Wednesday 31 December 2008

A Man Called Savage

by Sydney J. Bounds
A Black Horse Western from Hale, 2000

An agent hired by Allan Pinkerton, head of the famous Pinkerton Agency, would quickly gain the respect of any law-breaker. But had the great detective made a mistake with the baby-faced young killer he’d scraped off the New York waterfront? Savage was the man’s name. His task was to break up the two gangs who had been terrorizing the south-west. He was seemingly armed with just a shotgun but it was his concealed knife you had to watch...

This book moves along at the pace of a galloping horse. Savage comes across as a self-confident, arrogant kid. A kid who favours his knife as a weapon. A kid who has to learn fast and move fast if he wants to stay alive.

The writing style is easy to read and the twists and turns of the plot draw you in as double-cross follows double-cross. The action is brutal and bloody and the characters well drawn. There’s also a death at the hands of an un-named killer to add an extra element of mystery to the plot.

My first book by this author, and hopefully not my last.

A Man Called Savage is the first in a series.

Sunday 28 December 2008

Man of Honor

as by Gary Franklin
Berkley, July 2006

A wandering, brawling womaniser, Joe Moss is so tough that the mere sight of him can turn other men pale. It’s 1858, and Joe’s leading a wagon train of emigrants heading west to seek their California dream. But to get there, these green folks will experience hardships that resemble scenes from hell.

The hardest blow of all comes when Joe fall deeply in love with a pretty girl making the journey – and her ornery father breaks up their romance. Years later, Joe learns that his girl was pregnant before they reached California. Now Moss is determined to find her and his child – even if he has to spill a river of blood to do it…

Man of Honor is the first in a series of that name (there are four books to date) and this was written by Frank Roderus, as was the third book in the series. The other two are by Gary McCarthy – which explains where the pseudonym comes from.

Much of this book takes place in the past and tells the story of Joe Moss guiding a wagon train and reveals how he came to meet – and fall in love with – Fiona. There is also plenty of danger for Moss to face, not least Fiona’s father; a drunk who does his best to keep Moss and Fiona apart.

Frank Roderus describes this growing love perfectly and will have the reader hoping that Moss and Fiona find happiness together. But this is not to be and Roderus’ words will have you sharing the anguish of Moss as he is forced to leave the wagon train, leaving Fiona behind too.

The book rapidly covers a number of years as Moss attempts to forget about Fiona only to hear that she was pregnant. Moss then does his best to find Fiona and their child so he can do the right thing by them – hence the Man of Honor title.

But this book is not only a love story; it has plenty of the expected action from a fast moving western. There’s fistfights, gunplay, and Indian raids amoung the many exciting incidents that pepper the story.

And is Moss the perfect western hero? Not really, he’s a rough, tough westerner who enjoys collecting the scalps of his victims, but he is a fascinating character, one you hope will finally get the girl. Does he? You’ll have to read the book to find out.

Wednesday 24 December 2008

Jubal Cade #17

as by Charles R. Pike
Granada, 1981

Winter in the Indian Territories can be meaner than a pack of starving wolves, and the Farrin spread is just about the isolated place in whole, frozen land.

Cade the man of medicine helps the Farrins with his healing gift, but soon it will be his skill with a gun that is tested, and the pure white snow will bloom scarlet with blood before Jubal Cade rides on.

The Jubal Cade series was created by Terry Harknett – perhaps better known as George G. Gilman – but he only wrote the first three before handing the series over to Angus Wells, who wrote all but one of the other books, that odd book being written by Ken Bulmer. In total the series ran for 22 books, first appearing in 1974 with the final book being published in 1983.

In my mind the Jubal Cade books had one of the best tag lines ever used to sell a western series, if not the best ever: A man trained to heal – but born to kill.

Bloody Christmas begins with Cade still searching for the man who killed his wife and it’s hearing that the Farrin’s offer a safe haven to outlaws that brings Cade to them to see if they’ve heard of the man he is hunting, Lee Kincaid.

The Farrin’s offer to help Cade find Kincaid if he first uses his medical skills to deliver Alice Farrin’s baby. The fact that the mother insists they need a doctor present to deliver the child starts the alarm bells ringing. This isn’t the only mystery surrounding this birth. The Farrin’s refuse to tell Cade who the father is. And why is one end of the large homestead kept locked and in darkness, even though the fire is kept burning?

At first Cade wants nothing more than to leave the Farrin’s but the winter weather closes all trails out and soon Cade’s curiosity gets the better of him and he wants answers to his questions.

The truth is slowly revealed and it’s here that Angus Wells adds themes one would expect to find in a horror book more than in a western. The Farrin’s secret leading to some extremely detailed killings that at times are described over more than one page per death. Of course this kind of attention to violent death is to be expected from a book from the Piccadilly Cowboy’s stable – and Angus Wells’ work in particular.

This a well told story, with most of the action taking place on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, that seamlessly combines elements of horror with the western to provide the reader with a gripping and savage read.

I’d also like to comment on the cover art. All of the Cade books showcase the superb work of the late Richard Clifton-Dey and this one really does show his understanding of the use of light, shade and colour, so not only do you get a great read you also get a terrific cover too.

Tuesday 23 December 2008

Trail of Death

as by G.J. Morgan
Futura, 1975

According to the back blurb this is the first in a series about Buck Dunne, bounty hunter... but to my knowledge there aren’t anymore.

Dunne drives some outlaws off his ranch as they are attempting to steal his stock. He kills one of them in the process. Unknown to him this dead man is the brother of the outlaw gang’s leader. While Dunne is in town the gang return and kill Dunne’s wife, son and partner.

This leads to Dunne swearing revenge, at first he’s content to let the law attempt to bring the gang to justice but as they continue to fail in this task Dunne heads out to do the job himself.

The outlaw leader is hunting for Dunne too; he wants Dunne dead for killing his brother.

So a tale of two vengeance driven men, the story alternating between the two as they plan each others demise.

G.J. Morgan (Donald S. Rowland) gives us some interesting characters, I particularly liked seeing Dunne begin to realize the truth about himself, after discovering the deaths of his family, in that he was as capable of being as cold-hearted and as brutal as the men he was hunting.

