Sunday 31 August 2008

Seven Ways from Sundown

by Huffaker
Futura, 1974
originally published 1960

Hennesey pointed his bay north. ‘Let’s go, boy.’
Seven turned back for one last look at the shack and saw the old woman peering out after them through a cracked window. ‘She sure didn’t care for the Rangers.’
‘They like you best when they’re in trouble.’
‘She seemed to’ve liked Flood.’
‘Everybody does. Till he kills ‘em.’

Jim Flood was a born killer. He’s as fast as lightning and just as indifferent. Hated everybody in general, no one in particular. The Lieutenant sent Seven Smith to hunt Flood down because Seven had pinched his girl. Seven was a green young ranger and not exactly quick on the draw. No one gave much for Seven’s chances.

This is an extremely entertaining read with the character of Seven Ways From Sundown Smith being an engaging hero (you want an explanation of his name then you’ll have to read the book – it made me laugh). Seven’s inexperience with a gun leads to some humorous moments as he attempts to become more proficient.

Flood is also another standout character, he comes across as a likable man, yet there’s always the feeling that he might up and kill Seven at any moment, which leads to some excellent exchanges between the two. A good half of the book sees Seven and Flood riding together as Seven attempts to get his prisoner back to the Rangers headquarters.

Along the way there’s plenty of action, fights with Apaches, soldiers and bounty hunters. There’s love interest for Seven in Joy, which also means there’s the jealous Lieutenant to deal with.

All in all this is a worthwhile read from Clair Huffaker - a man who also wrote for a number of television series, such as 'Rawhide', 'The Virginian' and 'Bonanza', and had seven of his books made into major motion pictures.

Saturday 30 August 2008

Longarm #320

as by Tabor Evans
Jove, July 2005

Ten years ago, a group of robbers pulled off the biggest train heist ever when they stole a million dollars in old bills, marked to be taken out of circulation and burned. The loot was never found and the culprits never caught. Now a new lead has Custis Long assigned to track down this money hidden somewhere in the Texas Panhandle and he soon finds he’s not alone in the hunt. As the competition grows deadly Longarm realizes he’s going to have to dig hard to collect the cash - before somebody takes him out of circulation for good...

This is one fast moving book for sure, as of when Longarm arrives in Buffalo Flat, Texas, the case is closed within 24 hours. There are a number of suspects that might be the unknown leader of the robbers. There is also competition for the money and questions of how they fit it. There’s attempts on Longarm’s life and questions as to who’s behind them. Stands to reason it’s the unknown robber but how could he possibly know Longarm is on his trail?

All is brought to a dramatic conclusion filled with exciting action and violent death that doesn’t leave any loose ends as is to be expected from author James Reasoner.

This is a highly recommended entry into the Longarm series - and I know we shouldn’t laugh at death but the first one really put a big grin on my face!

Thursday 28 August 2008


as by Jack Giles
A Black Horse Western from Hale, 1987

The man folks called ‘The Hunter’ had been a mining engineer until he had been injured in a mining accident. Taking pity on him, Helga Rutger, the woman that he had jilted at the alter, found him work - supplying her father’s fashionable restaurant with fresh game. It gave him a living and some sort of pride. But then came a message that was to take him on a trail of death and double-dealing and a confrontation with the Unions and their hired guns.

Although coal mining plays a part in this story it’s only the background to a fast paced tale of intrigue, violence and great characters. Jack Giles (author Ray Foster) tells part of his story in a series of flashbacks that’ll soon have you wondering as to the true intentity of the man known as ‘The Hunter’.

None of Giles’ characters are there to make up numbers either, each has a part to play in this story of friendship, greed and revenge. The action is fast and brutal, the hired guns savagely evil.

But the part that has stayed with me the longest is the struggle one man has with how and when to tell his family he’s dying, not realizing his wife has seen the changes in him and has kept quiet to let him hang onto his dignity.

Well worth tracking down a copy.

Wednesday 27 August 2008

Breed #15

as by James A. Muir
Sphere, 1981

Luke Masters was a big name around Mattock. The Masters clan had the town in its pocket and no-one crossed Luke if he valued his life. Until Breed happened into town, and had a showdown with Luke and his men which left Breed more dead than alive. That was Luke’s big mistake. For Breed, alias Azul, was well acquainted with death. And when he returned on his quest for vengeance the violent and bloody legends of the West were going to take on a whole new savage reality…

Angus Wells, writing as James A. Muir, once again proves that he wrote some of the most savage books that came from the pen of the group of writers known as the Piccadilly Cowboys. This book is filled with brutal men – Azul included – and moves from one violent confrontation to another at a rapid pace.

Wells writes confidently and his attention to detail is exceptional, be it about the land, the heat, or the effects of bullets against flesh and bone, and of dying – read the description of teardrops into sand to see what I mean.

Breed comes across as single-minded, nothing will stop him achieving his need for revenge. At times he seems cold-hearted; witness the torture scene in the sandpit – savage yes but very memorable, and not one drop of blood spilled.

Like many of the Piccadilly Cowboys, Wells makes plenty of references to some of the other writers, their heroes, and those from films. Here you get mention of a romantic book written by Loretta James (Laurence James), Chato’s hunt for revenge (Charles Bronson’s film Chato’s Land), a book called Gunlaw by Charles Garrett (the pseudonym used for the Gunslinger books about a gunsmith), and there’s reference to the book Edge #14: The Big Gold (Tiger’s Gold in America), when a girl remembers being taken to see a travelling carnival and its block of gold protected by a tiger – she likens Breed to a hunting tiger.

This rates as one of my favourite books in the Breed series and, if you like the more brutal type of westerns, then you should consider tracking down a copy.

Tuesday 26 August 2008

Matt Jensen: The Last Mountain Man

as by William W. Johnstone
with J.A. Johnstone
Pinnacle, September 2007

Matt Cavanaugh was nine years old when a band of outlaws slaughtered his family…Now Matt is 18, honed by hardship, steeped in survival and carrying the last name of the man who raised him: Smoke Jensen. With Smoke’s wisdom and his own courage, Matt Jensen begins a relentless hunt for the outlaws who murdered his family in cold blood. Soon Matt discovers there’s a lot more to vengeance than hunting down a man – and that in the clash of guns and guile, true justice is waiting just beyond a town called Perdition…

This is an extremely readable, and entertaining, book that moves at a brisk pace, full of exciting action, great characters – both good and bad – and a number of humorous moments, such as the incident involving a ham.

