Monday, 22 April 2019

War Valley

By Lancaster Hill
Pinnacle, March 2019

Hank Gannon grew up on a Florida plantation. He fought alongside his brothers-in-arms in the Civil War. Then he joined the Texas Special Police to help build a more peaceful union – and a future for his beloved Constance. That was the plan. But when a prisoner dies in his custody, Gannon is forced to leave Austin and head into Comanche territory. Alone but undaunted, he meets Roving Wolf- who has just slain a former soldier from his unit. Gannon can’t let the killing go unpunished. Even here, in this godforsaken valley, the law must be upheld… 

On the one side is a bloodthirsty war party of Indians, heading for the white man’s capital. On the other side is a makeshift army of Texas Special Police and the Texas State Guard, ready to meet the threat head-on. In the middle are Hank Gannon and Roving Wolf, waging their own blood feud. Two men trapped in a war. Fighting to survive their mutual hate. Killing to get out alive…

Lancaster Hill is a pseudonym for Jeff Rovin, an author known for his Tom Clancy: Op-Center series, and this is his first western.

The author’s writing style is extremely readable and includes some great, tense, life or death scenes.  Battles, be they between two sides or individuals, are described well, and are quite brutal at times and the author isn’t above killing off some main characters, which came as a welcome surprise, as is what happens to Constance, and how this is dealt with by her and Gannon and those who know her. Relationships between friend and foe are equally well-crafted and the author did have me caring what happened to some of them.

Gannon gets kicked out of the Texas Special Police due to possible political problems centered around racial unrest, even though it is entirely unjustified. This, of course, creates tension between Gannon and his now ex-employer, Captain Keel. Racial prejudice is a theme this tale often touches on and at times slowed the story down too much for me, as did the regular flashbacks that explained Gannon’s character (and others) that repeatedly interrupted the tale just as some deadly action was about to erupt. Having said that, the rest of the story was strong enough to keep me eagerly turning the pages.

War Valley is billed as being the first in a powerful new series, and yes it has some hard-hitting storylines, but will there be another Hank Gannon western? The Epilogue seems to imply that this is a stand-alone tale but I’m sure it would be possible to bring out further books featuring Gannon and I for one would look forward to reading them.


Sunday, 31 March 2019

The Scarlet Gun

THE GUNSMITH #44
By J.R. Roberts
Charter Books, September 1985

Lots of boys dream about being gunfighters, but when the kid brother of a pretty Irish woman picks up his six-shooter in earnest, Clint Adams is forced to get involved.

The Gunsmith is asked to find the boy and convince him to give himself up. But before he can that, Clint meets an incredibly beautiful young woman named Scarlet who is gunning for a rancher the kid has been hired to protect. Now, the Gunsmith’s good deed has drawn him into a dangerous crossfire – one from which he’ll be lucky to get out alive!

Like all Gunsmith books, this is an extremely fast read. It is dialogue driven and contains a twisting plot that moves forward at a rapid pace. The characters mentioned above are joined by a few others too, all with their own ambitions, and more than one dreaming of being the person who takes out the Gunsmith and thus enhancing their own reputations. As all the plot lines converge so does the readers anticipation for the final showdown that will see many of the leading characters facing off against each other.

The Gunsmith books are classed as an adult reading, which means they contain explicit sex scenes. This being one of the earlier books the reader will find a lot more of this type of action than in the later novels. The story starts with such an act, then the author lays out the plot, introduces the many characters and moves the tale towards the exciting final confrontation, all this takes up a good portion of the book. But, before guns are drawn in anger, the author inserts many more sexual encounters one after the other, not just for Adams but for one of the other main characters too. I’ll be honest and say I did find this a bit boring and speed-read these sections as I wanted to find out who would be left alive at the end, and whether Adams managed to keep the kid alive.

For followers of The Gunsmith series, this is a must read as one of the storylines seems to set itself up for a future book. Whether this happens I don’t know, but I certainly hope so and guess I will find out eventually as I aim to continue reading this series as time allows.

Long since out of print, Speaking Volumes has now re-issued The Scarlet Gun in book paper and ebook form.


Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Medicine Hat

THE SPANISH BIT SAGA #25
By Don Coldsmith
Bantam, February 1998
Original hardback edition published 1997

Pipe Bearer, a young holy man of the Elk-dog People, dreams of a powerful sign: a horse with curious markings on his ears and head, resembling the medicine hat of a holy man. But he cannot interpret the mysterious dream. When one of his mares foals a colt with the same markings, he undertakes a quest to the lands of the Lakota and the Pawnee to learn more about this sacred event.

