Wednesday 31 March 2010

Arkansas Smith

as by Jack Martin
A Black Horse Western from Hale, March 2010

Arkansas Smith: the name was legend. Once he had been a Texas Ranger, but now he was something else entirely. Some said he was an outlaw, a killer of men and a fast draw. Others claimed he was a kind of special lawman, dispensing frontier justice across the West and bringing law to the lawless.

Arkansas Smith arrives in Red Rock looking for those who shot and left his friend for dead. He vows to leave no stone unturned in his quest to bring the gunmen to justice and, soon, those who go against him must face the legendary fast draw that helped tame the West.

Jack Martin (Gary Dobbs) presents the reader with an entertaining story with his second western. Arkansas Smith is an engaging hero whose background is only hinted at in a number of flashbacks that serve to flesh out the character, yet also leaves you wanting to find out more; something that is planned to happen in further books about Smith.

Gary Dobbs’ writing is confident and moves at pace, the story building up nicely to its final shoot-out. Smith is not the only memorable character, Rycot being one of my favourites. And for those in the know, Gary also tips his hat to a few other Black Horse Western writers by having characters named after their pseudonyms – he even mentions himself – which I felt was a fun touch.

The book is easy to read and difficult to put down, and left me eager for more tales about Arkansas Smith.

Arkansas Smith is officially released today and I’d suggest you don’t delay in ordering a copy as his last book sold out in record time.

Tuesday 30 March 2010

The Outlaw Josey Wales

By Forrest Carter
Leisure, March 2010

Originally published as The Rebel Outlaw: Josey Wales in 1973

Few men came tougher than Josey Wales. He survived the raiders who massacred his family. He survived as a guerrilla soldier alongside Jesse James in the Missouri-Kansas border feuds. He lived through the Civil War as a Confederate rebel.

When the war ended Josey Wales chose the hard road to Texas in search of a new life. Texas was more than 1,000 miles away. Behind him rode the Bluecoats. In front hostile Indians barred the way. And all around there were braggarts and bounty hunters ready to try their luck against the outlaw called Josey Wales.

What can be said about this book that hasn’t been said before? In my opinion it is one of the best westerns ever. Forrest Carter’s storytelling is extremely powerful and will strike a chord with your emotions, have you caring about his characters. Carter blends touches of true history with his tale seamlessly, his descriptions very visual.

None of the characters are painted as being particularly good or bad, they are people who find themselves thrown together by circumstances. People who have lost a previous way of life, have nothing to live for, but will find hope and the promise of a new life as the story progresses.

There is plenty of action, often stark and brutal, such as Wales taking on the Comancheros, but it is the dialogue that provides the most memorable scenes: for instance who could possibly forget the tense sequence when Wales confronts Ten Bears and delivers his promise of life or death? I’ll guarantee you’ll be holding your breath waiting for Ten Bear’s decision.

Once started this book is almost impossible to put down. I can only finish by saying The Outlaw Josey Wales is a must read for every western fan.

This book is the fifth in Leisure’s Classic Film Collection, you can read more about this series here.

Sunday 28 March 2010

The Devil's Gold

by M. Duggan
A Black Horse Western from Hale, March 2010

Dennis Rumble wasn’t a good man but he wasn’t entirely bad. He had principles, after all. He wasn’t anything like the notorious band of outlaws calling themselves the Coyotes, into whose territory he was obliged to travel.

He was a man with a mission, determined to rescue a beautiful woman snatched from the stage by the outlaws. As Rumble was soon to learn, though, things are not always as they seem. Twists and turns lay ahead of him and many men, some more deserving than others, were destined to lose their lives over what Rumble called ‘The Devil’s Gold.’

Not many, if any, of the characters in this book are particularly likable, but M. (Mary) Duggan does make you want to find out what happens to them in a fast moving story that is filled with action.

It would seem that the author prefers to kill or maim with weapons other than firearms – although these are used too – such as the main character’s sword in a cane, rocks, and axe handles, most of these killings being quite brutal and graphically described.

Although Rumble is the main character, much of the story sees him on the sidelines, watching the various sides wipe each other out. Duggan also finishes the book with an ending guaranteed to leave the reader with a grin on their face.

The book is easy to read but surprisingly for a BHW is full of typos, especially in the opening chapters; a couple of times I had to re-read a sentence to make sense of it. Duggan also refers to a number of women with the title of Miz. Not a term I’d expect to find in a western as it appears that its earliest use was in 1901, and after that not used that often until 1949.

The Devil’s Gold is M. Duggan’s 18th BHW, so there’s plenty more of her work to read if this book appeals to you.

The Devil’s Gold is officially released on the 31st of March but is available now from the usual sources.

Monday 22 March 2010

Interview: Robert Vaughan

My latest interview is with Robert Vaughan who has been writing for 53 years and during that time has seen round 350 books published, of which roughly 100 have been westerns.

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

I have always wanted to be a writer. Before I could write or read, I would make squiggly marks on a tablet, then make my mother, grandmother, or aunt listen to my stories.

