Saturday 31 January 2009

Lone Star #17

as by Wesley Ellis
Jove, December 1983

Doc Holliday…Clay Allison…John Harrow…and two hundred more of the West’s worst badmen had gathered in a secret riverside camp – and the cartel that had always menaced the Starbucks was behind it somehow. Their lives in danger every minute, Ki and Jessie go in disguised as a cook and a whore. They find enough bandits to knock off a whole city…but they still don’t know where the raiders will strike…

It is such a shame that the covers to this series give the impression of the books being of the western romance type rather than the tough action filled reads that they really are.

This entry into the series was written by Neal Barrett Jr. and he provides a fast moving and gripping read. The book jumps between Jessie and Ki’s struggles to discover who is behind the outlaw gathering and its purpose.

There are many superbly drawn characters and a shocking revelation at the end to the identity of one. There are plenty of red-herrings too as to the target, which the author keeps secret until he’s ready to reveal it, (although this is given away by the books’ title – why do they do that?). Towards the end the book becomes a race against time which ends in a brutal and bloody battle.

Definitely one of the best Lone Star books I’ve read.

Friday 30 January 2009

Rogue Lawman #4

by Peter Brandvold
Berkley, April 2008

This is the fourth book about Gideon Hawk: Rogue Lawman.

Flanked by six other copper stars and armed with a death warrant, U.S. Marshal Flagg is not about to let Gideon Hawk slip through his fingers. He follows Hawk to the sleepy border town of Bedlam, where Hawk is hiding out. Hawk is considering giving up bounty hunting and starting a new life, but Flagg, who’s not about to be made a fool of in front of his posse, might force Hawk’s hand. Luckily for Hawk, he’s got an old nemesis on his side, a woman who knows her way around him – and around a gun…

Once again Peter Brandvold turns out a savagely brutal – and at times sadistic – book, where the line between good and bad doesn’t exist. Marshal Flagg and his deputies being just as ruthless and cruel as the outlaws they – and Hawk – track down.

The book moves quickly from one violent confrontation to another so to say the book is action packed is almost an understatement.

Great to see Peter bring back Saradee, who first appeared in the previous Rogue Lawman book Cold Corpse, Hot Trail. A woman quick with a gun and soon seeking her own savage form of revenge.

And for Hawk this book doesn't have a happy ending, and leaves me eagerly looking forward to the next in the series.

Wednesday 28 January 2009

Ride the Red Sun Down

by Thom Nicholson
Signet, May 2005

Martin Keller wasn’t always a bounty hunter whose infamy reached from Colorado Territory to Mexico. Only after the soulless Al Hulett murdered Keller’s wife and son did he turn to tracking killers. And any bounty he collects goes towards finding Hulett – and exacting some long-overdue vengeance….

When a wound holds Keller up, he must rely on the mercy of the townsfolk of Cimarron. For once, he can remove the blinders and take in the welcome sight of Caroline Thompson, the young widow nursing him back to health. After hearing how a black-hearted backshooter killed her man, Keller vows to find her enemy as well as his own – little knowing how close the two deadly trails will come….

Unlike many books that have a hero hunting for the killers of his family, this book doesn’t begin with those deaths, it begins with the wounded Keller riding into town and being chased out by a young lawman out to prove himself, who, like many others, sees bounty hunters as less than desirable people to have in his town. In fact this theme is touched on a number of times during the story.

Keller doesn’t come across as smart as might be expected for a hero, he is easily tricked by Caroline into tracking her husbands’ killers, falling for her feminine wiles.

In fact it’s Nicholson’s character studies that are the standout parts of this book, the fact that Keller isn’t the invincible hero that some westerns have as their lead character makes him easy to relate too. Keller also needs other people to help in his quest and here he teams up with one of Caroline’s ranch hands, JB, an ex-tracker for the Army.