Fairly formula western with the added touch of the outlaw wanting revenge too.

Sunday 21 December 2008

The Trailsman #315

as by Jon Sharpe
Signet, January 2008

Skye Fargo is just passing through Springfield, Missouri, when he makes the acquaintance of comely Lucille Sparks. Lucille has had her fill of the frontier and when she takes the stage out of town, a local gang of lowlifes led by Mad Dog Terrell swoops in and kidnaps her. Now, as part of a ragtag posse, the Trailsman is going to teach Mad Dog some new tricks…like playing dead.

As is expected from a Trailsman novel this book is filled with action, cliff-hanger situations that keep you reading, and great characters.

Mad Dog and his gang of outlaws are beautifully created and will have the reader urging Fargo on to deal them some frontier justice. The members of the posse are equally well drawn and the conflicts of character amoungst them make for some great reading, not to mention some hilarious dialogue.

And what of the women? Lucille Sparks and Bobbie Joe, both are strong in character and are more than just conquests for Fargo, both having important parts to play in the fast moving storyline.

The plot is extremely well crafted and you have to wonder how Fargo will escape with his life from the number of dangerous situations he finds himself in. And as the book races towards its bloody finale the reader can’t help but get caught up in the twists and surprises the author (David Robbins) has waiting for them.

Great, too, to see references made to a previous Trailsman book - #149: Springfield Sharpshooters.

Friday 19 December 2008

Shiloh #4

as by Dalton Walker
Diamond, July 1991

Hank Proffitt is a bounty hunter who is also known as Shiloh...named thus after the bloody battle that twisted his soul. A battle that still fills his dreams with grotesque nightmares.

Pinkerton lawman Christian Brady and Shiloh first met in the aftermath of the battle he’s named after. Shiloh is staying at Brady’s ranch, Brady’s wife playing matchmaker for Shiloh and a pretty widow who owns a neighbouring ranch. After spending a night with this young woman Shiloh returns to Brady’s ranch to discover a scene of carnage, brutal slaughter and torture. Now Shiloh wants revenge on the men who killed Brady and his wife but it’s Shiloh who is accused of the crime and the sheriff throws him in jail. Breaking out is the easy part. It’s the crazy lynch mob and cold-blooded posse hot on his heels that’s got Shiloh worried. And when a bounty hunter like Shiloh becomes the hunted…then there’s no defense quite like bullets and blood.

This author, Henry Schlesinger, wrote the first six Shiloh books. Here he presents us with a Shiloh whose character seems at odds with itself. Shiloh comes across as a tough, savvy man, a man who should be alert and quick to react, after all being a bounty hunter his life could hang on his reactions. Yet at times Schlesinger gives us a Shiloh who almost seems dim-witted, easy to catch, easy to hurt.

The book starts at a gentle pace and seemed to take awhile to get to the start of the action which when it comes is brutal, almost savage to the extreme. After Shiloh escapes from jail there’s an exciting chase that for me was the best sequence in the book.

Later Shiloh comes across a con-man and his female assistant who try to rob him. Shiloh nevertheless stays with them while recovering from his wounds, and they don’t try to kill him in his sleep and take what they want. Again this seems a little to good to be true.

So in conclusion not a bad read yet one that seems a little muddled in its charactizations. But if you want blood and guts then there’s plenty of that to keep you satisfied once it gets going.


For those who haven't seen this yet, and to find out how to join in this coming Monday, please click here.

Wednesday 17 December 2008

Tracker #1

as by Tom Cutter
Avon, July 1983

It took a hard-drinking, high-rolling poker game to make Tracker the owner of one of the fanciest hotels in San Francisco. With his buddy Duke Farrell, one of the West’s slickest con men, Tracker took off to see his new merchandise.

Tracker barely had time to get used to San Francisco’s city ways before he was caught up in a boxing match, a couple of gunfights, too many fistfights, and more pretty women than even he could keep track of.

But then, Tracker was always good with his hands.

This book has a central theme that doesn’t appear in western books that often; a boxing match. The man Tracker finds himself training, Will Sullivan, is a character every bit as engaging as Tracker himself.

When we first meet Tracker he’s a man with a mysterious past, although the author – Robert Randisi writing as Tom Cutter – slowly reveals just what has made Tracker the man he is.

There are also plenty of beautiful women and as soon as Tracker meets one of them it soon becomes obvious he’s going to end up in bed with her. This leads to some interesting situations as jealousy adds complications, even though Tracker makes it plain he’s not interested in any of them other than for sex.

As well as the boxing match there’s a sub-plot of a series of “accidents” happening to the hotel, and Tracker has to solve the reason behind them. And he also has to decide whether to keep the hotel or not.

So there’s plenty to pull the reader into the story, which moves forward at a rapid pace to it’s action packed finale that left me looking forward to reading the next in the series.

Sunday 14 December 2008

Interview: Frank Roderus

Frank Roderus kindly agreed to be interviewed for WFR. Frank has had around 300 books published, with many more to come, the majority of which are westerns. Some of these books have appeared under his own name with the others being published under a variety of pseudonyms. So for the well-read fan of westerns chances are you’ve probably read some of his work without realising it.

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

I can't claim that I ever did 'decide'. It simply...was. My grandmother had been a country school teacher, and she made teaching me a special project starting at age 3. I wrote my first story at age 5. It was a western, typed on my father's portable typewriter. My mother kept it for the remainder of her life, and now my wife has it put away somewhere. I can still recall running in to the kitchen to ask my mother how to spell this word or that.

What was the first novel you had published and if this wasn’t a western what was your first western?

My first book was a young adult titled Duster. It was a western, in fact was voted in second place in that year's Spur Awards. Between that original publication and later reprints it was available in print for roughly 25 years. It never made much money but selling it was one of the biggest thrills of my life.

How many books did you write before the first was accepted for publication?

I believe Duster was my fourth completed manuscript, but I had made countless failed starts before that time.

Which writers influence you?

John Steinbeck, John D. MacDonald, Mackinley Kantor. When I was a boy I learned much from the nameless contract authors who wrote the Red Randall Flying Ace series and of course from the Hardy Boys. Those fellows could keep a story moving.