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

My first novel was action/adventure novel about a bar in Korea where all the bar-girls were N. Korean spies. It was called Girls of Carnation House...published when I was 19. My first Western was probably a Jake Logan Western.....Cheyenne Bloodbath, I think.

 Which writers influence you?
Ernest Hemingway, James Jones, Herman Wouk, Joseph Heller, Bill Butterworth (WEB Griffin).

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

I would like to see YESTERDAY'S REVELLIE back in is one of four that I have written about Custer and is, I think, the best one I have done.

Which western writers working today would you recommend?

I think Jory Sherman is as good a Western writer as any we have ever had.

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

I do a lot of books, but I do them serially. I can't work on more than one book at a time.

You’ve written westerns under a variety of pseudonyms, such as Jake Logan, Lee Davis Willoughby, B.J. Lanagan, Hank Mitchum, James Calder Boone, and Dale Colter, and I was wondering if you’ve enjoyed writing for any particular series more than others?
I've also written as T.J. Jack, K.C. McKenna, Ralph Compton, and another, best selling Western author whose name I can't disclose. I enjoyed writing the Stagecoach series as Hank Mitchum.

You’ve won a Spur Award, what was this for?

I won the SPUR for SURVIVAL, a story of the Donner Party. I wrote it as K.C. McKenna.

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

Again, I think I would say Yesterday's Reveille...which I wrote under my own name.

You wrote the book ‘Andersonville’, did you watch the series or just use the screenplay to base the book on?

I had a treatment for the screen play and wrote from that treatment. The book came out before the miniseries.

You wrote a series of books based on the TV series ‘The Wild Wild West’, are there any other TV western series you’d like to write books about?

I would like to do Gunsmoke, I think. That was my favorite TV Western.

What was it like being the host for three TV talk shows?

Fun, and hectic.

I believe you’ve put on a number of writer's retreats and conferences, could you tell us a little about these?

I enjoy them...people who come to them don't really learn anything new, I don't think, but they come to them to meet other writers...and to be motivated. I am more of a motivational speaker than I am an instructor. I'm not doing it this year, but for fifteen years I have hosted WRITE ON THE BEACH, where three writers come spend a week with me in my beach house and I work with them on their projects. It has been a very successful project, but it is exhausting for me, and I am getting old. Now I prefer to work with writers by long distance.

Other than westerns, what is your favourite genre to write in and why?

I like historical novels. I did a series for Bantam called AMERICAN CHRONICLES which was a decade by decade account, in novel form, of the 20th Century. I also did a five book series of WWII called THE WAR TORN, in which each book had as its main character, someone from one of the belligerent nations. America, Germany, France, Japan, and England.

How did your friendship with Bill Butterworth, better known as the best-selling military novelist W.E.B. Griffin, come about?

I met Bill over fifty years ago when we were both at Ft. Rucker, AL... he as a civilian working for the army, and I was in the army.

You’ve written books with other authors, such as ‘The Masada Scroll’ and ‘Armor of God’ with Paul Block, how do you go about such a joint venture?

Paul was my editor for a while when I was writing for Book Creations. We worked well together and became close friends and decided to do these books together.

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

I hope not.

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

I think there will always be is the only truly American story. And we have some very good Western writers out there now. I won't name them because I might leave someone out that I don't intend to. But I think the genre is in good hands.

What is your favourite western movie and why?

Shane is my favorite incorporates all of the classic good verses evil, greedy big rancher verses the smaller rancher.... and Jack Palance made the best villain ever.

Finally what do you read for pleasure?

I’m pretty eclectic, I enjoy a good Western novel, I like good historical novels, and novels with a military theme.

Wednesday 17 March 2010

Wilderness #63

as by David Thompson
Leisure, March 2010

It takes a lot of guts to carve a home out of the unforgiving wilderness in the Colorado Rockies. It seems something else always staked its claim first. And while some creatures are amenable to finding a new place to live and willing to move, others are not. Others are dangerous. And they’ll fight fang and sinew to keep what’s theirs. As Nate King and his family hold a cabin raising for new neighbors in their remote valley, they’ll have new enemies to face. Enemies that strike quickly and with just one hit can deliver an excruciating death.

A book that starts with an almost gentle pace, an air of happiness shown through the love of the various families that populate the King Valley have for their husbands, wives and children, and through friendship, as a new family is welcomed to the valley and everyone pulls together to build them a cabin. There’s plenty of light-hearted banter, much of which had me laughing out loud. The fears of Zach as he contemplates whether he will make a good father are well written and there are hints that Zach may find himself with woman trouble further down the line. All through this part of the book, though, David Thompson (David Robbins) keeps introducing events that will soon see the Kings, and friends, in a frantic struggle for life.

Once the rains come the book takes on a much darker tone. The threat of the rattlesnakes becomes reality and David Thompson comes up with many edge-of-the-seat situations that had me turning the pages fast. The sequences involving Evelyn and her horse in floodwater teeming with snakes really captures her fear well and provides tense reading at its best. If you’ve a fear of snakes this part will have your heart racing.

