Tuesday 29 November 2011

In the High Bitterroots

By Will DuRey
Hale, November 2011

They rode out as the snow began to fall, a party of seven. Their purpose is to rescue a band of travellers trapped by an avalanche in the high Bitterroot Mountains. But once clear of the Montana township of Wicker it is soon apparent that the on-coming winter blizzards are not the only threat to success. The swiftly assembled group have brought with them their own grievances and evil.

Moreover, the mountain holds an unexpected threat for young Jess Clarke and ‘Doc’ Hames.

Starting with a bank robbery that introduces the reader to a family of outlaws that have an important role to play in the outcome of this very fast moving tale, the story never lets up in the action stakes. Will DuRey has created some wonderful people, all of which have their own personalities, that soon have the reader hoping they succeed, or not, in their personal agendas. The book contains strong characters in both sexes.

Descriptions are visual, and the dialogue believable. There are a number of ‘edge-of-the-seat’ situations that provide gripping and tense reading. The story is paced beautifully, and everything is resolved in a final series of exciting confrontations.

This is the third Black Horse Western from author Will DuRey* and the first I’ve read. Once finished I was left wishing I’d read his previous two books, and now I’m eagerly awaiting his next.

Great to see that Hale have used artwork that could easily illustrate a scene from the book.

In the High Bitterroots is officially released tomorrow but is available now from the usual Internet bookstores.

* As the eagle-eyed amoungst you will have already spotted, the cover fronting this review shows the authors’ name as William DuRey, the book I have has him named Will DuRey.

Sunday 27 November 2011

The Rainbow Trail - in pictures

By Zane Grey
Comic Book Version

Like the Ace Doubles this contains two stories bound back-to-back. These are both comic adaptations of books by well-known authors. This Double Western Pictorial was published in Australia by the Junior Readers’ Press and distributed by Gordon and Gotch (A/sia) Ltd. I believe Dell originally published it in America. The comic isn’t dated so I can’t tell you when it was published. The comic measures 18.5cm X 13.5cm. It has a colour cover and a black and white interior.

I’ve never read the book of The Rainbow Trail, which was a sequel to Zane Grey’s Riders of the Purple Sage, which is often said to be his best novel, so have no idea how much has been cut for this comic version, or how truthful it is to the original.

From comments in the dialogue it seems that many of the characters are from that previous novel, although none of them take centre stage for very long as we follow the fortunes of different people, all intent on rescuing Jane and Lassiter. The story has strong roles for both male and female leads, a fair amount of action and a lot of dialogue. The story takes place over a number of years, which allows little Fay Larkin to grow into an attractive young woman so she can become the love interest for John Shefford, who eventually finds Jane and Lassiter with the help of Indian guide Nas Ta Begay.

There isn’t any mention of who drew the comic but the drawings are clear with recognizable characters, and contain a fair amount of background detail.

Max Brand backs The Rainbow Trail with Silvertip’s Roundup.

Click on the scan of the first two pages below to see a readable version.

Friday 25 November 2011

A Man Called Breed

By Chuck Tyrell
Hale, November 2011

Refused a drink and threatened with violence in a saloon because of his Indian heritage, Falan Wilder, the man called Breed, severely wounds Reed Fowley, and then takes refuge in the desert. Fowley’s father and brothers give chase, but are no match for Breed, who escapes and goes to his homestead in Lone Pine Canyon below the Mogollon Rim.

But the Fowleys will not give up. They hire man-hunter Dutch Regan to find him. Once found, Reed Fowley, and brother Bud, hire Robert Candless, a former major of the Colorado Volunteers, and a band of savage outlaws to storm Breed’s homestead and kill him. Breed, his wife-to-be Blessing, and his protégé, Sparrow, must fight for their lives, or die.

Unusually for a Black Horse Western, this story is told mainly in the first person, through Falan Wilder. I say mainly because Chuck Tyrell quite often moves the tale away from Breed so the reader can follow the movements of those who hunt him, these parts of the story being told in the third person.

A lot of the story involves memories, these flashbacks used to flesh out both Wilder’s past and that of the Fowleys. Chuck Tyrell also provides a lot of information regarding the landscape his characters find themselves in.

Chuck Tyrell includes many real people too, mostly just mentioned as someone Wilder has worked with or met in the past, such as Al Sieber.

