Friday, 14 May 2021

THE FEUD AT BROKEN MAN


By Frank Callan
The Crowood Press, January 2018

Lord Harry Lacey, the youngest son of an English aristocrat, has run away from debts at home to start a new life in America, using his skills with horses and guns to make a living as he journeys west to Colorado. Then he decides to give up his guns and start a new life as a public speaker in the new settlements where he believes people will be keen to experience culture.

However, arriving in Broken Man en route for Denver, Lord Harry witnesses a young girl being badly wounded in crossfire and quickly learns that the town is being torn apart by a feud. Seeing an opportunity to do something useful, he tries to influence local leaders to resolve the situation – and finds that some disputes can only be settled with a gun.

Frank Callan’s first Black Horse Western is filled with interesting people that play out the events in this slow burning tale. There’s not a lot of gunplay, something that should be expected as the main character, Lord Harry Lacey, doesn’t carry a gun. Violence is simmering under the surface though as the plot develops and backstories are revealed.

There’s a lot of bickering and internal politics, especially from the group of people who’ve brought Lacey to town to speak to them. Mixed into this is the main theme of revenge that the title of the book refers too. It isn’t long before someone else has their own desire for vengeance lit. Jealousy also fuels others, pushing them towards violence. Murder soon has the townsfolk reacting in anger. All these plot threads soon entwine as the author moves the story forward to it’s inevitable conclusion which see an unarmed Lacey trying to keep the townsfolk safe from a small army intent on killing. The final gunfight didn’t play out as I expected, although I did guess how it might end for one of the major players. 

The author certainly has his own style, and the story had a very English feel at times, mainly due to words and phrases used. I found the book to be an easy, quick read that held my attention but I would have liked a bit more action to satisfy my wants from western fiction. 


Friday, 30 April 2021

WOLF STOCKBURN, RAILROAD DETECTIVE


By Max O’Hara
Pinnacle, April 2021

The newspapers call them the Devil’s Horde. A well-oiled team of cutthroat bandits who terrorize the Northern Pacific Railway on route to the coast through Dakota Territory. They dynamite the tracks, blow open the express car door, murder the crewmen, rob the passengers, and empty the safe of gold and cash. If Wells Fargo & Company can’t find a way to stop the Devil’s Horde, there’ll be hell to pay . . . 

Enter Wolf Stockburn. A tall, rangy Scotsman who dresses like a gentleman but shoots like a cowboy, Stockburn learned his craft from a legendary gunfighter – and honed his skills as a Pony Express rider through hostile Indian country. Now the veteran Wells Fargo detective will ride the rails from coast to coast. Make sure the train and its passengers reach their destination safely. And take down the Devil’s Horde – one by one, bullet by bullet – the devil be damned . . . 

The author uses a very different method of telling the story in the opening chapter that is extremely effective and memorable. After that the tale is told in a more traditional way. O’Hara has created a terrific cast for this opening book in a new series, not least the title character. Wolf Stockburn is tough and determined and haunted by a dark past that is revealed throughout the tale. We also discover that he has been searching for his missing sister and has been doing so for years. Two women give Wolf plenty of trouble, their instant dislike of each other providing some cracking dialogue. Both have important roles to play in the outcome of this excellent read.

The story builds well, captivating the reader easily. Plot twists and cliff-hanger chapter endings ensure the reader will want to keep turning the pages. There’s plenty of action, often quite graphic in description. There’s also a race against time to stop a train robbery and its crew and passengers from death that makes for gripping reading. Over all of this hangs the question of who are the Devil’s Horde? 

The ending is tense, bloody and exciting, bringing the story to a satisfying close. I was left eager to read the next volume in the series, Hell’s Jaw Pass, that is due to be published in August, 2021. On the strength of this book, let’s hope that the Wolf Stockburn series is in for a long run.

Friday, 23 April 2021

McALLISTER MAKES WAR


By Matt Chisholm
Cover art by Gino D’Achille
Panther Books, 1969

Rem McAllister was the embodiment of his turbulent age. He made his own law. He carried out his own justice. He killed his own snakes. He was a legend in his lifetime.

