Wednesday 29 February 2012

Western Fiction News

Good news for those who’ve wanted to try some of Hale’s Black Horse Westerns and live outside of the UK and have found the shipping costs restrictive, never mind trying to tracking down a copy of these hardback books. Hale has now begun releasing them as ebooks, at very attractive prices. Past titles from both old and current authors have begun appearing. Ruby Bamber of Hale informed me; “currently there is no rigorous schedule for the release of ebooks but we’re trying to release roughly 10-12 titles every 2 months. We’ve got such a large backlist of titles that we’re selecting titles from there for the moment, and currently have no plans to release e-titles at the same time as the physical books.” 

William W. Johnstone and J.A. Johnstone add to their impressive number of series with the launch of three new ones this year. The first in The Brothers O’Brien series came out this month with two more books announced for the first part of the year. The other two series are Sixkiller and Luke Jensen, both due out August / September time.

On the theme of new western series here’s a few more I’ll be looking out for:
Midnight Rider by Ralph Cotton – April 2012 – is the first in a series about U.S. Secret Service Agent Avrial Rochenbach.
The Bells of El Diablo by Frank Leslie – July 2012 – is the first in a new series about two treasure hunters.
Bullets and Lies is the first in Robert J. Randisi’s Talbot Roper series – September 2012
The Last Lawman by Peter Brandvold is the first in the Rusty Spurr series – October 2012

August 2012 sees the republication of a number of Matt Chisholm’s McAllister books, in both paperback and ebook form. Matt Chisholm was one of Peter Watts pseudonyms and he was one of the UK’s most successful western writers in his time. (Amazon gives the impression the Kindle versions are available now)

The latest issue of Black Horse Extra is now available here and includes Nik Morton discussing his latest book Old Guns. Hoofprints presents its usual collection of short articles and Greg Mitchell interviews a Stereotype Western Villain. 

As the amount of ebook westerns increases rapidly many old favorites are beginning to appear and from Robert J. Randisi’s we get his Tracker and Angel Eyes series, and written under the pseudonym of J. R. Roberts his Gunsmith series. 

Len Levinson’s Apache War Saga is told over six titles and they are now available as ebooks (originally as by Frank Burleson), as are his six Pecos Kid books (originally as by Jack Bodine).

Many of F.M Parker’s stand-alone titles have come out in ebook form too.

Tony Masero, cover artist, has now begun putting out his own western ebooks and many are available. Of course the cover art is by the man himself. 

One series that many fans have been wanting to see as ebooks for a long time is George G. Gilman’s Edge – both the main series and the mini six book series of Edge as an older man (never before published in paper form) and now going under the series title of Edge: The Return, are becoming available.

Rope and Wire has put out three ebook collections of short stories

Enjoyed by many, the Wagons West series by Dana Fuller Ross look set to appear as audio books at the beginning of July 2012.

Monday 27 February 2012

Devils Nest

By Richard Prosch
Smashwords ebook, 2011

Set in 1880s Nebraska, Prosch’s stories in this collection tell of characters out where “settlements were still sparse as wild strawberries.” Prosch’s stories draw fiercely on that solitude. His knight errant on horseback, Coburn, takes trails that sometimes lead to the heart of darkness. Out here, where a villain is free to do whatever he can get away with, a man’s family may go missing and the town where they lived become a mysteriously burned and blackened ruin. -- From the Introduction by Ron Scheer

As you’ll gather from the above paragraph, Devils Nest is a collection of short stories, eight to be exact. After Ron Scheer’s informative introduction, In Old Nebraska, you get the following tales:

Last Day at Red Horizon
Regina’s War
Borrowed Time
Devils Nest
Eli’s Cannon
Founders’ Song
Ten Gallon Hat
The Ballad of Dorothy Kotraba

Only the first three have been published elsewhere, and have been slightly rewritten for this collection.

