Tuesday, 9 August 2022

THE LAWMEN

By Robert W. Broomall
Cover art by Gabriele
Fawcett Gold Medal, December 1993

When ex-Confederate officer Clay Chandler applied for the sheriff job in Topaz, Arizona, the average lifespan for the position was three weeks tops. It got a little shorter when Clay arrested one of the notorious Hopkins brothers for killing a black man.

Ringleader Wes Hopkins gave Clay twenty-four hours to release his brother Vance – or else. Hell got a little hotter when Clay found out that Hopkins had the judge and the mayor under his thumb, and everyone else too scared to do anything but hide.

Until, that is, freed slave Essex Johnson showed up looking to be deputy. An ex-slave and an ex-reb wouldn’t seem to have a lot in common – but if they didn’t survive the next bloody, bullet-ridden five days together, it wouldn’t much matter….

The new lawman up against a powerful criminal who has the town council, and townsfolk too scared to do anything but what he says is an often-used plot in westerns. It’s a classic one man against many story that I never tire of. Here though, author Robert W. Broomall adds spice by bringing in a black deputy, a man no-one in town can respect, and neither does the sheriff. 

Both lawmen have some very derogatory views of each other and I’m not sure some of the terms used would be included in books published today as many people will find them offensive. These racist comments make it hard to like either lawman, but do reflect people’s thoughts of the time period the book is set in I’d imagine. 

The book is extremely well paced with plenty of fast-and-furious action, including a bloody fist-fight between the two lawmen. Packed with tense scenes, such as when the lawmen get out of town taking their prisoner with them and the time running out to Wes Hopkins’ deadline. 

The author also includes a number of plot twists, some of which took me by surprise and they added to my enjoyment of the book. The tale concludes with a vicious bloody shootout and finishes with a humorous comment. 

One word of warning though, don’t read the taster page of content included at the beginning of the book as it’s too much of a spoiler for something that happen towards the end of the book. Why publishers aren’t a little more selective in their choice for what they use for these sample pages is beyond me. 

This is only the second book I’ve read by Robert Broomall, and it’s made me wonder why I don’t read his work more often. 

Saturday, 30 July 2022

REVENGE AT BURIAL ROCK


BLOODY JOE MANNION 2
By Peter Brandvold
Wolfpack Publishing, May 2022

Joe believes the old regulator, “Long Shot” Hunter Drago, who did twelve years’ hard time because of Mannion, has moved to the town of Del Norte in the Colorado Territory to kill him. But, nearly everyone else in town believes he’s there to take over the Three-Legged Dog Saloon and begin a new, peaceful life for himself. Mannion doesn’t buy a word of it. When he catches Drago palling around with his daughter, Evangeline, and beats the old killer half to death on Del Norte’s main street for all to see, the town decides Bloody Joe has finally gone too far.

As the game of cat and mouse continues, Mannion finds himself dodging a veritable lead storm nearly everywhere he goes, culminating in a bloody showdown on the stone mountain called Burial Rock, where he finds that not only his own life hangs in the balance, but that of his lover, Jane Ford, as well.

Beginning shortly after the previous book ends all the survivors are back to face new danger. Peter Brandvold really has created a great set of characters, good, bad, male and female, to struggle through the often-deadly situations they find themselves in.

Bloody Joe’s mistrust of Drago is the main story thread, but there are others too. Joe’s deputy Stringbean has affairs of the heart to deal with that see him facing a murder charge. Joe’s second deputy, Rio, also has woman problems to deal with – his being a little more light-hearted than Stringbean’s, and they often provide some comical scenes that provide some light-relief among the darker and more ruthless plotlines.

Bloody Joe isn’t completely fuelled by violence and anger as he struggles to control the odds that are stacked against him and those he calls friends. He does have a tender side too, usually only revealed to his daughter Evangeline and his lover Jane Ford. This time he may have gone too far for even them to forgive him.

Peter Brandvold never gives his characters or readers a chance to catch their breath as his twisting plot explodes in brutal fistfights and gunfights, these bloody action scenes being quite graphic in their depiction. It’s not just the men who get involved in these savage incidents either as the women will have to fight to survive too.

I’ve read a lot of Peter Brandvold’s books and this series has to be up there with the very best he’s written. Let’s hope Bloody Joe Mannion is in for a long run. 

Monday, 25 July 2022

VALLEY OF THUNDER


By Sam Clancy
The Crowood Press, February 2017

Josh Ford was the best man the Marshal Service had, so when the Governor of Montana needed someone to look into the disappearance of wagon trains in the Bitterroots, Ford was the man they chose. What he found was a brutal autocrat who ruled with such terror, the like of which had never been seen by Ford. 

From Helena, Montana, to the Bitterroot Mountains, then on to Seattle, Ford fights for his life and the lives of others against a maniac and his small army. When a final twist puts it all in jeopardy, Ford realizes that the badge he wears may be the difference between law and justice.

This is the first of four books about United States Marshal Josh Ford, a very capable lawman who prefers to work alone and doesn’t always follow the rules. This often infuriates his father, Bass Reeves, and the Marshal Service. It soon becomes obvious that Ford and Reeves don’t get along with each other very well at all. 

