Monday, 18 February 2019

DAKOTA MASSACRE

THE SCOUT #2
By Buck Gentry
Zebra, 1981

The cry is “massacre!” when a town is brutally stormed by a band of rampaging Indians. Before anyone can retaliate the surprise attack, Eli Holten sets out for Sioux territory. Since he spent six years of his life learning the ways of the Plains, the Scout knows the tribe and the territory like the back of his hand. And his instincts tell him that someone’s been playing a dirty trick.

Holten soon learns that army deserters have been masquerading as deadly Indians. They have been killing and scalping their victims – and now they’ve kidnapped his girl. Holten won’t take things lying down, not when his lady is held hostage, and not when his name is at stake – 

Emblazoned on the cover and spine of this book are the words adult western and this book is part of a number of series launched around this time by Zebra and other publishers under this banner. The opening scenes of Dakota Massacre fitting this theme perfectly, lasting a number of pages and described in explicit detail. But once Holten and Rebecca go their separate ways this story moves quickly into an all-out action-packed battle between Holten, the deserters, and the Sioux. Of course, there are a few more adult sessions but the vast majority of the book concerns the desperate fights to survive.

The author certainly doesn’t give Holten much time to catch his breath between adult or violent encounters. Most of the deadly bouts begin only a few lines after the previous bloody fight. At the rate Holten was eliminating Sioux warriors I did begin to wonder if he’d wipe out the entire nation in this one story. Holten doesn’t get it all his own way though, but he does seem to be able to shrug off wounds in minutes and continue with his mission as if he was never hit.

The battles are described in gory detail, spurting blood, shattered bone and spilled body contents vividly defined. At one-point Holten is tortured and what he has to endure is painfully detailed. The torture sequence leads to a truly nail-biting how is he going to get out of that alive scene acted out in the aptly named Canyon of Death.

Buck Gentry is a pseudonym behind which a number of different authors wrote, and this one was probably written by Steve Clark and I believe he wrote most of the early entries in this series. 

If you enjoy violent westerns that contain almost non-stop savage action and don’t mind some explicit sex scenes then this a book, and series, that should be on your reading list. Dakota Massacre left me looking forward to reading the next one very soon.

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Rebel of Bodie

THE DERBY MAN #8
By Gary McCarthy
Bantam, June 1982

When Rebel Morgan was the law, Bodie, California had been a town of hope and promise. Bodie was “the Wildest Town in the West” now, and ex-sheriff Rebel was the whiskey-soaked town joke. A broken and bitter man since his wife’s brutal murder, Rebel had been unwilling to stem the rising bloody tide of violence and corruption that now threatened to destroy Bodie. But Darby Buckingham hits Bodie with both fists swinging, fiercely determined to whip Rebel back up to his former strength and to lend his muscle to wipe out the town’s savage criminals. Every low-life in Bodie rises to Darby’s challenge, unleashing a relentless onslaught of terror and killing. But the hard-hitting, quick-witted Derby Man would give Bodie the roughest judgement day the West had ever seen.

Gary McCarthy’s Derby Man has got to be one of the most unusual western heroes ever. He’s a large ex-circus strongman and prize-fighter who is now a dime novel author roaming the west searching out real people to write about in his books and he feels Rebel Morgan could be the star of his next pulp.

Darby’s quest for the truth about Rebel’s fall from grace will unearth some heart-breaking truths, truths that have been suspected but purposely ignored. As friendships are tested the death toll rises and Buckingham soon has a number of people looking to bury him as fast as possible.

McCarthy has brought together a great cast of characters for this tale, both male and female, good and bad. The story is told from various people’s viewpoints and later on its mainly from characters other than Buckingham. Connor O’Grady, who was introduced in the previous book, North Chase, has a large part to play in this tale, and as well as getting in some deadly situations that seem to offer no avenue of escape, he provides most of the more light-hearted moments in the story too.

For me, this is another great entry into a series that offers a western hero who is a little bit different from the norm. 


Long out of print, this series is now available as ebooks.


Monday, 11 February 2019

Iron Road

THE JUDGE #11
By Hank Edwards
Harper, December 1993

First there’s fire on the tracks a few miles short of Whiskey Flat, then cannon shots turn the Great Western’s locomotive into a mass of twisted steel. Tempers flare and the stakes are high as two rival railroads race to drive a spur through Wolf Creek Pass – a line that will make a fortune freighting gold and silver from the rich Colorado mines.

Suddenly Clay Torn stands alone against vicious saboteurs led by men who think their powerful political connections put them above the law. But Judge Torn is going to make sure Great Western gets a fair shake – even if it means giving Coastal & Northern a righteous run for the money.

A storyline that has turned up in many western books but I can’t remember reading another where one railroad company employs a band of ex-confederate soldiers who refused to surrender using a cannon to destroy the oppositions locomotives. This alone adds a neat twist to this tale. Torn’s method for dealing with this is nicely done too but does lead to complications later on.

The story mainly follows Torn but some chapters and scenes are told from other characters viewpoints so the reader knows who is doing what and for what reason. Having said that there is one person who I thought wasn’t quite who they said they were and I was proven correct but not as I expected and this revelation and the violent act it leads to came as a complete surprise adding a welcome twist to the tale.

