Sunday 30 November 2008

Interview: David Robbins

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

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

You're most welcome.

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

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

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

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

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

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

Which writers influence you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Show me a writer who doesn't. :)

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

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

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

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

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

How important is historical accuracy in westerns?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I follow Poe's dictum referred to above.

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

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

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

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

WILDERNESS, first and foremost.

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

Which western writers would you recommend?

Today or yesteryear or all time?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is your favourite western movie and why?

SHANE. It typifies yet exalts the classic elements.

Finally, what do you read for pleasure?


Saturday 29 November 2008

Morgan Kane #23

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday 28 November 2008

Longarm and the Valley of Skulls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday 27 November 2008

Blade of Vengeance

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday 26 November 2008

Rogue Lawman #3

by Peter Brandvold
Berkley, April 2007

Ex-Deputy U.S. Marshal Gideon Hawk gives some bounty hunters a lethal lesson in how reputations are made. This leads to him being stuck with a beautiful prostitute who he is more than happy to leave with a troop of soldiers. These soldiers are also minding payroll money and a blaze of gunfire proves things are not what they appear to be. Now Hawk will make it a personal mission to make the bushwhackers pay the only way he knows how – with their lives.

This is the third book to feature Gideon Hawk and like those before it the story is filled with bloody violence. Each chapter throws up another deadly confrontation for Hawk.

Peter Brandvold’s work reminds me more of spaghetti westerns than those put out by Hollywood. They’re savage, brutal and paint vivid images. Most of his characters are strong, often without morals. In this book this is balanced by the inclusion of Lieutenant Primrose, a man sworn to capture and bring to legal justice the men who stole the payroll he was guarding. His duty, as he sees it, bringing him into conflict with the man he rides with, Gideon Hawk.

If fast moving, very violent, westerns are your preferred choice then you can’t go wrong with this book.

Sunday 23 November 2008

Interview: Tony Masero

The second interview to appear here is not with an author but an artist. For those who may not be as familiar with his name as western readers in the UK, Tony Masero's work appeared on two of the longest running western series produced in the UK. His work fronted many other books too. Tony has also been kind enough to share with us a new painting of a well known western character he did for his own amusement, you'll find this at the end of the interview.

Let me begin by thanking you for agreeing to this interview Tony, and providing some scans of the original artwork to help illustrate it.

My pleasure.

How old were you when you fist decided you wanted to make painting your career?

Well, I was born the son of an artist. My father, Gino Masero was a woodcarver and he put a pencil in my hand at a very early age so I guess it was somewhat pre-determined from those childhood days.

Was painting book covers an area you wanted to break into and how did you end up working for NEL (New English Library)?

It’s a strange story really. In 1960 I started at Hornsey College of Art in London after leaving school and studied Graphic Design there. Always being better at drawing than design, about half way through I decided I preferred Illustration to Graphics and asked the headmaster if I could change my course. With all the wonderfully encouraging and farsighted attitude that one could expect from the teaching profession in the sixties I was told I’d never make an illustrator. Not a chance, old boy. Guess I spent the next few years trying to prove him wrong.

I was pretty determined and eventually after some years working as a designer I packed it in and prepared some sample illustrations and hawked them around. It took a long time but eventually cracked it with NEL who were producing a great deal of pulp fiction at the time. It was a wonderful launching pad for an illustrator as one had to turn your hand to many different subjects and styles. A good training ground.

Do you find a particular medium reproduces better than another when going through the printing process, for instance acrylics rather than oils?

In commercial illustration, in the days before computer technology took over, it was quite often a matter of speed. Either to meet tight deadlines or, more basically, to earn more money. I started off by using mainly gouache for very tight, bright artwork. Later I moved to acrylics mainly for their quick drying capacity and finally oils which I found worked particularly well for skin tones. In the end it was often a mix of all three. Gouache dries rapidly but smudges if you’re not careful. Acrylic dries quickly and is a hard wearing medium. Oils take a long time to dry unless you mix a drying medium with them but this can alter the texture of the paint.

Did you begin to use an airbrush on the backgrounds of your later western covers?

Yes, once again speed played a part. The airbrush coats an area with a perfect graduation and it thankfully took over from the days when I used a lino cutting ink roller and two shades of colour to achieve a graduated sky as I did in many of the ‘Black Slaver’ series.

How big is the original artwork for a paperback novel?

It varies. As long as the artwork is in correct proportion to the jacket size it doesn’t matter. Obviously the bigger the artwork is, on reduction, the better it looks. The early Edge and Steele were about 15” x 10” but later some were produced at 30” x 20” size.

Did you have an interest in westerns before you started painting western covers or was it a case of, ‘I’ll painted anything as I need the money’?

Oh, big fan of western movies from early days. Still am.

The main western covers you are known for are those for George G. Gilman’s books. You took over as the artist for these series after they’d been running for a while so I guess you had to keep the look of Edge and Steele as created by the previous artists?

