Friday 31 October 2008

The Spanish Bit Saga #13

by Don Coldsmith
Bantam, July 1990

Once he was Jean Cartier, a French explorer. Now he is Woodchuck, a proud warrior of the Elk-Dog People whose mission is to introduce his son, Red Feather, to the crucial business of trading. To exchange furs for Spanish weapons of steel, father and son journey through hostile territory peopled by unpredictable tribes. But a warning from a former enemy makes Woodchuck realize too late that the real danger comes from his own countrymen. Soon Red Feather lies near death, wounded by the French and rescued by a beautiful Indian maiden, and his father’s only hope is to elude the Europeans before he too becomes a victim of vengeance.

This book continues, and ties up, a number of unfinished threads from previous books. Don Coldsmith keeps the reader guessing as to the true nature of the French’s mission and the book builds to an exciting chase through the desert.

Don Coldsmith’s superb writing skills create a gripping sense of urgency in Woodchucks race to find his wounded son. In these scenes he adds doubt and questions such as; will the French be hunting Red Feather for horse theft? Why are the French here? Are they here to try to capture Woodchuck who is a French deserter? And worst of all is the fear that Red Feather could be dying, that Woodchuck will be too late to save him.

It is only when The People are very near to home that Don Coldsmith reveals why the French are really here. A revelation that leads to tragedy and hints at a vast change for the coming generations of The People in how they will live their lives.

Another hit in this excellent series, although I would suggest that a newcomer to these books would have their enjoyment of this book greatly enhanced by reading the earlier numbers first.

Thursday 30 October 2008

Hang-Rope at Harmony

as by Ray Nolan
A Black Horse Western from Hale, 1994

Trouble had never been a stranger to Rafferty, but at Harmony a new kind of hell waited for him. From the moment he asked, ‘Was the right neck put in the noose?’ he was up against it. Boone Areington was a power in the county, a man of ruthless ambition. If his only son had a private motive for leading a lynch mob, so be it. He protected his own. But he’d not reckoned with the likes of Lew Rafferty, who stood back for no man – especially when robbed of the most cherished part of his past. Then there was Jenny – beautiful, and with reason to be bitter and suspicious.

Ray Nolan sure doesn’t believe in giving his hero easy passage through this story of murder and deceit. Nearly every character seems to have their own agenda, wants to use the hanging of what seems to have been an innocent man to their own advantage and greed.

At times Nolan allows the reader to begin to think they’ve worked out just who killed whom and why, but then he introduces another character or twist to completely throw the reader off track.

Even when Rafferty thinks he’s worked it out Nolan points out that there is no proof to Rafferty’s theory and the struggle continues in this swift-action filled tale.

If Ray Nolan’s other books are as good as this one then I’ll definitely be hunting them out.

Wednesday 29 October 2008

The Gun-Shy Kid

as by Barry Cord
Belmont Tower, 1957

Looking for his missing brother, Kip Nunninger rode into dangerous Antelope Valley, and nothing was going to stop him. But he was a boy on a man’s errand, and the Valley watched him, knowing that he’d be gunned down before he grew to be a man. Kip was sure that Antelope Valley held the truth to his brother’s disappearance. He didn’t know that it also held a bullet and a gravesite, both with his name on them!

This is your typical youngster out of his elements plot who you know will be picked on but he’ll eventually come out on top – or is it?

Barry Cord is a pseudonym for Peter Germano and he always has a few tricks up his sleeve to throw the reader off track, although here I did work out the main twist to the story early on.

As well as strong male characters Germano includes a very strong female lead too.

This is a story filled with greed, love, jealousy and murder. A story that doesn’t end as you’d expect for some of the characters.

Perhaps not the best Barry Cord book I’ve read but certainly worth a look.

Monday 27 October 2008

The Gunsmith #43

as by J.R. Roberts
Charter, August 1985

Clint Adams has had a number of strange assignments in his time, but none more unusual than acting as a bodyguard for a Japanese ambassador – and a prized statue of the Golden Horseman.