The book can almost be divided into three parts, that of the recovery of Keller and the introductions to the main players in the story. This is follow by the middle part that sees Keller and JB hunting down Caroline’s husband’s killer which provides the link to the men Keller is after. The final part could easily be a book in itself, telling the story of Keller and JB finding out that his quarry has joined a bandit gang in Mexico, and of their help in defeating this small army and defending a Mexican ranch. It’s here Keller meets another woman, Isobel, who competes for his love against the memories of Caroline who he knows is waiting for his return.

There’s plenty of action, especially in the final part of the book, as the story moves in increasing pace to its end where all the loose threads are neatly tied up, leaving me looking forward to reading the further adventures of Martin Keller.

Sunday 25 January 2009

Interview: Hale - publishers of Black Horse Westerns

Helen Ogden of Hale - publishers of the Black Horse Westerns - kindly agreed to talk to Western Fiction Review. For those who've never seen a BHW, they are hardback books that measure 7.5 inches by 5. They come in at around 160 pages, making for action packed, fast moving reads. The covers are printed onto the book with a high gloss finish. At the moment 6 new books are published every month. Their books are aimed at the library market although they can be found to buy through various internet sites including their own

How long has Hale been publishing westerns.

Hale has been publishing Westerns since around 1938.

After a manuscript has been accepted what are the stages the book has to go through before it is published and how long does this take?

The manuscript goes to the Submissions department and if we choose to accept it, it then takes about a year before it is published. During this time, it will be scheduled, copy-edited and proof-read and the jacket image will also be decided on. The book is finally sent through to the production department and the printers!

How do you decide which cover goes on what book, and where do you get these paintings from?

We use a few different artists who work out of house but the ultimate decision on the cover is Mr. Hales.

Do you prefer to publish stand-alone stories or series books?

We publish both stand-alone and series books depending on the ideas and what the author and editor feel happy with. …

Many Black Horse Westerns have a few blank pages at the back, is there any reason you don’t use these to advertise your other westerns?

The reason we have blank pages is to do with formatting and it could certainly be an idea to advertise westerns on these pages

Have you ever considered publishing your books in an electronic format?

As yet, we are not publishing electronically and I don’t think this will happen in the near future. Westerns have a huge library following which is fantastic and we don’t want this to be ruined by technology! I personally think there will always be a place for the traditional book so electronic publishing may be beginning to grow, but we will continue to sell our books despite this. I also believe the whole Western genre is such an old tradition of writing that it is best suited and loved in its traditional format.

How do the books end up as large print editions and who decides which books are selected for this?

Books end up as large-print editions if the Rights Manger feels that the book will benefit from this. She will look at the demand for the book and consider whether it is worth printing large print editions.

You’ve published many books by well-known western writers, how does this come about – are you approached by the author themselves or their agent?

We are mainly approached by the authors regarding potential books but occasionally by agents.

Lauran Paine has had many, many books published by you under many pseudonyms. Would you say he’s been your most prolific author?

I would certainly say that Lauran Paine has been one our most prolific authors.

What are the reasons behind the use of pseudonyms?

Authors tend to use pseudonyms because they want to conceal their identity or print as many books as possible! An author has to have a gap of a couple of months between their books but if they use lots of different names then they can be scheduled in all together!

Do libraries ask for more by particular authors or do they just ask for a specific number of new books per month?

Some libraries do ask for particular books and some authors have quite a following! Others just ask for general titles.

Do you get feedback from the libraries on which books/authors are being borrowed the most?

We can keep an eye on who is ordering what from our distributors by using an online database.

Finally, do you see Hale publishing westerns for many years to come?

I certainly think Hale will be publishing Westerns for many years to come! It is an institution! I would like to push a bit more publicity wise for the Westerns which might encourage bookshop sales but we should not underestimate libraries or feel disheartened by library sales.

Friday 23 January 2009

Hawk #9

as by William S. Brady
Fontana, 1981

The Willard brothers didn’t know what they were letting themselves in for when they took Ben King’s wife off the train. She was beautiful and her husband was rich… Rich enough to hire Jared Hawk to bring his wife back and kill the men who took her.