The author begins with the killing of Matt’s family and then covers Matt’s life as he struggles to survive on his own in an orphanage and then the wilderness. It’s in the latter part that he is taken under the wing of Smoke Jensen and a good portion of the book covers this time of Matt’s life. Another of Johnstone’s series characters makes an appearance here too, that of the first mountain man: Preacher.

The final part of the book see Matt Jensen out on his own putting everything he’s learnt into practice as he tracks his family’s killers.

I don’t know who wrote the back blurb but there’s an almighty clanger there, the leader of the gang of outlaws is named as Winston Pugh, yet in the book he’s called Clyde Payson.

Does Matt succeed in his quest for vengeance? I guess that’s something you’ll have to find out for yourself.

Monday 25 August 2008

Easy Company #20

as by John Wesley Howard
Jove, September 1982

Wyoming is baking under the hottest spell of the summer, the heat and dryness of the land fraying tempers and making the life of the soldiers of Easy Company almost unbearable. And to top it all, at twilight, someone is shooting at the patrolling guards, a sniper who leaves no trace of his presence. At the same time Lt. Matt Kincaid is in the gold rush town of Monument trying to put an end to the violence and killings in this town of dreamers and gunslingers, a job that may just cost his life.

I’ve always enjoyed the books in this series and The Twilight Sniper is no exception. It’s combination of action and humour combine to make a satisfying read. I particularly enjoyed the pranks two of the soldiers kept playing on each other as the endless heat drove them towards madness.

This is really a book of two storylines, that of the sniper and that of the troubles in Monument. Neither story merging with the other but rather complimenting each other. The author behind the pseudonym of John Wesley Howard this time is Paul Lederer and by using this method of two stories, is able to make use of many of Easy Company’s regular characters, so if you have a favourite chances are he’ll be included at sometime during this story.

If you want an entertaining read then give this a try.

The Trailsman #100

as by Jon Sharpe
Signet, April 1990

The 100th book in The Trailsman series sees the reader presented with a book twice the length of the previous stories. A tale that see Skye Fargo teaming up with Jon Sharpe’s other series hero, Canyon O’Grady.

The story, like those in both series, is fast paced with lots of action and mystery for our two heroes to solve. They meet on a riverboat, both on different missions. Fargo to stop Indians raiding the boat and making off with grain shipments which will see the Captain go bust and lose his boat. O’Grady is working undercover as a riverboat gambler to stop British gold being smuggled to the Confederacy to help finance their war effort. Both have plenty of suspects and the outcome sees a spectacular ending and throws in a number of surprises.

Everything to make this a great entry into the series in fact.

Unfortunately, for me anyway, the book had a couple of major errors that spoilt it somewhat. One being when Fargo is captured while indulging in some adult fun. It doesn’t mention him getting dressed before being tied up and riding out with his captors. When they get killed Fargo instructs his saviour to use the knife in the leg sheath under his trousers - hmmm, not only did he get dressed but also armed himself under the watchful eyes of his captors!

Another thing I found strange was that Captain Billy was a friend of Fargo’s father, knew Fargo as a child. Hadn’t seen him for years yet called The Trailsman Fargo. I’d have thought he’d have used Fargo’s given name, as The Trailsman took the name Skye Fargo after the death of his parents. A little point I know but...

I was also disappointed in that Fargo and O’Grady already knew each other, had worked together on many cases so we were told. I guess I was hoping they’d be on opposite sides maybe, or at least suspect each other as being behind the crimes they were investigating.

Still, if you overlook the above points, this is an entertaining book and worth a look if you’re a fan of The Trailsman - and Canyon O’Grady - series.

Sunday 24 August 2008

Chance #10

as by Clay Tanner
Avon, March 1988

When the President of the United States wants a million dollars in gold given secret passage downriver…even a gambler has to fold his hand. At least until bullion-hungry buccaneers call his bluff with an old bayou battleship. As the muddy maze of the Mississippi Delta becomes a backwater battleground, Chance finds his paddlewheeler isn’t the only “Wild Card” in this deadly game: a tropical hurricane is headed straight for the bayou…ready to cash in everyone’s chips!

After the slightly disappointing previous entry into the series, Bayou Bluff sees George W. Proctor, writing as Clay Tanner, get back into his stride by giving the reader a book filled with action, a strong storyline, and a cat-a-mouse hunt that makes for gripping reading.

It’s been awhile since the Wild Card and its crew played such a strong central role in the tale and I, for one, welcomed that return. There are also other great characters that Chance has to deal with, such as the ex-Confederate Zeke Boussard and his devious and brutal methods he employs to steal the gold. Then there’s Stella Houston, a woman who just won’t take no for an answer.

The inclusion of a hurricane makes for a great plot twist and sees all sides struggling to survive this natural phenomenon of impeding death and destruction. Proctor writes this confidently and his words create some wonderful imagery as the crew cower from the storm.

A great entry into what is, overall, an enjoyable series.

Morgan Kane #32

as by Louis Masterson
Corgi, 1976, translated by Jeffery M. Wallman.
First published in Norway in 1969.

Kane has turned his back on being a lawman and has drifted east to Pasedena were he earns a living hunting meat for a local cafe. But when Van Doren hits town Kane finds himself hired to do a different kind of hunting. Paid now by Van Doren, Kane’s job is to kill one of the most notorious gunslingers in the West. But Kane will soon find that even without a badge, he was still a U.S. Marshal and killing a man in cold blood just isn’t going to come easy...

Louis Masterson (Kjell Hallbing) writes a fast moving tale that rotates around the discovery of oil. Greed for the rewards of this discovery being the basic plotline of the book. Yet for Kane there will be a more personal struggle, as he strives to forget a woman, and come to terms with the possibility of killing a man for no other reason than money. And it’s these latter storylines that make this a compelling read.

As Kane struggles with the rights and wrongs of the situation he finds himself in, he will meet a person who will cause more trouble for him in later books.

