Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Ride the Long Night

By E.A. Alman
Ace Books, 1960
Originally published by The Macmillan Company, 1959

His name was Will Storm and he was getting to be a legend in the West. He wasn’t more than 27 years old, but his hair was completely white and he had a lifetime’s worth of hate stored up in him. He had sworn to would not rest until his gun caught up with three people:

 . . . the sweetheart who betrayed him,

. . . the treacherous saddle-partner who helped her railroad him to prison,

. . . the corrupt prison warden who tortured him for five bitter years.

It was a long rail that he rode – a long and violent trail – but it had an ending none would forget.

E.A. Alman is an author I wasn’t familiar with, and a google search doesn’t bring up anything other than this book. This publication contains a number of quotes from reviews declaring how good this story is, one stating ‘Alman promises to be one of the more stimulating writers of Western fiction, and this book should have wide appeal.’ Another says ‘One of the best westerns to come along in some time.

The story starts well, and portrays Storm as a desperate man drive by his self-imposed mission to kill those who wronged him. Storm is hurt, being pursued by a posse. He’s saved by a young woman who lives alone, who’s a man-hater. A woman many see as crazy. She see’s opportunity in Storm and decides to help him heal and hide him from the posse. In exchange he must marry her, that’s all, he can then go on his way once she has his last name. Why is that so important to her? That is something you’ll have to find out for yourself by reading the book.

During Storm’s recovery we are introduced to two other major players, a man referred to as the Preacher – that is his trade but is there more to him than that? The second person is a lawman determined to see Storm back behind bars. As their lives become entwined the plot becomes more complicated and the suspense mounts.

At times this story is quite brutal, definitely has a hard-boiled appeal to it. Storm does do something that not all readers will approve of, but I can’t say more without spoiling a major element of the book. 

During this tale Storm helps some children find their parents and this part of the story seems to lose the dark edge of the rest of the book and a different side of Storm is revealed. Although this section of the story is important to how the plot develops, I did find the pace eased off a little here and lost its grittiness that I'd been appreciating. Once this story-thread had been resolved then the toughness returned and my enjoyment rose again and I was eager to see how the story ended.

With his vengeance hunt over, and maybe not how you’d expect, Storm has to face a new demon in the woman he married. Would she kill him on sight? She was certainly full of hate for him and had promised to do so, something Storm was resigned to. The prospect of his death at her hands certainly doesn’t stop him returning to her to hand her the gun with which to take his life. Perhaps his death is the only way to conclude his life, something he welcomes?

Overall, this was a very satisfactory read and it does make me wonder why Alman never wrote anymore westerns.

Ride the Long Night is part of an Ace Double book, paired with Gordon D. Shirreffs Apache Butte.


Sunday, 21 June 2020

Murphy's War

Murphy #4
By Gary Paulsen

Cover art by Garin Baker
Pocket Books, December 1990

Sheriff Al Murphy is fed up with Fletcher, Wyoming, a two-bit hole in the wall that has no use for a real lawman. Now they’ve gone and lynched a powerful Texan’s only son and broken Murphy’s arm in the process. The streets are about to run with the blood of vengeance – and Murphy’s only half alive from hard drinking and hard fighting, and a loss so raw only whiskey numbs the memory of that lone canyon grave.

Soon Murphy’s taking them all on: the power-hungry feedstore owner and his rowdy hired hands, and the hardnosed Texas rancher and his small army of cowboys. His only weapons are a sawed-off shotgun, a Colt revolver, his trusty double-action Smith – and the knife-edged courage to go down in a blaze of white heat and lead.

Although the back of this book states it’s the third in the series, it is actually the fourth and it follows on from the correct third book, Murphy's Herd (that Pocket have wrongly named the fourth) quite closely. Still struggling to come to terms with the death of Midge, Murphy is still contemplating suicide but can’t bring himself to put a bullet through his brain. Turning to drink he hopes the alcohol will do the job for him.

The opening scenes of this story are very powerful. Murphy, with a broken arm, is powerless to stop the lynching. It’s a hard-hitting sequence of events told in tough, brutal prose. Sickened by what has happened Murphy decides to leave the town to its destruction by the soon to arrive Texan rancher.

Even though the author creates a great sense of impending doom the tale does slow down a bit at this point. Murphy spends time contemplating his life. Even though he stops drinking he still sees no purpose in living so heads back to Fletcher to go out in a blaze of glory, not to save the town, but to die.

Gary Paulsen then picks up the momentum again and writes a superb, tense, violent final showdown that makes for some terrific gripping reading as Murphy takes on the Texan and his men alone. This really is a savage gunfight that sees Murphy hit again and again. Among all the blood and gore it seems Murphy’s wish to die is to be fulfilled.

Murphy’s War more than matches the strength of the previous books, apart from the slight slag in the middle, yet this slowing of pace could just be what makes the beginning and ending such powerful reading. It will be a long time before I forget that final gunfight. 

If you are a fan of raw, hard-hitting westerns and you’ve yet to read the Murphy series by Gary Paulsen then may I suggest you do so as soon as you can. To get the most from this series the books need to be read in the correct order. 

