Wednesday 30 July 2008

The Savage Journey

 as by Richard Wyler
HarperTorch, October 2004

This book is a reprint of a 1968 original. The author behind the pseudonym is Mike Linaker.

Luke Kennick left the army after blaming himself for the massacre of his patrol. Now he’s agreed to return to the scene of the slaughter in an attempt to take the Comanche Kicking Bear across the Llano Estacado for trial. Kicking Bear had lead the war party who wiped out Kennick’s men. Behind come more Comanche warriors looking to free their leader. If that wasn’t enough three vengeance hungry white men are hunting Kennick and Kicking Bear too, wanting to kill them both. Then Kennick comes across the woman, lost and alone, with nowhere to go...and Kennick finds a reason not to die in this hostile land.

For a book over 35 years old this novel stands up well against anything being published today. Its outlooks and storytelling style not seeming dated in anyway.

As to be expected from Mike Linaker the book moves at a fast pace with plenty of action and includes and number of twists and turns.

The descriptions of landscapes, heat, and pride driven motivations gripped from the first paragraph to the last. The well drawn characters come-uppance, at times, a surprise. A book I found hard to put down.

Gert a copy here.

The Key-Lock Man

as by Louis L’Amour

The Key-Lock Man, and his wife, are being hunted by a posse from town, and a man who lost his woman to Key-Lock. The Key-Lock Man is himself hunting for a golden stallion and it’s herd. Throw into all this some long missing gold wagons which become the focus of the hunt, rather than the man for some, and you have the ingredients for a fast moving and exciting western, or do you?

At first I found this book to be slow and the various characters just a bunch of people to which I didn’t relate, or feel for, and really didn’t give a damn about any of their fates. L’Amour at times seemed to be giving geography lessons. But the book did pick up and I began to feel for the characters as the pace of the story gathered speed as all the groups began to converge for the final showdown.

And then the Key-Lock Man became a super-hero, one bullet to the leg and another through his chest and, after a few moments of struggle, seemed able to shrug off these near fatal wounds to battle on. Everything coming to a quick end in just a few pages leaving me feeling cheated of a great finale.

Also a number of storylines seemed to be left hanging, why so much attention brought to one of the wild horses which carried a scar? Never did find out.

So, for me, quite an unsatisfactory book that does little to explain the heaps of praise laid upon Louis L’Amour.

Tuesday 29 July 2008

Shannon's Law

by Charles E. Friend
Leisure, April 2006

Clay Shannon is a straight-shooting, tough-talking deputy sheriff who’s been charged with bringing order to rough-and-tumble Whiskey Creek, a mining town where robbery and murder run rampant. But with one lawman already killed, Shannon’s job won’t be easy. A crooked saloon owner and his hired gun have the townspeople so spooked it’s almost impossible to gather evidence against them. If justice is to be served, Shannon must make a choice: stay within the law - or make his own.

This is an easy to read book with a straight-forward plot. It reminded me of the days when the good-guys wore white hats and the bad-guys black. The author makes it very obvious on which side of the law his characters live.

After the first page killing there’s not much in the way of action until about eighty pages into the story, but the author uses this time to flesh out Shannon and develop his plot whilst frustrating his lawman with the lack of evidence needed to take down the law-breakers.

Once the gunfire begins it’s almost non stop, the shotgun being used to devastating effect by both sides.

If you’re looking for an uncomplicated read that’ll entertain you then this is a book worth picking up.

Me? I’m looking forward to the next in the series.

Canyon O'Grady #4

as by Jon Sharpe
Signet, November 1989

As America split between North and South, Missouri was a border state both sides wanted. The President sent Canyon O’Grady there in an attempt to keep a pro-slavery candidate from using bullets to win a vital election. The big redheaded special agent had his gun hands full as he laid down a field of fire to stem the torrent of terror sweeping the land. But the job got even harder for O’Grady when a pair of sensual sisters got in a tug-of-war over his body…and he found himself in a crossfire of double-cross, where the only thing he could trust was his Colt…

The story includes a well-written horse race, double-cross and plenty of intrigue. Not as much ‘fighting’ action as I expected from a Sharpe book but nevertheless it held my attention well as the plot thickened and moved swiftly to the final showdown.

The author also shows O’Grady to make mistakes, letting his desire for a beautiful women keep him from doing what he should have done, which results in two peoples deaths. In my humble opinion this shows O’Grady to be more human than the superhero type some western characters seem to be.

Classic typo error, page 28 when Canyon O’Grady suddenly turns into Jon Sharpe’s other hero Fargo!

Maybe not the best Canyon O'Grady book I've read but it still proved to be an entertaining way to pass a couple of hours.
Get a copy here.

Monday 28 July 2008

Once A Lawman

by Peter Brandvold
Berkley, November 2000

Sheriff Ben Stillman investigates seemingly random killings, the victims all having their throats slashed. What is the motive behind these killings? Are the victims linked? Are the killings the work of a madman who kills just for pleasure? Stillman finds determinating the truth his toughest job yet in his long career as a lawman, and if he doesn’t stop the killer within seven days the town council will want his badge and he’ll gladly hand it over. As the killings continue and Stillman still hasn’t any clues it looks like that badge will be turned in.

The subplot involves Stillman’s wife, Fay. Her job as schoolteacher brings her into contact with a beaten wife and a frightened little girl. Can she help them in anyway; stop the drunken husband from doing anything worse to his family?