The plot is expertly laid out and builds well to its final exciting showdown, which sees Wilder and Sparrow fighting against superior odds, the outcome of which left me wondering if Wilder will return in another story further down the line. Chuck Tyrell (this being a pseudonym for Charles T. Whipple) often has his heroes from one book guest starring in further books, so this could just happen.

A Man Called Breed has a release date of November 30th but should be available now.

Thursday 24 November 2011

Jake Rains

By Tony Masero
Hale, November 2011

1889 Cuba! When his best friend and fellow Rough Rider lies fatally wounded, Jake Rains swears to care for his widow. The trouble is Kitty Cartright already has a protector, Chris Leeward, owner of the double E ranch.

Things don’t look good when Jake arrives in Oakum. There is trouble at the Cartright place, but Jake and his new friend, Sam, are determined to put things right. Not only are they faced with Leeward’s cruel riders, a band of zealous mountain men lusting for vengeance, but also the advent of the most modern of inventions. The challenge calls for old-fashioned courage on the streets of Oakum where Jake Rains must fight for his life.

Before I began reading this I was struck by the different look to the cover of this book, in my opinion much more modern in its approach than the usual paintings fronting Black Horse Westerns, something I hope we see much more often. Some may recognize the author name of this book so it’ll come as no surprise to discover that he also painted and designed the cover.

The story is set much later than many Black Horse Westerns, again this makes a refreshing and welcome deviation.

The first thing that struck me about Tony Masero’s writing is that it is very visual, a trait that perhaps comes from his many years as an artist (you can find an interview I did with Tony about his cover art here). His pacing is excellent and his characters are well defined, as are his scene and action descriptions.

One of my favourite parts of the story is a horse verses automobile race, a contest that ends dramatically – to say more would be too much of a spoiler.

This book is Tony Masero’s first for the Black Horse line, and hopefully there will be many more to follow.

Jake Rains is officially released on November 30th, but should be available now from the usual Internet sources.

Friday 18 November 2011

Trail of the Snake

By Norvell Page
Black Dog Books, 2011

For millions of readers, the name Norvell Page is synonymous with the pulse-pounding, red-hot adventures of The Spider. Years before he was guiding The Spider, Page was turning out dozens of short mysteries and Westerns.

Here, collected in paperback for the first time, are all of Norvell Page’s known Western works, including his first fiction sale, “Corralled.”

Trail of the Snake is another beautifully produced book from Black Dog Books. Sandwiched between an entertaining introduction by Bill Crider, and an informative look at Norvell Page’s history written by Tom Roberts we have five stories that originally appeared in the pulps during the 1930s, the last three tales being published under the pseudonym of N. Wooten Poge.

Trail of the Snake
Secret Guns
Brand of the Cougar
Hell’s Backtrail

Three of the stories are about lawmen bringing down outlaws and the other two have revenge as the main storyline. They are very fast moving and packed with action and colourful characters. Two of the stories are from Spicy Western Magazine, so have a number of attractive women in them that all seem to lose their clothes at some point. (The other three stories appeared in Masked Rider Western Magazine, Thrilling Western, and Western Trails) Some of the stories contain neat twists, a couple of which I didn’t anticipate, which in turn provide some neat outcomes to the tales.

Norvell Page’s writing stands-up well today and is very readable. Of course his use of words is of the times and his dialogue is of the period too, for instance horses are often referred to as “fuzz-tails” and characters speak thus: “Lift yore hands, yuh murderin’ kiyote! I’d jest admire a chance to drill yuh!”

If I haven’t convinced you that this book is worth reading then let me finish with Bill Crider’s quote from the back of the book: “Page’s Western tales are pure fun, filled with smoking guns, thundering hooves, and beautiful women…. If entertainment in the grand pulp style is what you’re looking for, you’ve surely come to the right place.”

Morgan Kane: Without Mercy

By Louis Masterson
WR Films Entertainment Group, Inc.
eBook, November 2011

Kane was a born gambler. When he was taken to the cleaners in a rigged game of cards in St. Louis, he didn’t realize it was part of a private vendetta. Three men and a woman were after Kane. The woman was the bait…

And when they thought they had finished Kane off in the dark, he was left for dead. The buzzards saved him. But, to match the Ranger’s star he carried, Kane had gained a star-shaped scar on his right hand – the hand that meant the difference between life and death to a ranger who lived by the speed of his draw.