That’s certainly the case with the Edge series. With Steele I was allowed a freer hand. How the Eastwood look came about is quite funny really. I had done some samples for another Western series called ‘Herne the Hunter’ and my artwork ideas were rejected by the publisher. When the series eventually came out I saw that the chosen illustrator had used Clint as his basis for the character - so I thought, well, if he can get away with it why not me! And that’s how Steele got his look, only changing when Terry decided to give him a beard. Which, by the way, was a swipe from Sean Connery in ‘Robin and Marion’.

How did you decide on the content of the covers? Were you sent a synopsis of the story or discuss your ideas for the covers with Terry Harknett (George G. Gilman)?

Usually I received a brief synopsis and based the artwork around that although on some particular occasions I did discuss with Terry. For instance when he produced the Civil War trilogy and the beard thing. Terry was always very flexible and could integrate my visual ideas into his novels without a problem, working with him always went very smoothly.

Did painting western covers involve a lot of research to get details correct, such as clothing and weapons?

Every Illustrator had a huge library of reference and I was no exception. In those days you could buy model weapons quite easily - then villains started adapting them as usable firearms or as fakes in robberies so they no longer became available. Movie stills were a great resource and I also used a lot of self produced photographic reference. Polaroids mainly and some on 35 mm film. Nowadays its all far simpler with digital.

Keeping on the theme of guns, I believe you were the only the second artist to paint Adam Steele with a Colt Hartford, most others – including the American artist – had him wrongly using a Winchester.

This was Terry’s influence. He supplied the correct reference right at the beginning so it went from there.

Did you use real models to pose for the covers or were they all created on paper? The reason I ask is I seem to remember reading that some of your Edge covers were based on a popular English footballer of that time, George Best, and no-one can deny Steele’s resemblance to Clint Eastwood.

Real models were an expensive proposition in those days and I only used them if the commissioning company was prepared to pay, which was rarely. I inherited the Edge look from the original series illustrator, the late Dick Clifton Dey. He and Cecil Smith, the art director worked out the look together so I believe. George Best was a popular player at the time and with Dick’s own rather samed look they combined the two. When I took over I was younger, fitter and thinner in those days, so able to pose myself. Although finding so many ways to have a solo figure holding a gun on a cover was no mean feat.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that you very rarely showed the main character on a horse. Was this because it was difficult to include a horse in a vertical composition or was it simply because you didn’t like painting horses?

Mainly its the difficulty of fitting both man and beast into the format. A horse takes up a lot of room and the scale of the figures suffered as result. Witness ‘Edge meets Steele. No. 3”. I often had to resort to just a saddle or some part of the creature.

How come Edge was never shown wearing a Stetson?

He looked cooler without one. He is represented as ‘A Man Alone’ and I think hatless he somehow fitted that bill better.

There’s always been comments made about the height of Steele on the first Edge meets Adam Steele cover, I guess this is artistic licence in aid of composition?

Yep, that’ll work.

Was it your decision to use a more or less white background on early books in both series or was this something the publisher wanted? With the chance of title logo came more detailed backgrounds.

Edge was really the first Western series to use this format and, as far as I know, it was Cecil Smith, the Art Director at NEL, who designed the look. After that the formula was often copied by other publishers and I had many requests for western covers that looked ‘the same as Edge but different’.

The covers showing Edge coming through wanted posters, flags, and maps, and those with a shield or star behind him were effective. Did you have the freedom to take the covers in any direction you wanted?

Yes, once established as the main illustrator and as long as the book sales kept going up they were happy to leave me to my own devices.

You painted many superb covers for both the Edge and Steele series but do you have any personal favourites? I, and many other fans of the Gilman books, have always highly rated Steele #20: Wanted for Murder, and I really liked the portrait of Edge on #44: The Blind Side.

I enjoyed both of those covers. The Blind Side was a nice chance just to concentrate on a portrait style image and I was happy with the way Steele 20 came out too. The original reference for the background stimulated the idea of the muted tones. It was an old sepia tone photograph of a Victorian dock scene that I found in (would you believe it?) a recipe book for antique dishes.

If I have any one favourite its for a professional reason. It’s No. 30 ‘Waiting for a Train’ - mainly because I know the amount of work that went into getting the lighting just so.

The final Gilman book, Edge #61: The Rifle bares a strong resemblance to Dick Clifton-Dey’s original cover for the very first Edge book, I always thought this was a great idea, were you asked to do this or was it your decision?

This was my idea. I had always held a great respect for Dick Clifton Dey’s illustration work and that cover was a kind of tip of the hat to his passing. He did many covers outside the Western genre and in all of them he demonstrated an outstanding talent. We never actually met face to face but spoke often on the phone at the end of the era, when old style book illustration was being marginalised and superceded by inhouse computer use of photography and type.

