Wednesday, 19 January 2022

RAVEN MOCKER


THE SPANISH BIT SAGA
Book 27 of 29 + three Super editions
By Don Coldsmith
Cover art by Tom Hall
Bantam Books, July 2002

Demon…or Healer?

For years Snakewater, the aging medicine woman of Old Town, has been respected – and feared – by her Cherokee village. Now, as a series of mysterious deaths plagues her village, she finds herself accused of being a Raven Mocker, the legendary creature of evil that steals life from its victims in its relentless quest for immortality. Driven from her people, Snakewater journeys west for the first time with a traveling band to the Cherokee settlements far beyond the Mississippi.

Her trail will be one of perilous discovery. Accepted by a culture new to her, admired and loved by its children, she finds herself feeling more vibrant and youthful. But is her newfound vigor a gift from the spirits…or a sign that her people were right, that she is a life-stealing Raven Mocker? As the annual Sun Dance approaches, Snakewater will learn the fateful truth about herself and the unexplained deaths – a surprising revelation that will confirm her new life…or destroy it.

In this book Don Coldsmith moves away from telling a story about his fictional tribe and spins an intriguing and captivating tale of an old Cherokee woman set circa 1800, who is accused of being a mythical Raven Mocker. Coldsmith explains that this evil spirit steals the life breath of the dying and adds their unlived years to its own life. Coldsmith never mentions the missing hearts that legend says this creature harvests without leaving a mark on the body.

Seeing Snakewater struggle with the horror of whether she could be a Raven Mocker without knowing is the main storyline. Coldsmith also includes other spiritual elements, as he does in many of the book in the Spanish Bit series, and one of the unseen Little People has a major role to play in this story too.

Once Snakewater decides to leave her Cherokee home, the story becomes much more familiar to fans of this series. It turns into a tale of discovery, of meeting new peoples and learning their ways. Unknown to Snakewater there are people on her trail seeking revenge for the deaths of their loved ones. Eventually Snakewater meets up with the Elk-Dog People, Coldsmith’s tribe that has been followed throughout all the previous books, and it is with them that she will finally face her demons, real or imagined. 

As usual Don Coldsmith captures emotions superbly, be they joy, wonder, fear or hate. His dialogue is believable and descriptions of time and place are beautifully told. Even if you are sceptical about the supernatural elements of this tale, Coldsmith will make you a believer, such is the power of his prose. 

In Raven Mocker, Don Coldsmith again proves that he was up there with the very best writers of fiction and, for me and many others, his work is unmissable.

I feel I must mention the artwork fronting this book. Tom Hall’s covers to the entire series are wonderful but his painting on Raven Mocker must rank as one of his very best. The careful thought-out placement of items within the image lit by the fire to cast the giant shadow of a raven is terrific and captures the mood of this story superbly.

Note: Wolfpack Publishing have recently begun republishing the complete series.

Saturday, 15 January 2022

BURY THE HATCHET


BUCK TRAMMEL 2
By William W. Johnstone and J.A. Johnstone
Pinnacle, September 2020

There are two things a man can never escape: his past and his destiny. For Buck Trammel, that past includes a fatal mistake that ended his career as a Pinkerton – and a deadly shootout with the Bowman gang in a Wichita saloon. Call it luck or call it fate, but the famous Deputy Wyatt Earp was there to give Buck some advice: Run for your life. Maybe it was Earp’s warning that saved him from the gang’s wrath. Maybe it was destiny that brought him to the town of Blackstone, Wyoming, where his biggest problem is a brewing father-son war. But Trammel’s luck is about to run dry . . . 

The gang’s ruthless boss, Old Man Bowman, knows where Trammel lives. He’s assembled a small army of gunslingers. He’s hired a Pinkerton with a grudge against Trammel. And he’s coming to town to bury the hatchet . . . 

This book continues storylines begun in the first Buck Trammel western, North of Laramie, so if you haven’t read that story, you may find it advantageous to read the earlier book before this one, although it isn’t necessary as the author includes enough information in this second book to fill new readers in on any background detail you need to know to understand how those previous events shaped the plot in this tale.

The author develops relationships further between characters from the first book and introduces others too. All find themselves struggling to stay alive in a twisting plot that easily pulls you into its enthralling storyline. A bounty placed on Trammel’s head ensures there’s plenty of gunplay as all kinds of people try to make themselves a quick fortune. It was the coming confrontation between Trammel and the Pinkerton’s that added suspense to the tale and kept me eagerly turning the pages.