Kane wanted revenge – and got it.

This book tells how Kane came by the scar on the back of his hand and why he has two fingers bound together. It is also a study in fear – fear that Kane won’t be able to use his gun-hand again, this fear keeping him from returning to his job as a Texas Ranger. It’s emotions like this that I feel is one of Louis Masterson’s strong points, something he writes so well, puts over in words that strike a lasting chord within the reader. 

Fear isn’t the only emotional theme Masterson puts Kane through. The events that trigger this lead to a strong need for revenge. Masterson also vividly describes animal magnetism, strong desires between Kane and a number of different women – desires that Kane struggles to keep in check. 

The book also introduces us to Charlie Katz, another Texas Ranger who often partners Kane, and through memories of his, and Kane’s, we discover little snippets about previous cases they worked on, assignments that helped shape Kane into the man he is in the opening scenes of this very fast moving story. 

The final, desperate gunfight closes the book extremely well, and leaves this reader hungry for more.

The Assassination of Governor Boggs

By Rod Miller
Bonneville Books, 2011

After an attempted assassination, Governor Lilburn Boggs couldn’t prove who’d taken a shot at him, leaving the identity of his assailant a mystery. Twenty-five years later and after the passing of Gov. Boggs, Detective Calvin Pogue has been hired by the Boggs family to open this cold case and find out the truth about the assassin.

From Missouri to California and into the heart of the Utah Territory, Detective Pogue relentlessly seeks clues that lead him to the legendary Mormon gunman Porter Rockwell – who still isn’t making things easy for anyone.

This book follows a fictional investigation by Pinkerton Agent Calvin Boggs into a true assassination attempt. It seems many people believe Porter Rockwell to be the man who pulled the trigger, and Boggs’ trail to discover the truth sees him meeting and interviewing many people who really lived, for instance Brigham Young, and, of course, Porter Rockwell.

Rod Miller’s novel is very readable, and mixes the western with detective thriller stylishly. The book is made up of a series of interviews that capture the unique voices of those being questioned well. The interview with Rockwell is broken up and appears at regular intervals throughout the book, nearly all the chapters end with these segments.

This is not an action western, rather it’s a fascinating look at this assassination attempt, and at the Mormon wars. Both sides are given voice so as not to colour the readers’ judgement. Yes, there isn’t a clear conclusion, as there never has been, but the facts are laid out clearly, and the reader is left to make his/her own mind up. Having said that the book ends with a surprising final chapter that makes for an unseen and dramatic twist ending, but also, perhaps, hints at the way Rod Miller wants the readers’ decision to sway.

Of course any novel based on historical facts that have never been proved one way or another leaves the reader with more questions. Questions that have me interested to learn more about Governor Boggs and Porter Rockwell.

The Assassination of Governor Boggs is an entertaining and educational book that should be essential reading for anyone interested in Boggs, Rockwell, and/or the Mormon wars, or those who enjoy novels based on fact.

Also available as an ebook.

Thursday 17 November 2011

Let the Guns Decide

By Shane Archer
Hale, October 2011

Death comes to Macallister in the form of a milk-drinking baby-faced killer who leaves bodies in the dust. Lone Lee Kirby rides into a town desperate for help, but the body count grows as Kirby is forced to face his own demons.

This book throws many questions at the reader during its opening chapters; such as how come this town has the appearance of being so prosperous, all its citizens seemingly rolling in money from the town’s water-carrier up to the mayor? Why has the baby-faced killer ridden into town and gunned down three of the town’s leading citizens? Who exactly is Lee Kirby? What are the gang of outlaws hiding outside of town actually after? And so it goes on, as each question is answered so another takes its place.

Lee Kirby makes for an interesting anti-hero, and soon finds himself with some tough decisions to make; will he continue with his original plans or accept the position of lawman? Things become further complicated with the arrival of more strangers to town, what are they really here for? And of course there’s the girl, Jade, whom Kirby finds himself attracted. Jade, too, has to struggle with her feelings for Kirby and with her loyalty to the town and her father.

Shane Archer expertly brings about a satisfying ending to the book and ties up all the story threads neatly. The book is an easy read, face-paced and full of action. Overall Let the Guns Decide is a very entertaining way to pass a couple of hours.

