Thursday 31 December 2009

Westerns read in 2009

For my final post of 2009 I thought I’d post a list of the 100 westerns I’ve read during the year. Most of them have been reviewed here, and the rest will be soon.

I’d also like to wish all visitors to this blog a Happy New Year.


01. The Trailsman #326: Silver Mountain Slaughter by Jon Sharpe
02. The Badge #4: Powder River by Bill Reno
03. The Warhunter #1: Killers’ Council by Scott Siegel
04. Cherokee Justice by William Kennedy
05. The Pirooters by Mark Mellon
06. The Trailsman #327: Idaho Gold Fever by John Sharpe


07. The Stone Garden: The Epic Life of Billy the Kid by Bill Brooks
08. Longhorns and Outlaws by Linda Aksomitis
09. Abilene #4: The Night Riders by Justin Ladd
10. The Trailsman #328: Texas Triggers by Jon Sharpe
11. Lanigan and the Silent Mourner by Ronald Martin Wade
12. The Shadow Riders by Owen G. Irons
13. Crow #1: The Red Hills by James W. Marvin
14. Wilderness #59: Only the Strong by David Thompson

MARCH READS – 8 books
15. The Texians #1: The Texians by Zach Wyatt
16. The Trailsman #329: Bayou Trackdown by Jon Sharpe
17. The Gunsmith (Giant Edition #13) The Marshal from Paris by J.R. Roberts
18. Slocum #107: Sixguns at Silverado by Jake Logan
19. Die this Day by Dempsey Clay
20. Guns of Virtue by Peter Wilson
21. Joe Blade by Matt Chisholm
22. The Judge #6: Lawless Land by Hank Edwards

APRIL READS – 6 books
23. Ruff Justice #2: Night of the Apache by Warren T. Longtree
24. The Derby Man #4: The Pony Express War by Gary McCarthy
25. Longarm #26: Longarm and the Dragon Hunters by Tabor Evans
26. On the Great Plains by Logan Winters
27. Rawhide Ransom by Tyler Hatch
28. The Trailsman #331: Northwoods Nightmare by Jon Sharpe

MAY READS – 8 books

29. The Ox-Bow Incident by Walter Van Tilburg Clark
30. .45-Caliber Deathtrap by Peter Brandvold
31. On the Wrong Track by Steve Hockensmith
32. Street and Smith’s Western Adventure – Vol. 2 #5 British Edition
33. Long Shadows by Terry James
34. Wilderness #60: The Outcast by David Thompson
35. The $300 Man by Ross Morton
36. Time to Kill by Lee Lejeune

JUNE READS – 6 books

37. Bad Day in Babylon by Clayton Nash
38. The Trailsman #332: Beartooth Incident by Jon Sharpe
39. The Tarnished Star by Jack Martin
40. The .45 Goodbye by Dempsey Clay
41. The Outpost by Owen G. Irons
42. Lanigan and the She-Wolf by Ronald Martin Wade

JULY READS – 8 books
43. Riders from Long Pines by Ralph Cotton
44. Claw #1: Day of Fury by Matthew Kirk
45. Portrait of an Outlaw by J.D. Kincaid
46. Riders of the Barren Plains by I.J. Parnham
47. The Trailsman #333: Black Hills Badman by Jon Sharpe
48. Gunman’s Walk by Clint Ryker
49. Rio Bonito by Abe Dancer
50. The Short Creek Rustlers by J.D. Ryder

AUGUST READS – 9 books
51. Partners by D.M. McGowan
52. The Third Rider by Barry Cord
53. The Trailsman #334: Colorado Clash by Jon Sharpe
54. Gannon’s Law by Peter Wilson
55. Gun Fury by Walt Keene
56. Wilderness #61: The Scalp Hunters by David Thompson
57. Gunhawk by John Long
58. Dragonfire Trail by Hank J. Kirby
59. Arizona Pay-Off by Duke Patterson


60. The Trailsman #335: Riverboat Rampage by Jon Sharpe
61. Nickajack by Robert J. Conley
62. Cord by Owen Rountree
63. Pony Soldiers #1: Slaughter at Buffalo Creek by Chet Cunningham
64. Saving Tom Black by Jere D. James
65. The Gunsmith #330: The Dead Town by J.R. Roberts
66. Misfit Lil Cheats the Hangrope by Chap O’Keefe
67. Death Comes Riding by Terrell L. Bowers
68. Shoot-Out at San Lorenzo by Henry Remington
69. Gunsmoke by T.T. Flynn
70. Misfit Lil Robs the Bank by Chap O’Keefe
71. Dead Man’s Range by Paul Durst
72. The Plains of Laramie by Lauran Paine
73. Beyond the Crimson Skies by Owen G. Irons

OCTOBER READS – 10 books

74. Barjack and the Unwelcome Ghost by Robert J. Conley
75. Longarm and the Lone Star Trackdown (Giant Edition #27) by Tabor Evans
76. The Guns of Sapinero by Frank Leslie
77. Hangtown by Logan Winters
78. Harlan by Frank Roderus
79. Iron Eyes Makes War by Rory Black
80. Death Ground by Ed Gorman
81. The Staked Plains by Billy Moore
82. The Battle for Skillern Tract by Matt Laidlaw
83. The Trailsman #336: Utah Outlaws by Jon Sharpe

84. Sweep of Fury by Dempsey Clay
85. The Loner by J.A. Johnstone
86. The Trailsman #337: Silver Showdown by Jon Sharpe
87. Trail of the Burned Man by Thomas McNulty
88. Always the Guns by Matt James
89. Wilderness #62: The Tears of God by David Thompson
90. Rustler’s Range by Billy Hall
91. Revenge by Fire by Bill Williams


