Monday, 11 October 2021

LONGARM AND THE ROCK SPRINGS RECKONING


Number 434 of 436 + 29 Giant Editions
By Tabor Evans
Cover illustration by Milo Sinovcic
Jove, January 2015

After saving soiled dove Lucy Potter from two attackers, Longarm takes pity on the young woman. He buys her a new dress, gets her cleaned up, and takes her out for a fancy steak dinner. Lucy’s got a good heart, and Longarm hopes his kindness might encourage the jaded prostitute to try another line of work.

But before Lucy can begin her new life, she’s killed by the same men who attacked her. Blinded by rage, Longarm can no longer see the line between justice and revenge. He turns in his badge and rides off after the killers. But as he trails them to Rock Springs, her learns the killing was premeditated – and greed was the motive. . . 

What at first seems like a straight-forward revenge tale slowly takes on a few twists as Lucy Potter’s family become involved and Longarm finds he has a puzzle to solve. Were any of Lucy’s family responsible for her death? Most of Longarm’s investigation takes place in the last quarter of the story, the earlier chapters used for introducing various characters and Longarm forming a plan to track down Lucy’s killers. The author also follows the murderers flight for a couple of chapters which helps make the reader wonder how Longarm will ever catch up to them.

The author paces the book well and kept me turning the pages as I wanted to discover whether Longarm would just kill those he hunted to satisfy his need for vengeance, or would he control that urge and attempt to arrest them? 

There’s not a lot of gunplay in this story which may disappoint some. The Longarm books are an adult series but sex is kept to a bare minimum, just a couple of pages in total. This tale is more a murder mystery with Longarm just asking questions, listening and watching to find out who was behind Lucy’s killing.

For me, I wouldn’t place this Longarm book up there with the best the series has to offer, but it did keep me entertained. The final scenes offering some surprises into the fate of a couple of the characters that tied the story up neatly.  

An observation on the book itself. The Longarm books are around 180 pages long, but this one has blank pages so all chapters can start on a right-hand page and those chapters start about half-way down the page. All that means is that the story is 30 pages shorter than the overall count. 


Tuesday, 5 October 2021

NORTH OF LARAMIE



BUCK TRAMMEL 1
By William W. Johnstone and J.A. Johnstone
Pinnacle, May 2020

Once upon a time in the Old West, Buck Trammel was a Pinkerton agent with a promising future. But after a tragic incident in a case gone wrong, he struck out for the wide-open spaces of Wichita, Kansas. Working as a bouncer at The Gilded Lily Saloon, he hopes to stay out of trouble. But soon enough, his skills are put to the test. Two of the Bowman clan turn a friendly card game with a drunk gambler into a killer-take-all confrontation. Buck saves the gambler’s life, but at the cost of the Bowman men. That’s when Deputy Wyatt Earp arrives. He warns Buck that he’d better get out of town, pronto, and take the gambler with him. The rest is history – if he lives long enough to tell it . . . 

The blurb deals with the opening scenes of this fast-moving tale about greed, power and the law. As Trammel and the gambler, Adam Hagen, put distance between themselves and Wichita their true characters slowly emerge and a friendship is formed. Behind them come some of the Bowman’s, desperate for revenge. Other killers are on Trammel’s trail too. The author switches between characters  as subplots develop and shape the main storyline.

Adam decides he and Trammel should head to the Hagan family home near the town of Blackstone, just North of Laramie, even though he doesn’t think he’ll be welcomed by his cattle baron father. Once they arrive at the Blackstone Ranch the author introduces more complications to the plot that will cause deadly problems for Trammel to overcome. Trammel finds himself appointed Sheriff of Blackstone and is soon involved in plenty of gunplay and powerplays.

As the story races towards its end, it becomes obvious that some of the plot-threads won't be completely resolved, neatly paving the way for the second book, Bury the Hatchet, a book that I’m sure I’ll be reading very soon as North of Laramie was a very entertaining and enjoyable tale that left me wanting more.


Thursday, 30 September 2021

PURSUIT IN THE SUN



By Matt Chisholm
Panther, October 1960

Henry McGladdery Forty, United States Army . . . ending his days after twenty years’ service in a shabby frontier fort on the edge of the south-western desert, tempted to quick promotion by a colonel’s daughter with better looks than morals; tempted to civilian freedom by a wild mustanger’s daughter . . . 

Then his thoughts were disturbed by the thunder of the unshod hoofs of Apache ponies, their riders yelling in fury at the soldiers and civilians who barred their way to the riches of the country. Forty knew there was only one way to fight an Apache – fight him alone. So fight him he did . . . 