This is a highly entertaining read, in a series that I recommend.

Saturday 23 August 2008

The Gunsmith #19

as by J.R. Roberts
Charter, August 1983

When a gang of ruthless bandidos kidnap wealthy Andrew Woodland’s daughter, he turns to Clint Adams for help. Adams agrees to go south of the border to rescue the girl. But between hostile Yaqui Indians and corrupt Rurales, the odds are stacked against the Gunsmith. His only allies are some frightened peons and a hot-blooded senorita with a score of her own to settle. Unless he can turn them into a fighting unit, the Gunsmith will be lucky to get out of Mexico alive!

This book offers plenty of exciting reading as Clint Adams finds himself facing more bandits than he alone can possibly hope to take on, and win. The bandits are lead by a wonderfully created leader called El Espectro, a hooded rider who appears to be a skeleton and refers to himself as “the bridge between life and death”.

El Espectro isn’t the only fascinating character The Gunsmith will meet, there’s also the blind Father Rameriz who has a passion for chess – with an ingeniously designed set that a blind man can use.

The book moves forward at a rapid pace and is filled with action – of more than one kind – although the ending where Adams rallies the peons to stand and fight against the bandit horde did feel like it borrowed a little from The Magnificent Seven movies, The Magnificent One anyone?

All in all this is a very entertaining read.

Friday 22 August 2008

Cash McCord

 as by Matt Chisholm
Panther, June 1966

It was the sun-blasted border country, hell on an honest man and paradise for a thief. Alone Cash McCord faced a power-hungry tycoon and his cohorts, was robbed of his cattle, ambushed and burned out. He challenged treachery with courage and power with his gun.

Matt Chisholm (real name Peter Watts) starts this story with Cash McCord as the town drunk, this is what he’s become after losing his ranch. It’s now down to Ben Daniels to help McCord regain some self-respect, and once McCord is back on his feet he goes looking for some answers.

Like many of Matt Chisholm’s books this one builds slowly as the reader is introduced to the various characters and plot twists of the story, one of which is that Ben Daniels is one of the tycoon’s men.

As the tale unfolds towards it’s final explosive confrontation, Chisholm neatly ties up all the threads of the plot.

I must admit I have read better books by Matt Chisholm, but even so would say this is worth reading if you can find a copy.

Thursday 21 August 2008

Spurs of the Spectre

 as by Rory Black
A Black Horse Western from Hale, 2001

This is the second book to feature the bounty hunter known as Iron Eyes.

Quite why infamous bounty hunter Iron Eyes is drawn to the border town of Rio Vista he doesn’t know. He sure doesn’t need to hunt anymore outlaws as he’s carrying enough money to settle down and live the good-life. But this small fortune also means he has no reason to exist as the only thing he’s good at is killing. When asked by a Priest if he’ll help a small Mexican village that has become prey to marauding bandits it looks like a quick and easy way to die.

A book that draws the reader in easily, even though it takes awhile to get to any action, as it builds to it’s explosive finale. A plot in which you can’t help but see references to The Magnificent Seven, although here it’s one against seventeen.

Black (real name Michael D. George) seems very good at creating visual descriptions, particularly of his two leading characters; Iron Eyes and bandit leader Manillo. At times you wonder who is the cruelest though, as lovers of horses will not like Iron Eyes’ treatment of them.

My favourite part is when Iron Eyes first sees a cross with the figure of Christ upon it. He asks the Priest who this man is and why he is there? The explanation means nothing to Iron Eyes, he just reckons it’s something the Apache have done.

So an easy to read book with a not very original plot, but an interesting lead character in Iron Eyes that will have me keeping a lookout for other Iron Eyes novels.

Wednesday 20 August 2008

Longarm and the Lone Star Showdown

 as by Tabor Evans
Jove, August 1986

The sixth giant Longarm adventure and the sixth to team him up with the Lone Star duo of Jessica Starbuck and Ki.

Trouble was brewing, and Longarm could smell it a mile away. Savage cartel leader Wolfer Goswick was planning a takeover of Oregon and California territories – and he was assembling a vicious army of outlaws to do the job. Jessica Starbuck was the prime target, but before Longarm called relay the bad news to Jessie and Ki, the U.S. Marshal was thrust into a life or death struggle.

At the same time the Lone Star duo had arrived at one of Jessie’s ranches to find it under attack from a large number of outlaws, and the question is why? As events unfold it seems the cartel is behind this latest threat and the final showdown with them is about to erupt…

If you want action this book is filled with it. For the first half of the book Longarm is almost in a continual gunfight. Jessie and Ki have their share of action too as they begin to suspect the cartels involvement. Interesting to see that the author has all three of them battling against fire and water in this part of the book.

The violence and action doesn’t let up for a minute and continues with the same ferocity once Longarm and the Lone Star duo join forces to take on the cartel’s leaders.

I couldn’t help but wonder if the author had seen a James Bond movie before writing this one as many elements would have seemed at home in a Bond story, such as Longarm being dropped out of a chair into a shaft that sees him landing in a cellar in which two mountain lions wait. Also the leader’s of the cartels’ temple with its maze of hidden passageways.

An entertaining enough read, although I felt maybe a little less action could have made way for a more complex plot, especially as this is the final showdown with the cartel.

Tuesday 19 August 2008

The Judge #5

as by Hank Edwards
Harper, September 1991

Receiving a desperate message for help from Sheriff Mike Walker, Judge Clay Torn heads for North Fork Town in the Nations. He’s greeted by the body of Sheriff Walker, back shot. With no clues Torn still resolves to find the murderer. Not long after a woman is brutally butchered but are the killings linked? Torn still has very few clues as his hunt takes him into a web of fear and death.

I felt the beginning of the book was a little slow, the first chapter reading pretty much like a history lesson of the Nations and the tribes that lived there. Fascinating stuff, but it didn’t do much to grip and pull me into the story. I feel this kind of information is better interspersed throughout the story.

Once Torn sees the horse carrying Walkers body come into town the story really picked up, and I found the book difficult to put aside for any length of time. Torn has lots of suspects but little to no proof. As the body count increases so more characters are introduced, all of who become more suspects.