Peter Brandvold once again provides a well thought out book, a tale that has you wondering as to the identity of the killer and to the reasons he’s killing. Brutal at times, the story proved to be gripping and satisfying.

If you like your westerns to have a savage edge then Peter Brandvold is an author definitely worth checking out.

The Gunsmith #32

as by J.R. Roberts
Charter, September 1984

Dublin is a small coal-mining town in Colorado and it’s here the Gunsmith finds himself in the middle of a bloody feud with a band of Molly Maguires on one side and an English mine owner on the other. Clint Adams tries to be a peacemaker but to make matters worse, an old enemy is stalking him too.

Like a lot of Gunsmith books this has little action at the beginning, the author using this time to introduce his characters, their intentions and lay out his plot. As you read on the pace increases, helping to build the suspense as to the outcome of the book.

I got the impression of Adams being a more foul mouthed, tougher, no-nonsense type of man than in other Gunsmith books I’ve read, which gave the book a gritty style.

As usual the story is very much dialogue driven and, like all the early books in the series, has plenty of willing women eager to take Adams to their beds.

Having The Gunsmith stalked by a vengeance hungry man, who appeared in an earlier book, was a nice touch that helps add continuity to the series.

The author includes some facts about the Molly Maguire that came over as a natural part of the storyline rather than a history lesson just added to fill some paragraphs.

An entertaining read.

Get a copy here.

Sunday 27 July 2008

Mysterious Ways

by Terry W. Burns
River Oak, 2005

When Amos Taylor steals a parson’s clothes, he thinks he’s found the ideal disguise to hide his life of crime - until an old blind man enters his life who has a little trick of his own up his sleeve. Before long the disguise is working too well: The local residents start expecting Amos to actually serve as a preacher!

Terry W. Burns has written a very easy to read book in Mysterious Ways. A very different book to the type of westerns I usually read. It does contain a lot of the elements I expect to turn up in western fiction: stagecoach robbery, bank fraud, confidence tricks, revenge, including the above mentioned identity theft, and love.

But this books offers a lot more for it carries strong Christian messages as Amos begins to study, and understand, the bible and God, as he attempts to hide behind his disguise in a town where faith and prayer play strong roles in the lives of the people.

There are quiet a few humourous moments too, such as Amos trying to work out how to make Judy Valentine fancy him instead of his alter ego; the masked outlaw, and the wonderful saddle scam.

My favourite part was the court case, I could feel and share the frustration of the judge as he struggled to gain an understanding of the events in Quiet Valley.

So all in all an entertaining and well written story, but, perhaps, a book that won’t appeal to all due to the many quotes from the bible and it’s strong Christian messages.

Morgan Kane #22

as by Louis Masterson
Corgi, 1973 - translated from the Norwegian original (1968) by Phil Newth

Kane is sent to investigate reports of gang raids on both sides of the border, looting, burning of ranches, kidnappings and terrorizing of towns are just some of the atrocities being committed. Seems the Rurales are protecting the raiders too. The last Marshal sent to investigate was found barely alive with his tongue sliced out.

Another action packed story from this series, again I feel Masterson (author Kjell Hallbing) portrays fear well, and interestingly shows how Kane is sickened by having to kill, yet can become a homicidal manic himself when needs be.

Some great characters appear in the story along with an enemy from Kane’s past - see book 17: Rio Grande.

As is quite often the case in this series, when you think Kane has come through to a reasonable ‘happy’ end something happens to fill his soul with more bitterness.

If you like the more brutal style westerns you wont be disappointed by this one.
Get a copy here.

Saturday 26 July 2008

Desert Knights

as by Barry Cord
A Black Horse Western from Hale, 1995

Windy and Long Jim weren’t looking for trouble, they just wanted to hand over a corpse to the local law. But the law in Goliath didn’t seem too interested, and when it turned out the dead man was a friend of Windy’s nephew, Quincy, they decided to take the matter into their own hands. Suddenly they found themselves in the middle of Mexican bandit, El Porcito’s, plans for a revolution.

From Windy and Long Jim’s discovery of a corpse strapped to the back of a camel you know you’re in for an entertaining read. Barry Cord (rn. Peter Germano) writes a fast paced and tough story that I found impossible to put down, in fact finished it the same day I picked it up.

As the mystery surrounding Quincy and why he was in Goliath gets more and more complex, more characters are introduced and it begins to look like Windy and Long Jim will never find Quincy. Even the local law want them out of town.

Cord seems to be a master of letting the reader think he knows what’s going on and then introducing someone else to further complicate matters. Here this is dramatically done with the arrival of Quincy’s wife Linda whose attitude is superbly written, her comments and treatment of those around her having me laughing out loud.

Linda isn’t the only strong woman in the book, there’s Maria, but what is her role in the story? And what of Felipe, the boy thief? All of Cord’s characters will play important roles in the outcome of the book.

If you haven’t read a Barry Cord book yet, then maybe it’s time you did.
Get a copy here.

The Trailsman #314

as by Jon Sharpe
Signet, December 2007

Skye Fargo is hired to ride shotgun alongside his old friend, the aptly named Grizzly Olaffson. But the Christmas holiday haul across the snow heats up quick, with hold-up men on the trail, lustful lowlifes off the trail and the crazy Grizzly causing more trouble the Fargo can bear. All that’s left is for the Trailsman to decide who’s naughty, who’s nice…and who’s dead.