Vengeance – for his friend, shot down right in front of his eyes. Vengeance – against the toughest, cruellest, all-fired meanest operator the West had ever seen, a man who took what he wanted just whenever he wanted it. Gold, other men’s lives, control of the whole damn’ town, he grabbed it all.

Rem McAllister set out to avenge his friend and clean up the town. All he had to fight with were his two fists, his gun – and his courage. But these were weapons McAllister knew how to handle better than any man around…

McAllister is probably the most successful character Matt Chisholm created. McAllister starred in 39 books, a couple of them being put out under a different pseudonym, Cy James. Those books were eventually re-written and put out under the Matt Chisholm name with different titles. This happened to a couple of the Chisholm McAllister books too. McAllister made brief appearances in other westerns by this author as well. So successful were the McAllister books that they were reprinted time and again. The book featured in this review was reprinted in the same year it was originally published.

Ever since reading my first McAllister book I’ve been a massive fan. Not just of McAllister but of the authors work overall. The authors real name is Peter Watts and he wrote westerns under the pennames of Matt Chisholm, Cy James and Luke Jones. He had over 100 westerns published. I’m pleased to say I own every one of them.

McAllister Makes War is a great entry in the series. As is usually the case with this authors work, this book is packed with action. Tough men, and women, battle it out with words, fists and guns. The plot doesn’t offer any surprises as it moves forward at an extremely rapid pace. McAllister believes he knows who’s responsible for the death of his friend but needs proof. Whenever he arrests someone he hopes to persuade to tell the truth they meet a violent death. Even being locked up in jail doesn’t save them. Frustrated, McAllister pushes hard, alienating himself to many, but that doesn’t bother him, he needs the guilty to make a mistake. It isn’t long before gunmen are set on McAllister and the town erupts in all out war.

If you like fast-moving westerns with a tough gritty edge then this book, indeed this series, is certainly worth looking for. One thing for sure, I won’t be letting too much time pass before I grab another off my shelves. 

Tuesday, 20 April 2021

RENEGADE TRAIL


CODY’S LAW
Number 6 of 12
By Matthew S. Hart
Cover art by Steve Assel
Bantam, August 1992

Many a time Cody has eaten the alkali dust of West Texas while riding on the trail of a hardcase killer…but never in pursuit of a sworn comrade. Barry Whittingham used to be a Ranger. Now he’s a lawless gun. Spreading hot lead with a heavy hand, the onetime Ranger heads a gang of desperadoes preying on the army supply train running through the burgeoning territory. 

Cody’s the manhunter with the guts for the job, but his former friend-turned-outlaw might recognize him – so Cody has to team up with a straight-shooting young firebrand who will handle the undercover work. But when the inexperienced Ranger becomes involved in a holdup and Whittingham gang abducts a lovely young innocent, Cody must step in…to prevent a wide-open bloodbath and a war on the open range.

So far, Cody’s Law has proved to be a very entertaining series, and this book more than matches those that have gone before it in terms of quality and enjoyment. The storyline is gripping and has plenty of plot twists. The book is filled with excellent dialogue and frantic action scenes. 

The inexperienced Ranger, Seth Williams, soon finds himself in all kinds of trouble and you do have to wonder if he’ll survive. There are also two young women who have major roles to play and their involvement adds to some of the mystery elements of the tale and will have a big impact on how things end. Whittingham proves to be a terrific adversary who is hoping to leaving his outlaw life behind him, but unknown to him, some of his men are plotting against him. 

Matthew S. Hart is a pseudonym, and like all the books before, this one was written by James Reasoner, and as is expected from this author Renegade Trail proved to be a terrific read that was difficult to put down as I just had to find out what happened next. 

Wednesday, 31 March 2021

SOLDIER'S SONG


CANYON O’GRADY
Number 11 of 25
By Jon Sharpe
Cover art by Jerome Podwil
Signet, January 1991

Canyon O’Grady was wearing the uniform of a full-bird colonel. This masquerade was part of the big redheaded U.S. special agent’s mission to find out what was going wrong with the Fourth Cavalry Regiment in Texas.