Do you work on more than one book at a time?

Yes, I do. If I happen to have enough work to justify two at once.

Do you wish you had more say in the covers that appear in your books?

No, not really. I don't know much about the art of attracting a potential buyer's eye; I hope they do.

How important is historical accuracy in westerns?

It can be important in a certain kind of setting, if you are using real battles or real people. And of course your details - guns, tack, available consumables etc - have to be accurate as to the era involved. Otherwise accuracy is much, much less important than the story being told. I've made up entire mountain ranges...and in fact have had readers comment that they remember camping beside a stream I described when in truth it was all imagination created to fit the needs of the story or the whim of the storyteller.

What appeals to you about the western genre?

It was an era of boundless freedom and opportunity. I've loved it all my life.

Which western writers would you recommend?

Elmer Kelton is probably the best among us today. Peter Brandvold. Gary (NOT Cormac, thank you very much) McCarthy. Douglas Hirt.

What’s your opinion on keeping dead authors alive by having someone write new books under their name, like is happening with Ralph Compton and William Johnstone?

I have done a little of that myself. It was a paycheck and I feel no need to apologize. But I think it cheats the reader unless it is made abundantly clear that his old favorite is no more and the real author's name is prominent on the cover.

You’ve written under many pseudonyms for different series, which of these series have you enjoyed writing for the most?

Without question that would be the Longarm series. My pal Custis Long is still fun to write largely because with him we can be playful, and so can he, while still telling a cracking good yarn.

You’ve been writing Longarm books since the early 1980’s, are you still doing so and which of these are your favourites?

The series has added more than 300 titles since I came aboard, as one of four writers, with No. 53. That was a very long time ago, and I am still doing them, still having fun with them. Don't think I could single out any one book as a favorite though.

I noticed your name on the copyright page of the first Man of Honor novel, (as by Gary Franklin) will you be doing anymore of these?

I am the Franklin in that duo; Gary McCarthy is the Gary part of it. We really enjoyed writing Joe Moss and would love to do more, but that would be up to the publisher. At this point I would say the odds of that happening are on the slim side.

You’ve also won a couple of Spur Awards, which books were these for?

I won in 1983 for Leaving Kansas, the first of my Harrison Wilke books and again in 1996 for Potter's Fields which is far and away my favorite of all the books I've written.

I’ve noticed your name on a Black Horse Western from English publisher Hale, is this a recent outlet for your work and are these new stories?

The nice folks at Hale reprinted a number of my titles some years back and now we have reconnected for some more. All my work with them has been reprints of books first published in the U.S.

As BHW are usually shorter than your average paperback western did you have to edit these previously published books to fit the length of story requested by Hale?

I generally write a fairly short book anyway. If anyone edited those for length it was not me.

Which of all your westerns, under your own name or a pseudonym, would you recommend to someone who hasn’t read any of your work yet and why?

That would depend on the age of the reader, I suppose. For a youngster I would suggest either Duster or Journey to Utah. For an adult reader either the aforementioned Potter's Fields or, again, Journey to Utah. And yes, you may safely infer that those have been my favorites.

What do you think of the western genre today and what do you think the future holds for the western?

I still love the west and the western. Every few years, though, someone who claims to be knowledgable about publishing will pronounce the western genre dead. Obviously I am in no position to know, and am certainly prejudiced in favor of the western, but it is my sincere hope that the genre will continue to entertain - and to inform - for generations yet to come.

Finally what do you read for pleasure?

I read a lot of history - early U.S., ancient Greece, Rome and Britain - plus modern crime fiction. What I do NOT, with rare exception, read is westerns. I do not want to read a plot twist in someone else's book and love it but then not be able to steal it. Better that I not read it to begin with so I can duplicate with a clean conscience.

Saturday 13 December 2008

Just Breathin' Hate

as by Dempsey Clay
A Black Horse Western from Hale, December 2008

When the Law went loco and charged him with killing his wife, innocent Jack Fallon has two choices only – run or hang.

So he ran – to a strange lost valley shut off from the world and ruled by a cult of holy men who would prove more lethal than any posse could ever be.

Paul Wheelahan, the man behind the Dempsey Clay pseudonym, has been writing westerns since the 1960’s and must have had around 1000 stories published. This experience shows in the superb pacing of Just Breathin’ Hate, a book that hooks the reader right from the beginning and doesn’t let go until the end.

The book opens with Fallon being hunted by a posse, you don’t know why at this point and as the plot is revealed more questions are added, such as who really killed Fallon’s wife and who sawed through the branch that snapped thus saving Fallon from hanging.

Although the regular western reader will have met all the characters before in various guises they do interact well and hold your attention. The growing bond between Fallon and Rebecca being particularly strong and a friendship that will have you wondering at the outcome as one of the Brethren cannot get involved with an Outsider can she? Especially as she is lined up to be the third wife of the Deacon.

There are plenty of battles of wills between members of their own sides and these add to the almost maniacal obsession of lawman St George to hunt down and kill Fallon.

Nearly all of the violent confrontations in the first two thirds of the book are settled with fists, but for those who prefer their westerns to be filled with gun action then the final part of the story should provide more than enough of this as it is packed with a lengthy gunfight as the lawmen attempt to wipe out the Brethren stronghold.

Just Breathin Hate will be published on December 31st so if you’re interested in getting hold of a copy of this book then I suggest you get your order in as soon as possible due to the tendency for Hale's BHW to sell out fast.Those of you who may wish to read more about Paul Wheelahan can find an extensive interview here

Friday 12 December 2008

The Accomplice #2

as by Marcus Galloway
Berkley, February 2008

Notorious gambler Doc Holliday and his new partner, Caleb Wayfinder, have left Dallas for Denver, where Doc can run cards out of a saloon Caleb plans to manage. Adding to their prospects, there’s a boomtown, Fort Griffin, along the way – filled with men who have money for liquor, women, and cards.

Trouble is there’s an organization called the Tiger that takes a share of the profits from every gambling hall on the circuit. The Tiger’s claws are long and far-reaching. Players who don’t pay learn swiftly that the Tiger’s bite is lethal. Just ask the beautiful faro dealer, Lottie. She’s warned Doc and Caleb of the Tiger’s wrath. But is she playing fair or double-dealing?