Richard Prosch has created an intriguing main character, John Coburn aka The Peregrine, who appears in many of the stories, and some of the support characters in the Coburn tales star in the others. It’s through these stories that we follow Coburn in his quest to discover what happened to Red Horizon, the town he was returning to only to find his family gone and the town all but destroyed.

There’s some great character development, and never are you quite sure which path Coburn will follow to achieve his aims, that of following the law or breaking it. All this left me hoping that Richard Prosch will write more tales about Coburn as I’d like to see where his trail will take him next.

Having said that my favourite story was the last one, which isn’t about Coburn. Dorothy Kotraba proved to be a very memorable character in a tale full of twists and turns, none of which a saw coming. Devils Nest is worth buying just for this story alone.

Friday 24 February 2012

A Message for McCleod

By Emmett Stone
Hale, February 2012

Tom McCleod, relentlessly pursued by three riders, learns that a young woman he once knew has disappeared. Where is Sandy Kruger? Riding with the outcast Cherokee George, McCleod sets out on a quest to find her.

Can Sandy herself survive? She is one woman against the wilderness. And to make matters worse, she is being hunted by a merciless gang of gunslicks led by the owner of the Cinch Buckle, the very ranch from which she has escaped. McCleod will need his wits and his guns as the dangerous trail unwinds towards the final encounter. There are secrets to be revealed, but will McCleod find Sandy in time?

Emmett Stone has created some excellent characters in McCleod, Cherokee George and Sandy Kruger, each having their own identities that make you care about what happens to them. The story switches between them regularly so the reader can keep up with what is happening to each as the mystery revolving around why the gunslicks are eager to find Sandy deepens, all the author tells the reader is it has something to do with the small wooden box which Sandy keeps her poems in. The box isn’t the only mysterious element to the plot, there’s also the dead man who appears to be alive again…how can this be?

Emmett Stone’s book races towards its final shoot-out at an ever increasing speed, and by the end all the plot threads are resolved neatly and I was left with the feeling of being thoroughly entertained.

A Message for McCleod is officially released on February 29th but is available now.

If searching for this book on Amazon and you don't use to above links then please note the different spelling of McCleod / McLeod on book and Amazon lisings. You may want to consider this if searching at other booksellers too.

Wednesday 22 February 2012

Cotton's Law

By Phil Dunlap
Berkley, January 2012

When several notorious gunslingers begin drifting into Apache Springs, Sheriff Cotton Burke discovers that Bart Havens, a thieving banker he’d once run out of Texas for defrauding the citizenry, is behind an ingenious plot that could put the town, the bank, and many of the ranchers into bankruptcy – and put a fortune into his own pocket.

But Havens wants something more important than money: revenge. He’s shelled out a thousand dollars apiece to hired killers to gun down the sheriff. With only his hard-drinking deputy, Memphis Jack Stump, and his Apache friend, Henry Coyote, guarding his back, Cotton must stop Haven’s scheme while running a gauntlet against some of the most merciless gunslingers in the West…

The second book in Phil Dunlap’s Sheriff Cotton Burke series sees him developing his main characters, and some of the returning secondary characters, amid a very fast moving and ever twisting storyline that made for a hard-to-put-down read.

Phil Dunlap lays his story out in short scenes that switch from one character to another effortlessly, thus enabling the reader to follow the plans of all involved. As each layer of the plot unfurled I couldn’t help but wonder how Cotton and Burke had any hope of stopping Haven and his gunfighters, particularly when I discovered that not all the characters are who they said they were, and that others had their own agendas to get rich quick from the situation.

The story offers plenty of gunplay as each twist to the tale leads to another surprising event or revelation, with one plot thread seeing the lawman and the gunfighters hired to kill them standing side by side to defend the town from a group of angry ranchers who have fallen victim to the scheming Havens.

Even when the power struggle between Havens and those who oppose him is resolved, Phil Dunlap has another unforeseen twist waiting that adds an excellent sting-in-the-tale that in turn brings about a terrific and just ending to the story.

Book three can’t come fast enough for me.