Hawk didn’t like King’s methods, but the big man’s money spoke loud enough to persuade him, so he took the job. It didn’t look too difficult… Not until he got tangled up in a spider’s web of lethal intrigue.

But Hawk had a way of solving problems – with a .45 calibre lead slug!

The Hawk series first appeared in 1979 and ran for fifteen books, the last one coming out in 1983. William S. Brady being a pseudonym shared by Angus Wells and John Harvey, this entry being written by Wells.

Like most anti-heroes created by the group of authors known as The Piccadilly Cowboys, Jared Hawk is a cold, heartless, character who can be every bit as cruel as those he is hunting, and the book has its fair share of savage violence told in all its gory detail.

Wells includes a number of short flashback sequences to explain some of Hawk’s past, in particular why he wears a black glove on his left hand and of his time working with John T. McLain (the lead character from another William S. Brady series; Peacemaker).

Like many PC heroes Hawk carries an unusual weapon, a cut-down Meteor single barrel shotgun, carried in a specially designed belt holster, and this gun is used to devastating effect.

The story itself gets off to a good start but then seems to plod on as much of the rest of the book is taken up with Hawk tracking the kidnappers, with nothing much happening, although Wells’ descriptions of landscapes and conditions are very well told.

Once Hawk finds the truth behind the kidnapping he decides to take matters into his own hands and the book comes to a blood drenched conclusion.

Perhaps not the best work to come from Angus Wells but still worth a look if your preferred choice in western reading is for the more brutal books.

Tuesday 20 January 2009

The Trailsman #271

as by Jon Sharpe
Signet May 2004

Skye Fargo usually doesn’t take jobs he can’t do by himself. But when an old friend begs him to find a priceless ruby ring stolen by a passel of pint-size pilferers, Fargo hires a streetwise vagabond named Toby to infiltrate the gang and lead him to the cunning criminal who uses kids as his own personal thieves guild.

But this job isn’t going to be child’s play, and there’s nothing petty about the larceny this posse is pulling off. Soon Fargo realizes a lot more is at stake than one man’s heirloom. The Trailsman has to watch his step – and his pockets – if he doesn’t want to lose his shirt…and his life.

As it says on the back, “The Dickens it ain’t!” But the author must have been a fan, particularly of Oliver Twist.

There’s not as much gunplay as might be expected from a Trailsman book but that doesn’t matter in this case as St. Louis Sinners is a gripping story in which double-cross follows double-cross, as the story moves rapidly towards payoff, and Fargo begins to wonder if he’s supplied the very kid the criminal needs to pull off a much bigger crime than the one he’s trying to solve.

The writing style is to jump from one character to another, so Fargo is not in the story as much as usual. The double-cross plot(s) did have me wishing the book was longer so these twists could have been explored more.

But this excellent tale is marred by the authors portrayal of Skye Fargo. I don’t remember Fargo going around calling people “old chum” before. Fargo is also referred to as a bounty hunter – which he’s not. He’s a man who smokes – which he doesn’t. Worst of all, we are told Skye Fargo is the name his parents gave him! - You only have to read the character introduction, reproduced in all the books, to know this is not correct.

So, in conclusion, if you can forgive the author for failing to get Skye Fargo’s character right, this book provides a good entertaining read.

Friday 16 January 2009

Interview: Mike Linaker

My next interview is with author Mike Linaker. I first read Mike’s work in the late 1970’s, collecting and reading his Bodie series. You can find a few reviews of his work on this blog by clicking on his name at the end of the interview.

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

Thanks for asking me, Steve. Fame at last!!

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

The bug was always there, but I didn't make a real effort until I was in my early twenties. I used to write small pieces for my amusement, and then it occurred to me I should be doing this seriously. So I went out and bought myself a portable typewriter, paper and carbon and started. A complete novice, with no idea about the mechanics of writing. Being a stubborn Lancashire lad I figured it shouldn't be too difficult. Boy, was I wrong. It took almost a full year to complete the first manuscript. Then I handwrote first and transferred it to a typewritten copy.

