Wednesday 29 April 2009

The Coffin Fillers

 as by Barry Cord
Gunsmoke, 2004

Two old-timers ride into Apache Wells looking to visit an old friend who’s prospecting in the area only to be told he’s gone missing, possibly dead as his ghost is haunting the Mesa. Sheriff Caulkins is nervous as the bank is holding a substantial amount of money and he suspects all new arrivals as possible bank-robbers. It’s also rumoured that outlaw Bighead Nevens is aiming to steal the money. Then the sheriff’s deputy goes missing too. Another new arrival in town is Professor Eccleston, he’s selling an elixer called Tigro and has brought a real live tiger to help promote it. Looks like Zachary Stack, the town undertaker could have a lot of business coming his way...

This is a reprint of a short novel originally published in 1973 and is the third story by Barry Cord (real name Peter Germano) featuring his heroes Long Jim and Windy. I’ve enjoyed all the books I’ve previously read by Germano and had high expectations of this one.

There are quite a few more characters involved in this story than those mentioned above, most of who could be something more than meets the eye, and you soon start asking yourself just what is going on?

The fast pace of this intriguing tale drew me in and all too soon I’d reached the last page. As I neared the end I began to wonder how Germano could tie everything up in so few pages (the book is only 111 pages long), but I needn’t have worried as he did so magnificently, once again proving to me that he’s a writer worth looking out for.

Sunday 26 April 2009

The Marshal from Paris

as by J.R. Roberts
Jove, November 2008

Clint Adams pays a call on his old friend, Bass Reeves, the finest lawman in Paris, Texas, and the only black federal deputy marshal west of the Mississippi. That means daily battles with ignorance and prejudice as well as outlaws. But when Clint and Bass team up to nab a gang of black desperadoes, they will prove the hard way that justice is colour-blind…

This assignment is anything but routine, since one of the crooks is Bass’s young cousin. When the outlaws use the young man as a pawn to ambush Bass and rob a bank in Sherman, the Gunsmith must balance mercy with some well-placed bullets…

The Marshal from Paris is the thirteenth giant edition in the long running Gunsmith series, although it’s not that much longer than a regular edition, about forty pages longer in fact.

Like many Gunsmith books this one sees Clint Adams team up with a real person from the history of the West, Bass Reeves. It’s believed Reeves was the first African American to be commissioned as a U.S. Marshal west of the Mississippi River. As the book blurb states his colour leads to a number of confrontations based around bigoted views.

As expected this is a speech driven story that moves forwards at great pace, with the majority of the chapters only lasting for an average of three pages. There’s plenty of action, of more than one kind - after all the Gunsmith is an adult western series. The author (Robert J. Randisi) switches between characters frequently and adds to the main plot of the hunt for the black outlaws by having them falling out with each other, planning to double-cross, and even kill, each other.

If you’re a fan of books containing real people from the West, a fan of the Gunsmith series, or someone who just enjoys a fast moving, well told story, then I’d say you should consider giving The Marshal from Paris a try.

Friday 24 April 2009

Rawhide Ransom

as by Tyler Hatch
A Black Horse Western from Hale, April 2009

Cole was a good sheriff, maybe a mite too lenient at times, but when the chips were down, the town of Barberry fully appreciated his prowess with guns and fists.

But they didn’t know there was a tragedy in his past that would affect his actions – until a local boy was kidnapped while Cole was supposed to be guarding him. And the only one who could deliver the ransom was Cole himself.

Tyler Hatch writes a fast moving, tough, story. His characters are well drawn and it’s good to see they make mistakes, costly mistakes. Hatch spends time describing the emotions that effect judgment and actions, which makes his characters easy to relate too. Not only does Cole have to struggle with making one of these mistakes it happens at the same time he fights the ghosts of his past each year, making for a troubled man.

There’s plenty of action before and after the kidnapping which leads to a dramatic final scene. Even though the final revelations were expected, Hatch does throw in a neat twist towards the end that took me completely by surprise, making the book impossible to put down until I’d discovered how everything worked out.