The author, (Jason Manning) writes well, adding clues and red herrings throughout, a couple of the murders are particularly brutal and the book has some excellent gunfights near the end.

This turned out to be an excellent read, and one that should appeal to most western fans.

.45-Caliber Revenge

by Peter Brandvold
Berkley, June 2004

Everyone – even lawmen and bounty hunters – knows enough to stay away from Rolf Anderson. So how does an eighteen-year-old kid, who can barely ride a horse, think he’ll track down the buffalo-hunting giant? Simple: Cuno Massey has the one weapon that no one before him had – an all-consuming thirst for revenge. For the murder of Cuno’s father and stepmother, the young man plans to make Anderson pay – with his life, if possible. Cuno will need all the help he can get from other folks who’d like to see the axman swing. But when it comes down to it, he’ll do whatever it takes to fight this killer mano a mano

.45-Caliber Revenge is the first in a series to feature Cuno Massey.

This is a terrific story filled with great characters. Anderson and his companion are as bad as can be and you have to wonder how Cuno can ever take them on and win. Watching Cuno become a man - in more than one way - makes for engaging reading. The action comes fast and furious and is brutal at times. But the book isn’t just about violence, there are many humorous moments too. There are also emotions of the heart for Cuno to contend with, as he unwittingly becomes the center of a love triangle.

I’d say Peter Brandvold has come up with a winning series here and I’m eagerly looking forward to reading the next Cuno Massey book.

Monday 18 August 2008

The Trailsman #154

as by Jon Sharpe
Signet, October 1994

Skye Fargo finds himself caught in the middle of a Colorado valley war. On one side was a tribe of enraged Utes, stung to fury by white betrayal and looking for bloody payback. On the other side was a town turned kill-crazy with gold lust, run by a man who fed prospector’s greed with lethal lies and cut down anyone who raised a voice or gun against him. Complicating the Trailsman’s troubles even more was the Indian girl who claimed him as her husband. Now Fargo would have to use all his quick wits and fast hands to keep his bones from whitening in a hellhole called Skull Pass.

This book has been credited to J.B. Keller so I was expecting – and got – a great read. The book has very long chapters, six in all, most of which end on cliff-hangers making it very difficult to put the book down.

Blake Griffin makes for a terrific bad guy, making him a dwarf somehow gave him a more evil presence than had he been of regular height.

How Fargo finds himself with an unwanted Indian wife allows Keller to add some welcome moments of humour, although you can’t help but feel sorry for Waiting Cloud knowing that her happiness will be taken away from her as Fargo isn’t the marrying kind.

As the story progresses Fargo finds himself struggling to understand what is really going on and just who he can trust as questions pile upon questions. Mysteries which he struggles to find answers to.

Another entertaining entry into the Trailsman series.

Sunday 17 August 2008

Hell in Paradise Valley

 as by Barry Cord
Trojan, publication date unknown

When Jess Riley agreed to drive a herd into Paradise Valley, he didn’t know it was a herd of sheep. Jess was a cattleman from way back, and shared the cattleman’s contempt for sheep and sheep herders. But he’d given his word, and he’d have to follow through.

Trouble was, to reach the valley, he’d have to tangle with a lot of angry, gun-toting Texas cattle ranchers who were willing to kill rather than let sheep onto their land. Jess didn’t worry too much about that – he could take care of himself. But there was Luisa to consider, the beautiful Mexican girl who was married to the owner of the herd – or was she?

This promised to be the most unusual trail drive. Jess just hoped they’d all come out of it alive!

Barry Cord’s fast moving storyline is hiding more secrets than that of whether Luisa is really married or not, it also seems that Owens isn’t who he says he is. Paradise Valley has its own secrets too, centering on the ranch Owens has bought. There’s a lot more to this tale than just stopping the arrival of the sheep.

The book itself is short, easily readable in a couple of hours. Most of the gunplay isn’t written about, only its aftermath. So if action aplenty is what you’re looking for then you may be disappointed. If you want an entertaining story with a twisting plotline and interesting characters then you shouldn’t let this one slip past you.

Me? I’ll be looking out for other Barry Cord books at every chance I have.

Saturday 16 August 2008

Bucked Out In Dodge

 a Ralph Compton novel
by David Robbins
Signet, October 2004

Four young cowboys head into Dodge for a wild night to celebrate the end of a trail drive in a book that is very much dialogue driven to begin with. There is also a lot of humour filled conversations as these young men explore Dodge, two even visiting a Collection of Curiosities that came as a welcome addition to the story. Yet for all the fun - such as the pink parasol scene - David Robbins manages to create an underlying sense of violence to come. This and the cliff-hanger chapter endings combining to hook this reader and thus make it a very difficult book to put down.

The characters we meet are all well drawn and likeable, even those who seem to be the bad guys. It isn’t long before our four young cowboys find that Dodge isn’t a town that thrives on just fun, it has a darker side into which they are unsuspectingly drawn when trouble erupts between them and some less than reputable characters over the attentions of a dance hall girl.

This is when the tone of the book changes and the story becomes less dialogue driven and more descriptive as violence erupts. No one is safe as death comes calling, which results in a spectacular shootout as Rusty goes on a killing spree in the name of vengeance. The savagery of the final chapters of this book contrast darkly with the earlier lighter tones making for a powerful, and a times brutal, ending.

An Outlaw

 as by Frank Scarman
A Black Horse Western from Hale, 1997

Will Cantrell is on the run. Heading into Cassandra County to meet a man whose testimony might help him. Saving a woman, Libby, at the River Way Station he’s appalled to discover that she’s the wife of the tough and unforgiving Cassandra County lawman, Cates. Libby promises to keep quiet about who saved her but secrets can’t be kept for long. Cantrell not only has Cates and his posses after him but the U.S. cavalry too. With no one to trust, except maybe Libby, Cantrell finds deceit and danger waiting at every turn.

Frank Scarman (author Lawrence Robinson) managed to hook this reader instantly by providing questions early on in this story such as, is Cantrell guilty or not? Who is the man he’s going to meet and why would he help him? What will Cates do when he finds out his wife is covering for an outlaw? Even before the answers come Scarman throws in more questions that just made me want to continue reading to find those answers.