As the train bearing Clint and the Japanese delegation travels cross-country, outlaws, enemy samurai and ninja assassins are all determined to claim the Horseman. The Gunsmith and the ambassador’s samurai escort face incredible odds in an East meets West adventure that tests the Gunsmith’s skills with the ultimate challenge of survival!

The front cover of this book – and all the Gunsmith books – claims that this is The All-Action Western Series, and in this case that label is definitely correct. There seems to be an inexhaustible supply of enemy ninja for Clint and his companions to deal with. As well as bullets tearing through flesh, there’s an equal amount of severed limbs and heads as most of the other characters preferred weapons are swords. All these savage confrontations are described in all their gory detail making for bloody and brutal read.

The plot isn’t complicated and the story flows at great speed making this book a fast read.

The Golden Horseman should appeal to both fans of The Gunsmith series and those who like the more violent type of western.

Saturday 25 October 2008

Cutter #4

as by Duff McCoy
Pinnacle, August 1991

Taken prisoner by Mexican rurales, Jeb Cutter is sold as slave labour to work in the mining camps of Don Hernandez. Cutter soon finds himself on the wrong end of a bullwhip, and, with each stroke of the lash, he swore to make his jailers pay, and pay dear. When the camp explodes in a full scale revolt, Cutter's hate feeds the killing frenzy and, dealing double-aught death, he cuts his own bloody trail to freedom through anyone who dares to get in his way!

Charley Perlberg (Duff McCoy) once more seems intent on shocking his readers with this graphically told story of almost non-stop violence. Gunfights, beatings, whippings, beheadings are all told in savage detail, but it's the many scenes of torture – and disregard for human life – that'll have the reader urging Cutter on in his bid for freedom.

I did feel, at times, that some of the types of torture, for instance the cringe worthy brutality carried out on male members, were included just for the sake of shocking than anything else.

Like the other books in the Cutter series (this is the last one) it was impossible to like, or relate to, any of the characters and even the twist ending was a little too obvious.

Another book for those who enjoy books full of savage bloodletting and not much else.

Friday 24 October 2008

The Trailsman #317

as by Jon Sharpe
Signet, March 2008

When young Mabel Landry needs a good man to find her brother – who disappeared in an unexplored region of the Rocky Mountains – Skye Fargo is more than happy to take the job. But he's not so happy when mule-stubborn Mabel follows him, because dying in the wilds is much easier than living there. Saddled with the sassy lass, the Trailsman must carve a bloody trail through danger and deception if either of them is going to come back alive.

Jon Sharpe (this time David Robbins writing behind this pseudonym) has really come up with a winner here. Superb characterization – especially that of Mabel – will have the reader sharing the feelings of frustration, anger and hate, along with Fargo.

Mabel must be one of the most infuriating females written into a Trailsman book for a long time, just read her reactions to the appearance of a bear, and the hairbrush incident, to confirm my opinion. But even after wanting to see her get a good kick up the backside you'll find yourself warming to her.

The main villain of the story, Skagg, is another extremely well drawn character, one you'll be soon urging Fargo to deal with.

And what of the mystery element of the plot? That had me guessing, just what was it the Indians knew about that lead to so much brutality and death?

David Robbins masterfully weaves all these threads together in a gripping tale that is hard to put down, springing some horrific and savage surprises along the way, before everything comes to a violent conclusion.

Wednesday 22 October 2008

Bullet Creek

A Ralph Compton Novel
by Peter Brandvold
Signet, August 2005

Navarro, a retired gunslinger, works as a holster at the Bar-V Ranch. He enjoys working for Paul Vannorsdell, but has plans of moving North with the women he loves to open a new ranch and create a new life. Vannorsdell has big dreams too. He wants to buy the Rancho de Cava from an old friend, Don Francisco. Everything seems to being going to plan until Don Francisco is found dead by Bullet Creek. Vannorsdell is suspect number one and soon a war erupts and Navarro finds himself in the middle of a torrent of lead...

This is the second book to feature Navarro and like the first it’s full of action. All through the book Peter Brandvold carefully gives clues as to who killed Don Francisco, only thing is he masterfully points the finger towards a number of different people which makes the book difficult to put down until the truth is revealed.