As far as I can remember this is the first book by this author I’ve read. Hatch is a pseudonym used by Keith Hetherington, who has written getting on for five hundred westerns under a variety of names. If this book is anything to go by, I’ve been missing out on some excellent reading and will soon be hunting through my collection for the other books I have by him.

An excellent interview with Keith Hetherington can be found here

As you can see from the publishing date above, Rawhide Ransom is out now, and considering how fast BHW seem to be selling out these days, I suggest you put your order in right away.

Monday 20 April 2009

Interview: Gary McCarthy

Gary McCarthy is a name well known to western fans, as well as writing many books under his own name Gary has written under a variety of pseudonyms too. So first I must offer my thanks to Gary for agreeing to talk to Western Fiction Review and then hope everyone finds his comments as interesting as I did.

The first question I asked was what made Gary decide to become a writer?

In 1973, I was working as an Economist for the State of Nevada in Carson City and bored out of my mind. I had written three westerns and hadn't been able to sell them. One snowy night I went and saw HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER, hated it and decided that I had nothing to lose by writing a western whose main character was the anthesis of that anti-hero played by Clint Eastwood. So I created a character that was short, heavyset, couldn't shoot or ride a horse and wore a derby hat., but he was an ex-circus strongman and champion bare knuckles fighter. His name was Darby Buckingham and he was the leading dime novelist of his day...but he'd never been to the West. In THE DERBY MAN, my first of many Derby Man novels, Darby Buckingham goes west to see and find the real stories...and so I had a unique character in looks and manner and he became instantly popular. I very much likened him to William Conrad who played in the then popularTV series "Cannon" and he was unique and many dimensional! In the next book, I gave him the lovely, buxom and brainless Dolly Beavers and so they began their adventures throughout the West. I used a lot of humor in that series and it kept me laughing and writing.

Are there any particular authors that influenced him or he recommends?

I have been a member of Western Writers of America for many years and so have had a lot of fine writer friends. I, of course, love the work of Jeanne Williams, Elmer Kelton and Frank Roderus and suppose my favorite author of westerns was Glendon Swarthout whose novel THE SHOOTIST was being filmed when I lived in Carson City and is one of my all time favorite movies. Other western writers high on the list are Alan LeMay and Loren Estleman.

I then asked how Gary plans his books, especially those based around true historical events?

I write fast with intensity doing a novel in about two or three months. Some writers I know start with an outline, but I don't. I start with a character or place and go from there. One of the most important things for me is to do historical research on the area where my novel takes unfolds. I think my best historical novels are YOSEMITE, GRAND CANYON, MESA VERDE and the novels that I wrote for the RIVERS WEST SERIES, especially THE COLORADO and THE RUSSIAN RIVER.

Which of his books would he recommend to someone who hasn’t read any of his work yet?

The two westerns that I am most pleased with are SODBUSTER and RESTITUTION, although the dearest to my heart remain the DERBY MAN series which I always thought would make a fine TV series. The last of that series, THE COMSTOCK CAMELS came about from my years of visiting Virginia City, Nevada and watching the crazy Comstock camel races. In this novel, the elegant Darby Buckingham wins a bet and has to settle in receipt of a mangy, spitting camel and so writing that kind of tongue-in-cheek western was a pure hoot.

Having read quite a few of Gary’s books I asked if he had a personal interest in horses as many of his plots revolve around them?

You mention that horses are often prominent in my novels and that's because I am a pretty fair horseman. I was on my college rodeo team and have owned horses most of my life and still do ride the high country of Northern Nevada today. I love and think they are absolutely beautiful creatures. Writing THE HORSEMEN series was especially interesting for me because I took pure blooded horses from the South and sent them into the West.

There have been a number of attempts to publish a series of books based on successful television series such as Alias Smith and Jones, Bonanza, Kung Fu, and Gunsmoke – at least three different series have been tried of the latter. All these series have only last for three to six books, and I wondered if Gary had any insights as to why?

I did write four GUNSMOKE novels, but I didn't enjoy them and they didn't work for me. I think that was partly because I was...well, kind of intimidated by those great TV characters but also that at the time the owners of the series wanted so much money that it wasn't profitable for me to do anymore of them or for Berkley to publish them. Maybe that has changed over time.