92. Fatal Justice – A Ralph Compton novel – by David Robbins
93. The Branded Man by J.D. Ryder
94. The Trailsman #338: Texas Trackdown by Jon Sharpe
95. Dalton’s Mission by Ed Law
96. Gun Law by Lee Walker
97. Medicine Hat by David Walks-As-Bear
98. Ryder of the Hills by Robert J. Horton
99. Six For Laramie by Rick Dalmas

Monday 28 December 2009

Ryder of the Hills

by Robert J. Horton
Leisure, December 2009

Jess Sneed leads a notorious gang of thieves and isn’t the sort to shy away from putting a bullet in a man when it suits his purpose. But he honestly never meant to kill Albert Ryder. The miner’s death was strictly an accident, and the only way Sneed can think of to atone is by taking in Ryder’s orphaned son and going completely legit. But ugly secrets have a way of rearing up when least expected. Eventually the boy he’s raised will become a man and learn the truth….

This story first appeared as a seven part serial in Western Story Magazine in May 1927 and is, probably, the oldest western I’ve ever read. I must admit that it didn’t come across as dated as I expected; of course there were a few terms used that an author writing today wouldn’t use, and this was the same with a few words – such as the word queer being used in preference of strange. Also saloons were referred to as resorts and the bartender being the resort keeper.

Right from the beginning it became very obvious that this book was character driven, and even though Ted Ryder is the hero the first third is told from everyone but his point of view; he seemingly a secondary character. Once the outlaw, Killer Sneed, who takes Ryder under his wing, is killed, Ryder becomes more of the lead character. To me, though, the main character of the story is the beautifully drawn Lucy Ware.

The story takes place over a number of years and involves robbery, ranch life, ranch take-over attempts through treachery, forbidden love, outlaws returning to claim their part of Sneed’s hidden money, blizzards that nearly wipe out the whole area, and a copper strike. So there’s plenty to hold the readers attention. A lot of the gun action takes place out of scene – the reader being told about it by various characters – although the book does have a prolonged, and exciting, showdown near the end.

Initially I had doubts as to whether I’d enjoy this book, mainly due to its age, but once I got into the story I was hooked and just had to keep reading to find out what happened to all the main characters, and although some of it turned out as expected there were some surprises too. Overall this was a very enjoyable read and I’ll certainly be looking out for more of Robert J. Horton’s work.

Ryder of the Hills was published earlier this month so you shouldn’t have any difficulty finding a copy.

Below are five of the seven issues of Western Story Magazine in which Ryder of the Hills was first published; these ran from 05/07/27 to 06/18/27.

Wednesday 23 December 2009

Gun Law

As by Lee Walker
A Black Horse Western from Hale, December 2009

As a boy of fourteen, Jake Chalmers saw his parents callously murdered by two drunken cowboys in the street. Now a young man, he is determined to protect himself, even if he has to use his gun to do so.

On the run after killing in self-defence, Jake arrives in Sweetwater, a boomtown growing rich on cattle drives. His plans to keep a low profile soon go awry as he finds himself in the middle of a feud between the ruthless business man, Jordan Carter, and an elderly sheriff, Luke Gardner.

Finally, Luke is murdered by one of Carter’s henchmen and Jake must choose between the law of the land and the law of the gun…

As far as I know this is Lee Walker’s debut western for Hale. His writing style is very readable and the plot moves along at a swift pace with plenty of bursts of action along the way. Lee Walker’s characters are well created and will have you caring about what happens to them, will have you hoping that Chalmers doesn’t ride away and leave the girl, Elaine, behind as he seems scared to commit himself to anyone or anything.

The plot of the drifting gunman who finds himself standing by a lawman, newspaperman and a beautiful girl, against the power hungry bad guy who owns most of the town and has a bunch of gunfighters to back his play, is an often used storyline but Lee Walker makes it seem fresh, his story grabs the readers attention and makes the book very difficult to put down until the last page has been read.

If Lee Walker (real name Ed Ferguson) continues to write to this standard then I for one will be eagerly awaiting each of his books.

Gun Law has an official release of December 31st but should be available from Internet booksellers now, and if you fancy getting hold of a copy I suggest you get your order in as soon as possible as BHW tend to sell out fast.

Monday 21 December 2009

Dalton's Mission

as by Ed Law
A Black Horse Western from Hale, December 2009

When Dalton and Loren Steele happen across an ambushed gold shipment, they are too late to help. Everyone dies, attackers and defenders alike. Being honest men they try to return the gold to Perry Haynes of the Durando Mining Company, its rightful owner, but unknown to them Perry has been overthrown.

With corruption and the law of the gun now ruling Durando they are slammed into jail on the dubious charge of having stolen the very gold they had rescued!

The two men befriend Perry but to help him reclaim his mine, they’ll have to strap on their six-shooters and tame the hell-hole that is Durando.

It would seem that all of Ed Law’s books are about the man known only as Dalton, and this is the sixth book in the series. Having said Dalton’s Mission is part of a series the book reads as a stand-alone. As far as I could tell there was very little, if any, reference made to previous stories.

Dalton isn’t a lawman, a gunslinger, or any other kind of heroic figure, he’s just an ordinary man who happens to come across the gold shipment and this leads to him getting involved in seeking justice for those wronged. In fact he’d rather keep out of trouble if possible. Having said that there are a number of violent fights that lead up to a savage final gun battle. A fair amount of the book takes place underground, including a tense escape bid by Dalton, Steele and Haynes after being thrown into a deep hole that seems to have no possible way out.