So a book that reads like a murder mystery yet never looses touch with the fact that it is foremost a western. A book filled with strong characters of both sexes on both sides of the range war. People struggling to survive the violent situation they find themselves in and unmask a killer.

A great read.

Tuesday 21 October 2008

Dakota Lawman #3

by Bill Brooks
HarperTorch, October2005

The third, and probably last, book in the Dakota Lawman series, as Harper seem to have stopped publishing westerns.

Jake Horn is still hiding behind the badge of lawman in the Dakota town of Sweet Sorrow and his discovery of a dead ranch hand is soon bringing his demons home. Jake recognizes a murder when he sees one but asking too many questions of the wrong people is asking for trouble, and suddenly expert killers are gathering with their sights on the lawman. As the big gundown approaches Jake finds there's nowhere to hide when five shooters blinded by hate won't leave Sweet Sorrow until he's dead.

Unlike the previous two books in this series, Bill Brooks gives some of his characters hope, gives them something to live for – even if this could soon be taken away with a bullet.

Most of the people from the earlier books have a part to play in this story of brutality and savage death. The killing at the beginning being particularly horrific and will have the reader hoping the perpetrators will meet an equally savage end.

Bill Brooks also includes other adult themes such as homosexuals in both sexes. In fact the female lovers have a major role to play in the life of a gunman hunting Horn for a long ago killing he didn't commit.

Like his other books Brooks spends quite a bit of time introducing us to new characters and explaining their backgrounds, how they came to be the kind of person they are, which at times I felt held up the main flow of the story.

The book – indeed the trilogy of books – comes to a satisfactory ending here, and once more I'd recommend this series to readers who like the more brutal – in theme and action - type of western.

Monday 20 October 2008

The Derby Man #3

by Gary McCarthy
Dell, April 1981

This is the third book in The Derby Man series.

Darby Buckingham, the portly New York writer, had an appetite for local colour to add punch to his newest dime novel. But when Hench Hightower’s men rode into town with a herd of half-dead mustangs, Darby had no stomach for what he saw.

Three renegades hungry for justice rode out with him: a trigger-quick kid with a score to settle, an old trail hand, and a beautiful girl with revenge in her heart and a Colt six-gun on her shapely hip. It was time to end a vicious cattle baron’s control of the Nevada range…time to end the killing of mustangs. Darby looked like a dude, but he’d fight like a demon. Caught up in a stampeding adventure to rival any fiction, Buckingham swore he’d live to tell the tale.

Even more than in the previous two books, Gary McCarthy, puts Darby Buckingham into a situation that has him totally out of his depths. This gives the author the opportunity to add some fascinating information about catching wild mustangs – and according to the notes at the end, most are based on fact.

Like the other Derby Man books, this one is filled with exciting action and many humorous moments, sometimes both elements combined in one scene: such as trying to catch a mustang from a tree!

Gary McCarthy paces the book beautifully, his descriptions of landscape and action being extremely visual at times. His characters are memorable – both good and bad – and all the plot threads are tied up neatly at the end.

This is another book that proves the strength of The Derby Man series.

Sunday 19 October 2008

The Outlaw and the Lady

 as by Chap O’Keefe
A Black Horse Western from Hale, 1994

Tod Larraby was a deadly shot, an ex-Confederate guerrilla with a reputation to match. But when he was tricked into shooting a crooked gambler in a Colorado mining town, a dubious price was set for his freedom. Lord Buckhampton, a bull-headed British capitalist with investments in the state, needed Larraby to guide him to his delinquent son, who’d vanished into the wildest parts of the Rockies with a half-breed whore from a Leadville bordello.

Against Larraby’s advice, Buckhampton insisted they take along his second wife Julia. But would Tod be able to complete his task and win his liberty faced as he was with death and deception?

Chap O’Keefe, really author Keith Chapman, has created some excellent characters in this book, Lord Buckhampton really comes across as a pompous man who you will be hoping will get his comeuppance soon after you meet him.