Saturday, 13 June 2020

Blood Trail

THE BADGE
number 10 of 24
By Bill Reno
Bantam, April 1989
Cover art by Shannon Stirnweiss

“Mad Dog” Duke Malone has some scores to settle, and he likes killing – a lot. When he breaks out of a Texas prison hell-bent on revenge, a lot of folks stand a good chance of dying. Chief among them is Sheriff Colby Tucker, who arrested the outlaw and put him away. But Mad Dog guns down Tucker’s son by mistake, and then leaves a trail of blood clear across the state as he goes to dig up the loot from a previous holdup. Tucker sets out to avenge his son and bring Mad Dog to justice. The lawman had planned on retiring, and this hunt will be his last act as sheriff. It might be his last act – period.

This is another very good entry in what, for me, has been an excellent series so far. It’s a series you can dip in to anywhere as each book is a standalone novel featuring different people. The books are linked by the fact the one of the lead characters wears a badge of some kind. Having said that, there are a couple of lawmen who appear in more than one book.

Mad Dog rides with a couple of ex-prison guards who helped him escape. They’ve been promised a share of the hidden loot for their reward. These two men begin to have second thoughts as they witness brutal killings carried out by Malone, and are shocked at his total disregard for human life, guilt or innocent.

The mistaken killing of Sheriff Colby’s son is handled well by the author, and the reason for this happening is totally plausible. The heartbreak of this incident is moving and this is the kind of scene Bill Reno excels at. 

The author regularly switches between Mad Dog and the pursuing lawman. As the death toll mounts you do have to wonder if Colby will catch up with Malone before he kills all those on his hit list. Colby is joined on the trail by his other son, who’s also a lawman, and soon matters are further complicated as a young woman, the only survivor of a Mad Dog massacre, insists on riding with them too. She could be a major problem as she is Malone’s daughter. The final showdown makes for some exciting reading and is as savage as all that has gone before it.  

I’ve always enjoyed the dark tones that some of the previous books have had, but this one doesn’t match them in that sense. This story is more of a straight-forward gritty read that includes a lot of bloody hard-hitting action. I found Blood Trail to be a very entertaining tale and I look forward to reading the next book very soon.

Bill Reno is a pen-name of Lew A. Lacy who has written many other westerns under his own name and other pseudonyms.

Monday, 8 June 2020

Apache Butte

By Gordon D. Shirreffs
Ace Books, 1960

The towering butte stood like the symbol of death, and Ken Driscoll rode right into the rocky bastion in the pursuit of his prey.

Loco and his Apaches were on a bloody warpath. The killing and ravaging would continue until Ken could find the men who were supplying the contraband whiskey that was driving the Indians to their deadly orgies.

Outnumbered by both savage red men and renegade white men, further burdened by the necessity of having to find legal proof, Ken knew that his chances of succeeding were about a thousand to one and his chances of surviving about a million to one. But high as the odds were, Ken was just that one man in a million who might dam the tidal wave of slaughter and live to tell.

Tough, gritty and at times brutal this fast paced story gripped from the very beginning, which sees Driscoll trying to avoid the Apaches and discovering a wandering little girl whilst doing so. Sadly, he has to kill her puppy to stop it yapping and giving their position away and this unfortunate act will have a part to play later in the tale.

It isn’t long before Driscoll is the unwanted guest of a group of hardcases and then their prisoner when a man from his past shows up. There are women too, as sensuous as the men are dangerous. Mistrust and double-cross become themes of the plot as Loco and his Apaches seem to keep Driscoll and his companions trapped in a ranch. There are questions about why Driscoll is here and his past, what is it he is really after?

Before the end Driscoll and a handful of men and women must take the fight to a much larger band of Apaches that are camped out on the top of the mesa, a monument of rock with only one trail up that is easy to defend. How they scale the heights provides some extremely suspenseful reading and as the death toll rises, I began to wonder if Driscoll, or any other person, would be alive by the end.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a story by Gordon D. Shirreffs, his sparce, hard-hitting writing style makes for a fast read and I found it to be an enjoyable book. I wasn’t quite convinced by the sudden attraction between Driscoll and one of the women – they hadn’t really had any interaction with each other and then they were kissing – but the rest of the tale more than made up for that.

Apache Butte is a short story, it comes in at 113 pages in this Ace Double Novel. It’s paired with the slightly longer Ride the Long Night by E.A. Alman, an author I’m unfamiliar with, so I’m looking forward to reading that very soon. 

Monday, 1 June 2020

Longarm and the Bank Robber's Daughter

By Tabor Evans
number 301 of 436
Jove, December 2003

U.S. Deputy Marshal Custis Long opens his door to a visitor—just in time to see him die in a hail of gunfire. The killers get away…and the victim leaves Longarm with the words “stolen gold” and “Sweetwater Canyon”…

The dead man once shared a cell with Clete Harrigan, a notorious bank robber Longarm put behind bars years ago. The army payroll that Harrigan’s gang stole was never recovered. Now Longarm thinks it just might be hidden in Sweetwater Canyon in New Mexico.