Typical to many Black Horse Westerns there’s the attractive female – in this case Haynes daughter who is being held to ransom – who you’d expect would provide some romantic interest for Dalton, but as he’s married this doesn’t happen, which for me makes for a welcome change.

Dalton’s Mission has an official release date of December 31st but should be available from Internet bookstores now.

Wednesday 16 December 2009

Fatal Justice

A Ralph Compton novel by David Robbins
Signet, December 2009

Years ago, Marshal Asher Thrall shot killer Ben Sharkey in the leg to save a fellow lawman. Since then, every crooked step has reminded Sharkey of the man who put a bullet in him. And he’s set to repay the favour in spades.

When the gunsmoke clears, Asher is all too eager to ride after his nemesis. But time is against him. Because while Sharkey shot him three times, the doctor removed only two slugs. The third is still in the marshal’s chest – and with every breath, every heartbeat, it is moving closer to ending his life.

Asher knows he’s a walking dead man. Before he dies, he’s going to make sure that Sharkey is one step ahead of him.

Even though this book can only have one outcome for Thrall, David Robbins writes a gripping story that sees Thrall having to make a choice; how he wants to die. Thrall chooses to hunt down and rid the world of Sharkey; chooses to use his last days of life by stopping Sharkey killing more innocent people. But to do this Thrall needs help to ease his growing chest pains, and to do this he turns to morphine.

David Robbins presents the reader with a dark tale of drug addiction and masterfully fills his story with very vivid images of a man losing his senses to the grip of morphine. Forgetting his reason for wanting to live, eager to escape everything in the bliss morphine brings, Thrall becomes a bounty hunter to get the money needed to feed his addiction.

And the need for morphine is not the only addiction David Robbins writes about; he also includes a beautifully drawn character in Broken Nose, an Indian with an alcohol addiction. Having Broken Nose team up with Thrall allows for some wonderful dialogue, some very funny, but mainly tainted with an underlying sadness.

Fatal Justice really is a superbly told story, a tale of dying with dignity that spirals out of control through drugs. A tale that makes you think about the meaning of life, a story that’s a race against time; will Thrall succeed in finding and killing Sharkey before he succumbs to his own death, and will that be caused by the bullet in his chest, wasting away through the use of morphine, or some other way?

The very nature of the storyline should tell you that this is a dark, tough, brutal book that will touch the emotions. All this told in a gritty, fast moving style that is filled with action, memorable characters, and cliff-hanger situations, that all combine to make this book very difficult to put down.

If you want to read a western with a storyline you’d not normally expect in this genre then I cannot recommend Fatal Justice highly enough.

Wednesday 9 December 2009

The Loner

as by J.A. Johnstone
Pinnacle, May 2009

When Conrad Browning’s wife disappears in the untamed frontier, Conrad finds himself assuming the identity of his famous gunslinging father, Frank Morgan, to find her. But his hopes of rescuing Rebel are swiftly shattered – and now he’s burning for vengeance, the old-fashioned way. So he fakes his own death and starts calling himself The Loner, becoming the deadliest gunfighter this side of his own father – ready to settle the score in blood and bullets…

The Loner is another book that takes a character from one of William W. Johnstone’s long running series (in this case The Last Gunfighter) and launches them in their own series – to date there are three Loner books. This is the first book that has dropped William Johnstone’s name and just carries the J.A. Johnstone name as author.

Like many series before it, this first book uses the classic theme of revenge to set Browning off on the killing trail. The story is extremely well written, its plot fast moving and full of action. In fact I found it a very difficult book to put down.

The above blurb is taken from the book and I did have to wonder where the part came from that says “calling himself The Loner” as this never happens, Browning calls himself Kid Morgan, often referred to as just The Kid. Maybe the Loner tag will be developed in further books?

Overall this is a very good read that should satisfy most western readers, and those who are fans of Johnstone’s series will have fun checking out which of his other characters get a name-check. The story leaves a thread dangling which will ensure readers will be eager to read the next in the series.

To me, the only real problem this book and those that follow it have is getting hold of them. The books are only sold in Walmart, which is fine for those who live in America, (the books don’t appear on Walmart’s website) and can get to one of their stores. The other alternative is to buy them through the Johnstone website but do check their postage charges, as having the books sent to the UK completely priced them out of what I was willing to pay. In the end a friend in America picked up all three books and mailed them to me in a single package, the cost of which (by air) was less than the Johnstone site wants to charge for one book! Due to this I do have to wonder how successful this series will be?

Sunday 6 December 2009

The Branded Man

as by J.D. Ryder
A Black Horse Western from Hale, December 2009

Cordy Lowell lost more than his youth and his horse when they branded him, but the red-hot branding iron did more than just scar his chest, it forged a strong thirst for revenge.

Taking sides in a range war, Cordy found himself fighting on the side of a wheelchair-bound ranch owner against Bosewell, a greedy man who wasn’t satisfied with owning most of the basin, getting rich from his cattle and horse breeding operation. It wasn’t long before the fight became personal and Cordy had a chance to find retribution. If he lived long enough…

This is J.D. Ryder’s third Black Horse Western and once more he presents the reader with a very fast moving story – lengthy time periods passing within a couple of paragraphs help create the impression of days passing quickly. The plot is fairly straightforward and it does turn out pretty much as you’d expect, but it is a great read getting there.