The author – Peter Brandvold – fills the stagecoach with a number of different types of characters, all of which will have some part to play in the story as Fargo and Olaffson struggle against outlaws and the weather to get the coach to it’s destination.

The book moves along at a very fast pace and has many comic moments mixed in with the violent action sequences, the destruction of the ski shod coach making for some very tense, and visual, reading.

Whether Peter Brandvold knew that this would be the December publication before he wrote it, or it was pure coincidence, having a book come out at this time that is set at Christmas, was a nice touch.

Once again another strong book that proves why the Trailsman series is one of the best around today.

The Man from Boot Hill

as by Marcus Galloway
HarperTorch, August 2004

Nick Graves is looking for work and is glad to accept the job as the Undertaker’s assistant. He has a gnarled hand and hides a dark secret. Graves has chosen Jessup, Nebraska, as the town in which to ply his trade as funeral arranger, gravedigger and coffin maker. And he’s come to the right place as the law is corrupt and folks die quick...and often. Jessup hasn’t been chosen at random because Graves has some other business to attend to in this dirty little town - the kind done with a gun. But a knife-wielding killer might just put Graves into the ground first.

This is a big read, just under 400 pages in length, in which Galloway spins his tale at an almost gentle pace that accelerates from the first encounter with the knife-man. Galloway doesn’t give away too many of Graves, and the other characters, secrets all at once, just hints at them, slowly revealing them as the story progresses.

I found Galloway’s violence particularly brutal, and these clashes don’t take place over a couple of paragraphs, they last for several pages. It was also refreshing to see a writer referring to the amount of smoke the old-time weapons made.

The Man From Boot Hill is a gripping read that should satisfy any western fan, a book that leaves a few of Graves secrets not quite explained so as to encourage the reader to buy the next in this series, Burying the Past.

The first western from Marcus Galloway and hopefully many more will follow.

Friday 25 July 2008

Ride the Far Country

 as by Cy James
Panther, August 1964

A story that takes place during the last days of the Civil War, a gritty tale of the struggle to keep a wagon full of gold from the Union Army. Mayhew has been given the task of that job but he’s not doing well as we join him as he attempts to re-capture the wagon from the Union.

Both sides are weary of war and their hearts aren’t really in the job but Mayhew manages to persuade his last four men, the rest dead or in one case deserted, to attack the slightly larger Union patrol who have the wagon and the confederates horses!

Unknown to both side a gang of outlaws are waiting to pounce and do so after the Confederates ambush the Union soldiers. The outlaws capture the wagon and the few survivors on both sides and it’s then that Mayhew discovers he’s been nothing but a decoy, set up by his superiors.

If you want a read that’s filled with action from the very start, that never lets up until the end of the story, then try to find this book. You’ll find you’re not sure who you should be wanting to come out on top, so engaging are the soldiers on either side. This is a well written and entertaining read, well worth a look.

Chance #8

as by Clay Tanner
Avon, November 1987

Chance Sharpe is still in the Dakota wilds, trying to reach the Missouri and then link up with his riverboat. But things don’t go to plan and Chance soon finds himself two new trailmates, survivors of a tribal massacre. These two are a white woman and her son. They’ve been captives of Shadow Killer, a fierce Sioux warchief - and he wants them back. As the manhunt closes in on Chance, the gambler realizes the odds just maybe against him this time...

George W. Proctor (writing as Clay Tanner) presents the reader with a book that starts slowly and gently builds to it’s violent and crushing - for Chance - ending.

The first part deals with the building relationship between Chance and the white woman who won’t look at him, never mind speak to him.

When Chance finds out just who she is he refuses to accept that Shadow Killer will come after them. Slowly he comes to realise cannot ignore the facts any longer and has to take on about 30 warriors alone.

The fight with the Sioux covers most of the second half of the book and is quiet gruesome at times. The author really sets out to test his hero with seemingly impossible odds and how he takes them on proves to be exciting reading.

This series is one I’d recommend to anyone who likes their westerns tough and brutal.

Get a copy here.

Thursday 24 July 2008

The Vigilante #2

by Jory Sherman
Berkley, November 2006

Lew Zane believed he was delivering justice – not vengeance – when he killed the men who murdered his parents. But taking the law into his own hands has taken its toll on his soul. Selling his land and property, Lew plans to leave Arkansas for good and put the past behind him. But the fathers of the men Lew executed abduct Seneca Jones, the woman Lew loves, hoping to lure him into a death trap. Lew has nothing left to lose, and no fear of the consequences of his actions – which will brand him as a wanted man for the rest of his life…

Jory Sherman takes up all the loose ends of the previous book and resolves most in a violent and bloody confrontation early on in this second Vigilante book.

Sherman then has Zane trying to escape his past but with the people he meets the question of law and justice will rear its head again. Once more Zane will find himself up against corrupt lawmen as he tries to protect the lives of a young woman and her two children.

Unknown to Zane a federal lawman, Blackhawk, is tracking him down and he makes for a most interesting character as he struggles to work out whether Zane is guilty of a crime.

Sherman writing makes it impossible to put this book down before you know the outcome of Blackhawk’s investigations. After the many violent scenes throughout the book, Sherman masterfully underplays the end leaving the reader with questions to answer for himself…or perhaps to be found in the next book, Vigilante: Santa Fe Showdown.

Perhaps not quite as good as the first Vigilante book but well worth reading for the final scene.

