Sunday 31 October 2010

Twin Rivers

by John Nesbitt
A Black Horse Western from Hale, October 2010
Originally published 1995

When Clay Westbrook, a cowhand on a Wyoming ranch in the 1890s, sticks up for a Mexican sheepherder, he runs into serious trouble.

But Clay maintains his friendship with the Mexicans, much to the dislike of the bullying rancher Sutton and his gang of thugs. He even develops an ill-advised romantic interest in Tony’s Niece, Guadalupe.

Before long, Clay finds himself without a job and is harassed by Sutton and his men, who burn down his homesteader’s shack and sabotage his outfitting camp. Clay then discovers that Sutton has designs on his homestead and plans to cut a ditch project across his land. It is up to Clay to thwart Sutton … but can he do so in time?

Due to this being a reprint of a paperback novel this Black Horse Western is a much longer read than you’d expect from this line of western books. It contains the same number of pages but has much smaller print and more lines per page. Chapters start a few lines down from the previous chapter end rather than on a new page.

Twin Rivers doesn’t contain as much fighting action as a lot of BHW, and much of what there is done with fists, all well described and very visual. The story is more a study of character, again superbly crafted. John Nesbitt combines a land-grab story and a love story. The latter having an affect on how Westbrook decides to react to Sutton’s attempts to push him off his homestead, that lead to some tense confrontations, one that takes a dramatic turn as Westbrook races to save the life of one of his tormentors who’s been swept away in a river.

The pace of the book is excellent, as Westbrook becomes increasing anxious as to how he will deal with Sutton, and to whether he should carry on with his courting as he’s white and she’s Mexican and he’s concerned as to how others will react to a mixed relationship.

John Nesbitt also includes a lot of information about life during the time period he sets the book in, such as tasks carried out by cowboys, the background to ditch projects, and courting. This all comes over as a natural part of the storyline when it could so easily have come over as an author sounding like a teacher, resulting in parts of the book that many would quickly skip through.

I have read other books by John Nesbitt, and more sit on my shelves and I can see myself picking another up very soon.

This book is available now and selling out quickly.

Saturday 30 October 2010

Coltaine's Revenge

by Scott Connor
A Black Horse Western from Hale, October 2010

After six months of searching, Lewis Coltaine tracked down Emerson Greeley, the man who had murdered his wife. Lewis was hell-bent on vengeance but before Emerson died, he taunted Lewis with the promise that even after his death he’d find no peace. Lewis dismissed the taunt, but when he returned to his family home, Emerson’s chilling threat had already come to pass. Lewis’s eldest brother had been murdered.

Lewis’s surviving brothers now vow to find the man responsible for destroying their family, but the clues point to the murder being connected to a dark, long-buried family secret. With the revelations he uncovers threatening to tear the family apart, can Lewis Coltaine finally deliver his revenge?

Scott Connor begins his story near the conclusion of Lewis’s quest to kill Greeley. This allows him to throw in all kinds of questions about this vengeance hunt that will definitely keep the reader turning the pages. During this Scott Connor begins another story thread, that of the death of Lewis’s brother, that adds to the questions of what is happening and why? And then there’s the woman that asks for Lewis’s help in tracking down the killer of her husband; what is her story and how will it affect the outcome of this tale?

The book is filled with great characters and moves forward at a very swift pace. As some of the story’s puzzles are solved then so are more asked. Will brother turn on brother? What of the feud with a neighbouring family? The missing sister? The dug up grave? Why do some of the citizen’s of a nearby town want to kill them all? And so it goes on, gripping twist after twist, fight after fight. It’s no wonder I read this book in one sitting!

This is the first book I’ve read by Scott Connor and it’s left me eager to read more so I’m definitely going to be on the lookout for his previous twelve BHW and those that will hopefully be published in the future.

Coltaine’s Revenge is out now, but it’s already selling-out fast, so if you want a copy I suggest you get your order in as soon as possible. 

Friday 29 October 2010

Longarm and the Railroad War

as by Tabor Evans
Jove, October 2010

(Giant Edition #28)

Just when the West seems peaceful enough for Longarm to take a much needed respite, duty calls. Railroad baron Clayton Abernathy is laying down a railroad line in Wyoming, but someone in the town of Rimfire is making trouble for him. Wary of the greedy Clayton, Longarm must help – and Clayton’s daughter makes it worth his while.