Moving onto George G. Gilman’s third series, The Undertaker, did you come up with the idea of the photo background, the coffin illustration, combined with your painting or were you just asked to paint Barnaby Gold and the cover was then created by NEL?

The latter was the case. Not my favourite resolution either. It was a thing the design department at NEL were going through at the time and they had me doing the same idea on various other subjects as well such as romance and drama.

Did you become a fan of Edge and Steele or did you just stick to painting the covers rather than reading the books?

Well, I never got the chance as I only saw the synopsis.

Do you still have the original paintings?

Except for maybe a few I think do. Keep thinking about arranging an exhibition of them.

You also painted the covers for John Delaney’s James Gunn series. It’s often commented on how much Gunn looks like a blond Edge, was this done as a marketing ploy?

No, this series was before Edge in my very early days at NEL. To be honest I can’t really recall how his look came about although I did know a guy some years before who looked a lot like Gunn, so maybe that was the subliminal influence.

I have a Star version of one of Pinnacle’s western series, Six-Gun Samurai by Patrick Lee, it’s for the fourth book Kamikaze Justice that looks to be your work. Is it, and if so how many covers did you paint for this series as the other Star books I have from this series use the American cover art?

There was only the one unfortunately - Being an old martial arts man I quite wanted to do that series - I don’t think they took off in the UK though and if memory serves they only published the one book.

I also have Jay Charles’ Tupelo Gold that features your cover art, are there any other westerns that fans of your work in this genre should be on the look out for?

I did a few for various serials in Woman magazine that had a Western background - but I doubt if your readers will generally be interested in those. ‘Track’ was a short lived series for Star Books. Other than that mainly one-offs. I did do quite a few for W H Allen alongside their Target range of Dr. Who books which eventually led on to Dr. Who covers for Virgin Books.

And finally, are you still painting today and if so is it for business or pleasure…perhaps both?

Yes, still at it. And doing both. An interesting sideline is that through your website, Steve, I contacted Black Horse Western and sent them some samples and they are now keen to use me for some covers. So, thanks to you, it looks like I might be back in the saddle again. And thanks also to all the people out there who have been kind enough to make such favourable comments about my work over the years. Bless you all.

Friday 21 November 2008

Hart the Regulator #4

by John B. Harvey
Pan, 1980

The Regulator is Wes Hart – ex-soldier, ex-Texas Ranger, ex-rider with Billy the Kid. He’s tough, ruthless, slick with a .45. He’s for hire now and he isn’t cheap…

Little Alice was cute. And brave. On her father’s instruction – and for the right price – Hart agreed to escort her to Denver. Seemed like easy money…until Hart discovered silver bullion stashed away in the stagecoach…

Lee Sternberg’s gang found out too. So they figured on blowing Hart’s head clean off and making a quick exit with the loot. Hart thought different. So after the blood of an ambush, it’s the agony of a kidnapping and the brutality of a pulse-pounding showdown in a Rancho Nuevo whorehouse…

And all this for a little girl…

The first part of this book sees Hart trying to find a friend who appeared in the previous book and also mentions quite a few events that happened in that book and those before. Because of this I’ll suggest new readers to the series may find it worthwhile reading the first three books before reading this one.

Once Hart is persuaded to escort Alice to Denver the story really picks up in pace. John Harvey also spends a lot of time fleshing out the Sternberg gang; telling us their backgrounds and reasons for riding the outlaw trail. In fact Hart isn’t in this part of the book much. When he is it is usually showing him at odds with Alice, which leads to some humorous dialogue.

Although the violence isn’t described in as much gory detail as the other writers might have done, who shared the name of the Piccadilly Cowboys, it nevertheless is as brutal at times.

This book also introduces the reader to a character who will play an important part in Hart’s life in a later book.

As I’ve said this book is perhaps not as savage as other work from the Piccadilly Cowboys, so as well as being essential reading for their fans, this should appeal to all who enjoy a fast moving action packed tale.

Thursday 20 November 2008

Trigger Talk

 as by Bradford Scott
Cleveland publication of a 1956 (?) original.

Texas Ranger Walt Slade is sent to bring in a hellion calling himself Juan Cortinas. Seems Cortinas is raising an army to help make him a rich man – not as he tells the poor Mexican people, to aid them in a revolution. Cortinas is believed to be hiding out in the Big Thickets, a wild untamed part of the country that a man could die a lonely death in. And with the odds stacked against Slade, it seems this could be his destiny…

This is the first time I’ve read a Walt Slade story, a hero from the old pulp mags.

The first thing that struck me was that there were not any women in the story, and that few lawmen, who aren't Texas Rangers, were just referred to as ‘Sheriff’ rather than having a name. Of course for a story written over fifty years ago some of the words and phrases took a little while to get used to.