There is plenty of superb action as the various families battle the onslaught of snakes, and David Robbins prose makes for some extremely visual reading, Zach on the rampage being the highlight.

Venom is a terrific read for fans of the Wilderness series and should be on the reading list of anyone who enjoys well-written, entertaining, books that are a little different to the more traditional mountain man storyline.

Friday 12 March 2010


by Robert J. Conley
St. Martin’s Paperbacks, October 2002
Originally published Doubleday, April 1992

His crime was choosing to stay alive. His fate was to pay with his life…

In the East, his people had lived on the land for thousands of years. Now it was a nation bitterly divided, and Nickajack had decided to leave it behind. But when his country’s broken heart came chasing after him in the West, he found himself with enemies he didn’t choose, forcing him to pick up an old, oiled pistol, and aiming at a stranger in self-defence. A reckoning had begun – as Nickajack faced a law that accused him of murder, and sealed his fate forever.

This is a powerful read. A book that deals with tragedy, that which befalls Nickajack himself and that of his tribe caught up in a political struggle based on corruption and the treatment of minority groups.

Robert J. Conley tells this story in prose that will be long remembered, his tale tears at the heart in its sadness. Much of the story is told in reflection as Nickajack remembers the events that have torn through the Cherokee Nation and swept him up in them, which have ultimately seen him on trial for murder. Make no mistake this is a hard-hitting tale of suffering and betrayal based around true events. The tone, as you’d expect, is dark and is beautifully paced as it builds up to its inevitable ending.

Robert J. Conley won a Spur Award for this novel and it’s easy to see why. It seems such a shame to me that very few readers of westerns mention him when discussing the genre. Conley seems to be a very overlooked writer, and on the strength of this book I’d say that many people have been missing out on some terrific reading. To those I say try this, I’m sure you’ll be impressed.

Wednesday 3 March 2010

The Judas Metal

by Gillian F. Taylor
A Black Horse Western from Hale, February 2010

There are things that friends should never have to say to one another. ‘Have you betrayed me?’ is one of those things.

Pat Williams and Robson Hyde were a successful partnership. Together they had gained control of the now flourishing silver mine down in southwest Texas, but when bandits began to ambush the loads of silver bullion, things started to change.

The bandits’ knowledge of the route was so precise they had to have inside information, and as Hyde struggled to discover who was behind the attacks, a resentful enemy started to sow the seeds of doubt in Williams’ mind. Did Hyde want all the silver for himself?

Unchecked, suspicion turns to fear and the pairs friendship is severely tested amid several violent deaths at the silver mine.

Even though Gillian F. Taylor reveals to the reader who is behind the attacks and why from the very beginning of the story, she keeps the reader guessing as to how the friendship of Williams and Hyde can possibly survive, and it’s this element of the plot that grabs the readers attention and doesn’t let go until everything is resolved.

There is plenty of action and devious twists to the tale and both Williams and Hyde begin to suspect each other as the plot develops at tremendous speed. But this isn’t the only storyline that the author includes, she also weaves in two threads of love – one begun in a previous book and one new to this tale – both of which play important parts to the outcome of the main storyline.

Gillian F. Taylor’s characters come across as very believable and her paces the story extremely well, each chapter ending defying you to not continue with the next right away. Her descriptions of horses, and the bond between them and owner, are excellent too.

This book definitely has me eager to find the previous books that feature Robson Hyde to see how he met Williams and became a partner in the mine, and also has me hoping he’ll return in a future book soon.

The Judas Metal was officially published at the end of February so should be available from all the usual sources now.

Monday 1 March 2010

The Littlest Wrangler

by J.R. Sanders
Moonlight Mesa Associates, 2010

New York City orphan Joe Monday dreams of finding a family and of being a cowboy. Things look up when he’s sent West on an “orphan train” until he ends up with a pair of pig farmers who only want the free labor he provides. Joe runs away with a cattle drive headed north from Texas, though the cowboys are unsure of their young tag-along. But when disaster strikes, Joe proves that even a kid can be a hero, and learns that dreams really can come true.

This story is aimed at children and because of this it’s written in simple language that is both easy and joyful to read. The tale starts with a touch of sadness that should have the books’ readers taking Joe Monday to heart. His quest to be a cowboy sees Monday involved with horses and a bullying cowboy, both of which children should easily relate to. Of course Monday rises to the challenges put before him and becomes a hero in the process, and in doing so gains the respect of the bully and tames the horse no one else has been able to ride, in an exciting scene set in a stampede.

Like many books aimed at children this one also sets out to educate them, and the author does this by including a comprehensive glossary that covers all the words relating to being a cowboy along with other terms too, such as Orphan Train. The introduction also tells of these “trains” and the history of the Children’s Aid Society set up in 1853.

Nearly all the chapters end with a beautifully drawn picture by Vin Libassi that illustrates something that has just happened.

J.R. Sanders has definitely written a book that should entertain all children (and adults) who read it, and could be just the book that sees them becoming western readers of the future.