Longarm befriends the brother and sister owners of Rimfire’s stagecoach line – the suspected saboteurs. But they’re being attacked, too. Who are these masked bandits bent on ruining business and hindering progress? If Longarm can pull himself away from the succulent ladies on both ends of the dispute for long enough, he’s going to issue these outlaws a one-way ticket to hell…

I closed my review of the last Longarm Giant with these words ‘….finishes the book with a final line that will leave you wondering what lies in store for Deputy U.S. Marshal Custis Long in the future’ and as I hoped this story carries on from there. Don’t worry if you haven’t read the previous giant before this as Longarm and the Railroad War is a self contained novel and you don’t need to know what happened before to follow, and enjoy, this storyline.

Like the last four giant editions this one sees Long teaming up with the heroes of another western series, namely Jessie Starbuck and Ki from the Lone Star series, both of whom have appeared in other giant Longarm adventures. You’ll have read nearly half the book before they are introduced and this time they seem to find themselves on the opposite side of the dispute to Longarm.

The story is very fast moving and filled with action of more than one kind – after all Longarm is an adult series. The tale is told in an extremely readable style which includes and number of cliff-hanger scene endings that make the book virtually impossible to put down before the exciting conclusion, part of which is a gripping and breathtaking race against time.

I’d have been surprised if I didn’t find this book to be an excellent read though, as it was written by one of the best western writers working today, James Reasoner.

I’m going to end this review with a look at the cover. Forget the profile of Longarm and look at the two figures. How many times can they be used on these books? Check out one of the other Longarm Giants (Longarm and the Unwritten Law) to see what I mean. At least this pose hasn’t been as overused as some of the others that are constantly turning up on Longarm covers. I guess cut-and-paste is faster to do than painting a new picture but surely Miro, Jove, it’s about time for a change?  

Wednesday 27 October 2010

The Black Mountain Dutchman

by Steve Ritchie
A Black Horse Western from Hale, October 2010

When Maggie Buckner is captured by a gang of outlaws an unlikely old man known as ‘The Dutchman’ is the only one who can set her free. Outnumbered eight to one, the Dutchman perches on a bench near Savage Peak, watching the fugitives as they ride out onto the open prairie. He adjusts the sights of his Remington No. 1 Rifle and waits as the first rider comes into range. When he stops shooting, three of the captors lay dead.

After striking the first deadly blows, the Dutchman trails the group across South Pass through the unpredictable Wyoming springtime weather, like the fourth horseman of the apocalypse…and surely Hell follows him.

Steve Ritchie begins his tale in the middle of the manhunt. He hints at what has gone before and this technique certainly kept this reader glued to the pages as I soon became hooked with the need to know why the old man was tracking, and killing, the outlaws, what the girl meant to him, and how the story would end.

The second chapter begins nine months before the first and for a large portion of the book Steve Ritchie tells the back-story of his characters. He really fleshes them out well and soon had me caring about their fate. Once the story catches up to the opening chapter I felt myself sharing the urgency and fears of the Dutchman and his companion, Tim, as they track the outlaws. Steve Ritchie’s descriptions of the land and adverse weather conditions being as well told as the rest of the story.

Having read many Black Horse Westerns in the past I was soon thinking I knew how this book would end. The Dutchman would kill the outlaws, free Maggie and Tim would end up romantically involved with her and all would live happily ever after. Damn, was I in for a surprise. Nothing turned out as I expected making the ending of the book hit home hard, leaving me with an ending I’m going to remember for a long time.

According to the dedication The Black Mountain Dutchman is Steve Ritchie’s first published novel, and I’m certain we’ll see many more.

The Black Mountain Dutchman is officially released at the end of the month but is available now from a number of Internet booksellers. I’m sure this one will sell-out fast so, if you’d like a copy, I’d suggest getting your order in now to avoid disappointment.