Slade also seemed very good at second guessing what the outlaws would do in any situation. He also spends a fair amount of time talking to his horse, Shadow.

The story is fast moving and none of the outlaws seem to be able to shoot accurately when facing the Ranger, of course he plugs them every time.

Although the plot centres around rustling it’s the method of moving the stolen stock that makes this stand out from other rustling yarns, and that’s the use of a ship. In fact most of the first part of the tale revolves around ships and the destruction of Galveston by a hurricane.

This is definitely a white hat v black hat story that was entertaining enough but won’t have me reaching quickly for another Slade book (I have quite a few in my collection) but I will read another sometime in the future.

Tuesday 18 November 2008

Misfit Lil Cleans Up

 as by Chap O’Keefe
A Black Horse Western from Hale, 2008

A senseless killing stopped Jackson Farraday from investigating an odd situation in the raw mining settlement called Black Dog. For answers he tricked Lilian Goodnight into spying at the High Meadows cattle ranch.

Lil was dismayed to find range boss Liam O’Grady running a hatwire outfit crewed by deeper-dyed misfits than herself. Then she was obliged to save ex-British Army major Albert Fitzcuthbert – sent to investigating High Meadows by its owners – from renegade Indians.

Everybody had secrets: Lil’s childhood friend Liam; his spouse Mary, and Fitzcuthbert’s cruelly humiliated young wife, Cecilia. Lil was facing problems only her savvy, daring and guns could settle!

Chap O’Keefe definitely knows how to tell a good yarn, he immediately hooks the reader by introducing a number of questions, the answers to which Misfit Lil will have to struggle to find.

There is plenty of action in this fast moving tale and Misfit Lil makes for an engaging lead character. O’Keefe also includes brief mention of her past adventures – this being the fifth Misfit Lil book – that makes me want to find those books and discover just how she and the other characters, already known to her, came to like or dislike each other.

It is also unusual to find the main character, in a Black Horse Western, being female and, for me, this made a pleasant change.

Mention must also be made of the excellent cover painting – the artist sure knows how to use light, shadow, and hints of colour to great effect. This scene ties up nicely with an exciting chase of a stagecoach by Indians within the story.

For those of you inspired enough by my comments about this book that you now want to go out and buy a copy, I have some bad news. The book was released on October 31st and sold out in twelve days! This must be some indication to how popular Chap O’Keefe’s westerns are.

I always like to follow bad news with good so I’ll remind you that Black Horse Westerns are first and foremost produced for libraries so there’s nothing to stop you going there and requesting a copy. I’m sure you’ll find it worthwhile.

Monday 17 November 2008

Brand #3

as by Neil Hunter
Linford Western Library, 1997
originally published in 1978

Jason Brand was assigned to track down a renegade halfbreed called Lobo, who was terrorising the territory and killing innocent people. Part white and part Apache, Lobo didn’t belong to either society and had a grudge against the world. He was causing a deal of unrest and was wanted by both the whites and the Apaches. Brand realised that he had a hard task ahead of him and decided to seek the help of the Apache leader, Nante…

Neil Hunter is the pseudonym used by Mike Linaker for his series westerns in the 1970’s and he’s a honourary member of a group of writers known as the Piccadilly Cowboys.

The above explanation of who Neil Hunter is should reveal the type of book this is; yes a fast moving, brutal and action packed read that doesn’t let up for a minute.

Lobo is an evil character, totally devoid of compassion and no one is safe from him, even his half-sister.

Brand has to go through all kinds of hell before justice can be served and at times you have to wonder at how he has the strength to carry on.

The violence is described in all it’s gory detail so if you don’t like such graphic content in your reading material then this book may not be for you, but if you enjoy a book filled with savagery that reads more like a spaghetti western than an American B western then this is definitely for you.

Such a shame it took so long for a publisher to put out the Brand books in English as they originally only appeared in Norway.

Now available as an ebook.

Sunday 16 November 2008

Adelsverein: The Gathering

by Celia Hayes
Strider Nolan, December 2008

This is the first in a trilogy, the following books being The Sowing and The Harvesting. The official release date for all three is December 10th.

The Gathering begins in 1844 and takes the reader on an epic journey before ending in 1853.

Celia Hayes tells the tale of a family attracted to the promise of a new life in America and the joys and hardships of this journey which begins with sailing from Germany.

As well as her fictional characters Celia Hayes includes many real people and events that add credence to the historical content of this book.

Celia Hayes has a superb ability to describe the natural world that will have the reader sharing the wonder of discovery with the Steinmetz family. As well as the beauty of new found lands the reader will share the warmth of new love, the horror of a massacre, and the heartbreak of the death of loved ones – most of which are the result of disease.

For me the most memorable scenes took place on or in water. The well told sea passage; life on board the ship and the living conditions painting vivid pictures in my mind. And who could forget Magda’s terror as she fights to save the child on the raft.