If you like westerns filled with gunfights then this is the book for you. In fact, the final third of the story is pretty much one long, frantic chase and gun battle between the Apaches and Forty’s small band of men who are determined to bring an end to Correoso’s raids. A lot of the fights involve horses, as the Apaches attempt to steal fresh mounts and Forty tries to stop them.

Although long-time readers of westerns won’t find anything new in this book, Matt Chisholm always keeps the story interesting and gripping and immediately has you wondering what’s going on as his tale begins in the midst of a dangerous situation. His heroic figures will have you urging them on as they battle superior odds. Chisholm’s taut plotting is often laced with mild humour and you can never be sure of just who will be alive by the end. 

Matt Chisholm is the most well-known pseudonym used by Peter Watts and he’s always been one of my favourite British western authors, and even though this book isn’t one of this best as it was a little predictable, it was still very entertaining and left me eager to read more of his work. 

Sunday, 26 September 2021

MEDICINE PONY


By John Q. Pickard
Cover art by Michael Codd
Herbert Jenkins, 1975
Originally published by Ward Lock and Company, 1964

The Medicine Pony is a wonderful golden stud owned by the brutal Comanche chief, Black Mouth. ‘Sun Bird’, as it is known far and wide, is held sacred by the Indians – their talisman and magic shield against loss and defeat.

To help the Confederate cause, Bart Gannon, a notorious gunman in those early Civil War days, holds up a gold consignment from the Golconda Syndicate in the North and makes his way through Indian territory to deliver the valuable metal to the hard-up forces in the South. Attacked by the Comanches, he kills Black Mouth, caches the gold and escapes on Sun Bird, taking with him to safety Jane Burnett, whose father has been killed by the Indians. But at Fort Jay there are outlaws after both the gold and Sun Bird . . . 

Philip Antony John Borg wrote over 60 westerns under the names Jack Borg, Phil Bexar and John Q. Pickard. This is the first time I’ve read any of his books.

Borg’s hard-boiled prose makes for a fun read, his descriptions painting visual images of time, place and of the exciting action scenes, of which there are many. The plot moves forward swiftly as Gannon tries to outwit Comanches, outlaws and Union troops. The story contains some dramatic moments, the best to my mind being when Gannon comes face to face with some Comanches in the midst of a thunder and lightning storm. 

Although the tale reads pretty much as you’d expect, it does contain a few surprises and has a neat twist that wrenches Gannon’s soul near the end. 

Medicine Pony was an enjoyable read that will have me keeping an eye-out for more of Borg’s work. 

Monday, 20 September 2021

THE SABER BRAND



By Herbert Purdum
Tandem, 1976
Originally published by Doubleday, 1966 as My Brother John
Spur Award Winner for Best Western Novel, 1966

John Niles could get into more trouble without even trying than a dozen hardcases could get into on purpose . . . 

Frank Niles sometimes wished he’d never promised to look after his unpredictable younger brother . . . 

Colonel Belknap reckoned he owned Concho Basin and every man, woman and child who lived there – especially the women . . . 

When the Niles brothers rode into Concho, they collided head-on with Belknap’s outfit. That was when John Niles forgot he was a preacher and turned to more forceful methods of converting the wicked. Niles had plenty of guts and nerves like chilled steel, and he needed them when he tangled with Belknap’s Saber bunch. 

Even though the plot is similar to many other westerns, the rich man who rules the town and surrounding land with an iron fist and a small army of gunmen, Purdum’s storytelling keeps it fresh and exciting.

Told in the first person through Frank Niles, the tale is laced with humorous observations about everything that happens. There are many comic situations too, which give the tale a light-hearted tone, without turning it into a full-blown comedy western. 

Frank is a wonderful character, a frustrated man, a man not lacking in bravery, who is constantly being admonished by his brother for his use of bad language and for wanting to kill their enemies. His brother John, being a circuit-riding preacher, would rather resolve things peacefully, but isn’t opposed to using force when he has to. 

Purdum does write a lot of speech in slang and spells words how his characters say them, so some of it took a bit of careful reading to understand. Scottish, Irish and cowboy are all in the mix, but it didn’t take long for me to get used to, and I found it added a nice flavour to the story.

There are many well described action scenes as the Niles brothers attempt to stop Belknap from forcing a woman to marry him. Belknap has the town lawman in his pocket too. It seems to the best way to rid Concho of these men is to hold an election and remove the sheriff, but this doesn’t quite go to plan, although it does evolve into a very different candidate stepping forward who the townsfolk are right behind, especially the ladies of the town. The final showdown is dramatic, fun, and uses children to bring about the downfall of Belknap. 