The book moves quickly from beginning to end, and has many action packed scenes. Throughout the tale there is a growing attraction between Tod and Julia but this can’t possibly become anything more than that can it?

There are plenty of surprises along the way too, some of the characters not quite being who they say they are, and a savage gang of outlaws add further hardship to the task of finding Buckhampton’s son.

For once we have a Black Horse Western with a cover that almost matches a scene within the story.

Definitely worth picking up a copy, if you can find one.

Friday 17 October 2008

Gunslinger #2

as by Charles C. Garrett
Sphere, 1978

John Ryker was a gunsmith. One of the best in the West. But now circumstances had forced him to become a bounty hunter too. And his gun-skill made him the most lethal one-man slaughter-force around.

Emiliano Muerta didn’t know just how deadly Ryker was when he arrogantly ordered him to create the fanciest handgun ever made just to satisfy Muerta’s vanity. And when Muerta tried to welsh on the deal, he didn’t know the savage and violent price Ryker would make him pay for his treachery…

After his father’s death in the first book of the series, Ryker is at a loss as what to do with himself, and this is when he finds himself tricked by the fat lawman, Nolan, to head out on the bounty trail. This provides some great reading about Ryker’s self-doubts about his abilities to be a bounty hunter due to his lack of experience in hunting outlaws, and of using guns in anger.

Each of the Gunslinger books features a different gun, and all the books contain loads of information about guns; in this case it’s a standard Dragoon that Ryker will work on to turn into a work of art. How he does this is all explained in fascinating detail.

Once Muerta double-crosses Ryker you know you’re in for a bloodbath as Ryker takes on the whole gang single-handedly. All the killing described in gory detail as only Angus Wells can. (Charles C. Garrett is a pseudonym shared by Wells and Laurence James)

Like most of the books to come form the group of writers known as the Piccadilly Cowboys, there are plenty of references to their other series heroes. In this case in the form of memories of them calling into Ryker’s gunsmith store.

For me, this was always one of the best in the series, and I’d recommend it to anyone who has an interest in guns of the west and likes their westerns filled with savage, bloody action.

Wednesday 15 October 2008

Longarm #305

as by Tabor Evans
Jove, April 2004

An Indian war party is ready to massacre a group of miners, blaming them for the murder of their clan sister. The miners say they only found the body – and they may be telling the truth. But the Indians have only given Longarm until the dark of the moon to catch the killer – just eight days – or they will wipe out the miners’ camp. Facing such a fearsome fate, the miners – and the murderer – may take flight. So far, only Longarm’s reputation is preventing a bloodbath. But he has very few clues – and about two hundred suspects. This is a job that’s going to take some deep digging…

Tabor Evans provides an entertaining read laced with humorous dialogue. Not as much gun action as expected but the story still races along as time begins to run out for Longarm.

There’s some interesting characters in the book too, namely the prisoner Longarm has at the beginning of the book, and the four men named Fat’s Randisi, Long Haired Jim Reasoner, Paul Newcomb and Sherman (names all western fans should recognize).

And just when you think the case is solved, Tabor Evans slips in a twist to the tale.

Maybe not the most action packed Longarm book you could read but still a worthy entry into the series.

Tuesday 14 October 2008


by Tim McGuire
Leisure, March 2005

Book five in the series about The Rainmaker: Clay Cole.

Living as a wanted man has been mighty tough for Clay Cole. Now he’s stopped running. The Rainmaker is turning himself in to finally face the charges of treason, a crime he didn’t commit, to try to clear his name once and for all. But circumstances means the law has something far more dangerous than a trial in mind for Cole. A brutal killer has escaped from prison with the aid of his gang and a Gatling gun - and he’s taken Cole’s friend as a hostage. The Rainmaker will now do anything to rescue his friend...even if it’s the last thing he does as a free man.

The tough writing style of this episode in the life of Clay Cole presents the reader with savage outlaws and brutal treatment of their victims, that, perhaps, makes this the most violent work to come from Tim McGuire yet.

The Rainmaker’s character is still as compelling as ever as he finds himself forced into the manhunt of the title. Cole also finds himself with an unwanted companion, that of wanna-be writer Richard Johnson.