Saturday 18 February 2012

Fugitive Run

By Chet Cunningham
Hale, February 2012

David West is a fugitive on the run. As an innocent man he leaves Boston and heads for Junction Springs, Colorado.

In Junction Springs a one-woman detective agency needs help to discover the identity of her father’s killer, and West is just the man for the job. After several shoot-outs, a kidnapping, and a high land-swindle scheme, the killer is nailed and brought to trial.

With his new expertise, West returns to Boston to seek justice and find the man who killed his fiancée. Can West avenge her death and once more find love?

Chet Cunningham is a name that should be familiar to many western readers as he has written well over a hundred westerns for American publishers. Fugitive Run is his third Black Horse Western, the first, Survival Trail appeared in July 1995 and his second, Wade’s War, much more recently, hitting the shelves in September 2010. The book also has much smaller print than the majority of BHWs.

Helping Susan Kramer find her father’s killer gives David West an education in how to solve a murder, teaches him how to think and work like a detective. With the book being set towards the close of the 1800s Chet Cunningham is able to include ground-breaking crime solving techniques such as fingerprinting – this is mainly mentioned as background to the story but makes for fascinating reading. Another invention that proves indispensable when West returns to Boston is the telephone. Of course fists and six-guns have their uses too, in fact the book begins with a traditional ambush and shoot-out and later the use of a pistol provides one of the highlights of the story when West is called out to draw against a man called Hondo.

Filled with great characters and a fast moving plot this book was a joy to read, and I hope it isn’t too long before another BHW appears from Chet Cunningham.

Fugitive Run is officially released on February 29th but is available now from the usual Internet bookstores.

Wednesday 15 February 2012

Bloody Trail to Kansas

By Steven Clark
Solstice Westerns, 2011

Kansas, 1875. Kane’s reason for living is simple: track down and kill the men who brutalized and murdered his young wife. On his vengeance trail, he makes his living using the skills he learned during the war while serving under the notorious guerrilla captain Bloody Bill Anderson.

Kane is accosted by Frank Weaver, a man familiar with the ex-guerrilla’s growing reputation as a gun-for-hire. Weaver’s wife has been kidnapped by a local baron who serves as the town mayor, sheriff and chief judge. Joining up with Weaver and his young sons, Kane takes on the mayor’s small army of roughnecks, encouraged by the fact that one of them is his old enemy, Guillaume Vincent, a professional gunfighter. 

As Kane battles the corrupt forces of the town, he leaves a bloody trail of carnage and spent bullets in his wake. Before he’s finished, the guerrilla man encounters a truth he didn’t see coming and has much to reckon with from his past.

This is the first in a new series that will see Kane hunting down the killers of his wife over a number of books, for in this one The Guerrilla Man’s vengeance trail is interrupted by being talked into helping the Weaver family. Of course the fact that one of the mayor’s hired guns is one of the men Kane is seeking helps make Kane’s mind up.

The book is very easy to read and has an impressive death toll. Kane often finding himself badly outnumbered in gunfights and the skills he learnt as one of Bloody Bill Anderson’s Guerrilla fighters being called on to keep him alive.

As the story progresses it becomes apparent that some of the characters have hidden secrets, and Kane soon starts to feel suspicious of Frank Weaver’s motives. All is not well within the Weaver family that is for sure as is witnessed by the elder son’s activities that soon put Kane’s life in danger.

Although Kane is still grieving the loss of his wife he finds himself attracted to the preacher’s daughter. Could he possibly find new love? That’s something I’m not going to reveal here, you’ll have to read the book yourself to find out the answer, and I’m sure you’ll be thoroughly entertained by the rest of the story whilst doing so.

The end of the book hints of more to come and I for one hope that the wait isn't too long.

Monday 13 February 2012

Sabinas Kid

By Steve Ritchie
Hale, February 2012

After receiving a four-month-old letter from his mother, in which she asks for his help, Caleb McConnell (the Sabinas Kid) leaves Old Mexico, heading home to Colorado. But along the trail, an attempt is made on his life and The Kid begins to understand something of his parents’ troubles.