I chose Westerns because they were my favorite reading matter (this was in the 60s, the Golden Years of paperback Westerns from the US) so my grounding was in the greats. L'Amour, Shirreffs, Frank Castle, Harry Whittington etc. Plus the TV was awash with Western series and so were the movies. I was in no doubt I wanted to write Westerns.

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

My first attempt TWO FROM TEXAS was sent to the agent in New York I had read about, the legendary Scott Meredith. He said he would take me on. So off went the script. It finally came back with the best advice I have ever had. A four page letter explaining why TWO FROM TEXAS would never ever make it as a book. The advice Meredith gave me was a concise lesson on the way to write a Western. I never forgot his advice and to this day I'm so grateful to him. I used his advice and wrote book two – THE SAVAGE JOURNEY, sent it and went on to write INCIDENT AT BUTLER'S STATION. He liked them both, made no promises, but after a long time, while I wrote the next book, I received the letter telling me SAVAGE JOURNEY had been bought by Avon Books. Two days later another letter told me BUTLER'S STATION had gone to Avon as well.

I was twenty-six, two books accepted, decided to send the next book HIGH KILL. Believing I was on my way, Meredith tried to sell it, but Westerns were on one of their periodic downswings and nothing happened and nothing did for a long time.

I got married, continued writing and never even thought of giving it up.

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

Here I was lucky. TWO FROM TEXAS didn't make it, but book two, SAVAGE JOURNEY did. Since then every book I've written has been published, so I count myself very lucky.

Which writers influence you?

Western writers have always featured high on my list. I admire L'Amour. His style, the near poetry of his narratives. The man had a touch no one else has ever come close to producing. Others include Gordon Shirreffs, Lewis Patten. D. B. Newton – I particularly liked his Jim Bannister series. Over the years I guess I've read most Western writers though Zane Grey and Max Brand did nothing for me (sorry if that offends purists but it's how I feel). Today there are no Western writers around I can feel at home with. From the US, where the Western still exists, nothing stimulates me. I must be in a time warp because the traditional Western novel is still my preference. I don't like the sex & sagebrush books that pretend to be Westerns. Okay, they seem to sell well and series run into the 100s, but I'd rather sit down with an old GOLD MEDAL book. I just wish I had been starting out when they had their heyday

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

My stamina isn't what it used to be so one book at a time suits me fine. Back in the busy years I did end up writing a Bodie book and a horror for New English Library. I'm amazed I didn't get confused and have Bodie throw his saddle on one of the mutated insects from SCORPION. I still work on new treatments for new books even when writing an EXECUTIONER – that's generally while everyone is reloading for the next firefight!!

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

The only Westerns I had any input on was when the commissioned artist for the BODIE series rang me and asked for a detailed description of the character. I did like the mirror motif he used on the covers. Once or twice the EXECUTIONER editors call and want me to describe some of the scenes from the books so they design the covers around them.

You had a few stories published in the Norwegian magazine Western in the 1970’s, which included stories called Colorado Terror and The Gun Clan. How did this come about?

When CORGI started publishing Morgan Kane I saw the publisher's address inside and wrote to them asking if they would be interested in seeing any of my work. Finn Arneson, the Editor, looked at BRIGHAM'S WAY & JACOB'S ROAD and made me an offer. He was going run them in Western Magazine as serials. Before he did he said he would like some short stories featuring the three brothers to publish before and after the books. In the end I wrote more than 30 shorts featuring the Tylers. Writing those short stories was a lesson in how to cut out the flab and create tight, fast moving material. I used the lesson when I went back to full length books'

Have any of these stories been published in the English language?

Short answer – no.

I believe your Brand series was originally published in Norway, the first seven of which have been published in English by the Linford Western Library or Hale. Is there any chance of the last two being published in English?

