His remarkable, and at times uncanny skill at reading faces and cards has kept Butler flush with cash and living comfortably—but it has also kept him sharp and ready for the numerous assassins hunting him, eager to finish the job of wiping the Butler name and legacy from the pages of history.

Arriving in Dodge City, Butler finds the place in chaos. A new type of law is in play here where Bat Masterson carved his legend. Old and powerfully dangerous grudges are about to explode, and Ty Butler is caught smack dab in the middle. When the smoke clears and the undertaker has cleared the corpses, Butler will have friends and enemies in all the wrong places.

Robert J. Randisi is a name fans of western fiction will know as he has written hundreds of westerns under his own name and a variety of pseudonyms. If you like reading Mr. Randisi’s work then you’ll want to grab a copy of this book.

Many of Robert J. Randisi’s westerns fall into the adult category of books, but this series doesn’t as there isn’t any explicit sex to found within its pages. You will find a little profanity but this is used sparingly. Like all the books I’ve read by this author, the pace is fast and dialogue driven.

Butler is an interesting character and we meet him just before he heads to Dodge City so his past is shrouded in mystery. As the story progresses, we find out a little more about a private bounty that has been placed on his head by a person unknown that has seen many attempts on his life and there will be more in this story.

Robert J. Randisi often uses real life characters, events and places in his books and this is one of those stories. Here you will find the fictional Butler interacting with Ben Thompson, A.J. Peacock, Al Updegraph, Jim Masterson and Neal Brown among others. 

The story includes tense gambling scenes and some mystery as to who a bounty hunter is after when there seems to be more than one possible target. There is also another man with a secret past who may, or may not, have a role to play in the outcome of the tale.

For me, Robert J. Randisi has come up with the perfect blend of fictional and historical to make for a very entertaining read that should be enjoyed by all western fiction readers. I’m certainly looking forward to reading the second book soon.