Scarman introduces some great characters that aren’t all who they seem to be when first meeting them. The book builds fast to its climax with loads of action along the way making for an entertaining and hard to put down read.

One thing I found amusing was how many of the people and places had names beginning with the letter C, don’t know why the stood out to me but it did.

Final conclusion is here’s one reader who’ll be looking for more books by Frank Scarman.

Friday 15 August 2008

The Widowmaker #1

by Robert J. Randisi
Pocket Star Books, Dec. 2003

John Locke has been many things – lawman, bounty hunter, gun-for-hire. And when it comes to shooting, he’s a dead shot with a six-gun or rifle. Legends abound in the Old West depicting him as both pillar of justice and a cold-hearted killer. The only things folks know for sure is that Locke’s dangerous – and not to be crossed unless you have more guts than brains.

Locke’s been hired to serve as a bastonero, the Master of Ceremonies, at the hanging of Ignacio Delgado – a deadly bandit leader who, with his bandidos, has terrorized the town of Fredericksburg, Texas. But while the townspeople are eager to see him hang, and his men are equally anxious to set him free, Locke discovers there are unseen forces manipulating events so that the wrong man may end up dead – the Widowmaker himself!

Like most of Robert J. Randisi’s work this book moves forward at a rapid pace with the story very much dialogue driven.

Again Robert J. Randisi has his hero being a friend of Doc. Holliday, who also plays a part in this tale.

Interesting to see that Locke isn’t the perfect hero, has some demons in his past that he’s been trying to hide from, and in doing so has become somewhat dependant on the bottle.

The story builds to a dramatic final shoot-out that brings the book to a satisfying end.

If you like Robert J. Randisi’s writing you’re going to enjoy this book as, I believe, should all fans of fast moving westerns.

Longarm #322

as by Tabor Evans
Jove, September 2005

With her heavenly voice, chanteuse Miss Claire has just about every man in Denver wrapped around her little finger, but she needs a man like Deputy U.S. Marshal Custis Long to keep her alive. Notes of the not-so-musical kind have been sent to her from someone who wants to shut her up – for good…

Besides the thousand dollars if he catches the rascal, Longarm is promised some fringe benefits from Miss Claire herself. But Longarm is left singing the blues when the star is murdered!

Miss Claire’s death happens as Longarm is gunned down and he believes he sees Miss Claire killed in front of him. That’s when things take a turn for the strange and it seems Miss Claire’s murder may have been staged...

This book proved to be a satisfying read, as a grumpy Longarm finds himself going to watch Miss Claire perform, something that’s not his kind of entertainment. As soon as he’s working for Miss Claire the action hots up and races to its conclusion. Along the way the reader meets some great characters as the mystery of Miss Claire’s ‘death’ becomes more involved. As well as gunplay there’s quite a bit of humour too.

Occasionally I wondered how much research this author had done into the character of Longarm - or more so those he works with, as there was no mention of Henry, his boss’s harassed assistant, and there was a major scene where Henry should have made an appearance.

Still these little questionable areas didn’t dampen my enjoyment of this book and I would say it should go down well with fans of this series.

Thursday 14 August 2008

The Spanish Bit Saga #11

by Don Coldsmith
Bantam, July 1989

This series goes from strength to strength. The Spanish Bit books might not have as much ‘fighting’ action as other books I read yet they are compelling reading. This is a great example of Don Coldsmith’s superb storytelling, a tale of adventure and discovery that has a few surprises along the way and an unexpected reaction at the end.

The book begins a few years after the conclusion of the previous story, River of Swans. Jean Cartier, known to the plains tribes as Woodchuck, is given the opportunity to guide an expedition searching for the mysterious Big River. Cartier finds himself haunted by dreams of his abandoned son, left in the care of The People. The explorers search takes them near the homeland of The People and Cartier must decide between deserting to rejoin the Elk Dog Band of The People or continuing on his journey and never knowing the fate of his son.

As irresistible forces urge him to The People, and he senses their destinies are interwoven, he must make the choice, if he goes to the people will he be the bringer of their destruction...or their chance to survive in the changing land?

And that is all I’m going to say other than read it!

Once Hell Freezes Over

 by Peter Brandvold
Berkley, October 2001

This is the fourth book in Peter Brandvold’s Sheriff Stillman series.

After bringing in a band of horse thieves, Sheriff Ben Stillman wants nothing more than to spend some quality time with his wife. Only thing is Fay isn’t home, she went visiting friends and a heavy winter storm has them sitting it out in the Hawley’s home.

But worse than the storm is the gang of vicious outlaws who need somewhere to sit out the weather and come across the Hawley cabin, once inside they take its occupants hostage and aim to kill them all before they leave. Will Stillman learn of the deadly situation his wife, and friends, have found themselves in, and if he does will he be able to get to them in time and free them from their brutal captors?

Peter Brandvold presents the reader with a number of superbly drawn characters as the story moves from one group of people to another and back again until they nearly all come together for the violent conclusion.

In fact Stillman doesn’t really have a big part to play in the unfolding tale until nearer the end. This time it’s Fay who has the leading role, and like most of the women in this book, she comes across as a strong character.

The outlaws are pure evil, squabbling over who will have the women first - or the girl child, as one of them is a rapist with a preference for the very young - and then who gets to kill them and the male captives. As time begins to run out you have to wonder how Stillman will save them - if he indeed does.

I thought Brandvold’s descriptions of the weather conditions were very well written and had me shivering along with his characters.

Probably my favourite Stillman book so far.

Lone Star #15

Lone Star and the Mexican Standoff
as by Wesley Ellis
Jove, October 1983

This series features a female lead, Jessica Starbuck and her bodyguard Ki, a series that ran for 153 books. Later on I feel the series became a bit hit and miss in quality but most of the earlier books strike home well, and this one is no exception.

A cutthroat gang is carving out a reign of terror along the Mexican border. And they’re also headed toward Purgatory Gorge with a load of dynamite that’ll blow the Congressional train from Washington sky high. But the renegades don’t know that Jessie Starbuck and her faithful companion, Ki, will be following close behind to snuff out the fireworks and make good on a personal debt that’s long overdue…

In this tale Jessie and Ki become involved with a Mexican rebel army attempting to overthrow President Diaz. Seems the rebels are hiding out in America. Representatives from both Mexico and America are to meet and team up in tackling this problem. Jessie is representing Texas.