The Jason Brand series followed after the Tyler series in Western Magazine. I created and wrote it for Finn Arnesen and it ran to nine books. I retained copies of the scripts and years later rewrote them on computer, printed them off and persuaded the then Editor at Linford to take them. They usually only do reprints of existing books, so again my luck was with me. They did the first seven, then a new Editor decided against completing the set. Hale cut short the series when John Hale didn't like the theme and setting for DEVIL'S GOLD (it had Brand, as a government agent, travelling to Jamaica on the trail of a Chinese crime lord. At the end of the book Brand loses his memory and is left unaware of who he is. Hale didn't like that either.) I pondered on Brand's last adventure, which picked up with him going to Montana, still with no memory of his former life. My Lancashire roots kicked in. Never waste anything, so I sat down with the script – GUNLOOSE – on the computer and re-jigged it. Brand became Sam Harper, alone with a blank memory, trying to pull his life back together. He meets a desperate young woman and signs on to help her. The book became HIGH MOUNTAIN STAND OFF by John C. Danner and Hale published it in 2006. It has, for me, one of the best Hale cover illustrations I've seen for a long time. So Jason Brand has faded into obscurity. I can't see him returning. But it has been known for me to be wrong before!!

You’ve mentioned writing a book that teams up Brand with one of your other western heroes, Bodie the Stalker (six books published by Star in the UK), how is this plan coming on?

The Brand/Bodie tie up kind of faded when the Brand series disappeared. TWO GUNS NORTH was to have the pair first clash, then realize they were working the same side of the street and have them team up. Brand was also going to discover he has a 16 year old son. It would have been a nice way for the pair to have rounded out the two series – but we don't always get what we want. But there may be a small ray of hope. I won't dismiss it completely. It will require some work but I have just realized a possible way around the problem. At the moment I will say no more.
Back in 2004 Harper published two of your books that originally came out in the late 1960’s, namely Incident at Butler’s Crossing and The Savage Journey. Did these have to be rewritten in any way to fit with today’s publishing laws (political correctness)?

The decision to reissue INCIDENT AT BUTLER'S STATION & SAVAGE JOURNEY came out of the blue after I had written to the publisher asking for the rights to come back to me. They said no – because they wanted to re issue. Who was I to refuse such an offer? The two were freshly printed with no changes. Exactly as first published. I would have objected if any alterations had been suggested. A traditional Western has to written in the way things were back in the day. Start using the PC pen and it would not be a Western any longer. "Hey, Captain, there are Native Americans gathering in hills." just doesn't do it for me. The nice thing about the reissues was they generated higher royalties than when they were published back in 1967.

In 1975 one of your stories appeared in the Sundance series, Bounty Killer as by John Benteen, how did this happen and were you pleased with the result?

I have to take a breath before I answer this. BOUNTY KILLER did appear as a Tower/Belmont book in the Sundance series. It was sold to the publisher as HIGH KILL, a full length Western I had written. It was a book I was extremely pleased with. I was not pleased with the end result. Tower/Belmont took my script and handed it to some machete wielding hack who cut out half the story, changed my character to Jim Sundance and worked in some half-baked additions to graft it onto the SUNDANCE theme. The chop job wasn't even done very well, because suddenly Jim Sundance became Sam, my character, then changed back again. The book presentation was poor, the cover illustration shabby – but the biggest insult was the fact the publisher didn't even have the grace to let me know what they were doing. I even had a fight getting the payment. I wouldn't have known what had happened if by chance I picked up a SUNDANCE book, opened it and recognized the first sentence (one of the few they had left alone.) When I challenged TOWER they said it was in the contract. Once they bought a script they could do what they wanted with it. I was still making my way in publishing then so I walked into that with both eyes wide open. I never let it happen again.

You also wrote five Angel books that were published in Germany. Recently two of these appeared as Black Horse Westerns, any chance of the other three doing so too?

The ANGELS I wrote for my very dear friend Fred Nolan were only ever published in Germany, so I never saw copies. Fred found a couple of original scripts and had them done by Hale. It was so long ago neither of us can recall what the titles of the five were and I don't think Fred can find more than the two.

Which western writers would you recommend?