McGuire knows how to create unforgettable characters and how to pace his book to a rousing conclusion - and once more leaves the reader wanting more as he leaves The Rainmaker needing answers to a feeling he hasn’t known for a long time.

And leaves me eager to read the next book in the series.

Sunday 12 October 2008

Morgan Kane #34

as by Louis Masterson
Corgi, 1976.
Originally published in Norway 1970.

Kane was a U.S. Marshal again. Six months after he’d thrown down his badge and quit, he was back - but only for a trial period. Old friends at Fort Leavenworth saw this was a new Kane: harsher, more ornery and brutal than before - and they gave him just one chance to prove himself...

Kane hardly knew where Nicaragua was – some damn fool country in central America, he figured – but that was where they were sending him. And when he got there, he began to feel kinda easier in his mind: in that steamy country, he could smell death in the air…

Louis Masterson (Kjell Hallbing) really gives his hero a hard time in this book, has him struggling to survive in an environment alien to him, deep in the Nicaragua jungle, where he can trust no-one.

Masterson is an expert at describing conditions, when Kane suffers in the heat then so does the reader. It’s not just the climate and landscape that Masterson writes so vividly about: it’s emotions too. When Gwen Arling witnesses Kane preparing to face the ‘demon’ of the story, she sees something in Kane very few others have: fear.

The fact that Kane feels fear and begins to crack under the strain, is something that brings me back to Masterson’s books time and again, for this is an emotion often forgotten by other authors, one that makes Kane very human, a man one can relate to more easily than the nothing scares me, he-man heroes, that can be found in other westerns.

This is a book that again underlines the strength of this series, a book that has me wanting to read more.

Friday 10 October 2008

"Whadda We Do Now, Butch?"

Another in my series of occasional reviews of books that are not quite westerns but should appeal to western readers.

by Shel Talmy
Pan, 1978

‘Some damned Yankee detective held me up with a story about some other damn Yanks,’ said the chief superintendent, ‘desperadoes he called them…small-time crooks with the improbably names of Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid!’

London in the good old 1900’s, Hansom cabs on Sloane Street and every gentleman with his club in St. James. Jonathan De Ford staying at the Cadogan Hotel in his interminable pursuit of Butch and Sundance who are living in Mayfair, as the guest of Lord Reggie Ratlett.

If you thought the Old West’s very latest legends were filled with lead in darkest Bolivia, R.I.P. … then you will be fascinated to learn how they managed to stay alive and afloat all the way to London town and into the – very secret – service of H.M. Government…

As soon as you start reading this it becomes obvious Talmy has used the portrayal of Butch and Sundance as by Paul Newman and Robert Redford on which to base his characterizations of these two famous outlaws. Not only that there’s the inclusion of Jonathan De Ford and many memories of scenes from that excellent film. There are many moments of humour too and a great supporting cast of characters, both fictional and real. Sundance gets to teach poker to a group of men who include Conan Doyle and Winston Churchill. Meanwhile Butch is being interviewed for a newspaper by an author called H.G. Wells.

Talmy writes well and soon had me caught up his fast moving story as Butch and Sundance find themselves, reluctantly, working for the British Government against the Germans and the threat of an inevitable war. Everything builds up to an exciting train robbery, which reveals that not everyone is who they say they are. And all the time Butch and Sundance are trying to keep one step ahead of De Ford as his obsession with catching them, and having them deported, which could lead to the failure of the mission and worse, our heroes deaths.

If you’re a fan of the film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, then I reckon, like me, you’ll enjoy this book too.

Thursday 9 October 2008

Shelter #1

as by Paul Ledd
Zebra, 1980

After seven years in prison for a crime he did not commit, ex-Confederate soldier Shelter Morgan was finally free. In the waning days of war, seeing all was lost, the senior officers had looted the Confederate treasury. Blinded by his loyalty, Shelter had been a fool. His comrades had used him in their scheme and when it was over, he was left with the guilt while they escaped wealthy men.