The book is a fast paced read, filled with well-crafted characters and exciting action scenes. The author really stacks the odds against Ford, be they men or animal. It doesn’t take Ford long to discover what has been happening to the wagon trains, trouble is it leads to his capture and a desperate escape bid. Ford also rides with an unusual posse to take out the small army he faces.

But the story doesn’t end there. The men Ford really wants are on the run. Tracking them down leads to a vicious final shootout that should satisfy all western fans.

Sam Clancy is a pseudonym used by Australian author Brent Towns. Brent is well known for his action-packed page turner reads. Brent’s descriptive passages are very visual giving his tales a cinematic feel and his plots grab your attention from the opening words and don’t loosen their grip until the end. If you’ve never tried any of Brent Towns’ books, then do yourself a favour and do so at your earliest opportunity. 

Friday, 15 July 2022

WILL TANNER, U.S. DEPUTY MARSHAL


By William W. Johnstone with J.A. Johnstone
Pinnacle Books, June 2016

After spending most of his young life driving cattle from Texas to Nevada, Will Tanner is ready to wash the trail dust from his throat. Maybe it was fate that brought him to the Morning Glory Saloon on the border of Indian Territory – or just plain bad luck – because no sooner does he sit down than three rough-looking characters walk into the bar with vengeance in their eyes, guns at their sides…and fingers on their triggers. The trio’s target is the famous U.S. Deputy Marshal Pride who arrested one of their kin – and who’s sitting in the bar near Will Tanner. Seeing that Pride is facing losing odds, Will Tanner makes a decision that changes his life forever. He draws, takes aim, and saves the deputy’s life. Tanner has himself a new job, a badge, and enough grit to make him a legend on the American frontier.

This is the first book in a series, of which there are currently seven, and the opening scenes detail events that lead to Tanner arriving at the Morning Glory Saloon. Saving Pride sees Tanner offered and accepting a position as a Deputy Marshal. Tanner’s first assignment is to ride with Pride to bring in a group of outlaws lead by Max Tarbow, during which the experienced Pride shares his considerable knowledge of tracking down outlaws – and staying alive in the process – to the new lawman. Tanner certainly has a natural ability with the gun and for self-preservation, although learning to think like an outlaw will take some effort. Tanner soon learns that taking outlaws alive isn’t easy, but transporting the dead has its own problems too.

The story is essentially a chase novel filled with fast and furious gunplay. It’s not just the lawmen tracking outlaws though, as it isn’t long before someone is hunting for Tanner, wanting to send the novice lawman to hell. 

Tanner meets a great set of characters, both good and bad, male and female as he tracks down Tarbow and his gang. The relationship between Tanner and a young lady, Sophie, I expect will develop further in the next book(s). Tanner also meets an old man called Perley Gates, which is a name that should be familiar to readers of Johnstone novels, and Gates has an important role to play in the outcome of this tale.

The story captured my imagination easily with the authors’ prose painting vivid imagery for my minds’ eye. The interaction between the characters was excellent and I especially enjoyed how the author often switched to telling the story from the outlaws’ perspective, particularly when Tanner was gunning for them – their fear of this often-unseen lawman making him seem almost mythical in his deadly ability to take them out one by one. 

As you’ve probably gathered, I really enjoyed this book and I’m certain it won’t be long before I pick up the next one. 

Monday, 11 July 2022

THE TENDERFOOT


By Robert Vaughan
Wolfpack Publishing, May 2022

When Turquoise ranch hand Curly Stevens went into Flagstaff to meet his new employee arriving on the train, his first impression of Rob Barringer is of how big and strong the tenderfoot is. Rob’s eagerness to learn and his willingness to take on the most difficult jobs wins everyone over, including ranch foreman Jake Dunford, and Melanie Dunford, his beautiful daughter.

Ron is well-educated, and his demeanor and intelligence catches the attention of Melanie, causing him difficulty with ranch manager Lee Garrison, who believes he has an exclusive right to Melanie. Garrison makes life difficult for the ranch hands, and Rob in particular.

When Jake Dunford makes a public accusation that the ranch manager is stealing from the ranch, Garrison reacts by firing everyone, but it is Garrison who is in for a big surprise.

After reading a lot of books by Robert Vaughan, I’ve always known I can rely on him to provide an entertaining read, and this book reinforces that belief.

Vaughan has come up with an engaging set of characters and created a situation for them to survive that easily captured my imagination. Although readers know who Rob really is, and know what is going on at ranch, I still turned the pages eagerly as I wanted to see how the main characters would react when the various truths were revealed. Vaughan also places a little doubt on a couple of people – are they involved in the criminal activity that seems to be going on at the Turquoise Ranch?

The story starts in 1865 but soon moves forward twenty years to Rob Barringer deciding to leave his privileged life behind after deciding to go and learn the ropes of running a ranch from the ground up. Becoming a cowboy seems to be the ideal way to experience life on a ranch. As I said earlier, readers know who Rob really is from the moment he’s introduced to the story so I feel it’s safe to reveal that here too – Rob is the owner of the Turquoise Ranch, but none of the other characters know who he is and a main part of the story is Rob trying to discover if Garrison is stealing from the ranch. The growing attraction between Rob and Melanie add further complications as she is engaged to Garrison.