Doc Holliday’s never been a man to buckle under, and this time is no different. He’s going to Denver to hunt down the Tiger, even as the Tiger hunts him…

Marcus Galloway’s second Accomplice book is every bit as good as the first. This time he pits Wayfinder and Holliday against odds it’s just got to be impossible to stand against - haven't they?

Galloway’s writing builds the tension through a number of deadly confrontations between Holliday and the Tiger’s men, making it very difficult to put this book down until the final showdown. And during all this Galloway adds little hints that not everyone maybe who they say they are, which also helps create suspense throughout this fast moving, well written, story.

This book definitely has me eager to read the third instalment in this excellent series: The Silent Partner.

Thursday 11 December 2008

Easy Company #24

as by John WesleyHoward
Jove, January 1983

Cattle king Pete Matthews sent his daughter and a herd of cows to build a new ranch. Trouble is she builds on land the Arapaho claim is theirs. If that isn't bad enough her men are using poisoned meat to kill off the local wolf population, and some of the Arapaho's animals start dying too. As the Indian's gather to wipe out the Cow Country Queen, Easy Company find themselves with the job of keeping the peace.

This is the 24th book in the series and it packs in all the characters you'd expect to find in an Easy Company adventure, along with an Indian uprising and evil whites. Author James Wyckoff – writing as John Wesley Howard – is therefore able to balance the more brutal side of the story with a few humourous moments featuring Malone, Wolfgang Holzer and other members of the mounted infantry that make up Easy Company.

It's as Easy Company try to track down and stop the "wolfers" using poisoned meat that it becomes evident that there's more behind the arrival of the Cow Country Queen than just building a new ranch, and it's this mystery element that will keep the reader hooked until the end.

This is a well written book, although with a fairly basic plot, that makes for a decent entry into the Easy Company series.

Wednesday 10 December 2008


by Paul Bagdon
Leisure, Nov. 2006

Gettysburg was the end for Jake Sinclair. When the blood-drenched battle ended, the Confederate sharpshooter looked over the field of the dead and dying and decided he’d had his fill of war. He didn’t get far before a battlefield scavenger tried to kill him for his horse. Jake ended up on the winning side of that skirmish and took the thief’s guns and saddle for himself. But fate isn’t through with Jake yet. A corrupt sheriff will see to that and Jake will find himself on the run for murder!

Paul Bagdon is a new writer to me. His story starts out with a lot of promise, full of horrific imagery of war, written in all its explicit gory detail. If it’s blood and guts you’re after then this should satisfy.

But it’s during the battle for Cemetery Ridge that I began to notice the typos; the mis-spellings, and that began to annoy me. Even worse was to come as a rifle went from being a Henry to a Winchester and back. Sinclair’s handgun was to suffer changes too, first it was a Colt .44 then magically became a Smith and Wesson .22.

I soon found myself looking for mistakes instead of concentrating on the story which was a shame as the first two thirds of the story was good although I felt there were a few too many flashbacks to Jake’s childhood.

The final part of the book, when Jake gets involved with the Night Riders, turned what had been a promising start into a traditional western plot that left me feeling somewhat let down.

Maybe it was the typos that really spoiled it for me, and it made me wonder if the author bothered proof reading.

Sunday 7 December 2008

Interview: Peter Brandvold

My latest interview is with author Peter Brandvold. His books first appeared on the shelves towards the end of the 1990’s and since then he’s become essential reading for many western fans. I discovered him a few years back when he began his third series and after reading the first of these (Cuno Massey books) I immediately bought all his previous work and have since eagerly waited for each new publication.

Peter Brandvold hauls his younger sister off to the hoosegow for stealing his hat--circa age 6. In Rolette, Dakota Territory, circa 1968.

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

Probably after I first learned to read. The magic of words on the page creating images and entire narratives in the head struck me right away as incredible magic. "See Spot leap the fence!" Then, when I read a couple of stories in my fifth-grade English reader--one by Jack London, "To Build A Fire," and another by Roald Dahl, "Beware of the Dog," the idea of writing was cemented for me and has been ever since.

What was the first novel you had published and if this wasn't a western what was your first western?

ONCE A MARSHAL. The first book in my Ben Stillman series, about an aging lawman trying to start life over again after having been shot in the back by a drunk whore.

How many books did you write before the first was accepted for publication?

My first book was accepted for publication. I worked eight months on it and Berkley bought it. I was 32. But I'd been practicing for a long, long time, and I'd been teaching on an Indian reservation in Montana and I really just want to write.

Which writers influence you?

Holy-moly! Everyone I read. Even if it's bad, it influences you, because you're wanting to make sure you don't make the same mistakes. That's really true. Reading bad writing is almost as helpful as reading good writing. But to toss out a couple of names, I'd say (without sounding too high-handed) Tolstoy (especially "The Cossacks") and O.E. Rolvaag ("Giants in the Earth"). Also pulp crime writers like Jim Thompson and Dan Marlowe as well as western writers like Gordon D. Sherriffs and H.A. DeRosso. DeRosso is my favorite writer of westerns and it really rubs my fur in the wrong direction that he only wrote about five novels. He's very crude at times, like a primitive painter. But he's also incredibly visceral and emotionally sharp. When you read DeRosso, the words tickle your insides a little. That's what I look for in a good book or story, and that's what I try to do in my own writing.

Do you work on more than one book at a time?

Yes, I often work on two or three projects at a time, usually try to knock off a thousand words a day on each. Currently I'm writing one novel and a screenplay for my novel THE ROMANTICS, as a production company has shown some interest in possibly bringing it to the big screen. In a day or two I intend to start my next contracted ROGUE LAWMAN novel tentatively title UNDERTAKER'S FRIEND. I like working on more than one book at a time. Fills my head and my day up better, keeps my mind off such things as mortality and how long till happy hour?

Do you wish you had more say in the covers that appear in your books?