Joining another pair of travelers, Pipe Bearer and his wife, Otter Woman, will pass through places of great power and inexpressible evil. On the long trek, they will experience great joy and terrible tragedy. And gradually they will discover the spirits’ true purpose for their quest….

Don Coldsmith tells this story in the first person, but not just through one character, but two. These are Pipe Bearer and Otter Woman. The narrative switches between them often and the reader will feel like they are part of the group Pipe Bearer and Otter Woman are telling their tale to. Both storytellers go off on an occasional tangent which adds depth to their character, and they often exchange banter that contains humorous observations about many things, especially how women trick their men into believing they make all the decisions about their life path.

As well as being a quest to find out more about the Medicine Hat horse, this is a tale of discovery, both in land and people. Comparisons between the Lakota way of life and that of the Elk-dog People provide fascination and revelations that cause much consideration. Without spoiling anything, I will add that the wonder of the changing landscape is extremely well told, and the reader will easily recognize places Pipe Bearer and Otter Woman see for the first time. Origin stories of how these places came to be add welcome, enchanting, elements to this captivating tale.

I’ve often felt that Coldsmith was gifted in his ability to describe human emotion, and this story is packed with that. Wonder, confusion, love, fear and heartache beautifully told so that the reader shares these feelings with the characters, making you care about them, and, when tragedy does strike the reader will experience their pain too.

Whilst not the most action-packed book in this series, it is still a gripping and appealing story, one that all fans of The Spanish Bit Saga novels will certainly enjoy reading.      


Friday, 22 March 2019

Where the Bullets Fly

By Terrence McCauley
Pinnacle, October 2018

If anyone can smell an investment opportunity, it’s railroad men and big city bankers. They’re not the kind of folks that Sheriff Mackey is used to dealing with. But greed is greed, and if anyone knows how money can drive men to murder, it’s the sheriff of a boomtown like Dover Station. But when Mackey is forced to gun down a pair of saloon rats, it brings a powderkeg of trouble – with a quick-burning fuse of vengeance named Alexander Duramont. This bloodthirsty psychopath wants to kill the sheriff for killing his buddies. And he plans to get his revenge using a highly combustible mix of fire, fear, and dynamite…

Mackey’s not sure how he’s going to stop this blood-crazed lunatic. But it’s going to be one heck of an explosive and very violent showdown…

This is Terrence McCauley’s first western and it's also billed as the first in a new series featuring Sheriff Aaron Mackey. 

When we meet Mackey he is suffering from pneumonia and this ailment sees him struggling to do his job and this somehow made him seem more real than some western heroes – how often do we read of heroes being struck down by common illnesses? This sickness doesn’t just go away and it plays an important part in Mackey’s mood as he takes on outlaws and businessmen alike.

Mackey is also part of a love-triangle. Trapped in a marriage he refuses to break-up, but tormented by his true love, Katherine, living in the same town. It’s when Katherine’s life is threatened by the superbly drawn outlaw Duramont and her fate is unknown, that Mackey allows his feelings for her to override everything else and he sets out on a mission to find out what happened to her and to kill Duramont.

Duramont is beautifully evil, the perfect adversary for Mackey. But can Mackey bring the outlaw leader to justice as he always seems to be one step-ahead of the lawman? 

The book is tough, dark in tone, has plenty of violent scenes and moves forwards at a relentless pace. With an excellent cast of colourful characters in both the main storyline and subplots I soon found myself totally immersed in the tale. The ending was savage and not quite what I expected. McCauley also left a few openings for the next book in the series, Dark Territory, which will be published in March 2019, and I for one can’t wait to get my hands on a copy.


Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Easy Company and the Blood Feud

By John Wesley Howard
Jove, March 1983

The Wilsons and the Blantons fled the Texas drought together, the best of friends. But they arrived in Wyoming as warring enemies – and now, Seth Wilson and Maybelle Blanton must hide their passionate love in the night’s darkness.

To make matters worse, the Sioux are attacking the night patrols and a buffalo hunter is shooting Indian cattle in their pens. It’s up to Lt. Matt Kincaid and Easy Co. to stop all the shooting and bring peace to Thunder Basin – before there’s nobody left!

Book 26 in this excellent series involves a number of separate incidents, all taking place at the same time, that are only linked by Easy Company having to resolve them all with as little bloodshed as they possibly can. Frustration, deadly confrontations, and a medicine show complete with an enticing young lady, means there isn’t a moments peace for the men of Easy Company.

By having so many problems to deal with, the author is able to utilize most of the soldiers who make up Easy Company, along with scout Windy Mandalian, so if you have any favourites you’re sure to find them having a role to play in this book.