The action comes thick and fast from the first page with assassination attempts, two kidnappings and a massacre all happening in the first thirty or so pages. And it doesn’t let up there as Jessie and Ki fight to stop the Congressional train being destroyed and everyone on her killed.

Along with the bandits they have land hungry ranchers and double-cross to deal with in their race against time. Not only that the Cartel is involved too, and a man they thought dead, a man fought a number of times before, is back!

Well worth checking out.

The writer behind the pseudonym of Wesley Ellis this time is Jeffrey M. Wallmann.

Wednesday 13 August 2008

Shiloh #3

as by Dalton Walker
Diamond April 1991

A series that I’ve not managed to read in number order but to be honest I don’t think would make much of a difference to anyone’s enjoyment of the books.

Henry Proffitt is a bounty hunter tortured by dreams of his experiences in the Civil War, and of one battle in particular from which he’s become much better known as Shiloh.

Every man has his price, and tycoon J.W. Bannerman has Shiloh’s figured out just right. The old coot is desperate to win back the only thing he’s ever lost: his daughter. And the mighty chunk of change he’s throwing Shiloh’s way has the bounty hunter thinking he’s the right man for the job. But before Shiloh can get his nose on the trail, he’s sniffed out by a fearsome rival. A man of his own breed – a bounty hunter. Now the hunter is the hunted…and only one of them can survive.

Henry Schlesinger (writing as Dalton Walker) presents a tale where just about everyone comes across as somewhat mad, twisted and sick. Most, you hope, will end up dead by the end. The violence is fairly graphic and comes frequently. A couple of surprising revelations liven up what could have been just another bounty hunter chase story, making this not a bad entry into the series, in fact one of the best of the eight books.

If you like despicable characters and graphic violence then this could be worth a look.

Wolf Mountain Moon

 by Terry C. Johnston
Bantam, February 1997

This is the twelfth book in The Plainsmen series.

Four hundred and forty pages of quite small print make this book a long read. The Plainsmen books are billed as historical novels. Wolf Mountain Moon covers two lesser-known battles during one of the worst winters of the time. These are the Ash Creek Fight - Baldwin against Sitting Bull, and The Battle of the Butte - Miles against Crazy Horse.

During the Ash Creek confrontation Johnston’s fictional character, scout Seamus Donegan is riding with a message for Colonel Miles so he doesn't have a major role to play in the first part of the book. Miles asks Donegan to stay and help in his relentless pursuit of Crazy Horse and Donegan does so, even though he was intending to go home and see his wife and newborn son. I found the chapter dealing with Samantha Donegan’s lonely Christmas very moving, perhaps more so than the outcome of the battles with the Sioux/Cheyenne confederations.

As this series progresses it seems Johnston was able to uncover more and more facts and seemed intent on cramming them all into the book, while fascinating stuff, they do tend to overwhelm the story occasionally. Yes these newspaper reports are supposed to add flavour but at times I felt them getting in the way. Johnston’s descriptions of the conditions the soldiers find themselves in is well told and his writing of the battles very well done. Miles determination to bring an end to the Indian Wars comes across strongly; he will be the man to bring an end to Crazy Horse where others have failed. Although not known at the time the Battle of the Butte will be Crazy Horse’s last fight with the white man’s army.

If you’re interested in the history of the Indian Wars then I doubt you could find a much better series to read, and I think it’s a shame that Johnston died before he could complete the series. (#16, a 700+ page novel, being the last).

The final chapter of Crazy Horse’s life will be told in a later book.

Definitely not a quick read, or a book to provided light entertainment. A book that plods a little at times and could have, in my mind, benefited from being a little shorter. But still is a fascinating and absorbing read.

Tuesday 12 August 2008

The West Witch

as by Lance Howard
A Black Horse Western from Hale, 1995

The notorious Black Hood Bandits make a fatal mistake during a million dollar jewel robbery that ends their murderous spree for good. East coast detective Quinton Hilcrest journeys west on a shoestring and a prayer seeking the missing jewels in the backwoods town of Hags Bend. Within hours he is fighting for his life, ensnared in a tangle of hidden motives and the story of a beautiful outcast the town claims is a witch! Will he disappear into legend with the bandits, or be caught in the spell of the west witch?

Lance Howard (real name Howard Hopkins) writes fast paced westerns full of intrigue. His tales often have elements of horror that helps to draw the reader into his stories and makes them stand out from other westerns.

This book doesn’t disappoint in pace and plot. The characters are well drawn and the secret of the missing jewels is kept just that, until the author is ready to reveal the answer.

There’s lots of action, the first chapter brimming with it – a bank robbery, a stagecoach robbery and the end of the Black Hood bandits, finishing with a cliff-hanger as to the identity of one of them, that just keeps the reader turning the pages.

Hilcrest makes for a great hero, his inexperience of the West allowing Howard to insert some humourous moments.

All the threads to the story come to a satisfying end in a bloody finale.

I think all western fans will find this an enjoyable read and should make the effort to find a copy.

Morgan Kane #27

as by Louis Masterson
Corgi 1975 - originally published in Norway 1969
Translated by Jeffrey Wallmann

Everyone in Mexico City enjoyed the Day of Death…it was a riotous carnival day of devil-costumes and feasting – a day when everybody had themselves a ball – everyone that is except U.S. Marshal Morgan Kane…

Kane had been planted in Mexico as bait for a gun-happy gang of bandits led by a man known as El Largo – the Big One. And El Largo’s gang planned on celebrating the Day of Death by shooting the Mexican President and beginning a revolution. But first they had to get by Morgan Kane – and that wasn’t going to be easy…

Interesting to find Kane back in Mexico City, a city that holds it’s own ghosts for him, a town with good memories too, in particular Zarco, a woman who’d meant a lot to him in the past (see book #2 in the series).