Yes, but I've given up on that. They have only so much money for western covers, and there's only so much talent out there. I wish James Bama would do ALL of my covers--he did the wonderful DOC SAVAGE and Louis L'Amour covers back about two or three decades ago--but there just aren't many Bamas out there. I don't think he even does book covers anymore. "But I am very pleased with how the covers to most of my .45-CALIBER series books are turning out, especially the next in line--.45-CALIBER WIDOW MAKER. That's the best one in the series so far, and here the cover really reflects the plot of the book. Anyone can check it out on Amazon though I don't think the book will be out until April or so."

How important is historical accuracy in westerns?

Very important. You have to get it all right. Of course, we're all human and we all make mistakes, but it's important to get those details right--whether it be about guns or wagons or whale-bone corsets. Accurate period details helps create that imaginary world we're all trying to create and sustain, and no one should be reading a western and say, "Hey, that rifle didn't come into action until the 1900's!" Because that throws you out of the story. I have a ton of reference books around, always trying to get it right. When I goof up, I really grind my teeth over it.

What appeals to you about the western genre?

The land, the men, the women, the lack of civilized law and boundaries. It's really a mythic place, sort of like Robert E. Howard's Hyboria.

What makes the perfect western?

I'm still trying to figure that out. I haven't read one and I haven't written one yet. I think DeRosso comes closest, though, in .44. It's not about how many bad guys go down bloody. It's more about emotional depth and character growth and how close the book comes to saying something real about being alive and suffering...within the confines of the genre, of course--and while the bad guys go down bloody!

Which western writers would you recommend?

DeRosso, like I said before. Donald Hamilton, who also wrote the Matt Helm books. Gordon D. Sherriffs. Dean Owen, whose real name I believe was Dudley Dean. I like a lot of his. Also a book hardly anyone these days has heard about called MI AMIGO by W. R. Burnette. That's another one I like a lot.

Is there a western series you'd like to resurrect?

I can't think of any off hand. Possibly George Gilman's EDGE series, which I liked as a kid and still read from time to time. But the political incorrectness might grate on today's more wussy reading populace who've been indoctrinated by Oprah Picks. Can't imagine Terry's books in the same Walmart as Mitch Albom, but it's fun to think about! Ha!

Which past western would you like to see back in print and why is this?

Donald Hamilton's books. Because they're damn good novels in addition to being westerns.

What's your opinion on keeping dead authors alive by having someone write new books under their name, like is happening with Ralph Compton and William Johnstone?

Well, I've written a couple of Compton novels, and I enjoyed writing them--BULLET CREEK and NAVARRO. Those are two damn good books, if you'lll allow me to say so, and Compton had nothing whatever to do with them. Those are both all me. And I have a feeling that's what's happening with the "Johnstone" writers, too. But, I don't know, I guess if people are still buying them, what's wrong with a little duplicity? It's a tradition in the publishing racket. Look at V.C. Andrews. There's probably eighty books out there with her name on the cover though she wrote maybe three of them!

I really enjoyed the Navarro novels, have always thought it a shame there aren't more. Any chance of a new Navarro book?

I don't think so. The only way I'd continue the character is under my own name or my own pen name, Frank Leslie, and since when I signed the contract for the Compton books I had to turn all rights of the character over to the Compton estate, that isn't going to happen. But maybe Taos Tommy's twin brother Santa Fe Jim will show up under my name or the Frank Leslie name somewhere down the road. You never know...

Most of your series westerns are published by Berkley, do they contract you for a specific number of books per series or are you free to write for whichever series you choose?

It depends. If the numbers are significantly higher on one or two series more than on others, they strongly "suggest," I do the ones with the higher numbers. So I take their suggestions because I have propane to buy, beer to drink, and dogs to feed.

Any chance of seeing two or more of your series characters appear in the same book?

Definitely. I've been thinking about doing that. That's tricky, though, because you don't want one hero to seem more heroic than the other. You don't want a Batman and Robin type thing. I wrote fifty pages on one such novel with Lou Prophet and Cuno Massey, and scrapped it. I'm ready to try again, though. I think I know how to do it.

That is something I'll be looking forward too. I remember when the first Edge meets Steele book came out, that was like a dream come true and really went down well with Gilman fans. It'd be interesting to see Stillman sent after Gideon Hawk. I guess you can only pair up your heroes from books by the same publisher?

That's a good idea. I might just do that. The hunter and the hunted--two worthy adversaries. I think, if I own the rights to all the characters involved, I can use any character I want. In fact, Lou Prophet makes a cameo in my Colter Farrow novel coming out later in '09 from Signet--THE GUNS OF SAPINERO.

How did your collaboration on the Bat Lash comic books come about?

That's a long story, but I wanted to do my Rogue Lawman series as a graphic novel. DC came back and said they didn't publish creator-owned work, but would I like to do one of their characters--BAT LASH? I thought it would be fun, and it was. I worked with one of the original co-creators, Sergio Aragones, and the incredible, venerable John Severin.

Does writing for a comic book require a different approach to writing a novel?

The story can be the same but you're primarily writing panel descriptions for the artist, so you don't get into the narrative flow like you do in a novel. It's very different. Almost like writing a screenplay. To be honest, it's not nearly as fun as novel writing. And it ain't easy, either. Getting each panel just right, with the right angles and point of view and just the right number of panels per page, ain't for the faint of heart. I started out the project whistling and grinning as though having written thirty prose novels would make this seem like a fun Saturday night in Abilene. But I went to bed whimpering in dire frustration more than a time or two!

Which of your westerns would you recommend to someone who hasn't read any of your work yet and why?

BLOOD MOUNTAIN. Because it's my second book and my horns were very sharp and it's just a damn crazy story. (Only please ignore the scene where I have a one-armed man push himself up off a wagon bed with "both hands!") It's also a stand-alone, so they don't have to worry about getting into the middle of a series. But I reckon I should say my next book out--THE GRAVES AT SEVEN DEVILS, because they'd have to buy GRAVES new (and I'd get my three-cent royalty) whereas they could get BLOOD MOUNTAIN for a penny used on Amazon!

Have you written any westerns under a pseudonym and if so can you tell us which?