The author behind the pseudonym of John Wesley Howard this time is Paul Lederer, and he sure knows how to write a fast-moving tale that holds interest from the first page to the last. Action scenes are tough, frantic and exciting, dialogue is snappy and believable, and everything is tied up neatly.

The more deadly situations are nicely balanced by the girl from the medicine show who soon has a number of soldiers believing she wants to marry them, this leads to some very funny moments and also allows the book to end on a comical note. 

Overall, this is a very satisfying and entertaining read that has left me eager to discover just what problems Easy Company will have to face in the next book as soon as I can.

Thursday, 14 March 2019

STRAIGHT SHOOTER

A Ralph Compton Novel by Marcus Galloway
Signet, June 2013

Outlaw Wes Cavanaugh knows that crime doesn’t always pay – at least not that much. That’s why he and his partner, Mose, are willing to buy information from Jimmy Stock on a job that’s guaranteed to pay off big.

Jimmy’s made a career of selling tips to bandits, but the job he sells Wes – a payroll train about to leave Omaha – requires more than information. It requires a straight shooter who can hit targets from a long distance away…and in the outlaw business, even a straight shooter can’t be trusted.

With the passing of Ralph Compton, Signet decided to keep his name alive by continuing to put out books under his name written by other writers, eleven of them I believe. Signet also decided to print the name of the real authors on the books too making it easy for readers to identify who had written each new book. Marcus Galloway’s name appearing on ten of them, placing him only behind David Robbins and Joseph A. West in numbers of books written under the Ralph Compton brand.

The above blurb is perhaps a little mis-leading as to the contents of this book. Sure, Wes and Mose buy information from Stock but this takes up only a short part of the novel, as does the train robbery. Wes and Mose don’t have enough money to give to Stock so steal it from a traveling gunsmith. Most of the story follows the fortunes of said gunsmith, Zeke Hayes and his helper, ex-boxer, Aldus Bricker. The central character is Aldus, and it’s his need to discover why the tone of the letters he gets from his childhood sweetheart, Bethany, has changed, that sees them cross paths once again with Wes and Mose.

During the journey to Bethany’s hometown, Zeke and Aldus find themselves in a deadly fight for control of a town and this is resolved in an exciting battle that is one of the highlights of the book.

There’s also a neat outcome to the train robbery that brings that part of the story to an almost underplayed and perfect ending.

I’ve only read a handful of Marcus Galloways’ westerns and so far I’ve enjoyed them all. They haven’t contained quite as much gunplay as a lot of the books I read, but that isn’t a criticism as Galloway certainly knows how to grab the readers attention and build his plots in gripping prose that makes you want to keep reading. 


Sunday, 10 March 2019

WEBB'S POSSE

By Ralph Cotton
Signet, July 2003

When the Peltry Gang swoops into Rileyville, the attack is sudden and merciless. Before the townsfolk know what hit them, one of their own lies dead in the dirt street, Deputy Abner Webb is caught with his pants down, and just for good measure, the desperadoes shoot the sheriff and leave him for dead as they head out.

Webb knows he must capture the outlaws for what they’ve done, but that won’t be easy for the inexperienced lawman. Yet with the help of a shady horse trader and an ornery schoolmaster, Webb just might bring the gunslingers in on their feet – or slung over their saddles.

Ralph Cotton has created a superb bunch of characters for this extremely fast-moving story that barely takes a breath between each savage bout of gunplay. As well as having to deal with the outlaws, soldiers, gunrunners, scalphunters and Federales, the posse has its own internal conflicts for Webb to tackle – he himself being one of the problems for one of the posse members which sees hate and jealousy rise viciously.

Then there’s the suspicions about the horse trader, Will Summers, just what is his angle? And what of the schoolteacher, Sherman Dahl, just why would a schoolmaster be so proficient with a gun and cool under fire? Can either of them be trusted? As the posse begins to face the brutal reality of their task some die, some leave and other people join them, including some who won’t think twice about double-crossing the posse.

As the chase takes all sides into Mexico, all these groups find themselves fighting for possession of a Gatling Gun and no one is safe from death. That’s one of the traits I like about Ralph Cotton’s writing, the fact that you can never be sure who he’ll kill off, and when.

If you like hard-hitting, action-packed westerns that offer surprises, twists and engaging characters then Webb’s Posse is a book you should consider tracking down. I don’t think I’ll be spoiling anything by adding that this book saw five sequels featuring two of the survivors of the hunt to bring the Peltry gang to justice, and I’m certainly going to be reading them very soon.