The fiesta, The Day of Death, becomes a promising backdrop for the final showdown, with everyone’s identities being hidden behind fancy dress costumes. The whole book builds up in gripping reading to this final, dramatic, struggle to save the President. Unfortunately that’s where the book went downhill for me, the promised excitement passed over quickly and the showdown at the fiesta didn’t happen, Kane confronting his suspects elsewhere, in a much more ordinary way. Even the identity of El Largo was obvious from early in the story.

So a book that built up well but for me, and the promised grand finale just wasn’t. Worth reading to follow the exploits of Kane and to discover what happens when he’s reunited with Zarco and other people from his past.

Monday 11 August 2008

The Trailsman #153

as by Jon Sharpe
Signet, September 1994

Skye Fargo is sent into the Arizona heartland by President James Buchanan. Seems the U.S. government is worried that a war with Mexico could be on the agenda. Fargo’s job is to learn if a maverick Mexican was building an army to plunge south of the border, and if so, where exactly was he hiding his army. And once discovered The Trailsman was to call in the U.S. Army before the Mexican managed to ignite a new war between America and Mexico. But how do you find, never mind stop, a lethal legion that killed like devils and vanished like ghosts? Looks like Fargo is on a Mexican slayride that can only lead to his own desert grave…

A book that combines political intrigue with the usual elements that make up a Trailsman book. There’s action galore and plenty of mystery. Then there’s the women – a daughter who wants Fargo to free her kidnapped mother from the Mexican building his own army - but things aren’t always as they seem.

The author has written an easy to read book that throws up lots of challenges for Fargo, his characters are memorable and he builds his story well to its rousing final showdown.

This book also has a superb cover, you can almost hear the clattering of the horses hooves as they race over the rocky ground.

Gold of Cortes

by Tim McGuire
Leisure, June 2000

This is the third book to feature Tim McGuire’s character Clay Cole: The Rainmaker.

Amid the dust and desolation of southwest Texas lies a secret that has lasted for centuries - the hidden treasure of Aztec artifacts hoarded by Hernan Cortez. When Clay Cole finds English Lord Nigel Apperson and Dr. Jane Reeves wandering the Texas desert, searching for the mythical prize, he agrees to sign on as their scout. Together they confront Texas Rangers, desperadoes, and the relentless Major Miles Perry, whose driving desire is to court-martial Cole for treason at Little Big Horn - treason Cole never committed. And that’s just for starters...

Tim McGuire’s mix of very different people make for a journey of gripping reading. There’s a battle of wills between those driven by gold lust and those who’d rather not lose their lives to renegade Comanches, there’s the struggle of who to believe about the events that have lead to Cole being wanted for treason. There’s double-cross and soul searching. All told in a fast paced story of believable characters.

One of the admirable qualities of McGuire’s presentation of Clay Cole is that The Rainmaker isn’t the most intelligent of people, he doesn’t read, struggles with lifestyles outside of his own, which combine to make him come across as a very real person who is easy to relate too.

The action is first rate as the story races along to its spectacular finish. An ending that purposely leaves a few threads dangling, making it impossible not to want to read the next book in the series as soon as possible!

Sunday 10 August 2008

Slocum #8

as by Jake Logan
Playboy, 1976

Godley came out of Chicago with a bankroll, twenty hired killers and a plan. He would find and bring back the greatest Wild West spectacle of all time - the bones of Crazy Horse. For pleasure he brought his beautiful blonde mistress. For insurance he hired Joe Kidd, a sadist with a sheriff’s star.

Jim Beckett came from Denver. Half black, half white, an adopted Indian Chief and famous mountain man, he was a hero rapidly slipping into insanity.

Slocum was the man in the middle, hired by Godley as a tracker, and no matter what the cost, he was determined to have the blonde and the bankroll – even if it meant being the only man left alive.

And interesting plot, written by Martin Smith as Jake Logan, that’s filled with double-cross and crazy characters. Smith comes up with many gruesome ways to kill off the men making up Godley’s party as Beckett attempts to stop them finding Crazy Horse’s grave.

For a series of books that are sold as adult westerns there is very little sex in the story, that which it does contain is over in a couple of paragraphs.

There are a couple of plot-lines that made me raise an eyebrow such as the timeline in regard to Slocum’s age and also the fact that they supposedly find Crazy Horse’s grave as I thought this has never happened, but remembering this is fiction rather than fact makes this easy to overlook and the story be enjoyed for what it is.

One of the better Slocum books I’ve read.


 a Ralph Compton novel
by Peter Brandvold
Signet, April 2005

Ex-gunslinger Taos Tommy Navarro now works on the Bar-V ranch, but even though he’s trying to forget his past others aren’t willing to let him. Karla Vannorsell, the Bar-V owner’s granddaughter comes to him in a time of need and he turns her away. Now she’s gone missing, hunting for her man, a Mexican vaquero who she intended to marry, a man her grandfather thought beneath her, a man he sent away. Now Karla is out looking for him in a harsh and deadly desert ruled by ferocious Apaches.

Peter Brandvold presents the reader with a fast moving tale that has a tough male lead and an equally tough heroine in Karla. It’s her that will face the strongest challenge, the cruelest lesson, as she discovers that love can mean killing the thing you cherish...

Navarro seems to find himself one-step behind Karla as he attempts to track her down and bring her home. Karla's fate seems set when she’s taken by a group of vicious slavers and imprisoned in an outlaw town. This presents Navarro with impossible odds, a challenge he’s got to take on.

If you want an action packed book filled with a harsh landscape, savage men - and women - and brutal violence all combined in an exciting read then you can’t let this slip by you.

Me? I’m eagerly looking forward to reading Peter Brandvold’s next Compton novel, Bullet Creek, and the return of Taso Tommy Navarro.

Saturday 9 August 2008

Outlaws #3

by Chet Cunningham
Leisure, November 1989

Johnny Williams was a gambler by nature, a hard drinking, hard playing man who never let another player get the best of him – except once, years before, when a cardshark with less integrity than a weasel cheated him out of $15,000. Now Johnny was a little bit older and a hell of a lot wiser, and he swore to beat Francis X. Delany at his own game, or die trying.

They were the youngest lawbreakers on the frontier, all six had a vendetta to settle, and they vowed to ride together until everyone of them had tasted revenge. Now they were heading to San Francisco to help Johnny even the score, but what they didn’t know was that the only thing faster than Delany’s dealing hand was his shooting hand – and Johnny’s life wasn’t worth a pair of deuces.