And then there’s the well-told series of events, based on truth and real people, that lead to the peace treaty with the Penateka Comanche. In fact the Indians provide some of the most humorous situations in the story.

The Gathering, is a very easy to read story that easily draws you in and will have you eager to find out how the Steinmetz family stand up to the challenges that face them.

If you’re looking for a change from reading the type of westerns I usually review here then this could be worth considering as it sure has me interested in reading the following two books to find out what happens next.

Saturday 15 November 2008

The Gunsmith #100

as by J. R. Roberts
Jove, April 1990

Somebody’s just pumped Clint Adams’ old pal Talbot Roper full of lead. Who did it and why, only Roper knows – and he isn’t talking. Not much to go on, but Clint aims to nab the pistol-packin’ vermin who’s responsible.

But the Gunsmith’s search leads him onto a trail of stolen gold. The thieves have robbed the railroad, hidden the loot – and murdered two of Wells Fargo’s best men. Now Wells Fargo wants revenge, the Gunsmith wants to fins a killer, and everybody wants a cut of the reward money. And the Gunsmith’s battle is just heating up. His next stop is Mexico – where some hotheaded revolutionaries are riding into town, hungry for gold…and thirsty for blood!

This book begins with a lengthy prologue that has nothing to do with the main story other than fill readers in to some of Clint Adams, The Gunsmith's background. As to be expected from a book in this series is moves at a terrific pace and a number of people from previous books arrive to help Adams discover who gunned Roper down.

There’s not a terrific amount of gunplay but when it comes it’s fast and furious. The style of writing has a kind of urgency to it that is part of the reason these books are so hard to put down once started.

This proved to be a satisfying read and should be on the reading list of all Gunsmith fans.

Wednesday 12 November 2008

Interview: Marcus Galloway

Something new for Western Fiction Review, is this, the first in what I hope will be an ongoing series of interviews with authors we love to read.

The first interview is with Marcus Galloway. I first discovered his work when the superb cover to The Man from Boot Hill caught my eye and I took a chance and ordered the book there and then. I'm glad I did as I've bought all his books since.

Marcus, thank-you for agreeing to this interview.
No problem.
When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?
I've been writing since I could use a typewriter (yes...typewriter. That sounds so antiquated now). I wrote little stories when I was about ten or so. In 4th grade, my school didn't have a newspaper, so I wrote one and managed it for all of three issues. In high school, I wrote my first novel, which was absolute garbage but very good practice. I started taking it seriously in college, where I wrote another novel (still garbage, but not as bad as the high school one) and got a short story published in a small press mystery magazine. It was a $5 sale, but allowed me to call myself a "professional". Very exciting at the time.

What was the first novel you had published and if this wasn’t a western what was your first western?
Actually, the first novel I had published was in a popular monthly western series. Obviously, that wasn't under my name. The first of my own novels to be published was The Man from Boot Hill. I still have a soft spot for that book.

How many books did you write before the first was accepted for publication?
Oh man. Let's see....not counting the little books I stapled together as a kid or the high school attempt, I wrote three complete novels and rewrote those a few times before trying to sell them. It's tough to put something in the drawer after spending so much time writing in between real life, jobs and all that. Unfortunately, I had to write those off as practice. On the other hand, it was practice I desperately needed.

Which writers influence you?
I've always read a lot, but the first one to truly influence me and inspire me to write was Douglas Adams. I've read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy books more times than any other series. The humor, creativity, originality and everything else about those books made me want to try writing for real. After I put down Life, the Universe and Everything (the 3rd Hitchhiker book), I literally went downstairs to my Dad's computer and started writing that high school novel. I'm also a big horror fan, so Clive Barker and Brian Lumley are big influences there. Fantasy wise, there's Brian Lumley because he definitely has a western feel to his fantasy (Lots of Brits here. I swear I'm not kissing up). I enjoy E E Knight's Vampire Earth series because that also has a huge western feel in a horror-science fiction setting. Pure western influences include Robert Randisi and Ed Gorman, who I've been fortunate enough to get to know in the last several years. As far as westerns go, I find I'm more influenced by non-fiction and real history. I love reading accounts about gunfighters and true life back then.

Do you write in other genres and is there a particular one you’d like to that you haven’t yet?
As you can tell by the previous question, I love horror, fantasy and science fiction. I do have a project that's set to release early next year which I consider horror or dark fantasy. The publishers call it urban fantasy or whatever, but it's got definite horror roots. I've put together a science fiction project as well as a fantasy project, which I'm shopping around to different publishers right now. Those two definitely have western roots. Star Wars is basically a space western, anyway. Any other genre I may be involved with will always reflect my western roots.

What books are you currently writing?
I just finished up with the second installment in my dark fantasy series (which is called SKINNERS). It's published by EOS under the name Marcus Pelegrimas. Galloway is a pseudonym, but still a family name (sounds more "western"). After taking a few days off, I'll start in on ghostwriting a few series westerns which should keep me busy for the next several months.