Now they were scattered across the nation, living soft lives under assumed names – their crime buried and forgotten. Only Shelter Morgan did not forget. If anything, the seven years in prison only increased his smouldering anger. In the name of justice he would get his revenge, even if it took the rest of his life not one of those murdering, thieving men would get away.

The first in a series that ran for thirty-three books, and as far as I can tell each book sees Shelter tracking down a different ex-member of his unit. The series also falls under the label of adult westerns, and there is much of that kind of action in this book.

How Shelter was tricked is told in a number of flashbacks as he begins to hunt for his first target. Tracking this man allows Shelter to become involved in a number of dangerous situations as he rides his vengeance trail. One of the best of these being when he is trapped on a train that’s frozen to the rails and at any moment it will be buried beneath an avalanche.

I don’t know who wrote the blurb but for some reason they call the hero Shelter Dorsett instead of Shelter Morgan.

Paul Ledd is a pseudonym for Paul Lederer, and here he’s written a fast moving and easy read. The plot is pretty straightforward and offers little in the way of surprises, but does make for an entertaining book.

This story, I’d say, is no better or any worse than any of the other adult westerns being produced in the 1980’s.

Wednesday 8 October 2008

The Trailsman #270

as by Jon Sharpe
Signet, April 2004

Some low-down varmint in Mountain View, Colorado, has framed Curt Cates for murder. And when Skye Fargo goes in search of the truth to set matters straight, he ends up in the same lot of trouble – only worse. After suffering a blow to the head, Fargo can’t remember a blasted thing about himself…or that dead girl under the bed. To trap the real killer, the Trailsman has to fill in the blanks. But the whole town is after him for killing the girl – and all he has to go on are his instincts…

This is a fast moving story with plenty of action that has a collection of intriguing central characters, some involved in a sub-plot. As time begins to run out for Cates you will find yourself wondering if Fargo can save him, especially after rumours begin to come out that perhaps Cates is really guilty after all.

I found this to be a hard book to put down as the did Cates commit murder or didn't he questions began to surface, and if he didn't who did the killing. The book also includes some suspensful scenes such as when Fargo is trapped in a dark cellar with three rattlesnakes for company. All the story threads are tied up neatly by the end. And was Cates guilty? You'll have to read it to find out the answer to that question...

I believe the author behind the pseudonym of Jon Sharpe, for this book, is Ed Gorman.

Well worth hunting down a copy.

Tuesday 7 October 2008

Comanchero Rendezvous

as by Mark Bannerman
A Black Horse Western from Hale, 1999

Major John Willard is sent on a special mission by the president himself. This will take him to the Staked Plains of Texas, a region both repellent and menacing, a land of death inhabited by Indians and outlaws. Well hidden within its wildest depths is the stronghold of an embittered band of ex-Confederates. Even though the Civil War is over they continue to fight on by inciting the Indians to attack the Federal Army. Willard’s mission is to bring peace to the region.

This author (Anthony Lewing writing as Mark Bannerman) doesn’t believe in making life easy for his hero, even before the mission has hardly begun the complications set in. It seems that people other than the president have an interest in the outcome of Willard’s mission, such as Edward Sanderson and his mysterious jade-eyed daughter Lauretta, and soon he’s plunged into a world of dark secrets that make this book compelling reading.

Willard isn’t the perfect hero either; he makes mistakes, bad mistakes, which put both his mission and life on the line more than once. It’s also good to see that the usual hero meets girl and they fall in love and live happily ever after doesn’t turn out that way which adds to the elements of surprise and twists and turns of the story.

Interesting to see that the author includes quite a lot of wildlife in his descriptive paragraphs, such as moths and bats, something that many authors seem to overlook.

Another great read from an author that is fast becoming one of my favourites from the Black Horse stable.

Saturday 4 October 2008

Gunslick - the complete series

GUNSLICK #1: A MAN PURSUED by J.G. White - Leisure, January 1990

Matt Sutton had a gun hand quicker than greased lightning and that’s what did him in. It sent him to prison for two years although the $50,000 he’d stolen was never found. Now he was out and intended to retrieve that missing money but first he’d reclaim Diana Logan who’d been patiently waiting for the release of her man. Their plans were to start a new life in California but there were plenty of people wanting to get their greedy hands on that money and see Matt Sutton dead.