Before he can depart, Harrigan’s daughter Emily arrives, wanting to make amends for her father’s crimes by helping retrieve the money. With outlaws in pursuit, Longarm can use the help. But is she as lovely as she seems—or as lowdown as her daddy?

This time, the author behind the pseudonym of Tabor Evans is James Reasoner and he provides us with a cracking tale. The action comes thick and fast as Longarm searches for the long missing army payroll.

From the word go someone is out to stop Longarm getting to Sweetwater Canyon but he battles through. Once there Longarm finds himself in a range war and the canyon is part of the land being fought for.

There are plenty of suspects in the well-drawn characters that Longarm meets during his hunt for the payroll. Any one of them could be behind the attempts on his life and I didn’t guess who that was as this person’s identity was kept well-hidden until the author was ready to reveal who it was. Once you think the investigation is closed James Reasoner springs a sting in the tale that I didn’t see coming that rounds the book off well.

This is an excellent entry in the long running series and is certainly worth checking out.


Tuesday, 26 May 2020

The Gallowsman

By Will Cade
Leisure, November 1998

Ben Woolard is a man ready to start over. The life he’s leaving behind is none too pretty, filled with ghosts and pain. When he lost his wife and children, he took to the bottle so hard he almost couldn’t find his way out again. And his career as a Union spy during the war still doesn’t sit quite right with him, even if the man sent to the gallows by his testimony was a murderer. But now Ben’s finally sobered up, moved west to Colorado, staked out a claim, put the past behind him.

But sometimes the past won’t lie still. Sometimes it just won’t stay buried. And, as Ben learns when folks start telling him that the man he saw hanged is alive and in town – sometimes those ghosts come back.

This is a book filled with intrigue. Not only is the main storyline laced with mystery but also the sub-plot involving an attractive young woman who disguises herself as a man to hide her identity from her half-brother who she claims will kill her if he finds her.

The author has come up with a great set of characters and has plenty of surprises waiting for them, and the reader, as the plot unfolds. Gold teeth, ghosts and the young lady I’ve already mentioned all having important roles to play as this story builds to its deadly conclusion.

This isn’t a story filled with gunplay, although it does contain some vicious action scenes, but a lot of the killings take place off screen so to speak. Don’t let that put you off reading this though, as the author certainly knows how to write a suspenseful story that keeps you turning the pages in a quest to discover just what is going on. Arson, murder, beatings and kidnapping all raise their ugly heads during this twisting tale that sees Ben Woolard questioning his past and whether he can trust those he becomes involved with whilst trying to forge a new life for himself. Woolard will have to endure both physical and emotional batterings before discovering the truth. Neither storyline being resolved as I expected which enhanced my total enjoyment of this book.

Will Cade is a pseudonym used by Cameron Judd and this book certainly has me looking forward to reading more of his work soon. 

Thursday, 21 May 2020

Once Late with a .38

SHERIFF BEN STILLMAN
number 7 of 8 *
By Peter Brandvold
Berkley, October 2003

Sheriff Ben Stillman has enough of a hard time keeping peace in the town of Clantick without having to worry about the likes of Matt Parish. Since his father died, Matt has been responsible for the Circle P Ranch – and his hot-headed streak has been responsible for a lot of trouble with the other ranchers . . . including his future father-in-law, Tom Suthern. 

Despite failing health and loss of profits, Tom refuses to sell his spread to Matt, even if he is marrying his daughter. So, when Matt is discovered in the presence of Tom’s bullet-riddled corpse, people naturally assume he murdered the old man. Now, it’s up to Ben Stillman to protect Matt from a trigger-happy posse and find the real killer – before it’s too late . . . 

Sheriff Ben Stillman has always been one of my favourite characters to come from the pen of Peter Brandvold, perhaps because reading the first Stillman book was the one that introduced me to the authors writing and I’ve been a fan ever since. 

Peter Brandvold’s work can often be very graphic when he describes the violent scenes in his stories and the intimate moments between male and female characters. Language can be very colourful too, but in this book all these elements are kept to a minimum.

A number of other people from the town of Clantick have parts to play in this fast-moving story that sees Doc Evans taking a central role. In this series Stillman often tracks known outlaws but this time he has to become a detective, questioning suspects (and there’s a fair few of them) before the pieces of the jigsaw come together. Even as they do the plot thickens with twists and turns as double-cross and triple-cross further complicate the situation. 

The story regularly switches between a variety of characters as the violence escalates. Stillman eventually blundering into a situation that it seems he cannot possibly escape. Tension mounts as surprising revelations come one after the other leading to a thrilling conclusion. 

Once Late with a .38 is another excellent entry into the Sheriff Ben Stillman series and I’m certain it won’t be long before I read the next book.

* I’ve indicated at the top of this review that Once Late with a .38 is book seven of eight, which is true if we look at the original run of the series published by Berkley. Some eight years after book eight appeared Peter Brandvold started writing the series again. There are now 14 and they are all available through Wolfpack Publishing.