Do you work on more than one book at a time?
I can write one book while editing another, but I'm not quite at the point where I can write several books at the same time. Fortunately, it only takes me a month or two to write a book, so I can still get everything done. I tried writing two at the same time (one during the day and another at night), but I got mixed up about halfway through. "Which one had the cousin who was in jail?" "Whose wife had the three brothers?" Little continuity mistakes became big ones and it got pretty ugly.

Do you wish you had more say in the covers that appear in your books?
I really do wish I could get more involved with that. The publisher asks me for ideas and I give them, but it's rare they actually use them. The Accomplice books really did use my ideas and the first two turned out great. Although I didn't get as much input with the Boot Hill books, all of those covers were amazing! They sent me a few different pictures and let me choose one for the cover. All in all, I've been very fortunate with how my covers have turned out.

How important is historical accuracy in westerns?
I think that depends on the story being told. Using myself as an example, the Boot Hill books are all fictional characters. They do what I tell them to do, go where I point them and shoot who I want them to shoot. I did a lot of research on vigilante activity in Montana to give that some credibility. Other than that, I just research the essentials like railroad lines and stagecoach routes because it's not set in a fictional world. If I come across some event that can fit nicely into the story, I'll research it more and put it in. It's always great to have your characters stumble into a real event and stumble out again.

With The Accomplice books, I researched a LOT. If someone is going to use historical characters in their books, I feel they should make an effort to be true to that character. I wanted the Doc Holliday in The Accomplice to be as close to the real Doc as possible. Otherwise, it's not Doc Holliday. The tricky part of that is the need to pick and choose which sources you use. Especially with colorful figures like Doc, the accounts may vary drastically. I sifted through as much as I could and used what made sense to me. Of course, any writer will use the stuff that works for their book. Sure, every fiction writer takes liberties, but I at least try to base as much as possible in history so the reader truly feels like the character in that story is the genuine article (or at least pretty darn close).

What led you to write westerns?
I was inspired by the real lives of character like Doc Holliday, Billy the Kid, Jesse James, all those cool outlaw types that every kid likes to hear about. Westerns are just a part of American culture to some degree or another. Sadly, that fades with every generation like any other folklore, but it's still there. I wrote a short story about Doc Holliday (entitled "Gold Men") and showed it to Robert Randisi, who encouraged me to pursue westerns. After a lot of work, I eventually got rolling in that genre and found I truly enjoyed writing them.

What appeals to you about the western genre?
Like I said in the last question, it was engrained in me as a kid. The whole cowboy / outlaw thing was always cool. When I heard that the gunfighters, bank robberies, trail drives and that sort of thing were real, I was fascinated by it. As a nine or ten year old boy, finding out there was a real Jesse James is close to hearing there was a real Indiana Jones. Granted, it's not the best thing to look up to killers and robbers, but it stuck with me. Western fiction is essentially fun. It's a classic sort of storytelling that shows up in science fiction, fantasy, crime fiction, you name it. A timeless blend of action, exploration, adventure and pioneering spirit showing heroes at their best.

Which western writers would you recommend?
Me. Just kidding. I mentioned Robert Randisi and Ed Gorman. They're good friends and great writers. I cannot speak highly enough of "Doc Holliday: A Family Portrait" by Karen Holliday Tanner. I love that book and think it's one of the most fascinating reads I've experienced. Of course, I'm a little partial to Doc, but that's definitely one of my favorites.

Which past western would you like to see back in print and why is this?
I like the Edge series by George Gilman. That was a truly gritty western series. Violent and dark, but a lot of fun.

You’ve had a couple of books published under the Ralph Compton name but what is your opinion on keeping dead authors alive by having someone write new books under their name, such as is happening with Ralph Compton and William Johnstone?
It's good for the genre and there are great stories coming out under those names. On the other hand, I've heard plenty of readers pass over books by new authors (mine included) because they "only read Louis L'Amour or Ralph Compton". Keeping these great names alive is fine. Most readers know the newer books are being written by other authors, but some are still unwilling to read books with another author's name on them. There are a lot of books out there. I just hope people keep reading as many of them as possible.

What do you think of audio books and are there any westerns you’d recommend?
I think audio books are great. Personally, I prefer the print versions. Everyone I know who drives a lot swears by the audio books, though.

Which of your westerns would you recommend to someone who hasn’t read any of your work yet and why?
I would recommend the first Accomplice to anyone who wants something that was more based on fact, simply because I made sure to put Doc in the right place during the time frame of those books. Every account of a fight he had or altercation while he was in a particular town is represented. Also, if someone mentions the movie Tombstone, I hand them The Accomplice. Another great starting point for my westerns in general is No Angels For Outlaws (the 4th Boot Hill book). That's a great standalone story and one of my favorite in the series. If someone likes that one, they can start from the beginning to get the whole vigilante storyline and background on Nick Graves.