His challenge is to discover why someone is after his folks’ ranch, the Rafter MC, and who is behind it all. When Caleb finally reaches Del Norte, he encounters one surprise after another. Childhood friendship are renewed, old grudges are re-energized, and guns blaze across the Rio Grande Valley as the mystery unfolds.

I’d long been looking forward to this, Steve Ritchie’s second Black Horse Western, after really enjoying his first, The Black Mountain Dutchman, so very much. Would it match, or even surpass that excellent debut novel?

Steve Ritchie certainly has the knack for creating memorable characters that soon have the reader caring about them, hoping they succeed with their ambitions, even though he puts all kinds of obstacles in their path. With so much mystery surrounding the seemingly pointless land grab for his parents ranch and no leads to follow the reader has to wonder how the Sabinas Kid will find out just what is going on. In fact The Kid seriously considers giving up and settling down for the easy life but others aren’t about to let this happen.

Another mystery surrounds his fathers’ activities, trained and respected in the fields of geology and archaeology, he has been searching in the mountains for something. Now murdered, along with his wife, he can’t be asked either. When Caleb does discover the answer he is still none the wiser and he hits another dead end.

Steve Ritchie’s tale grabs the readers’ attention from the opening sentence and his prose then refuses to let the reader go until the final word has been read. His plot is well thought out and offers plenty of surprises along the way and includes well-described bursts of action.

So, to answer my own question, yes this book definitely matches the quality of his first novel, which means I recommend it to all western fans.

Sabinas Kid is officially released on February 29th, but is available now from the usual Internet bookstores.

Saturday 11 February 2012

Redemption: Hunters

By James Reasoner
Berkley, February 2012

Now that former Texas cowhand Bill Harvey has been appointed marshal of Redemption, Kansas, the troubled town has a hope of staying lawful. But in the untamed West, justice can come at a deadly cost…

When a group of buffalo hunters gets into a scuffle with a party of Indians, the end results are tragic – leaving all but one of the Indians dead. With the sole survivor on his way to rally the rest of his tribe for vengeance, the buffalo hunters hightail it to the closest settlement, putting Redemption in the middle of a war.

Now Bill has to figure out a way to keep the residents of Redemption safe as the Indian war party descends on the town. And with outlaws taking advantage of the chaos and attempting to rob the town bank, Bill will need all the help he can get to keep the peace and stay alive…

This is the second book in James Reasoner’s Redemption series and it proves to be as highly entertaining as the first one: Redemption, Kansas. Obviously, as with any series set in a town, many of the characters will have already been met by readers of the previous book, and here James gets to develop their personalities more, as well as adding new characters to the mix, such as Captain Stone and buffalo hunter Costigan.

The story moves from Redemption, Stone’s patrol, and the buffalo hunters effortlessly, as events unfold that will ultimately bring the Indian war party to the town. The demand from the Indians to leave the town alone makes for a difficult and almost impossible choice for Bill to make. A supreme act of courage could solve this problem and end the standoff but others want the attack to take place and move to make it happen…

James Reasoner creates a terrific air of tension as the town waits for the Indians to arrive. His pacing is excellent and his prose believable. Everything builds towards the final showdown, which provides a dramatic and exciting ending to the story, leaving me without hesitation in recommending this book.

Me? I just hope Berkley realize that in this writer and these books they have a first class series, and that they need to publish them more often, as nearly a year between books is far too long to wait for those of us eager to see what troubles befall the town of Redemption next.

Friday 10 February 2012

Morgan Kane: Backed by the Law

By Louis Masterson
WR Films Entertainment Group, Inc.
eBook, February 2012

“One more drunken brawl or nonsense from you and you’re outta the 4th Texas head first!”