Hank Edwards is a pseudonym for Jason Manning who wrote ten out of the twelve books in this series, and he keeps the story moving forwards at a fast pace as Judge Torn tries to discover who are the spies and saboteurs and then work out a way to stop their deadly tactics. In doing so Torn will have to face a lethal adversary who he first met in the previous book, Death Warrant, and this time there isn’t any way to escape a face-off Torn knows he can’t win.

Like all the other books in this series I found this one to be a quick and entertaining read and I’m sure it won’t be long before I pick up the final book to see if the series comes to an end and Torn finds the woman he’s been searching for since it began. 

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Stagecoach to Purgatory

By Peter Brandvold
Pinnacle, September 2018

After many years of ebook and/or hardback only releases it’s great to see the name of Peter Brandvold fronting a mainstream paperback again. Lou Prophet is one of Pete’s most popular characters and this book contains not one but two stories about the bounty hunter.

LAST STAGE TO HELL
What do you get when you take one stagecoach out of Denver, add a thousand-or-so bullets whizzing past your head, while sitting next to two headless corpses caught in the crossfire? If your name is Lou Prophet, you get raucous, rowdy, ruthless revenge. Next question?

DEVIL BY THE TAIL
How do you catch a fork-tongued demon who’s busted out of prison to wreak unholy hell on a small Texas town? If you’re Lou Prophet, you team up with red-hot Louisa Bonaventura, aka “The Vengeance Queen,” and cut a swath of merciless Prophet mayhem in return.

Due process be damned…

Each of these stories clocks in at just under 200 pages long so Pete has plenty of time to create devious plots that move forward at an extremely fast pace and involve regular bouts of gunplay. Prophet’s shotgun being used to devastating effect on many occasions, perhaps most memorably in the first story when the bounty hunter is trapped in an overturned stagecoach.

Peter Brandvold writes tough, brutal tales filled with fascinating characters that don’t let up with the action for a second. As mentioned in the blurb for the second story it’s great to see him working alongside Louisa Bonaventura again (she’s appeared in most of the previous Prophet books) and Prophet has to deal with the green-eyed monster of jealousy in this one as well as some vicious people.

The first story sees Prophet’s lust for the ladies get him into real trouble and a letter from another woman seems to be a way out of this deadly situation. Of course, this letter asking for help turns into another life and death struggle. Long-time readers of the Prophet books should remember the lady asking for help for she is Lola Diamond who appeared in the first book in the series.

Whereas the first story is more of a straightforward tale the second is filled with twists and turns. Many of these surprises quite shocking – and I can’t reveal more without spoiling them – as who did what to whom and what the real relationships between characters are come to light, not to mention the whereabouts of a missing baby.

I’m sure all fans of Peter Brandvold’s work have probably already read this and enjoyed it as much as I did. If you’ve yet to discover Mean Pete’s writing then this could just be the perfect place to start as it seems to be the beginning of another run for Lou Prophet in paperback. The second book is already out and a third is scheduled for release in July. Stagecoach to Purgatory is a superb read and I’ll certainly be picking up the next one as soon as I can.


Thursday, 31 January 2019

The Stranger

THE BADGE #8
By Bill Reno
Bantam Books, December 1988

When Denzel Murdoch was sent to the gallows for strangling a young woman, he shouted that he was innocent and vowed he would come back from the grave and take revenge on the judge, the six jurors and the marshal and deputy who had arrested him. And now it’s happening – Green River’s marshal is discovered in a freshly dug grave with the initials D.M. carved on his brow – and there are more deaths to follow. The townspeople are terrified. They can only turn to the man they call John Stranger – a mysterious drifter they found in the Green River cemetery after a shoot-out that left three bank robbers dead – a man who can’t remember his own identity after being grazed by one of the robbers’ bullets. All people know about him is that he’s faster with a gun than anyone they’ve ever seen before – and that’s enough.

This is another strong entry in what, for me, has been a superb series so far. Each book is a stand-alone title linked by the fact that one, or more, of the main characters wears a badge of some kind. 

Like the previous books this story has a fairly dark content and the author is very good at describing the grip of fear that begins to motive many of the characters as they try to convince themselves that Denzel Murdoch’s ghost has not risen from the grave to kill those he holds responsible for his death. But what other explanation is there? As terror brings forth desperate acts, can the lawman and John Stranger keep control before mob rule will see more innocents put to death?

And what of John Stranger himself? Who is he? A robber? A killer? A lawman? Where is he from and why is he in Green River? Bonnie Bodine, the murdered marshal’s sister, convinces herself that Stranger is a good man and the two begin to fall in love. But is Stranger already married? Are they setting themselves up for the agonizing pain of heartbreak if Stranger does indeed have a wife, a family?

Bill Reno packs this story with questions and mysteries that become more and more tangled as the death toll rises. Once you think you may have some idea as to what is going on the author springs more twists to the tale. One of my suspicions did turn out to be correct, kind of, as to the identity of the killer, but Reno had a major surprise in store where that person is concerned that provides another excellent twist that I doubt anyone will see coming.