Monday 25 October 2010

Echoes of a Dead Man

as by Terry James
A Black Horse Western from Hale, October 2010

When gambler and gunman Matt Lomew arrives in Garner to recuperate from a near-fatal shooting, he isn’t looking for trouble. But when his childhood friend Jessie Manners is kidnapped, Matt is forced into an uneasy alliance with the brother of a man he once killed. He knows that such a partnership can only spell trouble but he has nowhere else to turn.

As Matt races to Jessie’s rescue, he knows a showdown is inevitable, but he is soon to find out that he is not the only one being haunted by the echoes of a dead man….

Right from the beginning Terry James hooks the reader with unanswered questions, and continues to do so as the story progresses. Each well-drawn character seeming to have more secrets that the reader will want to find out more about, for instance what are the motives behind their actions? What their past relationships have been with the other main characters?

The book is packed with incident and action, all told in a beautifully paced easy to read style that makes this book difficult to put down before the end is reached. Before you get there you’ll have been surprised by what happens to one or two of the main characters and by the discovery of who they actually are.

Echoes of a Dead Man is the second BHW from Terry James – really author Joanne Walpole – and this, like her first book, makes me wish her books appeared a little more frequently. Jo’s third, Ghosts of Bluewater Creek will be available sometime in 2011.

If you want a copy of this book you’ll have to be quick as it’s selling out fast – Amazon UK has only one copy left at the time of posting this review – even though it’s not officially released until the end of the month. The book can also be bought direct from Hale or other Internet booksellers.

Wednesday 20 October 2010

The Legend of Shamus McGinty's Gold

By I.J. Parnham
Avalon, 2002

There’s enough gold to make you think you can live forever, but Shamus McGinty has hidden it where no one can ever find it. The only way to find the gold is to stop looking, but once you find it, you won’t even realize it. So goes the legend of Shamus McGinty’s gold.

After forty years, Morgan Armstrong thinks he’s close to solving the legend, but he’s at death’s door. He offers a share of the gold to the ruthless outlaw Quinn Rogers in return for finding a cure to save his life. Quinn looks no farther than Fergal O’Brien, purveyor of a “universal remedy” he claims will cure anything and everything. Too bad for Morgan that it hasn’t cured anyone yet, and too bad for Fergal when Quinn finds that out. His ultimatum to Fergal is simple: cure Morgan or die.

To avoid the wrong end of Quinn’s gun, Fergal and his trusty bodyguard, Randolph, must find a way to help Morgan. Their treatment just might be the key to solving the legend of Shamus McGinty’s gold.

Ian Parnham presents the reader with a superb blend of exciting western action and well-timed humour – this latter appearing both in conversation and situations. Fergal O’Brien and his bodyguard Randolph McDougal are a perfect pairing even though McDougal is looking forward to the time he can ride away from his duties as bodyguard and leave Fergal to face the outcomes of his cons himself. The other characters are equally well crafted, Armstrong, Rogers, and a whole host of others O’Brien meets on the trail.

The storyline seems simple enough at the beginning but once the main characters come together in the quest to find McGinty’s gold in soon becomes obvious there’s more going on than first assumed. Ian Parnham soon has the reader hooked with a clever tangle of mystery and hints that all characters aren’t quite who they say they are. Fergal maybe a con artist but is he the only one?

Ian Parnham writes well and provides the reader with a fast moving tale that keeps offering surprises and unexpected twists ensuring the reader will never be sure just how everything will turn out in the end. When the final page is reached I believe any reader will have been thoroughly entertained, but be warned, the climax will leave you wanting to read the next in the series: The Finest Frontier Town in the West.

Saturday 16 October 2010

The Trailsman #348

As by Jon Sharpe
Signet, October 2010

Northeast Arkansas, 1860 – where the hunter quickly becomes the hunted, and Skye Fargo discovers that a fish rots from the top.

In the wilds of northwest Arkansas, a local U.S. Army fort is under attack. Not from an enemy army, but from a band of highwaymen who kill at will and strike without warning, then fade into the shadows. And Fargo, helped by a half-crazy half-blood Choctaw, is the only who can hunt down the murderers and deliver justice….

Like the majority of books in this long running series, this entry is a fast moving, action packed, and entertaining read. The book is filled with well-drawn characters and the author does well in creating an air of suspicion over many of them as to whether they are involved with the attacks on the forts supplies, be they some of the local hard men, a beautiful woman or two, or the rich-beyond-his-means lawman.

