Friday 30 September 2011

Doomsday Mesa

Chap O’Keefe
eBook, 2011

Ex-cavalryman Yale Cannon rode to Antelope for two very different reasons: in search of an old sweetheart and to bring out Red Effingham, a gunslick killer the sheriff had locked up in the ranch town’s jailhouse. After a confrontation with two cowpuncher brothers on the outskirts of town, Cannon decided to move more warily, and to use one mission as cover for the other.

His delving for old time’s sake quickly met opposition, but introduced him to suffragist schoolteacher Kate McDowell. Kate revealed that hatred between the cowmen and a settler community led by Abel Pryor, religious fanatic, was coming to a showdown. With Effingham busted from jail, the clash was set to be violent and bloody!

Chap O’Keefe has created an excellent set of characters for this book, from tough, hard men to equally as strong women. All out to get what they want whatever the cost.

As expected from a Chap O’Keefe book nothing is quite what it seems. As the story develops so do the schemes and doubt is thrown on the identities of some of the characters – are they who they say they are? Surely the plot can’t be quite as simple as cowmen v a religious group? I can answer this last question with nope! But that’s all I’m going to say, as I don’t want to spoil this plot twist.

Being as this was originally published by Hale as a Black Horse Western it’s a fairly short read, and due to it’s length there is no space to waste, so the reader gets a fast paced, action packed book, one that I found difficult to put down before the end.

And what of that end? All I will say is that Chap O’Keefe has yet another surprising revelation waiting, a sting-in-the-tail if you like, that finishes the book with a powerful bittersweet ending.

Wednesday 28 September 2011

Riding the Pulp Trail

By Paul S. Powers
Altus Press, 2011

Paul S. Powers was one of the foundation authors of the famous pulp magazine of the 1930s and 1940s, Wild West Weekly. Now, here for the first time, are twelve Paul Powers stories written in the years after Wild West Weekly stopped publication. Six of these stories were published in magazines such as Exciting Western, The Rio Kid Western and Thrilling Ranch Stories. The other six are brand new stories – never before published – that were discovered in 2009.

Death is Where You Find It
To Steal a Ranch
Hangnoose for the Prodigal
Boothill is My Destination
Guns at Jailbird Ranch
By the Neck Until Dead
A Pard for Navajo Jack
Murder on the Hoof
Buzzards Hate Bullets
Judgement Day on Whisky Trail
Yellow Glass

Whenever I read old pulp stories I’m always a little worried that I’m going to find them hard going due to them being too old fashioned in writing style for my tastes. Let’s face it I wasn’t born when most of the pulp magazines were enjoying their heyday. The stories this collection contains are all from the late 1940s, way before I was born, so I must admit to being very pleasantly surprised to find that Paul Powers’ writing stands up well with books being written today. Yes, there are some terms used that you don’t see anymore, but that all adds to the attraction of these tales from the past.

Each story features either a drifting cowboy or a lawman. All offer fast paced plots; plenty of action, and most include a twist or two of some kind. Twists I mostly never saw coming. Each story is fronted by a double page illustration like those found in those old pulp magazines, a nice touch that adds to the flavour of these stories.

I found the book very easy to read, and as I finished one story I found myself jumping straight into the next. I can honestly say there isn’t one tale in this collection that I didn’t enjoy. Yes I have my favourites as one would expect but not one really stood out as being a lot better than the others, each and every one being of a similar excellent standard.

Praise must also be given to Laurie Powers who put a lot of hard work into putting this collection together and getting it published. Laurie also writes an entertaining introduction to the book that gives the reader a brief and informative background to her grandfather’s experiences writing for the pulps.

Definitely a book all fans of westerns should enjoy reading.

Monday 26 September 2011

.45-Caliber Desperado

By Peter Brandvold
Berkley, September 2011

Cuno Massey killed those deputy U.S. marshals all right, but only because they were about to rape the women he was escorting to safety. Thrown into a federal penitentiary, he faces a death sentence – until the beautiful Camilla and her cutthroat gang bust him out and head for the Mexican border.

Pursued by lawmen as brutal as the desperadoes he travels with, Cuno rides a bloody trail, unsure where his allegiances lie, and wondering if he was better off waiting for the gallows….

Right from the very first line, “The bald giant’s first was a battering ram” this book punches hard all the way until the end as Cuno Massey finds himself riding a savage trail to freedom after being sprung from prison in a violent jailbreak, even if freedom means becoming an outlaw himself.

Of course being on the run means the law will do its best to track Massey down and here we see the return of the Sheriff Mason who put Massey behind bars in the previous book. But he isn’t the only lawman to make a return appearance, for Peter Brandvold adds Spurr to the mix, the aging Deputy U.S. Marshal I last read about in another of Pete’s series - the second book in his Colter Farrow series, The Killers of Cimarron, written as Frank Leslie. I thought Spurr made for an excellent character in that book so was very pleased to see him in this one.