Cordy Lowell comes up against some well crafted bad guys, such as Bosewell, Price and No-nose; the latter being an Indian who likes nothing better than pressing a red-hot branding iron onto human flesh.

J.D. Ryder combines a typical range war story with a tale of revenge, which is also a quest to retrieve a stolen horse. Ryder’s writing style makes for an effortless read and the book can easily be read within a couple of hours.

Checking the copyright page reveals that J.D. Ryder is a pseudonym used by William Sheehy.

The Branded Man has an official release date of December 31st and is available for pre-order from the usual Internet sources.

Thursday 3 December 2009

Western Fiction News

A few entries ago I posted an interview with Keith Hetherington and since then Keith has been in touch and said in reference to the question I asked about what were his favourite western films:

“ My daughter read the Interview at the week-end and said, "Dad! Whatever happened to 'SHANE'? I thought that was your favourite Western..."

Close enough! I first saw SHANE at the Leiceester Square cinema in London in 1953 and I wouldn't like to have to count the times I've watched it since then. Chris (my daughter) was right - it IS - not my favourite Western film, but ONE of my favourite Western films. Dunno why I didn't include it in the interview along with WESTERN UNION and SEVEN MEN FROM NOW.

As the film company's PR said: at the time, "The role Alan Ladd was born to play." Couldn't see anyone else doing it as well - even if he wasn't much like the book's character. But we're talking Film here and that's a whole different category. Summing-up, it was just one of those rare films where everything came together - fabulous scenery, colour realistic, excellent cast from bit players up, and realistic gunfire, plus of course, Ladd giving it his all. Shane is the type of Western character I like, though the lone stranger fighting all kinds of odds has become a cliché like riding off into the sunset. But I'm a sucker for such scenes....”

Fans of Jory Sherman’s books will be pleased to know that a new book is now on sale, Sidewinder. This is the first in a new series and Jory is currently writing the second book Death Rattle.

In June 2010 the next book in Jory’s Savage series is published, Savage Hellfire.

Issue 12 of the Paperback Fanatic has now gone on sale and fans of westerns maybe interested to know it contains an article about three of the series written by the group of authors now known as the Piccadilly Cowboys. The three series in question being Breed, Crow and Herne the Hunter. Among the many other excellent articles you’ll find an interview with Tony Masero, concentrating more on his horror and fantasy work than westerns, which he discussed in the interview I did with him here.

Monday 30 November 2009

Revenge by Fire

as by Bill Williams
A Black Horse Western from Hale, November 2009

Steve Ross has been forced to give up the struggle to keep his small ranch going during Arizona’s worst drought in living memory. He intends to leave town in the morning, but events result in him being given an unusual ultimatum.

He must face the prospect of hanging for killing a man, or becoming the Deputy Marshal of Craigy Plains. Ross has never owed or fired a pistol, but following his appointment as a lawman he is taught how to handle a weapon by an old gunfighter. His prowess with a gun is soon given a severe test.

He is drawn into tragic events that put his own life in the greatest danger.

Although Steve Ross is the person who this story revolves around, Bill Williams spends as much time fleshing out the many other characters that fill this book. Although you don’t realise at first all these people will play important parts in bringing the many, seemingly, unrelated threads together by the end.

Bill Williams writes well and is very readable. He drops little hints as to what is going on and cleverly uses misdirection a couple of time to make you wonder as to just who has been killed. There is plenty of action but it’s Bill William’s character studies, their motives, the guessing of who is double-crossing whom and why, will Ross get back with Stephanie, and will any of them be alive at the end, kept me reading.

The final major showdown takes place a few chapters before the end, everyone’s true identities and fates resolved; or so you think, for Bill Williams continues the stories of those left alive, telling what happens to them, ties up the few remain loose threads, and has a few more tragic surprises waiting for his readers.

From what I can tell this is Bill Williams’ ninth BHW and having now read my first book by him I am keen to try more of his work.

Revenge by Fire is officially released today.

Saturday 28 November 2009

Wilderness #62

as by David Thompson

Leisure, December 2009

Nate King knows how tough it is to survive in the rugged wilderness of the untamed frontier. That’s why he can never refuse to help someone not as familiar with the infinite dangers of the territory. But when he agrees to guide a freighter captain and his load through geyser country, he has no idea he’s stepping straight into the path of a Pawnee with a personal vendetta. No idea that their destination – the Valley of Skulls – will live up to its grisly name.

Continuing a storyline started in the previous book (although each stands alone as a complete story) this tale sees Nate King become the target of a vengeance seeking Pawnee warrior. This Indian, Kuruk, and his small band of followers, make for some very tough opposition for King.

The quest for revenge isn’t the only thread to this fast moving story, King has to guide the wagons to the Valley of Skulls which holds its own mysteries as well as a group of Shakers who have a very interesting outlook on life. The Shaker’s strong religious beliefs being counted by none-believer Maklin, which allows David Thompson (David Robbins) to write some powerful arguments as to the existence of God.

If the above wasn’t enough for King to contend with, David Thompson adds yet another threat to the mountain man’s life – and all the other characters – by including a natural phenomenon that proves to be the deadliest killer of them all, providing some exciting, tense, reading that adds a touch of horror to the story.

David Thompson’s smooth flowing style is, as always, fast paced, full of excellent descriptive passages, great dialogue, humour, memorable characters, and brutal action, making this book – and indeed the whole Wilderness series – a joy to read.