The Compton books, like I said. I also write westerns for Signet under my FRANK LESLIE pen name. Those are all me, just written under a pen name so I don't flood the market with my own name. But I highly recommend my Frank Leslie books. I've worked hard to get that line going--with Yakima Henry being the main character of most of the books so far, with another hero on the way named Colter Farrow--and it's some of my best, rawest, most violent stuff.

Colter Farrow? Sounds great, any idea when the first of these will appear?

Sometime in '09. Probably late '09. As mentioned earlier, the title is THE GUNS OF SAPINERO. Sapinero is a little town on the banks of the Cimarron River in southwestern Colorado. I camped near there this past summer, when I was writing the book. They filmed TRUE GRIT around there.

What do you think of the western genre today and what do you think the future holds for the western?

Aside from a few good writers, including Johnny D. Boggs--I recently thoroughly enjoyed his novel, "Northfield"--as well as Jimmy Butts and James Reasoner... I think generally it's poorly written. I pick new books up all the time, and most just don't hold me, either because the characters are stock or the writing style is stilted and old-fashioned, or both. Also, way too much cornball dialect and main characters are way too goody-goody. I like the main character to be more real, meaning he/she can't be ALL good, but has to have a little darkness in him or her, too. But it's a very rich genre, an American original, and I think it'll outlast me. Just as horror and sci fi will.

What is your favourite western movie and why?

I love RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY. But I love all of Budd Boetticher's westerns, too--especially COMANCHE STATION and SEVEN MEN FROM NOW. Also, I'm a really big fan of the "other Sergio"--Sergio Corbucci. Love DJANGO. His THE GREAT SILENCE is wonderfully gritty, uncompromising, original, quirky, and just over-the-top, kick-the-privy-door-shut story-telling. The viewer is always surprised, just as I hope my readers always are. They're left wagging their heads and muttering, "Jesus, he can't really do that in a western, can he?" So, I guess you can see I don't really have a number one favorite.

Finally what do you read for pleasure?

Everything. Nonfiction books about the west and guns. Just finished one called THE BLOODY LEGACY OF PINK HIGGINS by Bill O'Neil. Excellent read. I also recently read the biography of Sam Peckinpah called IF THEY MOVE, KILL 'EM! Just now I'm reading THE VENGEANCE MAN by Dan Marlowe, some of the Conan comics and a vintage crime story by Frederic Brown with a wonderfully sexy cover--so sexy that I can't recall the title!

Saturday 6 December 2008

The Avengers of San Pedro

 by Edwin Derek
A Black Horse Western from Hale, December 2008

Renegades raid San Pedro, a small Mexican settlement near one of the largest ranches in Texas, massacring most of its inhabitants. Seeking to avenge the massacre, Brad Miller pursues the renegades across the Texas border into New Mexico. But a dreadful storm forces him to seek shelter in a small isolated ranch owned by Jane Latham.

Brad soon discovers she is caught in the middle of a feud between the Bar Zero ranch and the Blackwash Silver Mine. By helping Jane, Brad is caught up in the feud, but finds the renegades are also involved.

As a range war breaks out, Brad is forced to enlist the aid of a deadly gunman also pursuing the renegades. Together, they must bring justice to New Mexico, where the only law is the six-gun.

After only a few pages the author hooks the reader with many questions, and it isn’t long before he’s hinting at hidden pasts of many of his leading characters that may have some effect on the outcome of this fast moving story. In fact I found this book difficult to put down until I’d discovered the answers to just why everyone was interested in owning the Little U ranch.

There’s plenty of action and the author manages to include a motley collection of characters; renegades, miners, cowboys, lawmen – both straight and crooked, Texas Rangers, and Apaches.

One other thing began to intrigue me and that was how much emphasis was placed on the type and range of the various pistols and rifles used by both the good and the bad. And, yes, this does play an important part in the outcome of the story.

Having read quite a few Black Horse Westerns I was a little surprised at the number of typos I came across, missing words and extra letters. These little oversights didn’t interrupt the flow of the story or spoil my enjoyment of the book.

If you’re interested in buying a copy of this book I suggest you put your order in now as Black Horse Westerns tend to sell out very fast these days. This book should be available from most internet book sellers and from Hale themselves. The book has a publication date of December 31st 2008.

Friday 5 December 2008

The Spanish Bit Saga #14

by Don Coldsmith
Bantam, October 1990.

The People of the pueblo want only to be left in peace but they are trapped between a band of militant young warriors and the Spanish Hairfaces, who have already shed first blood…

These are evil times for the people of the pueblo. The Spanish padres are trying to force them to abandon their spirit ways. And a powerful leader named Pope is stirring up the young warriors to resist. For Red Feather and the Elk-dog People, who are on their way to Santa Fe with sixteen pack horses loaded down with prime furs to trade, the trail will end in unexpected violence. Red Feather and his son White Fox will be seized and thrown into a Spanish prison. And soon, the safety and the very survival of his clan and the people of the pueblo will hang on Red Feather’s ability to escape.

Don Coldsmith, for the first time in the series, tackles the topic of Christianity being forced on others as the Spanish padres insist the natives abandon their spirit ways and accept a new God. I particularly enjoyed Blue Corn’s struggle to understand why the Spanish could not accept all the different tribes’ stories of the creation of man, why they believed in only their story and wanted everyone to follow this belief or be put to death.

It’s into this dangerous situation that Coldsmith brings Red Feather and his band of the Elk-Dog People. Arriving at the time the powerful native leader Pope leads a large force of warriors in an all-out attack on Santa Fe to drive out, or kill, all the Spanish.

Coldsmith’s tale is a gripping read of mistrusts and fear. The different elements of the story all combine to make for a powerful read.

Thursday 4 December 2008

Lone Star #20

as by Wesley Ellis
Jove, April 1984

Driving two thousand head of cattle from the Starbuck ranch in Texas all the way to Dodge City is no easy task, but a flood that’s put the railroad out of commission leaves Jessie and Ki with no choice. Drought, prairie fires, renegade Indians, and even an attack by a panther are just part of the job…a killer who’s determined to see Jessie dead is something else entirely!

This is an easy to read and well written book that moves along at a cracking pace and, although it offers little new in cattle drive stories, has some exciting moments along the way, such as Jessie and her horse battling a family of wolves.