This tends to come back to my personal favorites. L'Amour, Shirreffs and many from the time when there were Westerns being published on a regular basis. The only contemporary Western writer I read was Ralph Compton. His Trail Drive series of novels had the style of L'Amour. Real authentic sounding Westerns. I read most of his early novels. When he died his books were continued, but written by other writers. Their voice is not his and never will be.

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

You're making this too easy. And I'm going to change Western to Westerns, because I don't have a single book I prefer over others because there are so many. What I would like to see would be a reprinting of all the original GOLD MEDAL BOOKS Westerns. They started me on my way. To me they epitomize the very best of Western fiction. Never over long. Inexpensive, in the tradition of paperback books. Distinctive with those yellow spines and the Gold Medal logo on the cover. And those covers. They spared no expense in getting the best artists of the day – my favorite Frank McCarthy – and gave the reader covers that just leapt out at you. Striking, really artistic illustrations. And don't forget the writers. The best there were. Every month at least three or four new titles. They just kept coming. It was a sad day when they stopped publishing. Later reprints didn't have the same appeal. New covers, like many these days, just didn't have the flair those originals did. In recent years I have managed to start collecting some of those old books and to sit back and read one is still a joy. The first GOLD MEDAL book I ever bought, and which got me hooked on the genre' was TOUGH HOMBRE by Dudley Dean. I tried to find it, but couldn't. Then a package was deliver by the postman. Inside was a nice copy of TOUGH HOMBRE. My longtime, real friend, Dave Whitehead had tracked down a copy and sent it along. Now that is real friendship. I sat that day and read it all the way through and it was still as good.

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

That's difficult. As an example of a traditional (that word again) Western I think TRAVIS. I wrote this as a way of exorcising HIGH KILL, the book massacred by the hacks at Tower/Belmont. It's a straight story of a young man who has to ride through all kinds of obstacles to retrieve his money stolen in a bank raid. No one in town will go with him, even though their money has gone too. So Jim Travis does it on his own. I like the way it came out. Next would be the Tyler books – BRIGHAM'S WAY & JACOB'S ROAD. Westerns with all the requisite inclusions. Friends, adversity, struggles against the elements, and plenty of action. The third book, SETH'S LAW, is being worked on currently and I'm hoping to get it into print one way or another. I have been asked a number of times if I'm going to complete the trilogy – the answer is yes I am.

These days you write Mack Bolan (Executioner) and Stony Man books for Gold Eagle, but do you see yourself writing any more westerns?

See above. At this moment I have four Westerns on the cards. I'm hoping to move them along in the near future.

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

Not reading much these days because the current crop does very little for me. Perhaps it's me. Maybe I'm yearning for the old days when Westerns had the look and feel that pulled me in. We keep hearing of a comeback. A resurgence. I doubt it will ever return to how it was, but if there was a revival I'd be there with my pennies in my hot little hand. When I write my upcoming projects they will be the way I remember Westerns. PC considerations will have no room in my books as far as I'm concerned. The old saying is still correct – they don't make 'em (write 'em) like they used to.

What is your favorite western movie and why?

One again – how can I choose out of so many? But I could watch RIO BRAVO every day. So too THE SHOOTIST. Not because John Wayne was in them. Because of the way they were filmed. The dialog. The characters. Both of them had strong females – Angie Dickenson & Lauren Bacall. Just listen to the exchanges they had with Wayne. Dialog that just trips off the tongue. And I can't ignore HONDO. Sorry, Wayne again. Book by L'Amour. A winning combination. A little more contemporary, try the Westerns starring Tom Selleck. The man epitomizes the Western character. THE LAST WAGON with Richard Widmark. Michael Winner's LAWMAN. Burt Lancaster & Robert Ryan. A hard written and rugged movie with some really standout scenes. Robert Duval too. And talking of Duval brings up LONESOME DOVE. Little left to say about that that hasn't been stated. Fabulous scenery, great performances and of course that haunting music.

Finally what do you read for pleasure?