Friday 27 November 2009

Rustler's Range

as by Billy Hall
A Black Horse Western from Hale, November 2009

Tad Strong had made a bold attempt to capture the outlaw king in his own domain. Everything had gone dreadfully wrong. Now he was pinned down, surrounded, and hopelessly outnumbered.

Tad retreated to the wall, propping himself against it. He was suddenly overwhelmed with the constant barrage of bullets, splintering wood, shattering objects, pounding a relentless cacophony of his certain and impending doom. He realized with a rush the enormous stupidity of thinking he could slip into Bligh’s stronghold, take him out, and escape.

At least he would die thinking of Becky, and the feel of her lips against his. There was no further sense in even trying to prolong the inevitable. There were too many. Bligh was dead, but in everything else he had failed. He sighed in resignation, leaned his head back against the wall, and waited for the bullet that would end it.

The previous BHW I reviewed didn’t have much action and this one is almost the exact opposite. It is jam-packed with blazing gunfights, virtually every chapter seeing guns fired in anger.

The book seems to set itself up as a traditional range war story, but this soon becomes the backdrop – the reason – that Billy Hall uses to justify all the gunfights Tad Strong finds himself in. There’s a touch of love interest with Tad’s attraction to Becky, something she is eager to develop herself. There’s a great twist when it’s discovered that rustlers are branding new born calves with a TS brand registered to Strong; so is he on the straight and narrow?

Billy Hall knows how to write a fast paced story that will hold a readers attention. As well as all the action he inserts many humorous lines of dialogue, usually as banter between Strong and the various cowboys he finds himself working with. Everything is resolved in a truly awesome final gunfight that would make for a great film sequence.

There are a number of other books by Billy Hall in my collection; in fact they’ve been there for years, which I’ve never got around to reading. On the strength of this book I think it’s time to dig them out.

Rustler’s Range is officially released on November 30th, but is available now from all the usual Internet booksellers.

Tuesday 24 November 2009

The Trailsman #337

as by Jon Sharpe
Signet, November 2009

When Fargo hits the little desert town of Las Vegas, he knows that the nearby silver strikes are filling the town with opportunities of every shape, size, and price. But when he signs on with an old frontier buddy to guard shipments from the mines to the town, he gets pulled into a fight not just against bandits, but against a vendetta-packing family out to end the Trailsman’s lucky streak for good.

Like the majority of Trailsman books this one is a very fast moving, action packed, story that is very hard to put down once started. The author throws in “cliff-hanger” style chapter and scene endings that also ensure the reader will keep reading. And there’s the mystery of who is behind the attacks on the silver shipments, something the author keeps to himself until he’s good and ready to spring this persons identity on both Fargo and readers.

Silver Showdown will definitely please followers of the Trailsman series, and should also prove to be a satisfying, and exciting, read for all western fans – as long as they don’t mind a little graphic sex in their books.

If the comments above aren’t enough to persuade you to read this book then telling you who the author is behind the pseudonym of Jon Sharpe this time should tell you as to the quality of writing and storytelling you can expect to find in this book, the author being James Reasoner.

So a must read for Trailsman fans, a must read for James Reasoner fans, a should read for those who enjoy westerns filled with non-stop action and a little mystery, and, for those yet to try a Trailsman book, this could just be the book that makes you realise what you’ve been missing.

Always the Guns

as by Matt James
A Black Horse Western from Hale, November 2009

A murder charge followed by a desperate flight and pursuit halfway across the West for two innocent young ranchers – could fate be more brutal?

Darien Pell and Slim Carroway are soon to find out during an odyssey which takes them from the once-peaceful East to the wilds of old Texas … with a vengeful posse in pursuit.

Is it simple bad luck that they fall in with flamboyant old Mack and his gang of wild desperadoes? Or might it prove to be their one hope of dodging the hangman’s noose?

Matt James is one of the pseudonyms used by the prolific Paul Wheelahan and like all the books I’ve read by him this one is a fast flowing and entertaining read. There’s not as much action as I expected, most of the action is described in the narrative after it has happened. Having said that there is plenty to hold the readers attention; the superbly drawn characters, particularly Mack Dunn. The fact that the outlaws are being hunted by Rangers, as well as the posse out to bring back Darien Pell – the latter being resolved in an unexpected, and almost understated, way. About two thirds of the way through the book Dunn announces he has a plan and a destination in mind, but doesn’t reveal what either are, so Paul Wheelahan introduces a touch of mystery to the story which insures the reader will keep turning the pages.

Always the Guns has an official release date of November 30th, although it should be available through Internet booksellers now.

Fans of Paul Wheelahan’s work will also be pleased to now that Always the Guns is one of two BHW released by him this month; the other being Take me to Texas as by Ryan Bodie.

Sunday 22 November 2009

The Bounty Hunter series

As Leisure officially publish the fourth in Robert J. Randisi’s Bounty Hunter books in a few days, I thought I’d post a series review I wrote some time ago after reading all five books one after the other.

by Robert J. Randisi

Leisure, August 2008
first published as by Joshua Randall
PaperJacks, July 1987

Decker’s name was cleared moments before he was to hang for a crime he didn’t commit. But in a way a life did end for Decker – and a new one as a bounty hunter began. Leaving his old life behind, Decker roams the West. The only part of his past he keeps is the noose that was once around his neck. A grim and relentless tracker, he is obsessed with finding his man. He is known in every frontier town and feared by every man with a price on his head.

by Robert J. Randisi
Leisure, December 2008
first published as by Joshua Randall
PaperJacks, October 1987