Wesley Ellis – in this case William C. Knott – builds his story through incident after incident until the final savage showdown between the killer, Jessie and Ki. In fact Ki has little to do in this story until this last fight.

The obligatory sex scenes almost come across as padding as neither have much to do with the trail drive or assassination plots of the story.

All in all a pretty straightforward tale that’s good enough to satisfy readers looking for a bit of escapism and light entertainment.

Wednesday 3 December 2008

The Regulator #12

as by Dale Colter
Harper, May 1994

Puxico had once been a prosperous mining town; it’s riches coming from silver and copper. Then Jessup gets himself appointed as Sheriff and deputizes his bullyboys. The townspeople are taxed for everything. If anyone stands up to Jessups’ methods they find themselves hanged or shot.

Slater, The Regulator, is in a nearby town and when he hears of the troubles in Puxico he rides in to give Jessup and his gang a cold, hard slap of western justice.

The final book in The Regulator series is an entertaining enough read but is pretty much a formula western, the plot has been used many times before and this didn’t really offer anything new.

Slater is almost a secondary character as much of the book concentrates on Jessup, his gang and the townspeople. Slater’s part is to rally the townspeople together, urge them to make a stand against Jessup.

Not bad, but there are better in the series.

Sunday 30 November 2008

Interview: David Robbins

My third interview is with author David Robbins, who has written in a number of different genres but mainly he writes westerns. In fact he has had around 250 books published, with many more to come, under a variety of pseudonyms so chances are you may have read some of his work without realising it.

First David, I want to thank you for agreeing to answer my questions.

You're most welcome.

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

When I was 11 I taught myself to type on an old Royal manual and churned out short stories. That's when the muse took serious hold.

What was the first novel you had published and if this wasn’t a western what was your first western?

BLOOD CULT was the first novel. My first Western was a PREACHER'S LAW fill-in. The editor liked it so much he asked me to do more Westerns.

How many books did you write before the first was accepted for publication.

The first book I submitted was published and every one since except for one.

Which writers influence you?

As in current tense? None. I write 'me'. If you mean from the past, the list is legion.

Don't misconstrue. There are many currrent writers I like greatly. But not in the sense that they mold my work.

In terms of craft, Hemingway and Poe are worth noting. Hemingway not for the way he wrote but in the ideal he strove to attain. Poe for the elements he espoused in THE PHILOSOPHY OF COMPOSITION.

In terms of Westerns, Owen Wister, Zane Grey, L'Amour, Jack Schaefer, the list could go on and on.

So many fine writers tell fine stories. It's a shame so many of those stories are lost in the mists of time.

You’ve written in other genres such as sci-fi (Endworld), adventure (Executioner) and horror novels but is there a particular genre you’d like to write in that you haven’t yet?

Is there a million-dollars-a-book-genre? :)

Do you work on more than one book at a time?


You’ve written the non-fiction book Heavy Traffic, was this as enjoyable to write as fiction?

Absolutely. I've done other non-fiction, magazine articles and the like.

Do you wish you had more say in the covers that appear in your books?

Show me a writer who doesn't. :)

Seriously, there have been covers that make you go, 'Huh?'

What led you to write westerns and what appeals to you about the genre?

I was weaned on Westerns. Back in my day, they ruled the entertainment roost. With my farm and later ranch experience, it was a natural fit.

As Owen Wister’s The Virginian was such a successful book, often referred to as a western classic, was it difficult to write the sequel, The Return of the Virginian, as it would probably be measured against that great novel, and how did the opportunity to do this come about?

I enjoyed the experience immensely. My goal was always to have the two be seamless. In that I succeeded except in one respect that nags at me to this day. Still, it got a lot of positive response. As for how it came about, it was another case of someone knowing my work and liking it.

How important is historical accuracy in westerns?

These days in some quarters it has almost become a mantra. Personally I like to see stories steeped in the history they flesh out.

You’ve had a few books published under the Ralph Compton name (twelve to date) but what is your opinion on keeping dead authors alive by having someone write new books under their name, like is happening with Ralph Compton and William Johnstone?

They are cash cows for the publishers and serve a crucial need for writers; work.

How much research did writing the Davy Crockett series (as by David Thompson) involve?

It was typical. I read everything on him I could find, from his own narratives to contemporary accounts to the latest research. Since I was a Disney Davy way back when, it was fun.

I’d like to see your White Apache series brought back so you can tie up all the hanging plot threads left dangling when Leisure cut all their western series but one. Any chance of that happening?

As Sean Connery will tell you, 'never say never'. :)

The series Leisure continued to publish is Wilderness, that you write as David Thompson – to my knowledge the longest, still being published, western series by a single author. It seems sales of this series are increasing all the time so what do you think it is about these books that appeals to the readers.

Pardon the mixing of metaphors, but the series might aptly be described as a melding of VAN HELSING and Shakespeare, with a generous dollop of DAYS OF OUR LIVES.

As for the increase, that's explained by the fact the ladies have discovered it. WILDERNESS is very female-friendly. :)

Have you listened to any of the audio books of the Wilderness series and what do you think of them and audio books in general?

I've listened to some and liked them. Audio books are great. They take you back a bunch of decades to something called 'radio'. :)

You’ve probably written more Trailsman books (over seventy) than any other author except Jon Messman – and this would apply to the Wilderness series too – how do you continue to come up with fresh plots for them?

I follow Poe's dictum referred to above.

Basically, take a plot, invert, misdirect, and play ring-a-round to avoid predictability, then throw yourself off a cliff as a form of creative Hail Mary.

Is it easier to write a series where you are the only author as opposed to a shared series?

From a continuity perspective. But then, when I'm part of a stable, I concentrate on what the editor wants 'me' to do, and not on what anyone else is doing unless the editor wants us to talk the series over, which rarely happens.

Which of your westerns would you recommend to someone who hasn’t read any of your work yet and why?

WILDERNESS, first and foremost.

Among the Compton's, FOR THE BRAND, NOWHERE, TX, RIO LARGO and the not my title BLOOD DUEL are pretty entertaining.