Chester Cunningham presents the reader with a fast moving book that’s an easy and quick read. There’s not much depth to the plot, Williams desire to beat Delany in one of the biggest card games ever being it. There is a small side story about one of the other Outlaws losing his virginity that produces some humorous moments but does seem to come across as padding.

The two major card games in this story could have offered a great opportunity for tense reading and I think Cunningham missed out here as there’s none. It’s all what each player holds in his hand and who wins or loses right upto the end.

There is a major surprise in this book though, and that’s that one of the Outlaws dies, which for me is a bit more realistic than six men surviving every life threatening scenario they encounter.

At the time this was written Chester Cunningham was having quite a few books published, many of them westerns, maybe this book is a victim of that, as the simple plot gives an impression of a book quickly written.

The Vigilante #3

by Jory Sherman
Berkley, December 2007

Lew Zane gunned down the men who murdered his parents, and their families won’t rest until he’s swinging from the end of a rope. But Lew is ready to stop running and become a husband to Carol Smith and a father to her children. Wayne Smith took out a price on his wife’s head in the form of an insurance policy. When he murders Carol and his own children in cold blood, he destroys Lew’s last chance at finding peace in the world. Now, Lew must once again take up the role of vigilante as he heads to Santa Fe to deliver the only brand of justice a man like Wayne Smith will understand…

This is the third book in the Vigilante series and it begins moments after book two ended.

As Lew once more hits the justice trail he finds that Marshal Blackheart is also hunting Wayne Smith and himself. This allows author Jory Sherman to add complications to what could have been a straight forward plot.

Sherman spends a bit of time “fleshing out” his characters by telling their background – which having read the previous two books I found took up too much of the story as much of it was already known to me. Sherman’s writing is easy to read, poetic at times – particularly when describing landscapes or creating atmosphere.

Again Lew finds himself riding alongside an attractive young lady who starts to get interested in him, something Lew tries to discourage. And as Smith draws together a gang for a robbery you just know Blackhawk and Lew will end up fighting alongside each other.

The story has a satisfactory ending, and leaves a plot-line open for another book, one I’m hoping will come soon.

Definitely worth a read.

Friday 8 August 2008

Longarm #315

as by Tabor Evans
Jove, February 2005

The army sent out the cavalry – but it never came back. Now it’s up to Longarm to track down sixteen men. And he won’t be riding this mission alone – whether he likes it or not. Harriet, a fiery beauty whose lover is amoung the lost cavalry, has taken it upon herself to be part of the search party. Longarm isn’t quite sure what her real story is. But he knows enough not to trust anyone – especially a woman who claims her heart is taken when her eyes say something very different…

It’s not just the missing soldiers that Longarm has problems finding in this fast moving story. There’s the gang of outlaws who appear out of nowhere and disappear just as easily. If that’s not enough vanishing people the woman Longarm has his eye on, and her Uncle, suddenly disappear too. And to top it all just who is behind the attempts on his life?

A book filled with questions and intrigue, like why does Harriet wear spectacles of clear glass? The action comes thick and furious as Longarm struggles to trust anyone in his quest to find the missing patrol.

As is usual for this author, James Reasoner writing as Tabor Evans, the book is sprinkled with Longarm’s traits, something other authors seem to fail to do more often than not.

James Reasoner has you believing you know what is going on until he springs twist upon twist to the plot. All this makes for an exciting and gripping tale.

This book is definitely worth a read for any western reader and if you’re a fan of Longarm too then make sure you don’t miss this one!

The Regulator #11

as by Dale Colter
Harper, Jan. 1994

When Sam Slater rides into the town of Slipshod, Wylie Fortune – a killer with a five hundred dollar price on his head – is his for the taking. It’s easy pickings for Slater until the desert massacre of the 10th Cavalry explodes in a blaze of bullets, and he’s the fall guy. With nothing less than a reward for recouping twenty thousand dollars in stolen gold at stake, Slater must outshoot the army and Rowdy Burton’s gang in a bloody battle that begins and ends in a hail of hot lead.

There’s plenty of fast paced action in this book as Sam Slater, The Regulator follows this trail of death. If the above isn’t enough the author also throws into the mix a renegade band of Apache, whose leader, Huerfano, will bring back painful memories from Slater’s past, memories that can only be paid for in death.

The book builds well, with Slater having quite a bit of bad luck as well as good. His character of a man who only cares about himself and getting his bounty comes across strongly. The support cast is portrayed equally as well, the half-breed Creel being a particular favourite.

The book is filled with violence; often savage, and I felt the inclusion of the Siwel cousins – a couple of wannabe bounty hunters - provide some lighter moments that balance the brutality out well.

To my knowledge this is the only entry in the series from this particular author, Preston Lewis, and it’s a shame he didn’t do more. Definitely one of the better entries in this twelve book series.

Worth looking for if you like tough, gritty westerns.

Cutter #1

as by Duff McCoy
Pinnacle July 1990

‘Introducing Cutter, a new violent western series in the best-selling tradition of EDGE!’ So screams the bold print on the back of the book, but does it live up to this claim?

Jeb Cutter was an angry man. At sixteen he watched his pa get backshot by a hardcase gang set on stealing his circle C Ranch. The same scum hog-tied Jeb like a dumb bronc and hot-branded him on the chest, then left him to rot under the broiling Texas sun. But hate kept him alive, and he swore he’d get even. It took Jeb twelve years to get a lead on the bushwhackers who’d killed his pa and burned his flesh. Now Cutter was ready to ride the bloody vengeance trail.

This book is filled with graphic violence in all it’s blood spraying, bone shattering glory. There are gunfights, fistfights, torture and rape. Evil men abound. Men who get sadistic pleasure from maiming and killing.

And what of Cutter? Unfortunately he just blends right on in with the rest. Characterization almost none existent. I didn’t care if he succeeded in his quest for revenge or died. The story was very straight forward, an easy read that moved along at pace.

So did Cutter match up to Edge. Nope, no way, the lack of depth to the character being the main reason.

Will I read the next book? Probably.

Duff McCoy is a pseudonym used by Charley W. Perlberg.