Trammel’s broken friendship with Adam Hagan and his uneasy alliance with Adam’s father, King Charles Hagan, is tested a number of times and there is a shocking revelation that could cause unfixable damage. 

The story involves fast violent action scenes, political wrangling, double-cross, and devious twists, in a well-crafted tale that proved to be a gripping read. The book neatly ties up the main threads of the story and leaves a couple of the sub-plots still dangling, thus ensuring readers will want to read the third book, The Intruders, to find out what happens next, something I hope to do very soon.

Wednesday, 5 January 2022

THE PROUD HORSEMAN

By Matt Chisholm
Mayflower, 1963

The McDaid’s came down from the high country, ruthless and strong. They killed his brother and invaded his grass.

He was alone, backed by treacherous friends, faced by powerful enemies. A man with sense would have forked his horse and got out of there but he didn’t have sense. He only had cold courage and a gun.

Like all the other books by Matt Chisholm I’ve read, this story moves forward at tremendous speed and is almost non-stop action. It’s a tale of a land grab as a superior force in the shape of the McDaid clan arrive in a valley filled with lush grass which is just what they need for their cattle. Only thing is Si and Jim Deverey live there, as do one or two other people and they won’t be pushed off what they see as their land. Shortly after a stand-off between the McDaid’s and the Deverey’s, Jim is found viciously beaten to death and Si hits the vengeance trail and soon finds himself blamed for the death of one of Lon McDaid’s sons, and the old man screams for revenge. It isn’t long before Si is wondering if there is a third party playing a hand in the killings, and if he is right then who is it and what is their motive?

The author has created a wonderful set of tough characters, both male and female, for this gripping read. One thing I like about Chisholm’s stories, is that you can never be sure of who will be alive or dead by the end, and that is certainly the case in this novel. There’s a couple of excellent twists and plenty of ‘how are they going to get out of that’ situations. I also like that Chisholm’s characters aren’t perfect shots and often miss their targets and that they don’t escape being hit by all the lead that is flying around. 

Chisholm’s work comes from a time when bad language wasn’t used in stories that much, if at all. There aren’t any sex scenes either, although I was surprised by the inclusion of a bit of nudity. The story is told over 154 pages, with 44 lines per page and chapters starting just a few lines below where the previous one finished, meaning you get a decent length read from a fairly slim book compared to those being published today.

Matt Chisholm is a pseudonym for English author Peter Watts, who also wrote westerns as Cy James and Luke Jones, and I recommend his books to all who enjoy action-packed westerns.

Friday, 31 December 2021

WESTERNS READ DURING 2021

Here’s my annual list of westerns read during the year, in this case 2021. Not as many as last year for a variety of reasons. As usual I’ve tried to read books by past authors and those writing today that include favourites of mine and a sprinkling of new to me writers. To read a review just click on the number.