Which western writers would you recommend?

Today or yesteryear or all time?

The current WWA roster has some terrific writers putting out terrific tales. Kelton, Sherman, Brandvold, Richards, Butts---I could go on and on. There are some outside the WWA also doing stellar stories.

As for my list of must-read fiction Westerns ever: THE VIRGINIAN, SHANE, TRUE GRIT, and THE U.P. TRAIL

Which past western would you like to see back in print and why is this?

Oh, geez. Just Westerns? You're already aware of a pet passion of mine, namely, all the outstanding writers who have fallen by the cultural wayside. Great writers from any given decade, many giants in their time, no longer read.

I'd like to see---and we will, thanks to Leisure---the rerelease of books on which major Western films were based. I'd like to see the rerelease of not just classics, but books that went beyond the pale of normalcy.

Next April sees the re-launch of your Endworld series after an eighteen year gap, and hopefully it’ll be as successful as it was then, but are then any new westerns, other than the series you’re writing for now, to be on the look out for?

New WILDERNESS, new COMPTON'S, new TRAILSMAN. Other stuff is in the works but not necessarily Westerns.

What do you think of the western genre today and what do you think the future holds for the western?

Western writers today have it extraordinarly rough. Not only is the Western genre's share of the market one of the smaller slices of the publishing pie, but they must also contend with the Western equivalent of Moby Dick in the form of L'Amour. He dominates the genre to such an extent that it's not uncommon to see a single bookcase devoted to Westerns at a given bookstore, with two or three of the six or seven shelves devoted solely to him.

For the genre to survive it must adapt. You've noticed how drasically different the market is today than, say, back in the '60's. The days where the 'gunslinger' novels predominated are gone.

Not that there isn't a market for them. Look at L'Amour. Many of his are just that---and at the same time, more.

Diversity has become a key element. The Western umbrella now covers everything from those gunslingers to travelogues of the West.

The core of the market, the traditional Western, has a future to the degree it entertains current sensibilities.

What is your favourite western movie and why?

SHANE. It typifies yet exalts the classic elements.

Finally, what do you read for pleasure?


Saturday 29 November 2008

Morgan Kane #23

as by Louis Masterson
Corgi, 1974 - originally published in Norway, 1968.

Only the legendary Wyatt Earp and his men had tamed the bloodiest territory in the West – Tombstone, Arizona. But now Earp was gone, his men scattered and living peaceful lives, the vermin were crawling back – outlaws for whom Tombstone was a haven from the law with the Mexican border nearby and the mountains to hole up in…

The day Morgan Kane rode into town as the new U.S. marshal a local newspaper reporter named “Red Kate” Coleman offered to write his obituary. But Kane had a lot more to worry about than a spiteful woman out for revenge. In every dark alley, on every rooftop was a gun waiting to shoot him down. Some of the most infamous outlaws in the old West had taken a liking to Tombstone and they weren’t about to give it up again without a fight…

The Morgan Kane books still rank as one of my favourite western series of all time, and this tale didn’t change my mind, even if Louis Masterson (Kjell Hallbing) has taken a few liberties with who was in Tombstone and when, and who killed who.

The book is set about five years after Earp left Tomsbstone and many famous names appear in the fast moving story, Buckskin Frank Leslie and John Ringo being two killed by Kane. There’s loads of action and well-drawn characters - most of which are bad, even the law. Kane has to take them on with only the help of fellow lawman Neal Brown and newspaperman John C. Clum.

If you can find a copy it’s well worth a look.

Friday 28 November 2008

Longarm and the Valley of Skulls

as by Tabor Evans
Jove, October 2008
A Longarm Giant Novel

Up in the Owl Creek Mountains, Wyoming Territory, lies a wretched place the Indians call Valley of Skulls. Settlers there have a whole heap of bad luck – including a posse of hooded killers – which is why Deputy U.S. Marshal Custis Long is stepping in…

Travelling to the valley, Longarm keeps company with the local Indian agent’s sister. Soon they reach the valley and it’s all business – bloody business. Because now Longarm’s to-do list includes taking a slimy rancher down a peg and finding this elusive posse – before they find him…

James Reasoner – writing as Tabor Evans – continues his, very welcome, idea of including characters from long-gone western series in his giant Longarm novels.

Here we have the return of Easy Company, nearly all the soldiers from that series have a role to play in this book, and from one of James’ own series we find out what became of Fury.

It’s mainly Longarm and Easy Company that take centre stage here, and James writes a chapter or two about one and then switches to the other, as both follow different trails that will bring them together at the Valley of Skulls. It’s here they will team up with John Fury too.

The book has everything you’d expect from James Reasoner, a fast moving story, loads of action, and a few twists and surprises along the way. James also includes a number of characters that’ll keep you guessing as to whether they are who they say they are and to their part in the plot.

If you’re a fan of Longarm, Easy Company or Fury then this is a must read but to be honest I’d say all western fans should find this a highly entertaining read.

Me? I’m already looking forward to James’ next Giant Longarm novel.

Thursday 27 November 2008

Blade of Vengeance

as by Dave Armstrong
A Black Horse Western from Hale, 1991

Judge McShane fears for his life as a man who had declared he would kill him has just been released from prison. Slash Harmon has his favourite weapon, a lethal Bowie knife, and a gang of hired killers to help make good his threat. All that stands between the judge and his would be killers are his drunken son, his son’s beautiful wife, Cassandra, a faithful old negro servant, an old dog - and one other...Art Adams, a lawman sent by the state governor. Adams could possible match Harmon’s skill with a knife but are the odds too great even for him?

This book is action packed from the word go, every chapter containing its fair share of violence. Harmon makes for an excellent villain who might or might not be behind the attempts on the judges’ life. There’s also a tangle of a love story as Cassandra and Adams find themselves strongly attracted to each other. Then there’s an Indian prowling around wanting to kill Adams.

I found this to be a very entertaining read, even though it was obvious from the start that Adams and Harmon would eventually face each other in a knife fight. The story raced to it’s violent conclusion which sprang a surprise or two as too the fate of a couple of the characters.

This book will have me keeping an eye out for more of Dave Armstrong’s work.