Which book did he win a Spur Award for?

I've written in quite a few series, one of the very best being Jory Sherman's RIVERS WEST series where I think I wrote eight, winning a Spur Award for THE GILA RIVER and being a Spur Award Finalist for THE RUSSIAN RIVER. Oddly enough, I think that THE COLORADO was the best one that I wrote in that fine historical series.

Which other series’ has he written for?

I believe that I've had 46 western and historical novels published under my name and I have probably written at least that many under pseudonyms. I'm still writing for the LONGARM SERIES and have also written a few for GUNSMITH and LONE STAR. My good friend and fellow writer, Frank Roderus and I teamed up on a couple of series writing under pseudonyms, most notably, RAILS WEST and MAN OF HONOR. It's fun to write with Frank, we alternate on the books and delight in putting each others characters in terrible, almost impossible fixes.

Quite a few of Gary’s books have appeared on tape or CD, does he think the producers and narrators have done a good job with them?

I've been extremely fortunate to have almost all of my published novels reproduced in audio by Gary Challender's Books-in-Motion and sometimes when I'm on long driving trips, I listen to them and they are excellent. When I first sold a novel to BIM I wanted to record them myself, but Gary Challender sagely suggested that I hear one first by his "professionals" and I quickly decided that I had better stick to the writing part and let his studio readers do their fine work.

What does he read for pleasure?

As for what I most like to read, I again turn back to the writers that I've already mentioned. I also like to read murder mysteries, my favorite authors being Michael Connelly, Greg Iles and extremely talented people who understand that characterization is always more important in writing than plot.

Finally what does Gary think of the western genre today and what does he think the future holds for the western?

I am sad to say that I think that the western is dying just as is my generation and those before that grew up avidly watching and reading westerns. However, I would add that outstanding westerns in print and on the screen will continue to be occasionally popular. I'm genuinely grateful to Robert Duvall, Kevin Kostner, Clint Eastwood, Tom Selleck and a few other fine actors that continue to keep the genre alive on the screen. When a really fine western, like LONESOME DOVE, BROKEN TRAIL, TOMBSTONE OR QUIGGLY DOWN UNDER is produced, it rekindles in the public's eye that the stories set in the early American West are unique, and powerful.

In reality, the West was a tough, gritty place where life wasn't really all that much valued. But even so, it had a majesty, an aura about it that cannot be diminished or forgotten no matter how much time may past. I'm glad that I was able to experience the American West though my writing and I hope that my stories have given readers both insight and enjoyment and that is not a bad legacy for any man's money.

Sunday 19 April 2009

On the Great Plains

as by Logan Winters
A Black Horse Western from Hale, April 2009

A haunted cabin in the middle of the wild great plains? Not exactly, but that was the way the pretty little slip of a girl, Kate McCallister, characterized it when young Ben Flowers appeared to take possession of the property. When she showed him the hundred or so bullet holes in the cabin walls, he understood what she meant. The place was shadowed by many violent memories, and some of them were to return to haunt it again.

It was Ben’s first and maybe only chance to build a life of his own, and if it was necessary, he was determined to fight off the spectres of the past with the cold steel of his own guns.

Logan Winters knows how to write a fast paced book filled with well drawn characters that will soon have you wondering what will happen to them all, as the different groups of people get drawn to Ben Flowers’ new property.

As readers we know from the beginning what the secret is, as does a couple of the badmen. Right up to the end Flowers has no idea why mysterious gunmen are trying to kill him, he’s more concerned with fixing up the cabin and wondering about his feeling towards Kate McCallister.

There’s plenty of action, evil badguys plotting to double-cross each other as well as killing everyone else, and a mystery for the characters. As well as this there’s the falling in love storyline for Ben and Kate, which offers some amusing situations and dialogue.

Overall a traditional style western that makes for a very entertaining read from beginning to end.

The pseudonym, Logan Winters, got me to wondering as to the identity of the writer. Back in the early 1980’s a series of fantasy/western books were published under the title of Spectros, the authors name being that of Logan Winters, who I believe, is really Paul Lederer.