Tuesday 15 November 2011

Cut-Price Lawman

By Tyler Hatch
Hale, October 2011

They wanted a sheriff they could control, to run the town their way. Chris Cade seemed to fit the bill – a drifter, drunk, stupid with toothache, and broke. It was easy to pin a badge on him.

However, after that it got harder. Cade had his own agenda, his own set of rules, a pair of hard fists and a fast gun. They figured they’d got him for a cut-rate, but the price they had to pay put them deep in the red – and the well-turned soil of Boot Hill.

If you’re not a fan of dentists, the opening chapter to this extremely fast moving book will have you squirming in your seat: “Why anyone’d call it laffin’ gas beats the hell outta me!”

It soon becomes obvious to Cade that everything isn’t quite on the straight and narrow as he begins life as a lawman and discovers the fate of his predecessor. Also there are questions about the disappearance of Duggan; a man surveying the surrounding land. And where has a missing wagon and its army escort vanished too? Plenty of questions ensure the reader won’t be putting this book down before the end, and the reason behind the mystery’s came as a surprise to me.

Tyler Hatch is one of the pseudonyms used by Keith Hetherington, a writer who became a favourite author of mine after only reading a couple of his books. Once more he doesn’t disappoint with this tale. His fast flowing style, hard hitting action, and twisting storylines just keep me coming back for more, and leaves me eagerly waiting for his next book.

Friday 11 November 2011

The Finest Frontier Town in the West

By I.J. Parnham
Avalon, 2003

Tender Valley is a clean, friendly and law-abiding frontier town. In fact, it is such a fine town that an enterprising businessman might just designate it as the official Finest Frontier Town in the West, an award with a thousand-dollar prize.

New Utopia isn’t as fine as Tender Valley, but the townsfolk there are desperate to win the award, and they’re prepared to go to any lengths to succeed. So they hire gunslingers to shoot up Tender Valley and destroy that town’s reputation forever.

In peaceful Tender Valley, the townsfolk are ill-equipped to withstand the gunslingers’ onslaught. They need a hero to ride into town, strap on a gun and stand tall before their tormentors.

But the next man to ride into town is Fergal O’Brien, purveyor of a singularly unsuccessful “universal remedy.” He’s no hero. But for the right price – he does have a plan.

From first wanting to win then wanting to loose as secret agendas are exposed, that might be truths or bluffs, this fast moving tale is filled with twists and turns that will keep the reader guessing to the outcome right to the very end.

Along the way the reader will meet some very memorable characters, not least Fergal O’Brien and his ‘bodyguard’ Randolph McDougal, and as the story develops could Randolph be falling in love? The woman in question being Miss Dempsey, one of the judges for the competition.

Ian Parnham is a very readable writer who mixes action and humour superbly – yes there are a lot of laughs to be found in the Fergal O’Brien series in both dialogue and some of the situations the two main characters find themselves in: O’Brien’s preference being to fast talk their way out of danger, which often results in failure and McDougal then having to step in to do what he does best.

And does O’Brien’s plot help Tender Valley win the award of the Finest Frontier Town in the West? Sorry, I can’t reveal that here, but I will urge you to search out a copy of this book for yourselves, and, as I was, I’m sure you’ll be thoroughly entertained whilst finding out the answer.

The Finest Frontier Town in the West is the second book in the Fergal O’Brien series and I’m very much looking forward to reading the third one very soon.

Tuesday 8 November 2011

Fort Revenge

By Ralph Hayes
Hale, October 2011

When buffalo hunter O’Brien is wrongly accused of rustling by ranch hands and has to kill the rancher’s son to defend himself from hanging, he thought his life had already taken a bad turn. However, within a days ride from that violent scene, he happens upon Sarah Carter.

Together they follow the dangerous road to Fort Revenge, where Sarah is due to wed Jake Latimer. It becomes clear that Latimer is not the man for Sarah, but can O’Brien save Sarah as well as dealing with his own troubles from the past….

Back in the early 1970s Ralph Hayes wrote a short series of books featuring O’Brien, later in 1992 O’Brien made a comeback and here is his next appearance, nearly twenty years later.

Ralph Hayes does make a couple of references to those early adventures, but if you haven’t read, or are even aware of those first books, these references will pass you by, and definitely will not spoil your enjoyment of this book.

