Sunday 29 April 2012

Interview: Matthew P. Mayo

Matthew P. Mayo may be a new name to many western readers but he’s been contributing articles, essays and reviews to magazines for a number of years. He’s also edited a couple of anthologies and has had a few short stories of his own included in anthologies too, both westerns and other genres. Recently he has been behind two westerns for major publishers and has more on the way.

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

I can’t recall a specific lightbulb moment of decision, but I’ve been a big reader for ages, and like lots of other writers I dabbled with making up my own stories as a kid in elementary school. I published a fair amount of poetry in high school and college in various anthologies and journals, all the while playing at short fiction, a couple of novels that petered out, that sort of thing. I got a BA in English and years later, while working as a magazine editor, I took an online novel-writing course. It was a great experience that spurred me into going back to school for my MFA in writing. 

Did anyone encourage you to be a writer, and if so whom?

Growing up, the biggest encouragement I received in that direction came from my parents. Mom’s a teacher and Dad’s a dairy farmer, and they are both big readers. So my brother, Jeff, and I read everything all the time. I can tell you that fetching cows in from the pasture always takes longer when you have Edgar Rice Burroughs or Louis L’Amour in your pocket.

My wife, Jennifer, is my strongest daily cheerleader. Without her encouragement, I’d be stuck in a cubicle somewhere, gnawing my own limbs off. 

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

My first published novel was a Western: Winters’ War, published in 2007 by Robert Hale, London, for its great Black Horse Westerns line. I was over the moon about that. I wrote two more for Hale: Wrong Town and Hot Lead, Cold Heart. It also led to great e-friendships with a number of fine established Black Horse writers, among them Ian Parnham and Howard Hopkins, who were helpful and encouraging as I worked to get that first manuscript up to snuff.

You’ve recently had a Compton novel published entitled Dead Man’s Ranch. How did this come about and can we expect more?

I got in the door there because of my agent, who sent copies of some of my other books, including my Black Horse Westerns, to the editor of the line. And yes, more to come: I recently turned in another Compton novel. I also contribute to the Slocum series of "action Westerns." And I’m always working on a number of other fiction and non-fiction projects.

What appeals to you about the western genre?

The 19th century in America was a time of raw possibility for a lot of folks. Many headed West of the Mississippi River with a handful of hope and little else, and ended up establishing lives on the frontier (much as people did in the hinterlands of New England a century before). Some of them built great fortunes, some of them failed miserably and headed back East, some died alone in rough conditions, many more worked hard and carved out solid, admirable lives. All of this and so much more makes for fascinating material to research and to use as inspiration to tell stories. 

Which western writers would you recommend?

Reading Louis L’Amour is like slipping into a favourite old jacket—fits just right and feels good. I’m also a big fan of Ernest Haycox, A.B. Guthrie, Jr., Dorothy Johnson, Jack Schaefer. Among writers working today, and in no particular order, I’ll mention some of the many I enjoy and learn from: Loren D. Estleman, Larry D. Sweazy, Peter Brandvold, Larry McMurtry, John D. Nesbitt, James Reasoner, Robert Randisi, Marcus Galloway, Dusty Richards, David Robbins, Ian Parnham, David Whitehead, Howard Hopkins, Charlie Whipple, Nik Morton, Gary Dobbs, Ray Foster, Jory Sherman, Joseph West, Johnny D. Boggs … I know I’m forgetting many—I could keep on going. It’s such a rich time for readers of Westerns!

How much importance do you place on research and how important is historical accuracy in westerns? 

I research a whole lot, especially for non-fiction books. Also, much of what I use as the basis for research comes in through my regular reading. I’m always amazed at how a seemingly insignificant scrap will pop up again months or years later and provide a useful direction for an entirely new project. 

What is the biggest challenge in writing a western?

My primary challenge when writing a Western—or any type of novel—is to make sure that readers are entertained.

Your Black Horse Westerns were to be published by Leisure as paperbacks and it must have been very disappointing that this didn’t happen, but I think you must be pleased Dorchester didn’t manage to put your books out before their collapse?

At the time I was very excited because the editors at Dorchester (Leisure) were keen on my writing. Then the reports began popping up about Dorchester’s seemingly imminent collapse. I was disappointed because ever since I was a kid, I’d wanted to see my name on a mass-market paperback. But the reports were such that my agent and I pulled my books from the deal and I kept rights to them, intending to release them myself. And that’s what I’m now doing with Gritty Press (see below).

Are you likely to write any more Black Horse Westerns?

As much as I love and support the Black Horse Westerns line, I make my living writing books (and editing magazines), so I head for the higher-paying gigs. I wish I didn’t have to base that decision on money, because I can’t say enough good about the line and the publisher. Hale has been great to deal with and the Westerns they put out are great reads.

Gritty Press have just put out a new version of Wrong Town, as an ebook and paperback, billed as the first in the Roamer series. When can we expect the next book and what can you tell us about Gritty Press?

My wife, photographer Jennifer Smith-Mayo, and I have set up our own imprint, Gritty Press, and we recently released a revised version of Wrong Town, recast as the first in the “Roamer” series. It’s now out in ebook and trade paperback format. Winters’ War and Hot Lead, Cold Heart will follow soon. The next Roamer adventure is in the works, and I hope to release it in the fall. It’s a corker that will reveal more about Roamer’s past, a bit about his future, and throughout, I will endeavor to keep readers wondering how he’ll live through the predicaments he finds himself in.