Wednesday 23 July 2008

Standoff at Liberty

 as by Daniel Rockfern
A Black Horse Western from Hale, 2004

Special Investigator Frank Angel rides into Liberty in pursuit of outlaw Harry Culp. Unknown to Angel, Culp has been murdered on the orders of corrupt Judge Cranford and his stolen loot appropriated. With Sheriff Sherman and his sinister deputies working for the Judge it isn’t long before Angel is framed and thrown into a prison camp run by another of Cranford’s sadistic henchmen. A prison from which Angel isn’t to leave alive.

This is a very fast moving book full of violent action. As soon as Angel seems to be close to finding out the truth he finds himself in another brutal death struggle. The characters are all well drawn from the scheming Judge to the nervous Sheriff, and of course, Angel, the tough lawman who will take on all odds to complete his mission.

Frank Angel originally appeared in a series of nine books back in the early 1970’s, as by Frederick H. Christian, and it’s great to see him return in a "new" adventure. This tale capturing the excitement and atmosphere of those past books well.

For fans of Frank Angel this has to be a dream come true, and for fans of good westerns then make sure you don’t miss it!

Footnote: Mike Linaker originally wrote this book in for the German western market, where it was published in 1978, along with four other Angel books. Fans of his work, and of Angel, had long given up hope of ever seeing it appear in English.


as by Louis L’Amour
Corgi reprint 1974

Taggart rides into Apache country in an attempt to lose a bounty hunter and posse. Stark, his wife and his sister are deep within Apache country living in a fairly well hidden canyon while collecting gold to finance their dreams. The Apache are hunting them all.

Few complications are thrown into the plot other than Stark’s wife wanting to leave him. So L’Amour offers a very straight forward story in this book.

Not having read that much of L’Amour’s work this one rates quite highly to me. The book starts slowly as L’Amour seems sidetracked into telling the reader what each rock is called, most of which is totally irrelevant to the story. Once Taggart and bounty hunter Shoyer are introduced the tale picks up well to an action packed escape from the Apache.

All in all a L’Amour book worth a read.

Golden Hawk

by Will C. Knott
Signet, Sept. 1986

Number one in a great new adult series announces the cover blurb.

The prologue tells how children Jed Thompson and his younger sister, Annabelle, find themselves captives of the Comanche after the Indians kill their parents. Chapter one begins 10 years later as many braves want to take Annabelle for their wife. Trouble is both Thompson’s hate their captors and Annabelle does not make for a good wife. Her adopted father soon ties of her and sells her to some Comancheros who have a Cheyenne buyer for her.

Jed swears to escape the Comanche and go after Annabelle and free her too.

This book is a fast moving story of Jed’s bid for freedom, his struggles to blend into the white man’s world and his hunt for his sister. There’s lots of action, at times quite graphic. Being an adult western there are plenty of sexual encounters too. Knott doesn’t make Jed, known as Golden Hawk to the various Indian tribes, an all-conquering hero. Jed finds himself near death more than once and doesn’t recover in a couple of days like some western heroes.

An enjoyable book, even overlooking the big clanger dropped in the middle of the book when Jed’s family name changes from Thompson to Johnson for a while! Some good supporting characters and a Comanche with a very interesting name, I’d love to hear the story behind that one!

The book ends in such away that the reader will want to continue with book two and I’m looking forward to reading it.

Tuesday 22 July 2008

Texas Horse Trading Co.

by Gene Shelton
Diamond, March 1994

They were unlikely partners. Dave Willougby was a Yankee gentleman; Brubs McCallan was a Rebel hellraiser. They met in a barroom brawl and the only thing they had in common was an aversion to work. Flat broke and on the run, they had nothing to lose by trying something crazy - like going into business together. They had high hopes of getting rich quick - providing they could find some horses to trade. The Texas frontier was full of wild mustangs waiting to be roped and sold. Too bad Dave and Brubs knew nothing about catching mustangs. So they came up with their second bright idea... Why not just steal some horses?

This is the first of four books about the Texas Horse Trading Co. and if this is anything to go by I’ll be wishing there were more.

Gene Shelton has written a book that hits all the right spots. The two main characters are perfect opposites allowing for some great banter, not to mention many humorous incidents, especially when they attempt to catch some wild mustangs. Shelton’s experience of being a real cowboy allowing him to add detail usually missed by many other authors.

The supporting characters are just as intriguing and I’m eager to see what happens to those who might be in the following stories.

Texas Horse Trading Co. should be on the must read list of all western fans.

Texas Rules

as by Jack Curtis
Pocket Books, 1991

Back from the Civil War Cotton Dunbar finds the graves of his wife and son and his ranch in disrepair. He decides to stay and gets a loan on the land and sets about rebuilding. Soon he, and other ranchers in the area are offered good money for their cattle if they can get them to Abilene.

The first two thirds of this book cover that outlined above, and the cattle drive. In this part of the book the author offers nothing new, a routine cattle drive read many times before, rustlers, stampedes, swollen rivers etc. etc.

But then comes the twist on arrival at Abilene that makes this book a worth while read, and no I’m not going to give it away here other than say it’s a time for a man to stand up for what’s right which leads to action a-plenty, quite brutal at times.

The writing style took me a while to get into, maybe clipped sentences is the best way to describe it. Also some of the dialogue seemed a tad dated which was to be expected as the back cover blurb says the author wrote for TV series such as Gunsmoke and Have Gun Will Travel.