I really enjoyed The Saber Brand, a title maybe only used in the UK, its American title being My Brother John. It seems Herbert R. Purdum only wrote one other western, A Hero for Henry, which was published in 1968. Purdum also wrote scripts for many TV shows, including Death Valley Days and Broken Arrow

Thursday, 16 September 2021

THE BLOOD OF INNOCENTS


 
THE GUNS OF SAMUEL PRITCHARD 3
By Sean Lynch
Pinnacle, September 2021

As both a former Confederate guerrilla and Texas Ranger, and now a U.S. Marshal, no one knows the dangers of the frontier and cowtowns like Marshal Samuel Pritchard. A couple of wagon trains traveling the Oregon Trail have vanished and Pritchard’s got miles of bad road across hostile territory to investigate. But he must also reckon with a price on his head. Bounty hunter Captain Laird Bonner is the greatest manhunter throughout the west – and he’s as ruthless as he’s relentless in pursuing his prey.

Then the trail for both Pritchard and Bonner ends in an Idaho mining town named Whiskey Falls. Ruled by a man who earned his stripes in Andersonville, the town is a literal hell for everyone who lives there, slaying and dying to satiate their captor’s lustful greed. To escape, Pritchard and Bonner must declare an uneasy truce and take on an army of gunmen.

Nearly two years after the release of the second book in the series, the third finally appears (with a fourth due in November) and it easily stands as strong as the first two. 

Although the opening scenes take place in Atherton, Pritchard’s home town that he’s town marshal of, it isn’t long before Pritchard leaves it behind to investigate the missing wagon trains that seem to have vanished into thin air without leaving any kind of trace as to what happened to them. Joining up with a wagon train of travellers made up of Quakers leads to some lively exchanges between the Marshal and those he finds himself protecting from outlaws and Indians. The Quakers refuse to fight, believing God will protect them, a belief Pritchard just doesn’t agree with. 

As expected, the fate that befell the missing wagon train strikes the Quakers in a savage battle that results in a very high number of killings. This is also where Pritchard’s path crosses with Bonner, yet at this point he doesn’t know that Bonner is a bounty hunter after his hide.

There is plenty of violent action throughout the tale, but the desperate fight for survival mentioned in the previous paragraph is nothing compared to what is to come. If you like stories with colossal death tolls then this is the book for you as Pritchard and his companions face massive odds.

As the survivors escape the horrors that descended on the wagon trains, there is still the matter of Pritchard verses Bonner to resolve and one or two other loose ends to tie up. Sean Lynch does all of this neatly in an almost underplayed way after all the brutally violent scenes that came before.

The Blood of Innocents is a very entertaining action-packed read that should satisfy all western readers. 

Tuesday, 31 August 2021

TILL DEATH



HAVE BRIDES, WILL TRAVEL 3
By William W. Johnstone and J.A. Johnstone
Pinnacle, September 2021
First published by Kensington in hardback, April 2021

If anyone can get a shipment of brides to the church on time, it’s Bo Creel and Scratch Morton. But this time, they’ll have to cross hell and high water to escort four marriage-bound beauties to a remote gold mining town in Alaska. The brides-to-be include a dangerously attractive widow, her sweet-hearted niece, and two of their friends. The roadblocks to the altar include a lecherous saloon owner, a lovesick sailor, and a gang of hired guns. And that’s just for starters . . . 

The real trouble begins when they reach the Alaskan boomtown. It’s a hotbed of gold and greed, as wild as any on the Texas frontier. It’s clear to Bo and Scratch that the ladies’ “eligible bachelors” are definitely not as advertised. But – to Bo and Scratch’s surprise – neither are their mail-order brides. Before anyone starts exchanging vows and tossing rice, this gold-hungry wedding party will be swapping lead. And the RSVPs will be RIPs . . . 

Having enjoyed the first two Have Brides, Will Travel books, that saw the return of Bo Creel and Scratch Morton from the Sidewinders series, I was looking forward to reading Till Death. Our two elderly heroes soon find themselves facing superior odds from humans and nature, the latter taking place as their ship battles through a destructive storm. 

Quite a large portion of this tale takes place aboard ships and this makes for a welcome change to riding horses or wagons across inhospitable land. It is during this part that one of the mail-order brides, Caroline, struggles with her feelings for one of the sailors and those for her intended waiting in Alaska.

Bo and Scratch do their best to keep trouble at bay, but it seems everywhere they go they create new enemies, either those wanting to kill Creel and Morton or get to know the girls a whole lot better. Some of these adversaries are prepared to follow them to Alaska, and when various groups of these foes team up it looks like Bo and Scratch will have to take on impossible to beat odds.

Action come thick and fast and the plot writhes with twists. The author often switches from one set of characters to another and, more often than not, leaves them in danger, therefore making this a very difficult to put-down book as the reader will want to know what happens next. The final scenes feature some explosive gunplay that resolves everything in a suitable fashion and I was left hoping there will be a fourth book in the not-too-distant future.