GUNSLICK #2: THE RAWHIDERS by J.G. White - Leisure, March 1990

On the trail to California Matt Sutton and Diana Logan decided to stop for a while at Charlie Shute’s ranch. It seemed like a peaceful enough place until Charlie’s old gang decided to liven things up. Then the lead began to fly like mosquitoes in a swamp and the vilest bunch of cutthroats who ever slapped leather captured Diana. Now Sutton had been angry, now he was mad. He’d get Diana back because she was something special - something worth dying for...

GUNSLICK #3: LONG RIDE TO VENGEANCE by J.G. White - Leisure, December 1990

Riding the trail to California Matt Sutton’s past is about to catch up with him. Long before he met Diana, Sutton had gunned down a man to defend his old lover. Matt wanted to forget that part of his past but six of the orneriest bounty hunters in the Old West wouldn’t let him. They were after the price on Matt’s head and after one look at Diana they knew they had an unexpected bonus. Captured by the bounty hunters Sutton buys time by tricking them into believing there’s gold hidden in the town of Vengeance, now Sutton must act quick to free himself and Diana before he ends up on the wrong end of a hanging rope.

HANGING PARTY by James Gordon White - A Black Horse Western from Hale, 2006

Claiming to be wrongly accused of murder, drifter Rafe Lonis takes Diana Logan hostage and leaves Matt Sutton in his clothes to face a blood-mad hanging party. Now Matt must elude to posse if he’s to save Diana. It isn’t long before Sutton, Lonis and the posse must team up to fight their way through Indian country, a task that’s made all the harder knowing that one of the posse men is the real murderer. An iron-willed rancher and his gun-happy son add to the conflict before the murderer can be unmasked and brought to justice.

BARBARY COAST GUNDOWN by James Gordon White - A Black Horse Western from Hale, 2006

Finally Matt Sutton and Diana Logan arrive in California and a brush with outlaws leads to a chance meeting with Percy Wilberforce, a private detective from London. He recruits Matt and Diana to help him rescue an English countess abducted in the notorious Barbary Coast district and thought to be in the harem of a Chinese tong leader. A bloody riot in Chinatown, a vicious street gang, and a showdown with the tong leader and his hatchet men all lie in wait to turn the dreams of a new life in California into a deadly nightmare.

James Gordon White uses the technique of writing short chapters, or small groups of paragraphs, about one character before moving onto someone else superbly - often leaving them in a cliff-hanger situation - hooking the reader to keep them turning pages, making it almost impossible to put the books down.

Matt Sutton and Diana Logan are strong characters whose dreams for a better life will strike a chord in anyone, making them people you can easily relate to.

Reading all five books in succession makes it easier to pick out some of James G. White’s writing traits. In all the books Diana is there to be the damsel in distress, the heroine in need of rescue - although she isn’t the helpless female as this type of character is sometimes portrayed.

I got the impression White enjoys a bit of bondage, as Diana does seem to get tied up whilst scantily clad regularly.

Hale published the first three of these books as Black Horse Westerns too, after they’d been published by Leisure, with Hale dropping the Gunslick series title. For those who don’t enjoy explicit sex in their westerns then I’d suggest finding the Hale publications, as these scenes will have been cut from the first three stories.

White also seems to enjoy writing about fistfights as these are very prominent in the action in all the books. There’s also a lot of gunplay and the descriptions of all the violence is, at times, graphically told.

For me it came as a welcome surprise to discover that James Gordon White had written more stories about Matt Sutton and Diana Logan years after the first three had been published. I also got the impression that Long Ride to Vengeance was intended to end the Gunslick series as the final paragraph seemed to be a conclusion to the series and I wondered where the fourth book would fit in. White doesn’t explain this, perhaps hopes no-one will remember this paragraph as there’s such a big gap between the third and fourth books and he finishes Hanging Party with the same paragraph – with some very minor changes.