On The Great Plains is published on April 30th 2009, but having said that it would seem the book is on sale now.

Friday 17 April 2009

The Trailsman #328

as by Jon Sharpe

Signet – February 2009

Skye Fargo is high, dry, and about to die in the heart of Apache country when he stumbles on a ramshackle ranch worked by a family of hardheaded hill folk who own the most valuable thing in the sunbaked hell of west Texas: a water spring. But if they want to hold on to it, they’re going to need more than cold liquid. They’ll need the Trailsman’s hot lead.

If you like tough characters of both sexes then this book is full of them, all out to get what they want with total disregard for others in the desperate struggle for life-giving water. Not only do we have the hill folk and the cattle rancher and his crew but there’s also the added complication of the Apaches.

Jon Sharpe – in this case David Robbins – provides the reader with a very fast paced book filled with action and a number of surprising twists which can only make you wonder as to who will be left alive at the end.

To balance the more brutal scenes in the book David Robbins includes some excellent, humorous, dialogue. The names of the three daughters also produced a big grin from me.

For fans of The Trailsman series and/or David Robbins work this is a must read, and for those who like fast moving, action filled, westerns, then I’d say you won’t be disappointed with this book either.

Tuesday 14 April 2009

Utah Hit

as by Charles Langley Hayes
A Black Horse Western from Hale, 1995

Butch Cassidy had become the most wanted outlaw in the whole West. The governors of four states wanted his hide. But he and his Wild Bunch are holed up in a remote part of Utah: Robbers Roost, a natural fortress with armed guards overlooking the few limited entry passes, unapproachable, unassailable. So the marshal, sent by the governors, figured there was only one way to handle Cassidy - hire a long-shooting hit-man - then find some bait to lure the outlaw out of his sanctuary...

Charles Langley Hayes (really author B.J. Holmes) provides his readers with a book that begins with a train robbery then builds gently, and grippingly, to its exciting conclusion. Amoungst the action there are plenty of humourous moments too and the characters - both fictional and real - are presented well.

I found Cassidy’s fascination with an archaeological dig - and Sundance’s dismissal of it - made for some of the most entertaining reading of the story.

And does the book offer us another take on what happened to Cassidy and the Sundance Kid? Well that’s something you’ll have to find out for yourselves. All I can say is the book comes to a satisfying ending.

B.J. Holmes writing as Charles Langley Hayes - or indeed under any of his other pseudonyms - is fast becoming one of my favourite western authors, and I’d suggest going to the trouble to find his books will be well worth your time.

Saturday 11 April 2009

Slocum #107

as by Jake Logan

Berkley, November 1987

Guns and fear ruled Silverado. The miners that couldn’t be scared into handing over their claims died quick. ‘Cause one man, drunk with greed, would keep on killing until he owned it all. But Slocum aims to see justice done, even if it means looking down the gun barrels of a hired army. And in a mining town set to explode, Slocum’s just the man to light the fuse…

It’s been a while since I’ve read a Slocum book and I picked this one out due to having a note that Jake Logan, in this case, is Jory Sherman. There are certainly many poetic descriptions throughout the fast moving story that would indicate that he did indeed write the book.

In fact it was these portrayals of landscape and weather that provided the most memorable strengths of the story. The opening scenes of Slocum struggling for survival in a blizzard painted some vivid imagery in my mind and had me shivering along with him.

Even though the bad guys are known from the beginning, the author keeps the reader guessing as to how Slocum would finally win the day. Many of the gunfights take place out in the snow and this adds its own dangers to that of flying bullets. There’s also an excellent method of escape, when Slocum is trying to reach Silverado after leaving a cave, that stands out as I can’t remember reading anything like it in any other western.

I’ve read quite a few Slocum books and they’ve fallen into the good, the bad and the downright ugly categories with ease. Sixguns at Silverado is filled with exciting confrontations, tough characters and situations, there’s not as much sex as I expected from an adult western published in the 1980’s, so this entry into the series definitely makes it into the top category.