Fort Revenge has more words per page than many Black Horse Westerns, therefore offers a longer read for your money. The story is very fast moving and has revenge, stagecoach robbery, and mail-order brides as its main themes. O’Brien will also have to deal with emotions he’s inexperienced with too, that of falling in love. Each thread of the story is well thought out and all are resolved in exciting and fitting ways.

I’ve not actually read any of the other O’Brien books, even though I have some of them in my collection, but have read other westerns by Ralph Hayes which I enjoyed, so it came as no surprise to me that I found this to be a very entertaining read that left me hoping it won’t be another twenty years before O’Brien rides again.

Saturday 5 November 2011

Morgan Kane: El Gringo and El Gringo's Revenge

1966 saw the launch in Norway of what was to become one of the most well known western series to come from Europe: Morgan Kane by Louis Masterson. The series ran for 83 books. There were also two spin-off mini-series, a Norwegian film, songs, and comic books. Other countries published some of the books, including the UK which saw the first 41 books appear in English. I’ve always been amazed that this excellent series never saw publication in America. Now that is about to change as Morgan Kane rides the ebook trail. The WR Films Entertainment Group has just launched the first two ebooks and is aiming to publish the whole series, and the mini-series, this way.

Those of us already acquainted with the Morgan Kane series will be quick to realize that the first two ebooks aren’t the first two in the original series. Why? As the Morgan Kane series progressed Kjell Hallbing, the writer behind the pseudonym of Louis Masterson, wrote a number of books that filled in some of Kane’s past, of times before the original first book, Without Mercy. El Gringo and El Gringo’s Revenge first appeared as books 38 and 39 and deal with a period in Kane’s life that would make him the man he was first seen to be in Without Mercy (this book will come out as the third ebook very shortly). El Gringo and El Gringo’s Revenge are to be made into a feature film by WF Films, and more of these are planned too.

By Louis Masterson
WR Films Entertainment Group, Inc.
eBook, October 2011

Marshal Kane entered a bar in Kansas City and stepped into the past - where the old Mexican who drew a knife on him, had been his best friend, teacher and destroyer... Fifteen years ago...

When Morgan Kane had been in trouble, he'd been found carrying gold by the Policia in Casas Grandes and there was no way he could prove it wasn't stolen money! But the police chief had a proposition - freedom for Kane if he found and killed a certain bandit named Coyote...

I’ve often felt that one of the great strengths of Louis Masterson writing was his ability to create atmosphere and emotion. This book really does that superbly. We see many of the characters hiding behind a variety of masks, hiding feelings, concealing secrets. Masterson really is a master at character studies and this book demonstrates that ability many times over.

Fear is often the main emotion that Kane struggles to control and this is revealed early on when Kane finds he isn’t the quick gun he thought he was as Coyote proves. For some reason he decides to let Kane live and takes him under his wing, teaching him about guns, how to draw them much faster than he was able. Even as Kane and Coyote become friends there is always a sense of tension – does Coyote really know why Kane was being chased by the Policia? And what of the other main characters in the story? What are their relationships with each other? Masterson on supplies hints as to the truths as the story races to its savage ending brought about by treachery. An ending that leaves many questions purposefully, ensuring the reader will have to read the next book in the series…. 

By Louis Masterson
WR Films Entertainment Group, Inc.
eBook, October 2011

Three bandidos rode together towards Sonora and the “Fiesta of Death” – each with his own secret – to wipe out the hated white ranch owner who dishonored and exploited the Mexicans.

Morgan Kane, alias EL GRINGO, rode with Coyote, the man who called him “son” and had made him the deadliest killer in Mexico. But Kane found he was a pawn in a lethal game where honor was the stake and revenge the prize. And his reward from the man he trusted was to scar his life…

Louis Masterson really does apply pressure to Morgan Kane’s feelings in this story that begins were the previous book left off. Kane will experience love, anger, near uncontrollable hatred, and the burning desire for revenge. Double cross and treachery reveal the truths about many of the characters motives.

We finally find out who Coyote really is. What he really has planned for Kane. There are many shocking discoveries that will come as a surprise to the reader, and all the leftover questions from the previous book, and others introduced in this one, are finally answered.

Masterson’s ability to write very visual prose is perfectly illustrated in this book, in the tense scenes set during the masked party to celebrate the Day of the Dead – the Fiesta of Death.

And, once the past is returned to memories Masterson closes the book with a powerful scene that will add to the emotional scars Kane carries.