Someone was giving the rampaging Comanches government-issue guns…somebody was giving the troopers a bloody taste of hell…and somebody was going to pay full price for murder when O’Grady found his target and pulled the trigger….

The gun problem is just one plot thread in this fast-paced read. Another being the health of the Colonel Colton, commander of Fort Johnson and the Fourth Cavalry – O’Grady’s assignment being to discover if Colton is fit enough to remain in charge. Colton has ambitions to become a General, and believes he has to prove himself by leading his men into battle to make this happen. Unfortunately, he’s been making some rash decisions or none at all, and these could prove to be fatal to both him and his men.

There are some terrific battle sequences in this tale, both with the Comanches and the gunrunners. Most of the story, though, revolves around O’Grady’s investigation, his attempts to discover who is selling the army’s guns and also trying to find out who is plotting to assassinate Colonel Colton. The Canyon O’Grady series falls under the banner of adult westerns, so there are also some explicit sex scenes too. There is little in the way of surprises as the author makes the reader aware of who is doing what but following O’Grady’s struggle to unveil the truth makes for entertaining reading.

Jon Sharpe is a pseudonym behind which a number of authors wrote, in this case I believe the author to be Chet Cunningham. If you’re a fan of Cunningham’s Pony Soldiers series you might be interested to know that when O’Grady is discussing tactics with Colton, he describes the exact method that Lightning Troop use in the Pony Soldier books.

Saturday, 27 March 2021

COVER GALLERY: McMASTERS

McMASTERS
by Lee Morgan

Armed with a custom-built .70 caliber rifle, he is the law. To his friends, he is many things – a fighter, a lover, a legend. To his enemies, he is only one thing – the most dangerous man they have ever known…

Lee Morgan is a pseudonym behind which a variety of well-known western authors wrote this adult series. The first book being written by Giles Tippette, the second by James Reasoner, the third by Robert Vaughan, the fourth and sixth by David Jacobs. The fifth book by either Robert Vaughan or Charlie McDade. The first book appeared in June 1995 and the last in April 1996.



Once upon a time, Boyd McMasters had everything a man could want: a pretty young wife, a profitable working ranch, and a sheriff’s badge in West Texas. But that man died when a band of ruthless outlaws slaughtered his wife. The new McMasters is an angry man, and no amount of whiskey or women can change that fact. He stumbles into Oklahoma City, a filthy, ragged shadow of his old self. In desperation, Boyd’s older brother enlists him in the Cattleman’s Protective Association – giving him authority over local lawmen and, if necessary, a license to kill. And as Captain Boyd McMasters sets out to deal the West his own brand of justice, a legend is born…



When the Cattleman Protective Association’s Captain Boyd McMasters finds out that his next job is a case of cattle rustling in the little town of Silver Creek, Texas, he figures he’s in for a vacation. He couldn’t have been more wrong. The town’s biggest ranch, the JF Connected, is missing four head, wouldn’t be a big deal if they weren’t four prize bulls, worth about twenty thousand dollars. That’s a mighty big chunk of change – enough to kill for, it seems, because someone keeps drawing a bead on McMasters every time he goes into town. But when McMasters figures out who’s behind it all, he’s gonna send them on a vacation…a permanent one.



The Cattleman’s Protective Association’s Captain Boyd McMasters is through taking prisoners. He already put Curly and Frank Dobbs behind bars in New Mexico for murder and rape. But they broke out of jail and killed a deputy. Then they robbed an Arizona bank of over fifty thousand dollars and kidnapped a young lady and her five-year-old daughter. Luckily, the bank is one of the Association’s clients, and that gives McMasters the authority to hunt them down. And when “Bullet Boyd” catches up with the Dobbs boys, he’s gonna put them somewhere they’ll never escape from – their graves…