The twist to the tale makes this a book well worth looking out for.

Get a copy here.

Sunday 20 July 2008

The Trailsman #294

as by Jon Sharpe
Signet, April 2006.

Mauled by a grizzly bear, Skye Fargo is near death. By chance he’s discovered by the Bryan brothers, unfortunatley one has just busted the other two out of prison. Fargo, now in their debt for saving him, is talked into trying to clear them of murder. Soon Fargo discovers the Bryans may not be as guilty as others claim. Before long he’s up against a group of corrupt officials who’ll do anything to stop the truth getting out.

This author tells a fast paced story filled with action and double-cross. Although he reveals the plot twists early on he keeps adding more to keep you wondering as to the outcome and to the innocence of the Bryans.

His writing style is somewhat different to other Trailsman authors in so much as he switches from one set of characters to the next regularly. Although it’s obvious Fargo is the hero, he isn’t in the book as much as might be expected.

There are a couple of little mistakes due to this author not researching Fargo’s character enough that might annoy long time Trailsman fans, one of which he writes that Skye has often wondered at the similarity of his last name, Fargo, and that of a certain stagecoach line. The author obviously doesn’t know that Skye Fargo isn’t the Trailsman’s real name or to the significance of the name Fargo.

Slight criticisms apart, this is an entertaining read, if you can overlook the mistakes.

For the Brand

A Ralph Compton book 
by David Robbins
Signet, October 2005

Willis Lander was once the Bar T ranch's best bronc buster. Then came the day when a stallion as black as pitch and as mean as a rattler shattered his knee. Unable to perform the duties required of a cowboy, Willis took the only job he felt capable of handling - minding the line shack forty miles from the ranch - and secluded himself from the pity of his peers in the Wyoming wilderness. Now the Bar T is being sold and Lander’s wonders about his future. Will the new owner want to keep a broken bronc buster on the payroll? Laurella Hendershot is a Texas rancher grateful for the opportunity to leave the Lone Star state behind and build a new life for herself. She just maybe Willis’ last chance...

If you’re expecting an action packed western of the kind usually associated with author David Robbins then prepare to be pleasantly surprised. Yes there’s action where needed but to have included anymore would have been at the expense of other powerful scenes. Scenes of hope, scenes that people are more than what is seen from the outside, scenes of laughter and scenes of love.

The two central characters cannot fail to tug at the emotions as they experience feelings they never thought they never would. There are other characters that will stick in your memory for different reasons such as the Flour Sack Kid: an outlaw whose antics will have you laughing to begin with but then you’ll find is quite a tragic character really.

David Robbins has told a great tale here but not only does it provide an entertaining read but it should also leave a powerful message too.

Navajo Rock

 by Gillian F. Taylor
A Black Horse Western from Hale, 2002

A story of jealousy, hate and revenge. The jealousy and hatred of a strong friendship and white hatred of the Navajo Indian all combine to bring about a violent confrontation, which results in Buck Heeley and Scott Beaumont fleeing from friends and family. Peter Clayton swears revenge and the two fugitives find themselves being tracked by a deadly bounty hunter.

Gillian F. Taylor creates some very memorable characters in this fast moving story, her descriptions of the country painting vivid imagery. As the tale unfolds you cannot help wonder how Heeley and Beaumont can come out of it alive. The bounty hunter and Beaumont’s father are particularly well written characters.

If you enjoy reading about horses then you’ll like this as Heeley’s stallion has a leading role through most of the book.

It would also seem that Gillian has done a far amount of research for this story, the results of which add authenticity to the landscapes and other elements such as the making of Navajo jewellery.

This book made for a very enjoyable read and will have me searching for more of her work.

The Last Draw

 as by Lance Howard
Linford Large Print, 2000
 originally published as a Black Horse Western from Hale, 1999

Luke Banner is a man haunted by the ghosts of his past, the ghost of Jesse the girl he intended to marry, the ghost of the man who killed her and the ghosts of those he’s killed since. Banner became a manhunter after killing the man who killed Jesse, his existence driven by the need to kill those on the wrong side of the law.

Now Banner has received an unsigned telegram that brings him to Bellstar, Colorado. Almost immediately there are attempts on his life. Yet the sender of the telegram doesn’t come forward. Who wants him dead and why? Is the murderous gang terrorizing the territory involved?

Howard quickly puts questions to the reader that hook you, make you want to read on to find out the who and whys. The book has a fairly dark tone throughout as Banner contemplates suicide by letting one of those he goes up against kill him. Banner needs to escape his ghosts.

Then Banner meets the woman who brings forth feelings he thought long dead, the feeling of love. She feels the same for him. Yet Banner knows those he gets close to will die so steps back. Tries to push these feelings aside. Accepts a suicidal mission.

Howard writes a fast paced book filled with action that builds to a final confrontation that answers all the questions and brings forth a surprising revelation.

Does Banner escape his ghosts? Does he live or die in the process? I guess you’ll have to read it to find out.

Get a copy here.

Longarm and the Outlaw Empress

 as by Tabor Evans
Jove, Nov. 2006
A Longarm Giant Novel

When Deputy U.S. Marshal Custis Long turns the tables on a band of stagecoach bandits, he does more than just save the day. Discovering a map of Nevada, Longarm tracks the men to the ghost town of Zamora. Here Custis finds that Zamora is no hole-in-the-wall hideout - it’s a haven for the lawless, ruled by one of the most powerful, brilliant, and beautiful women in the West. A woman whose personal army will fight to the death for her.