Does Stranger get his memory back? Is he the kind of man who Bonnie would want to spend the rest of her life with? Is he married? Are either, or both of them alive by the end? The quest for Stranger to discover his identity keeps throwing up surprise after surprise – and that is all I can say without ruining this story.

Bill Reno is a pseudonym for Lew A. Lacy who once again presents the reader with a hard-hitting, at times brutal tale that is a gripping read. On finishing this book I find myself eager to pick up the next one in the series and to try some of the other westerns he has written, such as a number of entries in the Stagecoach Station series as Hank Mitchum. 



Sunday, 27 January 2019

The Frontiersman

By William W. Johnstone with J.A. Johnstone
Pinnacle, April 2015

In Tennessee, 17-year-old Breckinridge Wallace knew the laws of nature. When his life was in danger, he showed a fearless instinct to fight back. Killing a thug who was sent to kill him got Breckinridge exiled from his Smoky Mountain home. Brutally wounding an Indian attacker earned him an enemy for life… Now, from the bustling streets of St. Louis to the vast stillness of the Missouri headwaters, Breckinridge is discovering a new world of splendour, violence, promise and betrayal. Most off all, he is clawing his way to manhood behind the law of the gun. Because the trouble he left in Tennessee won’t let him go. A killer stalks his every move. And by the time he joins a dangerous expedition, Breckinridge has only had a small taste of the blood, horror and violence he must face next – to make his way to a new frontier…

This is the first in a series launched under the William W. Johnstone with J.A. Johnstone brand. Currently there are four in The Frontiersman series, with a fifth announced for release in 2019.

Like in any opening book to a series we are introduced to Breckinridge and his family and the relationships between them. We also witness Breckinridge’s impressive strengths and ability to fight as the opening scenes describe a bloody battle between him and some Chickasaw braves. Breckinridge’s belief that he’ll marry Maureen Grantham is important to the plot too, and it’s the latter that leads to events that see Breckinridge go on the run.

The plot thread of Breckinridge being wanted links each new adventure he finds himself having as he teams up with various parties in his bid to reach the Rocky Mountains. It’s these encounters that will see Breckinridge’s resolve tested time and again in a series of deadly and violent situations.

The author tells this very fast-moving tale in gripping prose that kept me turning the pages. Characters are well-crafted and each has an important part to play in the storyline and the writer is not afraid to kill them off to add to the suffering Breckinridge must endure. Action scenes – and there’s plenty of them – are extremely well-written, brutally desperate struggles for life that are very visual. 

As the story races to its end, it becomes obvious not all the plot threads are going to be tied-up thus ensuring the reader will pick up the next book in the series and that is something I will certainly be doing very soon.

A book that should appeal to all western readers, especially those who enjoy mountain men tales.


Wednesday, 23 January 2019

The Double-A Western Detective Agency

Holmes on the Range #6:
by Steve Hockensmith
Independently published, Dec. 2018

Big Red and Old Red Amlingmeyer’s dream has come true: The Sherlock Holmes-worshiping cowboy brothers are finally in business as professional detectives. But their fledgling A.A. Western Detective Agency faces a few challenges. Their partner, Col. Crowe, is almost as cantankerous and secretive as Old Red himself. The colonel’s daughter, Diana, insists on tagging along for the Amlingmeyers’ first assignment. And that assignment lands them smack dab in the middle of a range war — with Big Red and Old Red expected to shoot it out with rustlers rather than rustle up clues and solve a mystery.

When the violence claims an unexpected victim, however, the Amlingmeyers are called upon to holster their guns (for a moment) and use their “Holmesifying” skills to track down the killer. But someone else is tracking them...someone who seems to set one ambush after another for the brothers. Will the Double-A Western Detective Agency’s first case also be its last?

It's been just over two years since the last Holmes on the Range book appeared which was more mystery than western, but this time Steve Hockensmith was writing it for fun rather than a mystery imprint so he decided to ‘pump up the western vibe’. Due to that decision this book certainly reads like a western that contains a couple of mysteries that need solving as only the Amlingmeyer’s can.

As usual the story is told through Big Red Amlingmeyer, his many humorous observations making me laugh out loud. The tale seems to be a typical range war type of plot but it soon becomes clear it’s much more than that and it spirals into a twisting and complex storyline that provides Old Red with plenty of opportunity to use his deducifying skills. I can’t really say anymore about that without giving to much away and thus spoiling the book for those intending to read it.

The story moves forwards at a fast pace and chapters often end on a cliff-hanger that will keep you turning the pages. There is also plenty of action – standoffs, gunplay, fistfights and other tense situations – that will be enjoyed by all western fans. Something that really caught my attention was the town a lot of the tale takes place in, it’s unusual set up being one I can’t remember reading the likes of before. 

If you’ve not yet read any of the Holmes on the Range books then this is certainly a great place to jump in as it seems to mark a new beginning for the Amlingmeyer’s due to it being their first assignment for their new Double-A Detective Agency. Let’s just hope that Mr. Hockensmith doesn’t keep us waiting too long to find out what their next job will be.



Also available as an ebook