As well as struggling to stay alive Cuno Massey has to fight with some tough personal issues regarding his new lifestyle. Can he be happy living as an outlaw? Can he gun down people in cold blood, be they lawmen chasing him or those he is robbing? And what of Camilla? Can he accept this new side to her? These questions all see Peter Brandvold further developing the character of Massey and as they aren’t all answered ensures that the reader will be eager for the next book in the series: .45-Caliber Crossfire, out in April 2012.

If you’ve never read a Cuno Massey book then this could well be a good place to jump into the series as it seems to be a new beginning for Massey. Peter Brandvold includes enough memories of Cuno’s past so a new reader will have some idea as to Massey’s background.

For me, Peter Brandvold just keeps getting better and better.

Tuesday 20 September 2011

West of Pecos

A Ralph Compton novel by David Robbins
Signet, February 2005

Looking for a new life two men and their families trails cross. One a former Confederate soldier is leaving behind the memories of a dead wife and looking to build a new life with his two sons. The other man is a former Union soldier, a man whose brought his family west in hopes of setting up a cattle ranch. These two families will have to forget the bloodshed of the past and fight side by side as their future is threatened by Indians and outlaws.

Another terrific story from David Robbins, full of grit and determination. Action a-plenty balanced by moments of humour. There is a strong theme of family love and unity as the struggles for a new life play out. Having said that though my favourite character was the drunk, Three Fingers Bob, a complexed man of tall tales of the true harshness of the reality of living a hard life in a pretty much lawless land.

As new love blossoms for some so does the odds against the survival of the former soldiers and their families as the brutal bandit Vasco Cruz and his gang threaten to bring a very bloody end to their dreams and lives.

Do they survive? That’s not for me to say but for you to find out and in doing so you’ll find yourself immersed in the gripping power of David Robbins ability to hook a reader not only with his trademark cliff-hanger chapter endings but also with an exciting and captivating storyline.

Friday 16 September 2011

The Big Gundown

By J.A. Johnstone
Pinnacle, February 2010

Using an old cannon that once belonged to Napoleon’s army, an outlaw gang has been bringing trains to a halt and then robbing them. Now Edward Sheffield – one of the owners of the railroad – wants to hire Conrad Morgan, known as The Loner, to wipe the gang off the map. The Loner isn’t interested, especially when Sheffield’s hot-blooded wife tries to seduce him into going after the gang’s leader, Gideon Black – a renegade ex-colonel-turned-outlaw. But when the gang turns their big gun on a town, killing several innocent people, The Loner has to choose sides. The best way to take them out? Become one of them. And that’s when The Loner uncovers some unsavoury secrets – and finds himself caught between the middle of two ruthless forces…

The use of a cannon makes for some terrific battle scenes in this action packed book, in particular its use in holding up a train. Conrad’s struggle to survive this attack makes for some very exciting and visual reading.

This story also sees Conrad’s attire becoming more like that depicted by the cover artist. The silver banded hat being used in a novel and effective way in a scene that reminded me of the use of a silver lined cloak in the spaghetti western They Call Him Holy Ghost. Great stuff both.

The author uses plenty of cliff-hanger chapter endings and this technique makes the book very difficult to put down as the need to know what happens next ensures the reader keeps turning the pages. Even though this is a self-contained story the book finishes with The Loner and someone else riding on towards their destiny, but the only way to find out whether they are still together in the next book is to read it, something this kind of ending always makes me want to do straight away.

Overall this is a very good western, written superbly, and on it strengths, and those of the previous three books, this series has become my favourite of those to come from the Johnstone family stable.

Monday 12 September 2011

The Trailsman #359

By Jon Sharpe
Signet, September 2011

When a frontier army fort is ordered to pull up stakes and move, Fargo’s scouting skills may not be enough to protect the massive military manoeuvre. Even though there are wanton women, blind-drunk buffalo hunters, and highfalutin officers on the march, the real danger is the pack of perilous predators waiting for the Trailsman to let down his guard….

The above blurb is taken from the back of the book and it doesn’t really tell you much about the true contents of this story. True, all the elements mentioned do play some part in the tale but are mainly just the background to the main theme of the story.

Fargo receives a message from long time friend, Texas Jack, asking for his help. How can the Trailsman turn down a request from someone who once saved his life? So Fargo finds himself involved in a crazy scheme to capture some of the Wests’ most dangerous wildlife so they can be put on show in a Wild West Extravaganza.

The story is superbly written, full of very visual prose describing tense confrontations between man and beast, some of which result in very bloody scenes. The author, in this case David Robbins writing as Jon Sharpe, also includes a large amount of laugh out-loud dialogue and situations.