This book sees the welcome return of Jessica Starbuck and her bodyguard Ki, who appeared in their own 153 book series as well as the first 10 Longarm giants (this being the 24th).

The author - James Reasoner - tells the story in a series of chapters about Longarm and then a few about Jessie and Ki, alternating until they inevitably arrive in the same place.

The action is first rate as the indenity of the Outlaw Empress is slowly revealed as are her true plans. Great characters, an intriging plot, and action a-plenty make this a hard to put down book.

If you like Longarm and/or the Lone Star duo (Jessie and Ki), or just a great western then give this a try. Me I’m hoping Longarm will team up with Jessie and Ki again in the not to distant future.

Saturday 19 July 2008

The Pecos Kid #4

as by Jack Bodine
Harper, November 1993

Everyone tells Duane Braddock to stay out of Escondido. But a month alone in the desert, even with his Apache trained survival skills, is a month too long. He’s just partial to trouble – and when he’s hired to bring order to the outlaw town, there’s plenty for the taking. Before the day is out, four bullies are dead and the cold-blooded killer responsible is just warming up for his real target – Braddock. Duane knows that the truth about his family and his past is at stake, sending him on a vengeance ride that will end in a hail of lightning quick lead.

An interesting entry into this series as it sees Duane Braddock searching for his past, searching for information about his parents; who they were and how they died. Only problem is anyone who tells him anything winds up dead.

The author, Len Levinson – writing as Jack Bodine – fills the book with action and incident. He soon has the reader hooked by firing questions about Braddock’s parents that make the reader want to know the answer as much as his hero does. Most of his very well drawn characters become suspects, even those who seem to be helping Braddock.

As Braddock slowly unveils the answers so he begins to uncover the truth about his parents and the author snares the reader with hints of a storyline to come, thus guaranteeing the reader will seek out the next book in the series.

As with other books I’ve read by Len Levinson I found this to be a very enjoyable read.

The Spanish Bit Saga #10

by Don Coldsmith
Bantam, February 1989
 original Doubleday, 1986

This tale begins a couple of years after book #9 in the series and continues the story of Pale Star. She’s now married to the scout Brule. When they are both chosen to guide Andre Du Pres and Cartier, both soldiers in the French army, down the Big River into uncharted territory, Star sees this as an opportunity to return to her people. What she doesn’t anticipate is Du Pres falling in love with her. What she does know is she is falling for him. Neither will go behind Brule’s back so the love stays forbidden, not even admitted to each other.

Again Don Coldsmith writes a terrific book of friendships, exploration and discovery. Of two Frenchmen being captivated by a country and it’s native people. Of tragedy, of wonder, and a sudden death that is unsuspected by the reader.

I now quote from Loren D. Estleman’s introduction, ‘the death of ********* should be required reading for every would-be writer who insists upon shedding the readers tears’.

This book is a perfect example of why this series is held in such high acclaim by many.

Get a copy here.

Wilderness #56

as by David Thompson
Leisure, June 2008

Legendary mountain man Shakespeare McNair has seen enough winters in the wilderness to know when something isn’t right. Beneath the waters of the lake near his new home, something is definitely off. Waves appear without any wind to create them, fishing poles are snatched from hands, something malevolent out there…watching them. Shakespeare knows it’s only a matter of time before the creature hurts someone, so he’s going after it himself, even knowing he might not come back…

A book filled with mystery, strength of character, scenes of excitement and life and death situations, humorous banter, wonder, and beautifully written descriptions of the wilderness…and its weather. Not to mention the emotionally charged moments of coming eye to eye with the creature.

Shakespeare’s determination comes across extremely well, as did Blue Water Woman’s worry for his safety. Strongest of all was their love for each other.

This book doesn’t contain any man against man conflict, as might be expected from a Wilderness tale, but had it done so then this, in my opinion, would have detracted from the story of man against the elements and nature – just read the gripping scenes of Shakespeare in a canoe during the storm to see what I mean.

Like all Wilderness books In Darkest Depths is a superbly paced book, and David Thompson keeps you guessing as to the identity of just what lurks in the lake and its fate comes as a welcome surprise.

Friday 18 July 2008

Rogue Lawman

by Peter Brandvold
Berkley, September 2005

This is the first in a new series from Peter Brandvold featuring ex-Deputy Marshal Gideon Hawk.

Famed lawman Gideon Hawk was a man of principle - until Ned Meade kills Hawk’s ten year old son...and the grisly act drove Hawk’s grief-stricken wife to hang herself. Now, robbed of kin, Hawk sets out on a brutal quest to find the man responsible - at any cost, even if it means being hunted by the deputies he once worked with as his lust for revenge changes Hawk from a lawman who abided by the rules to a wanted man...

This book is filled with one violent confrontation after another, tough and at times sadistic action, that will satisfy anyone who likes the reading brutal and bloody.

Peter Brandvold paints a savage picture of the west, in fact many times his descriptive words created vivid images within my mind. His bad guys are vile and his hero, Gideon Hawk, is definitely an anti-hero who can be as cruel as those he’s hunting.

If you like westerns with obvious lines between the good and the bad then maybe this isn’t for you but, if like me, you enjoy the more savage types of western fiction then get this book now!