These days book wise, when I'm not reliving my sad past with fading GOLD MEDAL books, I enjoy a few favorite thriller writers, James Patterson. Kathy Reichs. Patricia Cornwell (though her last couple of books have been well below her best). I love Clive Cussler for his high adventure. Heroes who just can't be beaten, even by the over the top villains. Just recently I've read three paperbacks based on the current TV show CRIMINAL MINDS. I do read a lot. Books, magazines, the back of a cornflakes box. Always have and once the habit grabs hold there's no quitting. I just hope coming generations don't fall away. Nothing like the feel and smell of a new book. Find your favorite armchair, take a mug of coffee and away you go. Can't beat it – Head 'em and move 'em out!!

Tuesday 13 January 2009

The Widowmaker #2

by Robert J. Randisi
Pocket Star, September 2004

When legendary gunfighter John Locke is hired to ride shotgun on a fat payroll wagon bound for Turnback Creek, Montana, it's more than a job. It's a chance to reunite with his old riding partner, ex-Marshal Dale Cooper. But it's not going to be an easy ride as there are sidewinders in the shadows, ready to pilfer the loot for themselves. As the perilous trek to the remote mining camp begins, death is lurking behind every boulder and crevice and Locke and Cooper know that in this fight, there will be no winners – only survivors…

Like many of Robert Randisi's books, this novel is speech driven and has little action at the beginning as the plot and characters are developed. Due to short chapters (two or three pages long), and that much of the book is short lines of speech, this is a very easy, and fast, read.

The plot builds well to its exciting ending, throwing in a few twists along the way.

John Locke makes for an interesting hero – although at times I did start imagining him as Robert Randisi's other major western hero, Clint Adams, The Gunsmith, so alike are they.

So for fans of The Gunsmith this is a must read, and I'd also say that most western fans will find this an entertaining tale.

It’s a shame that this book is the final story about The Widowmaker, as Pocket cancelled its westerns without publishing the advertised third book in the series. I'd have liked to see how John Locke would have developed.

Saturday 10 January 2009

Longarm #306

as by Tabor Evans
Jove, May 2004

He’s quick on the draw, a cow-punch, and a ladies man. But Custis Long will be the first to admit he’s no sailor. So when duty brings him to the Texas coast to investigate the fishy disappearance of a loaded ship, the landlubber reckons he’ll need a crash course in the maritime arts. And if a voluptuous boat owner wants to teach him, all the better…

Tales of Bloody Tom Malone, a murderous Gulf pirate, have kept many a sailor planted on solid ground lately. Locals claim they’ve spotted his black masts – even Bloody Tom himself – searching for his legendary treasure. But the cutthroat’s been dead around eighty years – and Longarm’s answers may well lie in the depths of the ocean…

Hunting down the ghost of Bloody Tom Malone is not the only problem facing Longarm, as the town of Corpus Christi often becomes a battleground for sailors and cowboys, at least in the sea-front bars. It isn’t long before Longarm makes enemies on both sides that he needs to watch out for too.

Soon it becomes evident that there is more going on here than just a ghostly pirate sinking ships. Longarm struggles to unravel the mystery while staying on dry land, he much prefers a horse to a ship, but you just know he’s going to end up on/in the sea!

James Reasoner (writing as Tabor Evans), once more provides an entertaining read, includes those characteristics of Longarm - speech and memories - that other authors sometimes forget.

Good to see sailors and pirates featuring in the book as it makes a pleasant change from the usual totally land based adventures.

A very enjoyable read.

Thursday 8 January 2009

Canyon O'Grady #9

as by Jon Sharpe
Signet, Sept. 1990

Canyon O’Grady rode into Stillwater hunting the source of a flood of phony government bonds that could drown the country in a sea of bad debt. What he found was a lumber war that painted the town red with gore...a scarlet lady who lusted after red-blooded men...and a master of deception who made the redheaded Canyon turn crimson with rage. Caught in a maze of deadly double-dealing, nothing was what it seemed - except the bullets flying and the corpses dropping...