Smoke Tree, Arizona, is a dusty little town where people live in fear. A cutthroat gang of cattle rustlers called the Rock House Boys runs roughshod over the local ranchers. They steal at will, and anyone who fights back ends up full of lead. The U.S. marshal and the town sheriff are either too yellow or too busy fighting each other to do anything about it. That’s why ranchers have the Cattleman’s Protective Association to help them. And that’s why the Association hires men like Captain Boyd McMasters to solve its problems. McMasters has decided that the Rock House Boys are through, and that cattle rustling is finished in Smoke Tree. He’s made his decision – now he’s gonna enforce it. And anyone who disagrees can take it up with his rifle, Big .70…



The Nueces Strip, down near the Rio Grande, is home to a bunch of cutthroats who put fear into the Rangers, the marshals, and even their own mamas. It’s also home to a hardworking rancher named Ben Allison who losing thousands of beeves to moonlight rustlers. Sent in by the Cattleman’s Protective Association, Captain Boyd McMasters gets a tip from two beautiful seƱoritas. Word is it ain’t the usual Strip debris that’s robbing Allison…it’s a powerful honcho across the border. This midnight cowboy has big pesos and mean hombres in his employ, but McMasters has the mighty .70 working for him…



Amid the beauty of Montana’s Blue Pine Hills is a horrifying display of human nature’s ugly side. A twisted bunch called the Hell Killers has turned the locals yellower than a mountain man’s teeth, and for good reason. Not entertained by rustling cattle, the gang kills and mutilates them before moving on to the ranchers, their families, and anyone else they come across. The Cattleman’s Protective Association is fighting back – they’ve put cash bounties on the Hell Killers’ heads, and have sent McMasters to collect. And he and his Big .70 are gonna see to it that they visit Hell real soon…


Cover art by Morgan Kane, who signed his name as M. Kane. This series artwork borrows heavily from the style fronting romance books at the same time these were published. The man not wearing a shirt was a requirement. Whether these covers shout western is for you to decide. Interesting to note that the books carry a banner stating McMasters comes from the creators of Longarm and that Morgan Kane painted the first covers for that series too.

Thursday, 11 March 2021

GUN LAW


By Ralph Cotton
Signet, April 2011

On the trail of four wanted men, Sherman Dahl, the hired gun known as the Teacher, finds his prey in the town of Kindred, New Mexico Territory. He kills all four in a saloon gunfight that leaves him wounded and in the care of soiled dove Sara Cayes.

Marshal Emerson Kern was hired to keep the peace in Kindred, and he doesn’t want Dahl’s kind in his town. His “gun law” forbids folks from carrying firearms, but Kern’s edict is far from altruistic. No one can stop Kern and his “deputies” – the only armed men in town – from extorting every cent the townsfolk earn. No one except Sherman Dahl…

This is the third book to feature Sherman Dahl, but in this tale, he doesn’t have a very large role to play, in fact he doesn’t appear that much at all. The story mainly follows Marshal Kern as he recruits more gunmen as his deputies and their attempts to enforce the gun law needed so they can begin to extort the townsfolk. Sounds like a simple plan, but the author has a few surprises in store as the various groups of “deputies” plot against each other. Then there are some townsfolk who begin to suspect the ulterior motives behind the gun law and refuse to hand over their weapons.

Murder, gunplay, threats and trying to convince the “lawmen” that someone is dead, all add twists and turns to this fast-moving tale. Dahl doesn’t want to get involved, wants to ride away since he’s completed his mission to take down the four wanted men. Soon though, he wants nothing more than to deal out his form of justice to three of Kern’s men when he discovers what they’ve done to a newly married couple and because of this he finds himself caught up in the town’s troubles.

Ralph Cotton has written another excellent book, a story that takes a hold of the reader from the opening scenes and demands you keep reading to find out how everything is resolved.

After the final gunsmoke has cleared I got the feeling this will be the last time Sherman Dahl will ride as his life as a fighting man seems to come to an end. Shame, as I found him to be an interesting and compelling character and his use of a bulletproof vest made him a little bit different to the majority of western heroes.