Vaughan builds the story well to its lively ending. The inclusion of an old-time cattle drive being one of the standout sections of the book for me. 

It has been quite a while since I read a book by Mr. Vaughan, and this one reminded me of what I’ve been missing. Time to hunt through my collection and add a couple more of his books to my to be read soon shelf, I think.


Thursday, 7 July 2022

THE OUTCAST


THE BADGE
Number 13 of 24
By Bill Reno
Cover art by Shannon Stirnweis
Bantam Books, October 1989

Long Shadow. The Cheyenne called him a traitor for saving a white man’s life and banished him from his people forever. Now, the man he rescued, Marshal Boyd Dollar, calls him “son,” the townspeople of Cheyenne Crossing call him deputy marshal, and one disgruntled rancher calls him dead. Swift with his fists and lightning fast with a revolver, Long Shadow stands for law and order. But when one of the most feared man-killers in the West puts the deputy in his gunsights, Long Shadow will fight hard and mean to survive.

The Badge books are a series of standalone novels united by the fact that the lead character wears a badge of some kind, so you don’t have to read the books in order. 

This story takes place over a number of years and begins with the funeral of Long Shadow’s mother. Events of that day see the fourteen-year-old nearly being hung as a horse thief, before he saves the life of Marshal Dollar which sees him banished from his tribe…and having to face never seeing the girl, April Dawn, he has promised himself to, again. April Dawn is as equally heartbroken as he is. 

Finding a missing white girl, Sally Easton, and returning her to Cheyenne Crossing leads to Long Shadow being adopted by Boyd Dollar. Sally falls head-over-heels in love with Long Shadow, yet he cannot return the feelings as he believes he will be reunited with April Dawn one day. There are people in town who aren’t ready to accept a Cheyenne living with them, and the hatred gets stronger when he becomes a lawman and plots are put into motion to get rid of him, permanently.

As well as being an action western, this is also a love story and for me it’s the latter that made this book so readable as I had to find out who Long Shadow would end up with, if indeed he did. The reported death of April Dawn opens up the possibility of marriage to Sally, but April Dawn isn’t dead. Will she track down Long Shadow before he marries? If she does will Long Shadow choose April Dawn or Sally? During the affairs of the heart, there is lots of gunplay as Long Shadow has to prove himself worthy of wearing a badge against bullies and outlaws in a number of exciting shootouts.

One thing I like about this author’s work, is that you can never be sure how his stories will conclude, and that includes predicting who will still be alive at the end, lead characters or not or whether there will be a happy ending for anyone. 

Bill Reno is a pseudonym used by Lew A. Lacy and I have yet to read a book by him that I haven’t enjoyed, and his stories always leave me keen to read another one as soon as I can. 

Thursday, 30 June 2022

START SHOOTING, TEXANS


LARRY & STRETCH
By Marshall Grover
A Cougar Western from Cleveland Publishing, 1961

The tranquillity of South-West Missouri shattered when the Garfield gang made camp on Thunder Mountain.

Abby Garfield, wife of the boss-outlaw, was captured by the wily Hank Todd, marshal of Coreyville. Soon, the citizens of this isolated settlement were in fear of their lives, wondering if they could survive the savage onslaught of the bandit-band, when Garfield came to rescue his woman.

But Hank Todd was a Texan, befriended by two fellow-Texans, already famous as the West’s most notorious trouble-shooters. Larry and Stretch couldn’t be deterred by superior numbers, for they had never learned the meaning of fear.

As far as I can tell, this is the 68th Larry and Stretch western put out by Cougar. Sometime later Horwitz took over the publishing of the series and started with their own number one. Altogether there are 440+ Larry and Stretch books. In America Bantam published some of them, but for legal reasons the author’s name was changed to Marshall McCoy and Larry and Stretch became Larry and Streak. Marshall Grover/McCoy is a pseudonym for Australian author Leonard Meares and he wrote 746 westerns under a variety of pennames.  

Meares introduces a lot of great characters, be they outlaws, lawmen or citizens, which include a memorable house maid and a confederate soldier that doesn’t know the Civil War has been over for years. Larry and Stretch don’t take centre stage for the first half or so of this story, in fact they hardly appear. They do have a novel way of getting free board and feed right at the beginning, which is how they become involved with Hank Todd and the troubles facing the town of Coreyville.

The author also includes humour, be that via dialogue or situations. One of the incidents that put a big grin on my face being Todd’s arrest of Abby Garfield and his way of getting her to his jail. The story isn’t short on action either and this involves fist-fights, gunplay and even a cannon. As the situation becomes more desperate Larry and Stretch step forward to orchestrate the defence of Coreyville and set out to take down the Garfield gang. 

Start Shooting, Texans proved to be a very entertaining read that made me wonder why I haven’t read one for such a long time, probably before Western Fiction Review was ever thought of. What I do know, is it won’t be anywhere near as long before I read another.