Jon Sharpe - this time writer Chester Cunningham - presents the reader with a not to taxing read. The plot, and bad guys, aren’t kept secret from the reader so making this an easy to follow storyline. Personally I would have liked the who and whys to have remained a mystery until the end so as to add more suspense to the story.

Around this time Cunningham was writing his Spur series as Dirk Fletcher. Spur being a federal investigator like Canyon with counterfeiting being the plot of many of the Spur books, I found myself thinking this could easily be a Spur story. A little more fleshing out of Canyon’s character would, perhaps, have separated the two more.

Not the best Canyon O’Grady book I’ve read but good enough for some light entertainment.

Monday 5 January 2009

Wilderness #58

as by David Thompson
Leisure, December 2008

Samuel Worth never meant to kill the man. But when the son of the plantation owner they worked for tried to attack Samuel’s daughter, he had to defend her. Now his whole family is on the run from a pack of slave hunters and their bloodhounds – straight into the deadly wilds of the Rocky Mountains.

Nate King and his family value their freedom. It’s one of the reasons they chose to live so far from civilization. It’s also why Nate knows he and his wife, Winona, must use every trick at hand to help the Worths escape their captors – even if it costs them their own freedom to do it.

David Thompson (David Robbins) has come up with yet another fast moving, hard to put down, entry into his excellent Wilderness series. The storyline switches from Nate and Winona King to the Worths regularly, often leaving each family in a cliff-hanger situation. Not only do they all face danger from other people but also from the creatures that inhabit the Wilderness itself. The Worths encounter with an alligator being especially breath taking.

Once the Kings and Worths meet up sections of the book follow the slave-hunters, and seeing how they have the ability to second-guess what Nate King plans makes you wonder how the Worths will gain the freedom they so desperately want. This leads to some first rate, nerve pounding, action scenes.

And I did find myself laughing outloud at some of the comments and arguments that both sets of family came up with. David Robbins often injects welcome humouress lines and situations into the Wilderness books.

Of course the issue of slavery plays an important part in the storyline, as does that of bigoted race views – the latter being one of the ongoing themes of the whole series, usually directed at the Indian and half-breeds.

There are plenty of memorable characters too, such as the leader of the slave hunters, Catfish, and the Worths themselves, the mother Emala perhaps the most but for the wrong reasons maybe as she came across well as a whining, irritating person, that I’d have liked to have seen killed off early on.

Does Emala, or any of the other major characters meet their death? That’s not for me to say here, you must read the book for yourselves to find out that answer, but be warned, the ending will have you desperate for more!

Saturday 3 January 2009

Morgan Kane #26

as by Louis Masterson
Corgi 1974
originally published in Norway in 1969

They murdered. They raped. They terrorized. ‘They’ were the Coyoteros – an outlaw gang of blood-crazy whites, half-breeds and trigger-happy Mexicans who ran rampage on both sides of the border. No lawman had ever attempted to stop them – and they figured no lawman was ever gonna try. But they hadn’t counted on Morgan Kane getting interested in their business…

The ‘business’ concerned was a mighty profitable slave-traffic of Apache children – children who were snatched from the reservation and then dragged over the border to be sold. Everything was going real fine until a wagonload of children arrived accompanied by a black-haired woman, an Apache brave and U.S. Marshal Morgan Kane, aiming to kill…

Here author Louis Masterson (Kjell Hallbing) has Kane hunting down some slave traders, a typical western plot, but this is a Morgan Kane story and as to be expected from this series there’s more to this job than just hunting down the Coyoteros.

This is another tough entry into this often brutal series. A book I read in one sitting as Kane struggles to piece together the clues as to just who is behind the selling of the children and who is buying.

In this story Kane’s usually ice-cold exterior cracks with the involvement of the children and he allows his stunning female companion a brief glimpse of his feelings, but only for a moment, adding yet another layer to his complexed character, leading to more emotional scars for Morgan Kane.

Overlooking the occasional bad translations (by Jeffrey M. Wallmann), that make you wonder as to the meaning of the odd sentence, this is a good entry into the series.