Peter Brandvold has produced a new western character that I think will become a favourite of mine.

Spur #37

as by Dirk Fletcher
Leisure, October 1992

Saddle sore and bone tired, Spur McCoy returned to St. Louis, Missouri, hoping to get reacquainted with some lady friends whilst waiting for his next mission. His plans are interrupted, however, when a master forger started spreading enough funny money to dam up the mighty Mississippi. And if that isn’t enough, Spur is assigned a partner…

Dirk Fletcher (author Chester Cunningham) comes up with a fine read here. The book has a fast pace, tough action, rousing encounters with beautiful women - after all Spur is an adult series - and a great bad guy, one who Spur has difficulty in tracking down.

Giving Spur a partner makes for a different angle to the series although Spur’s reluctance to work with someone else and the outcome of this doesn’t offer any surprises. The final chase sequence is the highlight of the book.

Cunningham rarely offers any mystery in his plots and his stories are told from the view points of heroes and villains alike, so the reader is always aware of what is going on, and why, but this method doesn’t detract from what is a quick, entertaining read.

One of the better entries into the Spur series.

Sons of Daniel Shaye #1

by Robert J. Randisi
HarperTorch, September 2004

Dan Shaye was the sheriff of Epitaph, a devoted family man, he’d managed to keep the truth of his violent past hidden from the townfolk he protected. Then Ethan Langer and his gang rode into town and robbed the bank. When they rode out Dan’s beloved wife was lying dead in the dust. Now Daniel Shaye is leaving Epitaph, maybe for good, with his three motherless adult sons at his side. Now the Shayes ride to uphold a new law...called revenge.

Like many books by Robert Randisi this tale is dialogue driven. Due to this, and short chapters of two or three pages in length, this is a quick read.

There’s not a lot of action until quite a way into the story but Randisi uses this part of the story to skillfully flesh out his characters, both good and bad. The fact the not all the brothers hearts are into killing, instead would prefer to catch and take the bank robbers in to stand trial, allows Randisi to include some thought provoking discussions on the right and wrongs of killing for vengeance and on the existance of God.

LEAVING EPITAPH is the first in what seems to be a trilogy and I am looking forward to reading the next two.

Thursday 17 July 2008

The Trailsman #286

as by Jon Sharpe
Signet, August 2005

Skye Fargo saves a young drunkard from being killed. Turns out this young man is Vance Forrestal, son of a local business bigshot, and he needs help getting to San Antonio for his own wedding. Seems Vance’s future father-in-law doesn’t want the marriage to go ahead and will even go as far as to have Vance killed to stop him marrying his daughter. So Fargo agrees to get Vance to his wedding in one piece...

This is a very entertaining book that moves along at a swift pace as Fargo attempts to keep Vance alive. It’s not just Vance’s disagreeable personality that doesn’t sit well with Fargo, Vance’s story just doesn’t seem to add up either.

The author (James Reasoner) keeps the questions coming so that before long the reader is hooked and just wont be able to put the book down before finding out the answers to just who wants Vance dead, and why.

With a supporting cast of some great characters, who may or may-not be about to double-cross Fargo, or each other, the author presents the reader with another great entry into the Trailsman series.

If you’re looking for a good western to read then give this one a try, I doubt you’ll be disappointed.

Reaper #5

by B.J. Holmes
A Black Horse Western from Hale, 1992

Jonathan Grimm was a bounty hunter, maybe the best in the business. He was also known as The Reaper. Hunting two men he catches one hiding in a log cabin in the Ouachita Mountains. Forced to kill the man Grimm is shocked to find the dead man’s ten-year-old daughter has witnessed the killing. How could he track the second man now he was lumbered with the girl? She was sticking to him like a saddle burr and was just as hell-fire irritating.

B.J. Holmes has created an interesting hero in Jonathan Grimm. Grimm is a man who’s feeling the effects of old age. He suffers from rheumatism, failing eyesight over distances and general tiredness. Although still quicker than most with his guns he tries to avoid fistfights as his reflexes are slowing and the bruises take longer to heal. But he’s still a tough man, a man who takes no nonsense from others which makes his relationship with the young girl all the more fascinating.

At first Sarah hates him and he sees her as a hindrance, someone to be left with the first people he can find who will have her. Trouble is Sarah won’t be left with anyone and Grimm is surprised when she tells people he’s her father.

Holmes writes a great tale that hooked me quickly. The hunt for the second outlaw almost takes second place to the changing relationship between girl and bounty hunter that provides surprise, humour, sadness and warmth.

The action is fast and violent and a couple of quiet disturbing themes are introduced such as child prostitution.

I found this to be a very hard book to put down and read it in two sittings. Now I’ve got to go hunting through my collection for the other Reaper books I have as well as searching for more of B.J. Holmes’ work.

Get a copy here.

Sam Burrack - Ranger #1

by Ralph Cotton

Signet, April 1998

Arizona Ranger Sam Burrack was a man of hair-trigger courage and a lightning-quick draw. He carried a list of outlaws and tracked his prey relentlessly, alone. His goal was swift justice usually ending in death.

No one under the badlands sun would put the ranger’s skills to the test like Montana Red Hollis, a man more brutal than any beast, and more cunning than any desperado Burrack has ever hunted. No one was safe from the wrath of Montana Red. Now, on the frontier where the fastest guns ruled and only the lucky survived, a bloodthirsty killer was about to meet his match.