Have you written any westerns under a pseudonym and if so can you tell us which?
Marcus Galloway is a pseudonym. I've had a few western short stories published under my real name, Marcus Pelegrimas. Other than that, they've all been ghostwritten entries in a bunch of series that are done under one big pseudonym.

What do you think of the western genre today and what do you think the future holds for the western?
The western genre today is in a bit of a slump. That's not a reflection of the quality of work coming out, but more of a trend in publishing. The big publishers are easing off on westerns in general right now, but that's a part of the business. It ebbs and flows. This happens to westerns and they always come back. They're ebbing right now, but they'll come back because readers will demand them.

What is your favourite western movie and why?
Unforgiven is my hands-down favorite. That is simply the most vivid, gut-wrenching western movie I have ever seen. Clint Eastwood is fantastic as an aged version of his own Man With No Name sort of character. His character shows genuine human depth that you rarely see in movies of any genre. The plot is simple, but also very deep and the fight at the end is both visceral and spic even though it only lasts a few minutes. Truly a classic.

What do you read for pleasure?
I like to read anything from westerns to science fiction and even some fantasy. I love the newer style of urban fantasy and even some comic books. My only problem is that I don't have nearly enough time to read it all!

Tuesday 11 November 2008

Sundance #2

as by John Benteen
Leisure, 1972

Sundance, the professional fighting man of the plains and the Baron from the Austrian Court made a deal. For $35,000 the big man with the bronzed face and the yellow hair would take the nobleman into deadly Apache territory to search for Emperor Maximilian of Mexico’s priceless treasure of lost jewels.

Before it was over, Sundance would meet Cochise, Chief of the Chiricahuas, and, together with a luscious young woman, face his closest crapshoot with death. And a score of men’s bones would bleach on the floor of Dead Man’s Canyon.

Having read quite a few of the 43 books that make up this series, I always thought the earlier entries were the best, so I expected another good read from this, the 2nd of the Sundance books.

Benjamin L. Haas, writing as John Benteen, starts the book well with a tough battle with Indians, which is very quickly followed with a brutal fistfight between Sundance and an outlaw leader called Gannon. Unfortunately the book goes into a slump after this as the plot is outlined, this being the search for Maximilian’s priceless treasure. The jewels are said to be hidden deep in Apache territory and once Sundance meets up with the Apaches the book picks up in pace again and ends with some great action as Sundance and Cochise team up to take on Gannon and his gang.

Shame about the slump, otherwise not a bad read.

Monday 10 November 2008

The Trailsman #323

as by Jon Sharpe
Signet, September 2008

In the wilds of Wyoming, Skye Fargo is working to protect local stagecoach trails from roving gangs of robbers. Then his wealthy employer, Andrew Lund, asks him to take a more personal job. Lund thinks his young wife is stepping out with another man, and he wants Fargo to find out the truth. Throw in Lund’s not-so-demure daughter, and a boomtown full of gunslinging gutter rats, and the Trailsman has a case he might not walk away from.

If you’re expecting an action packed read from this entry in the Trailsman series then you maybe disappointed, it does contain some gun-action but nowhere near as much as many Trailsman books. What it does have is lots of suspense, lots of well-drawn characters, and plenty of suspects in the murder of Andrew Lund’s wife – yes she’s killed shortly after Fargo begins investigating her.

The author soon has Fargo and the reader suspicious of everyone; Andrew Lund himself, and the many men it seems his wife was cheating on him with. And what of Lund’s daughter from his first marriage, could she be guilty?

The book reads like a murder mystery with Fargo playing the reluctant detective and proves to be a gripping tale. I found it difficult to put the book down until I’d discovered whom the guilty party was.

Of course I’m not going to reveal the identity of the murderer here. That is something you’ll have to find out for yourself whilst enjoying this finely crafted book.

Sunday 9 November 2008

The Devil & Lou Prophet

by Peter Brandvold
Berkley, February 2002

Call him manhunter, tracker, or bounty hunter. As long as the cash was cold and the trail was hot, Lou Prophet would run his quarry into the ground before giving up the chase. He loved his work – it kept him in wine and women, and was never, ever dull. And his newest job sounds particularly attractive…

Her name is Lola Diamond. She’s a showgirl, a chanteuse, and a prime witness in a murder trial that’s going on without her. Prophet is supposed to find her and “escort” her to the courthouse, whether she likes it or not. But even as Prophet and his lovely charge battle each other, some very dangerous men are moving to make sure the pair never reach the courthouse alive. And Lou Prophet is about to find out that even the best hunter can become someone else’s prey…

Like other books I’ve read by Peter Brandvold he's once more come up with the goods in this tough gritty read. At times funny - witness Prophet’s ‘accident’ during the opening action sequence for one example. His characters don’t come across as super beings, all have flaws, make mistakes. The story builds well to its violent conclusion.