Moran had a nice scheme going for himself. It was easy for him to make some friends and get appointed sheriff of small towns all over the West. But he had no interest in wearing a badge for long – and he preferred the life of an outlaw to that of a lawman. So after a while, the new sheriff would rob the local bank and head for Mexico – where the real law couldn’t touch him. But Decker, the Bounty Hunter, would chase a guilty man to hell and back for the right price…

by Robert J. Randisi
Leisure, May 2009
first published as by Joshua Randall
PaperJacks, January 1988

He came to San Francisco for a woman – a woman with a price on her head. She’s a beautiful con artist who has left a long trail of men with their pants down and their wallets empty. And when she started to hit banks the bounty on her grew enough to interest Decker. But Frisco is the West’s wildest city, and Decker soon has more than one woman on his mind. Helping two beautiful sisters puts Decker in the middle of a deadly game of blackmail. And searching for another woman’s missing sister gets him involved in a crime of passion.

by Robert J. Randisi
Leisure, November 2009
first published as by Joshua Randall
PaperJacks, May 1988

Like other hired killers The Baron did his work cleanly and professionally, but he was cut from a different cloth. The Baron had class. Apparently, The Baron – that’s what they called him – really is a baron. For Decker, the Bounty Hunter, The Baron will be the first hired killer he hunts. Come to think of it, Decker and The Baron aren’t such different fellows after all. Their lethal livelihood is their common bond. Which makes The Baron an even more dangerous target for The Bounty Hunter.

by Robert J. Randisi

Leisure, August 2010
first published as by Joshua Randall
PaperJacks, November 1988

When a fellow bounty hunter is gunned down, Decker wants retribution so bad he’ll go across the country for it. Leaving Harrison City, Iowa and heading for New York City armed with the names of the killers, Decker is bent on evening the score. But Gotham isn’t kind to it all its visitors – and Decker is mistaken for his murdered colleague! Dodging bullets in a place unknown to the Bounty Hunter and feeling more vengeful than ever, Decker is driven to a riveting showdown in Central Park before he can let the guns cool off.

This series seems to tip its hat to the TV western series Wanted Dead or Alive, which starred Steve McQueen as Josh Randall, a bounty hunter. In fact the first book is dedicated to McQueen.

Like most of Robert J. Randisi’s work these books are made up of very short chapters that are dialogue driven. All the stories are extremely fast paced and full of well-drawn characters, one of which appears in more than one book, so it might enhance a readers enjoyment to read the series in order.

Robert Randisi plots well and builds the storylines through twists and turns as his characters second guess and attempt to double-cross each other before the final showdowns. The identity of the bad guys is usually known early on but there are some surprise revelations to be found in a couple of the books.

Having Decker carry the noose that he was nearly hanged by is an excellent touch, one that I’d have liked to have seen mentioned more often and used a little more in the series.

Occasionally I could see similarities between Decker and Clint Adams – the hero of Robert Randisi’s long running Gunsmith series, plus the fact that both characters have a bar owner friend who supplies them with information. Unlike The Gunsmith, Decker isn’t fast with a pistol he prefers a rifle.

The books I read were the PaperJacks versions and there was a big problem with two of the books – and I’ll quickly add not Robert Randisi’s fault – and that is that some of the pages are printed in the wrong order, which was frustrating to say the least – and I’d guess for Mr. Randisi too. I’d imagine that this has been corrected by Leisure.

Overall this is a very entertaining series that offers quick and action-packed reads - and it doesn’t really matter if you don’t read the books in order – that should be read by all fans of the western genre.

Those of you who are collecting the Leisure versions of these books – and the eagle-eyed among you will have already spotted this – may like to know that Leisure will be publishing the fifth book, Broadway Bounty, in August 2010.

Friday 20 November 2009

Trail of the Burned Man

by Thomas McNulty
A Black Horse Western from Hale, November 2009

When Rafe Morgan rides into a Wyoming town called Twisted Oak he gets into a saloon brawl and horribly disfigures an outlaw named Dutch Williams. Vowing revenge, Dutch and his men pillage the town and take two hostages, including the marshal’s daughter.

Rafe joins Deputy U.S. Marshal Ethan O’Hara and a small posse in the hunt for Dutch, but they soon realize that Dutch didn’t take hostages to negotiate, he took them as bait.

Dutch won’t be satisfied with stolen money, he wants blood, and he’ll stop at nothing until Rafe and the posse are destroyed. Following the outlaw’s trail, the posse now find themselves in a desperate struggle for their very lives.

Thomas McNulty has created a superbly insane bad guy in his character Dutch. Just wondering what he’ll do next, particularly when the posse are his prisoners, is more than enough to keep a reader enthralled. And as the plot develops the reader has to start wondering just who will be alive at the end.

It’s not just Dutch that makes for a memorable character though, there’s Rafe, Ethan and his daughter, Amy, too, and who’ll be able to forget Black Wolf and his bear?

Thomas McNulty’s writing style is easy to read, smooth flowing, propelling the storyline on in an ever increasing pace. The action is well told and often described in all its gory detail, be it bullets punching through bodies, that of brutal torture, or the gruesome killings carried out by the bear.

So Trail of a Burned Man is a fast moving tale that should definitely appeal to those who enjoy a savage storyline, in which no-one is safe from the many flying bullets, slashing claws, or the burn of the flame.

Trail of the Burned Man is Thomas McNulty’s first Black Horse Western and I’m looking forward to more. This book has an official release date of November 30th but should be available from Internet booksellers now.