As Barbary Coast Gundown reads like it’ll be the last book starring Matt Sutton and Diana Logan I can’t help but feel a little disappointed, as I’d like to read more of their adventures. Perhaps they’ll return in another sixteen years? I can only hope so. Meanwhile I’ll just have to hunt down White's other Hale westerns.

James Gordon White is an author I’d recommend to all fans of the western genre.

Deadwood Gulch

 a Ralph Compton novel
by John Edward Ames
Signet, Nov. 2006

Bounty hunting for the last ten years has built Cas Everett a reputation as a quick-draw artist and the enmity of more hardcases than he’d care to admit. But he never expects that hatred to destroy his family. Returning to Texas he finds his home a charred ruin - and his parents and siblings dead and buried. Cas follows the killer’s bloody trail to Deadwood Gulch, where law isn’t welcome...and justice is bought with bullets and blood.

A book that, perhaps, jumps on the popularity of the TV series Deadwood and Al Swearengen, minus the bad language. But does that matter? Not to me.

Cas Everett and his sidekick Yancy Carlson are likeable characters, Carlson’s inexperience in the world outside his own home allowing Ames, through Everett, to explain about life as a fast-gun, surviving on the trail, and how Deadwood Gulch came into being. This though, at times, does come across as a history lesson which could be why the first 100 or so pages of the book seem a little slow.

Nothing really happens as Everett and Carlson head to Deadwood Gulch. Once there, the action picks up, in fact becomes almost non-stop. Ames also includes a few humorous moments and also bases part of the plot around love.

If only this book hadn’t been so long, losing much of the first 100 pages would have made it a better read - for me. Shame, as I’ve enjoyed most of Ames other westerns, particularly those written as Judd Cole – and they were shorter books.

Friday 3 October 2008

Cutter #3

as by Duff McCoy
Pinnacle, February 1991

Jeb Cutter narrowly escapes with his life when attacked by some bloodthirsty Apache warriors. Hiding in a cave Cutter finds a stash of Winchesters and having lost his takes one. This rifle will be his downfall when Lieutenant Dwight Ashby points out this is one of a batch of stolen guns and accuses Cutter of being a gunrunner. Now Cutter wants revenge, he's gonna make the Lieutenant pay, and the gunrunners and the Apaches. One man against many – they're the kind of odds that Cutter likes.

The plot to this book is not all that complicated, there isn't room as most of the story is one very violent confrontation after another.

All the action is described in all its brutality, particularly that of the Apache attacks. Charley Perlberg (writing as Duff McCoy) seems intent on shocking the reader with drawn out death scenes, graphically portraying the killing of men, women and children alike.

With Cutter up against so many you have to wonder how he can take them all on and live. Perlberg uses the plot of Cutter playing his enemies off against each other to great effect to achieve this.

For those who enjoy non-stop violent action then you'll probably get a kick out of this, if you like a little more depth to your characters then you may find this book lacking, as I found it impossible to like – or care about the fate of – any of them.

Thursday 2 October 2008

Canyon O'Grady #8

as by Jon Sharpe
Signet, July 1990

The year is 1958; Kansas territory was due to be a state. The question was would it be slave or free. Both sides were willing to do anything for their cause, including killing. Buckeye Springs was becoming the centre of this violent struggle. A storekeeper is hanged but this death doesn’t seem to be part of the Kansas war. A US Marshal is sent to investigate and is killed. President Buchanan sends O’Grady in to find out who killed the Marshal and storekeeper and bring them to justice. And while he’s there see if he can bring some kind of law to Kansas.

This book manages to juggle the two plots of the story in a believable way. The fight to control Kansas allowing the author to put in some interesting historical facts. Having said that there is a bad mistake as some of the Northern raiders say they are going to burn Buckeye Springs to the ground in revenge for the sacking of Lawrence. I thought the attack on Lawrence was a few years later than this book was set.

Like other Jon Sharpe books this one has it’s mystery elements - who killed the storekeeper and why? There’s plenty of action, both gunplay and adult encounters, and strong characters of both sexes.

I believe the author behind the pseudonym of Jon Sharpe, for this entry in the series, is Chester Cunningham.

All in all an entertaining read.