1. The Loner 11: Crossfire by J.A. Johnstone
2. The Gunsmith 46: Wild Bill’s Ghost by J.R. Roberts
3. Luke Sutton: Lawman (8) by Leo P. Kelley
4. Spur 2: Arizona Fancy Lady by Dirk Fletcher
5. The Lawman by Lyle Brandt
6. The Derby Man 11: The Comstock Camels by Gary McCarthy
7. The Running Iron Samaritans by Barry Cord
8. Gun Law by Ralph Cotton
9. Canyon O’Grady 11: Soldier’s Song by Jon Sharpe
10. Cody’s Law 6: Renegade Trail by Matthew S. Hart
11. McAllister Makes War by Matt Chisholm
12. The Bozeman Trail War 1: Bluecoat Patrol by Alfred Wallon
13. Wolf Stockburn, Railroad Detective by Max O’Hara
14. The Feud at Broken Man by Frank Callan
15. Thrilling Western, Vol. 5, No. 10. (British Edition) October 1953
16. The Guns of Samuel Pritchard 2: Cottonmouth by Sean Lynch
17. The Loner 12: Inferno by J.A. Johnstone
18. The Spanish Bit Saga 26: The Lost Band by Don Coldsmith
19. Caleb Marlow 1: High Country Justice by Nik James
20. Man on the Buckskin by Peter Dawson
21. The Comanche Kid by James Robert Daniels
22. The Trailsman 141: Tomahawk Justice by Jon Sharpe
23. Stark’s Justice by James Reasoner
24. Wolf Stockburn, Railroad Detective 2: Hell’s Jaw Pass by Max O’Hara
25. The Badge 11: Dark Canyon by Bill Reno
26. Have Brides, Will Travel 3: Till Death by William W. Johnstone and J.A. Johnstone
27. The Guns of Samuel Pritchard 3: The Blood of Innocents by Sean Lynch
28. The Saber Brand by Herbert Purdum
29. Medicine Pony by John Q. Pickard
30. Pursuit in the Sun by Matt Chisholm
31. Buck Trammel 1: North of Laramie by William W. Johnstone and J.A. Johnstone
32. Longarm and the Rock Springs Reckoning (434) by Tabor Evans
33. Abilene 7: The Prizefighter by Justin Ladd
34. Sudden – Goldseeker by Oliver Strange
35. Trusty Dawson, U.S. Deputy Marshal 1: Lost Mountain Pass by Larry D. Sweazy
36. Easy Company and the Dog Soldiers (27) by John Wesley Howard
37. The Loner 13: Brutal Vengeance by J.A. Johnstone
38. Iron Eyes 22: The Tomb of Iron Eyes by Rory Black
39. Breed 1: The Lonely Hunt by James A. Muir
40. Powell’s Army 1: Unchained Lightning by Terence Duncan
41. The Guns of Samuel Pritchard 4: The Trainwreckers by Sean Lynch
42. Rain of Fire by Merle Constiner
43. The Proud Horseman by Matt Chisholm

Monday, 27 December 2021

RAIN OF FIRE


By Merle Constiner
Ace Books, 1966 

Fane was just a quiet storekeeper in a small Montana rangeland town who had a hobby. He was a gun collector and an amateur gunsmith. But he was no gunman. 

Nevertheless, when a call came from an old friend, Fane picked up one of his best shooting irons and joined up with a couple of gunslicks to clear up the trouble.

His killer companions didn’t think much of Fane. He was a deadshot, sure, but he had a real slow draw. And in their business, a slow draw was a ticket to Boot Hill.

But there were a lot of other professional gun throwers around who were to test their skill against this amateur – and came out second best, even with a gun out first.

Not having read any of Constiner’s work before, I really didn’t know what to expect from this short novel that is told in thirteen chapters over 112 pages. The reason I picked this particular book was that the blurb caught my imagination so I was a little disappointed that Fane’s hobby played a very small part in the tale.

At first the plot is a little confusing, intentionally so, as Fane and his two companions, Arapaho and Crezavent, try to find out who they’ve been hired by and for what purpose. Even when they know whose payroll they are on, they still have questions as to the reasons. Throughout their attempts to find the answers, gunmen come out of the shadows trying to kill them. 

Constiner throws more twists into the tale through new characters, one of whom gives Fane cryptic messages that could help save their lives and possibly reveal the answers to why they’ve been hired and who they’re expected to kill. 

The story moves forward well, although it is occasionally slowed down when the author includes lengthy descriptions of places or buildings that Fane finds himself at but most of the time Constiner doesn’t waste words and gets straight to the point, so much so, that if you don’t pay attention, you’ll find yourself wondering how the story has progressed from one point to another.

Summing up, I’d say this tale held my interest fairly well, although it didn’t grip me as much as I hoped it might as I found myself putting the book down to do other things rather than read it in one or two sittings. Will I read another Constiner book? Possibly, but having so many to choose from, I think it might be a while before I do so.

Rain of Fire is one half of an Ace Double and it is backed by Bitter Brand by Tom West and I hope to get around to reading that soon.

Sunday, 19 December 2021

THE TRAINWRECKERS


THE GUNS OF SAMUEL PRITCHARD
Book 4 of 4
By Sean Lynch
Pinnacle, November 2021

1875. The escalating rivalry between the two major railroad companies takes a dangerous – and deadly – turn when a train is deliberately derailed. Many are killed. More are injured. And Marshall Samuel Pritchard’s longtime friend is crippled for life. The mastermind behind the train wreck claims to be the infamous Civil War criminal Jem Rupe, aka “The Trainwrecker of Platte Bridge.” There’s just one problem: Rupe has been dead for ten years.... 