Wednesday 8 April 2009

Comment Moderation

Like many other blogs this one has been hit by multi-spam posts, 19 in all, which I've now deleted. I've now switched on Comment Moderation in an attempt to remove them before they appear on the blog.

.45-Caliber Fury

 by Peter Brandvold
Berkley, February 2005

Cuno Massey thought he had escaped a life behind the gun. He avenged the murder of his father and found peace in the arms of his new wife. Then his dark past found him, and stole the life of his young, expectant bride. Now Cuno realizes his fate – and, with his .45 in hand, he’s going to make certain the killers realize theirs. Because if there’s one thing Cuno has come to thirst for, it’s the bittersweet taste of revenge…

Ever since reading .45-Caliber Revenge I’ve been looking forward to reading this, the second book featuring Peter Brandvold’s young hero Cuno Massey. So does this book match up to my expectations after the excellence of the first book in this series?

The story begins with Cuno and his new, expectant bride, July, making ago of a small farmstead. But it’s not long before a group of bounty hunters arrive, eager for the reward on Massey, and the bullets fly and July dies.

This time I thought Peter Brandvold presented Massey as a colder, more deadly figure, a man who didn’t give a damn about anyone else, a man who only lives to kill his quarry. Even when the chase teams him up with a young woman who is also hunting the killers. They’ve stolen her map showing the location of hidden gold. Massey shows no interest in her or the gold.

Yet Brandvold does not strip Massey of all humanity by totally turning him into an unfeeling killing machine. Massey does not ignore the plight of others, will help them with deadly proficiency.

The violence is graphic and brutal and the characters are very well presented, the story gripping, building to its savage final showdown at a terrific pace.

So did the book match up to my expectations? More than so, in fact I thought this was even better than .45-Calibre Revenge.

Saturday 4 April 2009

Lone Star #18

as by Wesley Ellis
Jove, January 1984

Making a mint off a defenceless, sugar-rich nation: that’s what the Baron and his men have in mind when they camouflage a fleet of Starbuck ships sailing from New Orleans to Cuba. But even an obstacle course of explosives, cunning rurales, and the hangman’s noose isn’t enough to throw Jessie and Ki off their trail.

This book makes for a welcome change to the normal land based westerns as quite a lot of it takes place at sea. The first part of the plot revolving around a number of ships that vanish into thin air.

Jessie and Ki – particularly Ki – get into all kinds of trouble as they attempt to solve this mystery and then take down those behind the disappearances. The main plot of trying to control America’s sugar market isn’t something you come across in many, if any other, westerns (at least those I've read), and so gives the reader a pretty unique storyline in a western.

I don’t know who wrote this one but wish I did so I could track down more of his/her work as I found the book to be a fast paced and satisfying read.

Wednesday 1 April 2009

The Warhunter #1

by Scott Siegel
Zebra, 1980

Warfield Hunter’s personal vendetta against the Farrel gang led him to the little town of Kimble – just in time to save the sheriff’s life in a shootout with three of those deadly killers. But Hunter knew that Farrel would never stand for this, that Kimble was a doomed town unless everyone backed up the sheriff. What he didn’t know was that certain prominent citizens had decided it was to their advantage for Kimble to be destroyed – and how could even War Hunter save a town that was bent on its own destruction?

Scott Siegel has written a very readable book in Killer’s Council. He fills it with many scheming characters and much of the book is about these people whilst Hunter spends most of his time reminiscing about old times and recalling his childhood with the aging lawman of Kimble, who knew Hunter as a young boy. It’s during these moments that the reader discovers why Hunter is after Farrel.

There are a few burst of action along the way, but most of the story is used to build up the suspense of waiting for Farrel and his gang to ride into town, and when he finally does Siegel produces a fine final showdown that at times provides some savage reading.

For me though, I was a bit disappointed that Hunter got shot through the back yet still managed to fight as well as if he hadn’t been shot. Personally I think he’d have been out of commission after taking such a hit.

Even though there was a bit too much reminiscing for my taste, and that somewhat unrealistic ability of Hunter to continue fighting after being so badly shot, I’m sure I will be reading the second book in the series soon.