Wednesday 18 November 2009

Pony Soldiers #1

by Chet Cunningham

Leisure, 1987

White Eagle was on the warpath, killing, looting and raping his way across the territory. No one was safe – not even Captain Colt Harding’s wife and son. They were killed and mutilated; his four-year-old daughter was captured by the fierce Comanche warrior.

Burning with hatred, and thirsting for revenge, Harding mounted up his men and began a long and bloody trek that would continue until he had seen White Eagle’s corpse rotting in the desert sun – until he rescued his daughter from brutal Indian slavery.

Having read a few of the later books in this series I was looking forward to reading this, to find out how it all began.

Chet Cunningham cleverly combines two plot threads that both emerge from the slaughter that takes the lives of Harding’s wife and son. There’s the kidnapping of Harding’s young daughter, Sadie, and then there’s the investigation into the money that goes missing from the stricken wagons, which can only have been stolen by the soldiers who arrive in time to bury the dead.

Chet Cunningham tells his story through chapters that alternate between Hardin and his quest to find his daughter, the hunt for the thief and that persons plans to escape with the money, and Sadie’s life in the Comanche camp; how she’s adopted by a childless woman and taught the way of the Comanche. This latter part providing some fascinating insights into the everyday life of the Comanche.

As the story races to its conclusion it soon becomes evident that Chet Cunningham will not be able to resolve both plotlines before books end, and this is obviously his intention; thus ensuring the reader will have to buy the next book in the series if they want to find out if Hardin ever frees his daughter. I know for sure I’ll soon be picking up the next book to find out.

Friday 13 November 2009

Interview: Keith Hetherington

My latest interview is with an author who has had a very impressive number of books published (with more to come), mainly in his homeland of Australia, some of which have been published in America too. These days Hale, in England, publishes his westerns under their Black Horse Western banner. The man in question is Keith Hetherington, so over to Keith…

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

Thanks for asking me to do the interview.

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

Always liked writing little vignettes, trying to describe 'action' sequences I saw in a film or the Saturday Afternoon Serial at local cinemas. Used to 'make' my own books when I was about 12, pasting the pages together (no office staplers in those days, though sometimes I removed staples from old comics or books I didn't want and used them.) Had a few essays read out to classes and one went the rounds of the entire school - something called The Dahlia, as I recall: I was amazed, for the last thing I was interested in at that age was flowers and gardening - used to bust a boiler trying to get out of mowing the lawns at weekends. It was wartime, so most stories I wrote were military-oriented, with lots of blood and guts.

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

Had an accident at work in my early teens and spent a week at home. Read a story called "Jailbreak Justice' in a book of cowboy stories and thought I could write as good or better yarn. Filled a dozen or so pages in an exercise book, called it THE TEXAN (very original) and mailed it away. To my surprise (not to mention delight) a couple of months later I received a cheque for six pounds fifteen. Thought I was made: didn't bank that cheque for ages, pinned it to my bedroom door. Anyway, that was the start, they wanted more stories and I began writing fairly regularly and Cleveland Publications bought out the original company and asked for 'novelettes' of about 20,000 words. These gradually got up to 48,000 words though dropped back progressively down to about 40,000. Meantime I wrote short adventure stories for 'men’s magazines', honing the writing skills.

Being Australian what made you choose to write westerns of all the genres out there?

I always liked the bush stories of our famous Aussie author Ion Idriess, full of outback action and bush-craft. I used the Aussie bush for background to my adventure yarns but, influenced by the many Saturday afternoon serials at the local cinema, mostly Westerns with heroes like Buck Jones, Johnny Mack Brown, Dick Foran and so on - if you don't recognise the names it only means I'm older than you are! But I had a Daisy air rifle like most Aussie kids at that time, and it became a Winchester, knocking off the Injuns in every spare minute I could get into the bush with Our Mob - a gang of larrikin Aussie kids out for blood.

Which writers influence you?

At the time, I was influenced by Zane Grey and Walt Slade/Jackson Cole - house names of authors of the Jim Hatfield yarns in the American Western magazines - which we couldn't get enough of. My father was a Zane Grey fan and also influenced me - by way of encouragement to keep on writing.

Which western writers would you recommend?

Which writers would I recommend now? Well, I like Elmore Leonard, both his thrillers and his Westerns - he's got a style all his own, laconic, tough, knowledgeable. I used to read a lot of Frank C. Robertson in the old Collins White Circle Westerns - Dad and I would toss a coin to see who got to read the current one first. Norman Fox and, of course, the Master, Luke Short. Luke constructed his stories extremely well, could make his characters come alive, and wasn't afraid to give his hero a short temper, resulting in some brutal fights. I credit him with saving me from sea sickness in 1953 when I was sailing to see the world: we hit seventy foot waves in the Great Australian Bight - or they hit us, more accurately - and my mate was pea-green (but not with envy) and I happened to be reading HIGH VERMLLION by Luke. There was this tremendous fist fight - went for pages - I parked in a tight corner on deck, nearly freezing, concentrated on that fight and what came after and escaped being sea sick...Thank you, Luke!

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

Luke Short's stuff is still eminently readable, though mostly out of print. As I mentioned earlier, Elmore Leonard usually comes up with a good yarn. Zane Grey is very dated now though I liked his SHADOW ON THE TRAIL immensely (the book a gift from my father, incidentally).

Les Savage Jnr. wrote a good one called TREASURE OF THE BRASADA, which would probably be worth a re-run, but I can't really nail down any particular title right now.

How many westerns have you had published to date?

I believe I've published over 600 (Keith Chapman thinks it might be closer to 1,000), but I don't really know. Let's just say 'lots'! Sorry if that's a cop-out.