For me the quote on most of Brandvold’s books by Frank Roderus rings true - ‘Make room on your shelf of favourites for Peter Brandvold.’

Friday 7 November 2008

Texas Tracker #6

as by Tom Calhoun
Jove, March 2005

J.T. Law swore he’d never return to Missouri, there is too many bad memories, too much bad blood, and too many people who still hold grudges against him for the troubled trail he rode after the Civil War. But when he gets word his childhood sweetheart, Sara Woodall, is in danger, there’s no stopping him riding to the rescue. A gang of cutthroats has a score to settle with Sara’s husband, a judge they’d bribed to get their pals out of jail. And when the judge goes missing, they aim to take out their fury on Sara and her young children. But J.T. Law has an aim of his own – and it’s about to hit the killers right between the eyes…

This book allows the author (John Legg writing as Tom Calhoun) to delve into the past of J.T. Law, revealing some of the events that shaped his character and lead to him becoming a bounty hunter. Not only is this a story of bad verses good but also a love story, as J.T.’s feelings for Sara surface once more and Sara struggles with her own rekindled attractions to Law and her love for her missing husband.

I think the book is also longer than the previous five providing the reader with more story for their money. As this also seems to be the last book in this series I felt too many questions remained unanswered by the end but that’s possibly not the authors fault as he wouldn’t have known that the publisher was going to cancel the series after this book. Having said that Showdown in Austin still proves to be a very entertaining read.

Tuesday 4 November 2008

Longarm #329

as by Tabor Evans
Jove, April 2006

Custis Long wakes up in Medallion, Arizona, with a head full of pain, no memory of how he got there, and a dead redhead sharing his bed. Worse, someone has made off with his U.S. Marshal badge and papers. Set up for murder, Long knows he’s got to find the real killer, but to do that he’s got to remember what he came to town to do and find out who wants to stop him - before he ends up the guest of honour at a lynching party...

Tabor Evans (in this case James Reasoner) comes up with a great plot that had me hooked from beginning to end. The first six chapters throw up so many questions that lead to me being as confused as Longarm.

As more and more characters are introduced, all that seem to know Long, the harder it becomes to put this book down as the twists and turns combine in a story filled with action, intriguing characters of both sexes, and mystery.

It’s also good to see James making references to events and people, such as Jessica Starbuck, from Longarm’s past, and including some of his old sayings such as “eating the apple one bite at a time.”

This is definately a Longarm book worth checking out.

Monday 3 November 2008

Chance #12

as by Clay Tanner
Avon, July 1988

When Chance and his old compadre, Sam Clemens (alias Mark Twain), take a New Orleans bound sidewheeler, they’re plundered by river rogues and plunged into the killing currents of the Mississippi. Getting rescued by a raft riding runaway and his friend, a fugitive slave, begins one of the riskiest journeys Chance has ever taken. In fact, with all the deadly entanglements Big Muddy has in store…this could be the stuff great books are made of. Chance just hopes he lives to read it!

The inclusion of Sam Clemens and the runaway on the raft allow for some amusing events and comments, particularly if you’re familiar with Twain’s books.

Halfway through the story it almost seems as if one part of the tale is over and another adventure begins, but George W. Proctor (the author behind the pseudonym of Clay Tanner) cleverly links the two. This in turn leads to an exciting finale that ties up all the loose ends of the first part of the book.

Sadly – for me – this book is the last in the Chance series. Luckily George W. Proctor wrote other westerns too, and most of these sit in my collection waiting to be read.

Saturday 1 November 2008

Long Rider #18

as by Clay Dawson
Diamond, March 1992

Long Rider is heading for a new job in El Paso when he meets up with three mean-looking men and a young woman. The lady would be a real beauty if she wasn’t battered up so bad…and Long Rider doesn’t buy the story that she was thrown from her horse.

Sure enough, the trio turns out to be trouble. They’re kidnappers and bank robbers, and it is Long Rider’s job to bring them to justice. He’s been deputized by Judge Roy Bean himself – but that doesn’t help much when he’s up against crooks, liars and cheats…and even the law itself!

Long Rider doesn’t appear in that much of the first part of this book, the author spends most of this time writing about the falling out amoung the bank robbers, and how two of them rob a bank, and their former partner then taking advantage of the fact that most of the lawmen are riding in the posse, leaving the town defenceless, he robs another bank. With the outlaws heading down different trails Long Rider has his work cut out to bring them to justice.

The outlaws are well-drawn characters, particularly the headstrong Ace. In fact I found them to be just as interesting characters as Long Rider. The author also includes a couple of strong female roles.

There’s plenty of action as the book races to its conclusion and no threads are left untied.

All in all this was a satisfying read.