This is the first book in Ralph Cotton’s long running series about the man simply known as the Ranger. Cotton portrays his hero as single minded, a man who wont let anything, or anyone, get in his way of taking his prey down. In fact Burrack often comes across as cold-hearted as those he hunts.

Cotton creates a number of memorable characters, not least Burrack and Montana Red, but the one I liked best was the man running from his past, the gambler Gentleman Joe, who finds himself hiding behind a lawman’s badge.

Cotton’s descriptions of the landscape, heat and action sequences are first rate, as is his abilitly to build up suspense. The book moves from one set of characters to another effortlessly and the violent confrontations come thick and fast.

Definitely a worthwhile read for fans of the western and a book that has me eager to read more stories about The Ranger.

The Derby Man

by Gary McCarthy
Dell, June 1979

Book one in the Derby Man series.

Darby Buckingham is a big man; he’s also a top selling author of Westerns. But he’s had enough of fiction, wants to write about the real people of the West. So he travels from New York to Wyoming in search of Sheriff Cather.

Cather has settled a range war, thwarted four bank robberies, drawn against all the era’s legendary quick-draws. He is a real frontier legend and his story is begging to be told, as only Buckingham knows how. But Buckingham will find himself living the tale instead of writing it!

Gary McCarthy presents the reader with a different kind of hero in Darby Buckingham. A man, who is overweight, wears a suit and a Derby hat. His appearance makes him the butt of many jokes. Trouble is for those who pick on him he also knows how to look out for himself.

The story is well told and has lots of humour as well as violent action. Darby has a number of mishaps but he’s capable of laughing at himself, which is one of the reasons I found him so appealing. It was good to read about a hero that isn’t the usual handsome fast-draw artist.

I’ll definitely be hunting out the follow up books about the Derby Man. Well worth a look.

Fire in his Hand

 by J.C. Sheers
Coronet, 1969

The townsfolk of Marcos thought they were smart. Why have a two-handed sheriff when a one-handed man would do? Hell, all they wanted was a front, a guy who would be easy to squeeze. But in Ben Allen they soon learnt they’d picked the wrong man. He figured he had a job to do and, iron-claw or no, he was damn well gonna do it!

This is one big read, one-hundred and ninety-two pages of very small print.

Sheers’ hero is a tough man, yet one who is embarrassed by only having one hand, this causing him to be the butt of all kinds of jokes. Soon the locals learn that picking on Allen is a wrong move and will only get them hurt, hard. It soon becomes apparent to the reader that Allen just didn’t happen on the town of Marcos, that there is a more sinister reason to his arrival.

The book builds well to it’s violent finale but I felt it could have been a lot shorter, there are great long sections of dialogue that seemed to ramble on, thus breaking the flow of story.

Still, if you stick with it, there’s some pretty shocking revelations at the end and all the threads are tied up a savage showdown.

Get a copy here.

Wednesday 16 July 2008

The Spanish Bit Saga #9

by Don Coldsmith
Bantam, 1988
first published by Doubleday Feb. 1986

A Moon of Sorrow comes to the Elk-dog band when the buffalo return to the Plains and starvation forces the People into the forests of the East. For the young woman Pale Star the dark woods become a place of terror as she is kidnapped and sold into captivity. Her owner, the mysterious Traveler, will carry her far from the People into a world of turmoil and savagery. But have the spirit guides given Pale Star this fate for a special reason? In the land of the Big Water she will discover a link between the Traveler’s shining knife and her tribe’s most magical amulet – the Spanish Bit. But she also encounters the cruel renegade Three Owls, who vows to make her his slave wife – and keep her from returning to the People.

This is a beautifully written book through which the reader will share many wonders as Traveler, and his wife, take Pale Star on a journey of learning, discovery and danger to a far away place of unknown tribes where she will become the first of The People to come into contact with the French.

There were many moments that really captured my imagination, particularly when Pale Star stands on the shore of the great lake and sees nothing before her but water. The thoughts that run through her head made me wonder just what it would be like to really see something you had no idea existed for the first time.

If you’ve yet to read any of this series then I suggest you give it a try. Don Coldsmith is definitely up there with my favourite writers.

Get a copy here.

Last Stage to Gomorrah

as by Barry Cord
Stoneshire, 1983
reprint of a 1966 Tower publication

Frank Hayes was a stagecoach guard. When Hayes, the stagecoach and a quarter of a million dollars of gold disappear without a trace, Wells Fargo find themselves with an insurance claim on their hands.

Jeff Carter owes Sturvesant, Wells Fargo’s boss, a favour and heads for Gomorrah to find the missing gold. Trouble was three previous investigators had already been shot dead and it soon looked like Carter would be joining them.

Having enjoyed reading a Barry Cord book before I had high hopes for this one and once again the author delivered the goods. Plenty of mystery and well-drawn characters grabbed my attention straight away. Other events began to tangle the plot line too, such as a woman from Carter’s past being in Gomorrah, just what role did she play in the disappearance of the stagecoach? The young Indian Topah, whose parents have been killed by four gunmen, these killings being witnessed by Carter, what role would he have to play in the story?

This is a book that is filled with action and moves to its climax at a gripping fast pace. All the story threads come together in a dramatic finale that answers all questions.

If you’re a fan of westerns and have never read anything by Barry Cord then maybe its time you did.

Barry Cord is a pseudonym for Peter Germano.