I’m not sure who the author is behind the pseudonym of Jon Sharpe this time, but he definitely has his own “voice”. His style is very readable once you get used to the way he has his characters, including Skye Fargo, speak, which is quite different to other authors working on the series. There are lots of humorous exchanges too, mainly involving Cranky Man, Fargo’s Choctaw partner in this book.

A couple of things caught my eye and made me wonder; it’s mentioned more than once that Fargo has an arrowhead embedded in his back that causes him discomfort, particularly when the weather is turning for the worse. This is something I don’t recall reading in any other Trailsman books. And there’s discussion on why the Colonel won’t use the telegraph to exchange messages with Fargo, this made me wonder as to whether the telegraph was up and running in 1860 (when the book is set) as I thought it came in a little latter in America, still I could be wrong. Let me quickly add that neither of these queries in anyway spoilt my enjoyment of the story overall.

Wednesday 13 October 2010

Peacemaker #5

as by William S. Brady
Fontana, 1982

The stageline was a lifeline. It linked Garrison with the other Texas border towns. It brought new blood and new money. And raiders! Their trade was death, paid in blood and bullets.

McLain was the lawman. It was his duty to see the stage got through…no matter who stood in the way.

The Peacemaker books came from the group of British western authors know today collectively as The Piccadilly Cowboys. This series lasted for nine books with six of them being written by Angus Wells and the other three by John Harvey. These two authors also wrote another series together as by William S. Brady: Hawk.

In fact the two series are linked more than just by the author pseudonym. The Hawk series came first and there’s often mention of John T. McLain as being the man who helped Jared Hawk learn to handle weapons, in fact he gave Hawk the swan-down Meteor shotgun he wears in a special belt holster. There were always rumours of the two starring in a book together, sadly this never happened as the English publishers ceased publishing westerns before it could happen.

The Peacemaker series differed from the majority of the Piccadilly Cowboy’s western series in that it didn’t feature a drifting hero. After the end of the Civil War, McLain rides into the small town of Garrison and stays. The books follow the growth of this town and also feature a cast of regular characters. This allowed the authors to spend time developing these people as well as the town. Each book begins with prologue filling new readers on the main details of what had happened in the previous books.

As the blurb indicates this story revolves around attempts to link Garrison with other towns by stage. Of course it’s not just Comanche that cause problems, there’s bandits too, being helped by a greedy solider who sees the payroll the stage is carrying as an easy way to riches.

This entry in the series comes from Angus Wells so the violence is extremely detailed and gory. Having said that there is not as much as in some of Wells’ books. Much of this story tells what the various characters are doing, how they are planning to steal the payroll and double-cross each other. All this leads to an exciting final bloody confrontation between all sides.

One thing that always made me smile about this series is that McLain rode with Bloody Bill Anderson, Butcher Harvey and Josey Wales throughout much of the Civil War, and that it was Wales that suggests McLain heads for Texas at the end of the war.

Blood Run reads like a fast moving traditional western except it contains a bit more blood and guts than those who’ve never read a western from this group of writers might expect. In my mind the Peacemaker series is definitely worth exploring…if you can find them.

Saturday 9 October 2010

The Rattlesnake Season

by Larry D. Sweazy
Berkley, October 2009

From the blood he spilled during the Civil War to his beloved wife, who died in childbirth, and his daughters, who were taken by the flu, ex-Texas Ranger Josiah Wolfe thought he had seen enough death for one lifetime. Now, with an infant son and a heart full of pain, he’s rejoining the Rangers as part of the Frontier Battalion. But first, his captain needs him to escort Charlie Langdon to trial.

Wolfe and Langdon had a history together as both lawmen and soldiers – until Langdon’s lust for blood and money made him an outlaw. Wolfe knows his old friend has to pay. But the ride to the hangman’s noose isn’t going to be easy. Langdon’s friends aren’t going to give him up without a fight. And Wolfe’s killer instinct may be his only chance to see his son again….

This is the first book in the Josiah Wolfe: Texas Ranger series, and I believe it is Larry D. Sweazy’s first full-length novel. Right from the beginning it becomes very evident that he’s spent time doing research, such as the background of the Texas Rangers.