Morgan Kane, Texas Ranger and hell raiser, knew that Major Monroe, boss of the ranger post at Alvarado, was a man of his word. Kane didn’t want to lose his job – so when he was challenged to eliminate the dangerous leaders of the White League, one of the anti-Negro groups currently terrorizing Texas, he agreed.

Clay Bainbridge, a rich, sleek and greedy rancher, was to prove tough opposition. But it was not until Kane met Leonie, the sultry Negress and saw the part played by voodoo ritual in the struggle between black men and white, that he understood what was involved.

By then, it was too late to turn back…

Louis Masterson, a pseudonym used by Kjell Hallbing, packs a lot into this fast moving tale that sees Morgan Kane teaming up with Pete Grossmann again. Masterson also includes a fascinating amount of background information regarding the history of the Ku Klux Klan and its spin-off groups.

Kane, struggling with the rules and regulations of being a Texas Ranger also has to battle with something previously unknown to him: voodoo. Masterson’s writing paints some vivid imagery of the ritual Kane witnesses and this proves to be one of the books' tensest scenes.

Kane also has to deal with his emotions as he contemplates his real mission, to assassinate the leaders of the White League, not arrest them, just stop them dead. Can he kill without feeling? Can he kill someone who isn’t attempting to kill him?

The book is filled with memorable characters and brutal action, and as the story unfolds in an ever increasing pace, it isn’t long before the reader will realise Kane isn’t going to come out of this in one piece, be that physically or mentally, perhaps both.

Overall this is a very entertaining read that sees Masterson developing Kane’s character and leaving the reading wondering just where Kane’s trail will take him next.

Wednesday 8 February 2012

Death on the Devil's Highway

By Josh Lockwood
Hale, February 2012

Sentenced to hang for a murder he didn’t commit, mustang man Auggie Kellerman escapes from custody and heads back to the scene of the crime to clear his name.

As an escaped prisoner, he is fair game for every lawman, bounty hunter, and Indian tracker in the Arizona Territory. He is also a fast-moving target for Charlie Keogh, the so-called Copper King of Arizona, the one man who stands to lose everything if he makes it back alive.

The only thing for it is a dangerous ride across the harshest stretch of trail known to mankind – the Devil’s Highway. Often enough in the West, a man’s reputation is all he has and Kellerman’s is badly in need of some six-gun justice.

This is Josh Lockwood’s first western for Hale, and it proves to be a very entertaining read. His writing style is straightforward and easy to follow and he tells his story at a fast pace. His plot doesn’t deviate from that outlined above, and there is a mystery element as to just why Kellerman has been framed. 

There are plenty of gunfights packed into the story, which are described vividly as are details of the landscape the action takes place in. Characters are well thought out and each has his/her own voice. 

The story races along to the final showdown, which ties everything up neatly, and left me feeling satisfied with this book.

Death on the Devil’s Highway is officially released on February 29th but is available now from the usual Internet bookstores.

Saturday 4 February 2012

The Sisters Brothers

By Patrick deWitt
Granta, 2011

Hermann Kermit Warm is going to die. The enigmatic and powerful man known only as the Commodore has ordered it, and his henchmen, Eli and Charlie Sisters, will make sure of it. Though Eli doesn’t share his brother’s appetite for whiskey and killing, he’s never known anything else. But their prey isn’t an easy mark, and on the road from Oregon City to Warm’s gold-mining claim outside Sacramento, Eli begins to question what he does for a living – and whom he does it for.

Having seen so many positive reviews for this book, and seen that it has been nominated for many awards, including the Man Booker Prize 2011, I decided it was time to read it for myself and see what all the fuss was about.

Patrick deWitt writes in a very readable style, creating many fascinating characters in the process that kept me turning the pages. The story is told in the first person, through Eli Sisters. There really isn’t much of a plot, but it’s the character studies that held my attention, made we want to keep reading to find out what would happen to them.