With memorable characters and exciting action driving this more unusual storyline for a Trailsman book, I can only close my comments by saying that if you are a fan of this series then make sure you don’t miss this one. To those who don’t read this series but enjoy westerns about man verses beast then maybe it’s time to consider getting to know the Trailsman.

Saturday 10 September 2011

Short story competition

Do you enjoy writing western short stories? 
Then this could be the competition you're looking for. 

Rope and Wire has just begun accepting submissions for its second annual western short story competition. More details on how to enter can be found here.

Wednesday 7 September 2011

Caleb Thorn #4

By L.J. Coburn
Sphere, 1978

Thorn’s Raiders were the most feared seek-and-destroy unit on the Union side in America’s bloody Civil War. A gang of condemned criminals, they had been reprieved only to be sent on savage suicide missions against the Confederacy. They were led by Caleb Thorn, the young born killer with a personal mission of vengeance against the South.

But now, on the orders of his commanding officer, Caleb had been temporarily separated from his band of desperadoes. His murderous skills were needed this time not on a guerrilla raid into enemy territory but in the thick of one of the most viciously savage pitched battles of the war: the mass carnage that was Shiloh…

L.J. Coburn is a pseudonym used by two authors, Laurence James and John Harvey, and the latter wrote this book. Caleb Thorn is the shortest series written by the group of English western writers now known collectively as The Piccadilly Cowboys.

I always thought it was a shame there weren’t more of them, but at the time I read a quote from an author (possibly from Terry Harknett) who said writing a western series set in the America Civil War would be a financial disaster. Strange when you consider that the Caleb Thorn series must have been born from the fan praise for Harknett’s own Civil War flashback sequences in his highly successful Edge series written as George G. Gilman. But then again as Caleb Thorn only made it to five books then perhaps he was right?

As well as having it’s origins in those Edge Civil War books, this series also seems to borrow from the film The Dirty Dozen, in as much as the small group of soldiers that Caleb rides with are all vicious criminals saved from an immediate death sentence to fight for the Union.

The books are extremely violent, and all of Thorn’s Raiders, including Caleb, take pleasure from killing Rebels – or anyone else who gets in their way. Throughout the series a number of story threads continue from book to book, and Bloody Shiloh sees a grudging respect form between Thorn and his commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Jansen - Thorn killed Jansen’s son in a duel and is thus hated by both Jansen and his wife. This story also develops Thorn’s relationship with Caroline Jansen, one that will lead to a bloody moment of madness that will have dire consequences for all involved, making this book a must read for followers of the series.

The rest of this story is fairly routine, and other than the Caroline Jansen storyline, doesn’t offer any surprises, even the identity of the traitor is easy to work out. Having said that the book does offer an entertaining read with extremely well written battle sequences.

Fans of the Piccadilly Cowboy’s work should not miss this book, indeed this series, if you can find them today as they are some of the harder PC books to find. Anyone else who enjoys books set in the American Civil War and/or westerns of the more brutal kind should consider picking this one up if you’re lucky enough to find a copy.

 at               at

Saturday 3 September 2011

Wind River

By James Reasoner
Harper, June 1994

Buffalo hunter Cole Tyler used to ride with Jeb Stuart leading wagon trains across the West. Now he’s riding the very first train into Wind River, its cars packed with saloonkeepers and swampers eager to make a killing. It is a historical occasion, but no sooner does the train roll into town than mayhem erupts.

Within minutes, a prominent citizen lies dead on the platform. Within hours, Cole Tyler is buffaloed into wearing the marshal’s star. And within days, he is facing down thundering stampedes and a ruthless killer, as Wind River becomes a town with its own brand of justice.

This is the first in a series that ran for six books. They may carry a single author’s name on the cover but were actually written by James and his wife, Livia Washburn (who does get mentioned on the copyright page).

As Cole Tyler gets to grips with the idea of being a lawman, and being tied down to one town, so his life becomes more complicated, each bout of trouble leading to new challenges, each new arrival seeming to bring more problems with them, for instance cattle baron Kermit Sawyer and the young woman setting up a new cafe, Rose Foster.

The book is filled with colourful characters, many of who may be hiding something from their past or their real agenda. It’s these mysteries that drew me into the story and refused to let go until the end was reached. The story is well crafted and superbly paced, chapters often ending with a cliff-hanger or question that made it extremely difficult to put the book down before I discovered how things were resolved.

The main story thread of murder, and a couple of sub-plots are cleared up by books end, but one or two questions remain about certain characters that will have me reaching for the next book, Thunder Wagon, very soon as I’m eager to see what happens next.

Footnote: All six books in the Wind River series have just been released as ebooks.