Although the book begins by explaining that Wolfe has lost all but one of his family, I found it refreshing that they hadn’t been killed by a band of outlaws thus starting yet another series along the revenge theme. The feeling of loss that Wolfe feels is extremely well portrayed as is his slow return to wanting to live his life again, helped by having a surviving son to care for.

There is much time for reflection as Wolfe escorts Langdon to the hangman’s noose, and this allows the author to flesh out the background to his hero. As well as the struggle to rise from the depths of sorrow Wolfe also has to struggle with trust. Who is telling the truth about the escape of Langdon, can he even trust his fellow Texas Rangers?

The book isn’t as fast paced as many of the westerns I read but it is thoroughly absorbing and before I knew it I’d reached the end and now find myself eager to read the next in the series: The Scorpion Trail.

On the strength of this book it seems that Larry D. Sweazy could well be a new star in the world of western fiction.

Looking at the cover of the book, pieced together by Bruce Emmett who has done many others, I have to wonder what he was thinking? I’ve heard of a horse with no name, but one without a neck? Looks more like a camel. Terrible. Good job we don’t really judge a book by its cover.

Tuesday 5 October 2010

Beat to a Pulp

Edited by David Cranmer and Elaine Ash

Looking at the cover, with its terrific artwork by James O’Barr, you might be wondering why this collection of short stories is being featured on a blog about western fiction? Simple answer, it contains a number of western stories, and authors whose western work is regularly reviewed here write many of the other tales. A full list of stories and authors can be found at the end of this review.

When sitting down to write this review I thought maybe all I need to do is just ask Bill Crider for permission to copy his wonderful forward to the book and post it here, as I don’t see how his words can fail to encourage any reader into diving straight into this excellent collection of stories.

The twenty-seven tales within cover a broad range of genres, taking in westerns, crime, sci-fi, fantasy, pirate, ghost and war. Of course there are stories here that I like better than others but all are extremely well told. Most explore the darker side of life, of human nature, and after reading the first two or three I gave up trying to guess how each story would end, as many finish with neat twists, Patricia Abbott’s story leaving me laughing out loud.

I enjoyed finding out what type of story the western writers I regularly read had decided to write, some turning to genres I knew they write in alongside their westerns, others – mainly those who write Black Horse Westerns (and there’s a few of them in this collection) – providing welcome surprises in their subject matter.

Some of these stories have been published online, others are appearing here for the first time – one being a recently discovered unpublished story by Paul S. Powers who had many tales published in the pulps of old.

The book ends with a fascinating look at the history of pulps by Cullen Gallagher and short profiles of all the authors.

David Cranmer says in his introduction, “I am optimistic we have put together a collection that has something for everyone.” I would say you definitely have succeeded David, and I, for one, am already looking forward to Round Two.

Beat to a Pulp: Round One is now available here, or can be bought from Amazon.


1. Maker’s and Coke Jake Hinkson
2. A Free Man Charles Ardai
3. Fangataufa Sophie Littlefield
4. You Don’t Get Three Mistakes Scott D. Parker
5. Insatiable Hilary Davidson
6. Boots on the Ground Matthew Quinn Martin
7. Studio Dick Garnett Elliott
8. Killing Kate Ed Gorman
9. The Ghost Ship Evan Lewis
10. The Strange Death of Ambrose Bierce Paul S. Powers
11. Heliotrope James Reasoner
12. The Wind Scorpion Edward A. Grainger
13. Hard Bite Anonymous-9
14. Crap is King Robert J. Randisi
15. The All-Weather Phantom Mike Sheeter
16. Pripet Marsh Stephen D. Rogers
17. Ghostscapes Patricia Abbott
18. Off Rock Kieran Shea
19. At Long Last Nolan Knight
20. A Native Problem Chris F. Holm
21. Spend it Now, Pay Later Nik Morton
22. Spot Marks the X I.J. Parnham
23. Hoosier Daddy Jedidiah Ayres
24. Anarchy Among Friends: A Love Story Andy Henion
25. Cannulation Glenn Gray
26. The Unreal Jesse James Chap O’Keefe
27. Acting Out Frank Bill