At least half of the book is taken up with the Sisters’ brothers journey from Oregon City to Sacramento, and it’s during these travels that the brothers meet many of the other characters. Witnessing how the brothers react to these people, none of whom really have anything to do with the main plot line, is what I found the most interesting aspect of this book. In fact some of the people you’d expect to read about again, such as the weeping man (who appears twice), never have their stories fully explained, or just vanish without a trace, as does the witches curse that is pushed to the forefront of the tale for a while and then just seems to become forgotten by the end.

There are a couple of other things that raised my eyebrow, such as the number of people of the trail between Oregon and California in the 1850s, seems the brothers couldn’t go more than a few paces without meeting someone new. Then there’s the killing of a grizzly with four pistol shots – not sure that would have been possible with the weapons of the day, but deWitt is careful to never name the pistols used. Towards the end one of the Sisters brothers does something that is pivotal to the outcome of the book that seems so out of character it kind of spoiled it for me. I’d have also liked to have discovered more about the formula – if it was real surely other people would have been using it, or something similar, so this left me with a feeling of fantasy elements which I sure didn’t expect in a book billed as the next big western.

I know I’m not usually so negative about books I review here, but I guess from all the praise heaped on this novel I was expecting more. The book has many good points too, witty dialogue for instance and I particularly enjoyed the contrasts between Eli’s care and concern for his horse, Tub, and the casual way it which he kills and treats the dead – see what he does to the corpse of the dead miner for example.

So a book full of superb character studies, fairly graphic scenes of violence (although not nearly as graphic as can be found in other westerns), told at a fast pace that proved to be an entertaining read.


 FOOTNOTE: Those of you living in the UK may like to know that this book is the featured novel on The TV Book Club tomorrow night (5th February) on More4. If the programme follows its usual format it should also include a short interview with Patrick deWitt.

Thursday 2 February 2012

The Last Ride of Jed Strange

By Frank Leslie
Signet, January 2012

While breaking horses in Arizona Territory, Colter Farrow is forced to kill a soldier in self-defense. With the man’s comrades hungry for vengeance, he hightails it to Mexico. There he runs into Bethel Strange, who was kidnapped by a villainous rurale captain. After Colter saves her, they are forced to flee even deeper into Mexico.

While on the run, Bethel resumes the search for her father, the outlaw Jed Strange. A year ago, her father took up with Mexican gunrunners in order to send money back to the family, but he never returned. Her search places them in the middle of a savage war between gunrunners, bronco Apaches, and a notorious Mexican bandit. And with the soldiers closing in, Colter’s chances of saving his own hide are getting slimmer by the minute.

The 3rd book in Frank Leslie’s Colter Farrow series starts violently with Farrow gunning down six men in a blink-of-an-eye, and from that moment the action never lets up.

The first part of the story deals with the unfortunate incident that leads to Farrow killing a soldier, this in turn sees him becoming a wanted man by the army, never mind that bounty hunters are still after him – the author explains why in this book but the full events leading to this can be found in the first Colter Farrow novel, The Guns of Sapinero.

One of the major appealing factors of this series for me has been seeing Farrow change, accepting his new role in life as a man on the run, accepting his natural ability with a gun and that he’ll have to use it to kill again and again.

Throughout the story Farrow will find himself mixed up with all kinds of fascinating and well-created characters, such as the singing bandit known as the Balladeer, and young Bethel Strange, whose reaction to seeing her fathers distinctive pistol in the hands of another man is both surprising and memorable.

It’s whilst trying to escape the soldiers that Farrow gets a couple of fleeting glimpses of the young girl that he will eventually team up with in the search for her father. A young girl that will become attracted to Farrow, this crush leading to some humorous exchanges as Farrow tries to turn her down. The hunt for Jed Strange turns up a neat twist that has a bittersweet sting in the tail.

Frank Leslie (really author Peter Brandvold) includes some great scenes of high tension, none less so than when Farrow is buried alive in water.

The Colter Farrow books are fast becoming one of my favourite western series, and I just hope it’s not too long before I get to read what happens next.