With an oath of vengeance on his lips – and a pair of Colt .45s on his hips – Pritchard set off to find the trainwrecking fiend, whether it’s really Jem Rupe of some copy-cat maniac. Either way, he’ll have to ride the rails with some pretty deranged characters – crooked railroad tycoons, ruthless bounty hunters, trigger-happy gunfighters – before he reaches the end of the line. There’s just one way to stop a mass transit murderer . . . and that’s dead in his tracks.

Although this reads extremely well as a stand-alone novel you may well prefer to read the previous three as the author, Sean Lynch, brings back a number of characters from those earlier stories. There are also a few references to the plots of those books, but the author does provide any information you may need to know to fully understand any links to the plot of this tale.

Pritchard is suspicious of the blame being laid on Jem Rupe from the moment he arrives at the wrecked train and witnesses the horrors that have befallen the passengers and crew, not least the life-changing injuries his friend has suffered. The deliberate execution of any wounded mayors travelling together in a coach, points at this attack being more than just a robbery.

Most of the book follows Pritchard as he attempts to find out if Rupe is dead or alive, and if the latter, whether he was behind the train wreck. He also soon has ideas as to who the mastermind is and the reasons for the destruction and killings. The odds mount against Pritchard as gunmen seek him out and the author springs surprise after surprise. There is plenty of savage gunplay that test Pritchard’s abilities with a gun. Sean Lynch also tells of the danger facing Pritchard’s loved ones back in the town of Atherton as they try to solve the mystery behind the atrocity.

Like the other three books, I found this one to be a terrific read. Filled with fascinating characters and a twisting plot that never lets up in its intensity and I found it difficult to put this book down before I reached the end. Hopefully there will be more books in this series, but as Pinnacle seem to finish series after four books this may well be the last one, I hope that isn’t the case as I’d really like to read more.

Wednesday, 15 December 2021

UNCHAINED LIGHTNING


POWELL’S ARMY
Number 1 of 8
UNCHAINED LIGHTNING
By Terence Duncan
Zebra Books, February 1987

Slashed and mutilated bodies of blue-coated cavalry troopers were turning up in the squalid streets of the Flats – a notorious community of gambling houses and seedy bordellos that hugged the outskirts of Fort Griffin, Texas. Other troopers had been knifed, drugged and otherwise forcibly relieved of their monthly pay. Authorities suspect a vicious crime ring of madams and grogshop operators, but official investigations accomplished nothing. In desperation, the military high command turned to Powell’s Army for help. Their assignment: Infiltrate the Flats’ bloodthirsty underworld. For the three troubleshooters, it’s an undercover mission that means risking their lives in a perilous gamble where death holds the winning hand.

Being the first book in a series this tale starts with the author filling in readers with background information about Powell and his operatives; Celia Burnett, Gerald Glidinghawk and Landrum Davis. There’s also information about their contact, Preston Fox and the history of the creation of Powell’s Army and how they are seen as unnecessary by some of Powell’s commanding officers. They must succeed in their mission if the unit wants to stay operational. This all takes up quite a few pages, which for me, slowed the start of the book down a little but did help flesh out the main characters.

Terence Duncan is a pseudonym which would be shared by four authors. This book, and the next two, were written by Barbara Puechner. As the author is female, I couldn’t help but wonder if that is why Celia takes centre-stage in this tale? In fact, her two companions barely feature in the story and readers don’t get to share what they are finding out about the killings until they pass that information on to Celia.

The book came over as a character study of Celia. Readers witness her doubts as to her abilities to do her job. We share her revulsions to other characters, to seeing men die and to having to take a life for the first time. Celia experiences love, hate, the loss of her virginity and the horror of being drugged and raped. All this and more, strengthens her resolve to get the job done. Failure is not something she will accept. Watching her change from being a doubtful girl, in some areas completely naïve, to become a determined young woman capable of anything, including killing, was fascinating. Which was a good job really, as there was very little other action taking place.

The bad guys were pretty easy to pick out, although the author did surprise me a couple of times throwing my thoughts of the who and why off track. Some of the descriptions of violence were quite brutal in their portrayal. Puechner’s writing style is easy to read and the story moved forward at a fast pace. 

Although I usually prefer a bit more gunplay in my western reading, I did find this story to be enjoyable and I was left looking forward to reading the next book in the series. I’m also interested in discovering whether Puechner always has Celia taking the lead role or whether she switched it around a bit and put either Glidinghawk or Davis into that central position.