Having written so many books how easy is it to keep coming up with new stories and where does your inspiration come from?

I've never had much trouble coming up with a new storyline. Can't sat HOW, or WHY, but it must just be the kind of mind I've got. I really like constructing a yarn, fitting the pieces in to make it not only readable and coherent but LIKED (or a stronger word if you like!)

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

I don't intentionally work on more than one book at a time, but more often than not, while writing one, something will strike a spark for another idea and I quickly make a note (has to be MIGHTY quick, now I've turned 80!) and I may start developing it a little more after I've done the day's work on the other.

Have any of your Cleveland characters appeared in a Black Horse Western?

I don't think I've used any of my Cleveland characters in books I've written for Hale. Maybe used the same name unintentionally, but I never carried forth any series character.

You’ve written stories about Bronco Madigan under two different Black Horse Western pseudonyms, and fans of Madigan may not realize there are other books out there under a different authors name. Why did you decide to put them out under two names?

The two different names for the Bronco Madigan series came about through my own laxity. I picked the wrong one to head up the title page (twice!) but there was no real reason for it.

Over the years what changes have you seen in what you can or cannot include in a western?

There's not much that hasn't appeared in Westerns over the years, including clinically described sex and graphic violence. I think Cleveland toned-down a couple of my more violent descriptions but I haven't really noticed any big taboos - you can still find Westerns with a sex scene or two (and why not? Those guys were 'real men' and anyone knows real men have sex! ) Who with, is maybe another thing - recall BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN? Didn't believe a word of it. Incest would be out, I think, but I don't know: it's just that I haven't encountered it in any Westerns I've read. (And wouldn't want to.) Hell, in this day and age you never know what you'll find in print, but on a personal note, I just try to stick to the fist fights and shootouts, but I have been known to mention the odd rape or two...I don't feel that's a very satisfactory answer to your question, but don't seem to be able to come up with anything else.

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

LONER FROM LARAMIE was my first Western for Hale. It's more or less an indication of my style and content and, even if I do say so myself, it's not a bad yarn. (But I never think what I write is anything out of the ordinary - I just enjoy doing it, and maybe what comes across is my enthusiasm.

Is there still a big market for westerns in Australia?

There is no market for publishing Westerns in Australia that I know of. Cleveland still run mostly on re-issues (some of mine as far back as the late 60's or early 70's) with an occasional 'new’ one - which I suspect is a manuscript Cleveland bought from one of its writers some years ago and had been filed away and finally unearthed. They still sell well here - but there's no other Western publisher that I know of.

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

I'm optimistic: I truly believe the Western genre is one genre that will keep on keeping-on (as they say in a certain TV paint commercial). That and Romance - I think both will always find a ready audience - mind, I'm not so sure it'll be the written word (on paper, that is) maybe only electronically. How that will affect writers like you and me and our other compadres I'm not sure.

You haven’t just written westerns, can you please tell us a little about your other books, both fictional and non-fiction.

I like to write thrillers, always have, the 'private-eye' type. Heavily influenced by Raymond Chandler or course, and I like writing the occasional adventure story. Hale have published some of mine over the years. A few come to mind JUDAS COAST; DRAGON OUT OF THE SOUTH; THE NAKED NEMSIS, HAMMERHEAD REEF.

I wrote one boys' adventure book way back in 1966, was published in England and the U.S. as well as Australia: THE SCUBA BUCCANEERS under the pen name of James Keith. My Christian names reversed. I've done a lot of short stories as mentioned earlier, worked as a TV scriptwriter for 5 and a half years, all Aussie shows: HOMICIDE; MATLOCK POLICE; DIVISION 4; SOLO ONE; THE BOX; THE SPOILER; CHOPPER SQUAD, ETC. I did one film script for a spy yarn set in the Philippines, but the company went broke before it was filmed.

Also wrote a book about metal detectors when I was treasure hunting for a while, mostly on beaches, but some outback stuff; as well. BEACHCOMBING WITH A METAL DETECTOR. Sold pretty well, but too dated now what with all the high-tech machines around.

Worked as a journalist for 11 years for the Queensland Health Education Council, writing weekly articles for newspapers on health subjects and Radio Plays dramatising same. (Must have been mad, but can still remember belting out a series on Smoking and Lung Cancer with a packet of cigarettes beside my typewriter - and going through them mighty fast!)

Do you think paper produced books will ever be replaced with electronic books?

I don't think electronic books will ever completely replace printed books, but they're bound to have a wide appeal - and it might not be so easy to make a crust, as we say in Oz, because the whole deal will be changed: copyright will be up the spout, for sure; publishers won't get much of a look-in - so where does that leave the author? Poorer than bloody usual! Just hope the idea never takes on in stampede mode!

What is your favourite western movie and why?

WESTERN UNION was my favourite Western movie for over forty years and is still way up there - but it has company now, SEVEN MEN FROM NOW. Both star Randolph Scott (my favourite cowboy - and I'm still occasionally guilty of describing my heroes as having some Scott attributes) But SEVEN MEN FROM NOW has a terrific opening, great dialogue and editing - and facial expressions, also attention to detail, like Randy, casually changing the coffee mug from his gunhand to his left hand and nudging back his rain-drenched slicker.... Not a 'big' western, budget-wise, but a tough story and great characters - including Lee Marvin doing the honours as a likeable villain.

Finally what do you read for pleasure?

I read just about anything I find interesting - fiction, true adventure, historical - I can always enjoy a 'good' book of whatever genre as long as its well written and has a plot that interests me.