Roamer’s mentor is a grumpy old mountain man named Maple Jack, who, chronologically, makes his debut in the story, “Maple Jack and the Christmas Kid,” in the new anthology Christmas Campfire Companion, by Port Yonder Press. In that story, he takes in the young greenhorn he calls “Roamer.” References to Maple Jack appear in Wrong Town, and Roamer pops up now and again in various Maple Jack tales. I’ve published several Maple Jack tales so far, with more on the way. People seem to like the old curmudgeon, so I’d like to collect his stories in a single book before too long.

Regarding Gritty Press, Jen has lots of experience designing books, magazine layouts, billboards, bus signs, CD and DVD covers, you name it, so we’re lucky that we can work in-house on our own covers and logos. She’s come up with snazzy new covers, typeset the interiors, and we’re even working on “Gritty Gear” (T-shirts, mugs, etc.) because we think the logo’s so nifty. I’d like to eventually release work by other writers. I’m a big fan of the men’s adventure genre, both fiction and non-fiction, so that’s the direction we’re headed with Gritty Press (

You’ve had a number of short stories published in a variety of Western anthologies. Do you find short stories as easy to write as a full-length novel?

I do find short stories are easier to write, primarily because they are usually simpler, more straightforward plots. I also like them because they allow you to try things you might not get a chance to in something novel-length. I’ve written dozens of short stories in lots of genres, so I hope to rerelease them soon, as well.

You were listed as a finalist in the Western Writers of America Spur Awards and also in the Western Fictioneers Peacemaker Awards. Which stories were nominated and where can readers find them?

One of my shorts, “Half a Pig,” from the Express Westerns anthology, A Fistful of Legends, was a 2010 Spur Award finalist for the Western Writers of America. That was a big honor (and ego boost!) for me. And the next year, my steampunk Western story, “Scourge of the Spoils,” from the DAW Books anthology, Steampunk’d, was nominated for a Peacemaker Award by Western Fictioneers, another big thrill. The stories are available via links at my Website: They will also appear soon as ebooks via Gritty Press.

You have four non-fiction books that collect stories from different areas of Western History, how easy was it to find enough tales for these books and do you have anymore of these books planned?

I enjoy writing historical non-fiction books and though I’ve written about various regions, the books about the West are especially fun for me. The first, Cowboys, Mountain Men & Grizzly Bears: Fifty of the Grittiest Moments in the History of the Wild West, was written when we lived outside of Bozeman, Montana, and much of it during the winter looking out at the snow-covered mountains, right along the Bloody Bozeman Trail—amazing! The book was first published in 2009 and continues to sell well. In fact, it’s been optioned for film, so we’ll see how that comes along.

The second in my “Grittiest Moments” series, Bootleggers, Lobstermen & Lumberjacks: Fifty of the Grittiest Moments in the History of Hardscrabble New England, is similar in vibe, but about the older history (beginning in 1620) of my native New England, in the northeast of the US. For the third, I headed back out West and North: Sourdoughs, Claim Jumpers & Dry Gulchers: Fifty of the Grittiest Moments in the History of Frontier Prospecting. That one’s due out in early June, 2012.

And in August, I have a slightly different Western history book coming out: Haunted Old West: Phantom Cowboys, Spirit-Filled Saloons, Mystical Mine Camps, and Spectral Indians. Collecting stories for these books is the fun part. The difficult part is narrowing the selections down to those I can use. I’m working on a couple more such books right now, some about New England history, and I have a number of Old West topics I plan to tackle next. My publisher has a big presence out West, so it’s great exposure—and a grand excuse for me to travel there for, ahem, research purposes….

You’ve been involved with helping your wife, Jennifer, put out three photo books covering different areas of New England. Could you tell us a little about these, such as how you decided what subjects should be included in them?

We were hired as a writer/photographer team to write and shoot a series of coffee-table books for Globe Pequot Press. The first, Maine Icons: 50 Classic Symbols of the Pine Tree State, was released in May, 2011, and continues to be a big seller. 

We followed it up with New Hampshire Icons and Vermont Icons, both of which will see release in July, 2012. We had the same difficult decisions when it came time to reduce the list of hundreds of potential iconic items, people, places, foods, etc., in each book. We’re long-time residents of this region, and we take every opportunity to get out and about in it, so we felt reasonably certain that our choices would be well received—and so far they have been, though the only guarantee with these books is that we’ll never please everyone. But we try! And the good news is that there’s plenty of material for follow-up volumes.

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

I do believe I’d steer a newcomer to Wrong Town (Roamer Book 1) (Gritty Press edition!), since it continues to generate lots of positive reviews and fan mail. I think in that one I did a decent job in capturing some of my favorite themes and elements: a self-reliant attitude, overcoming adversities, grim situations—though not without a bit of humor, too. 

If you could write a sequel to any western (not your own) which would it be and why?

Wow, I’d never thought of that before, but wouldn’t a sequel to Jack Schaefer’s Shane be fun to tackle. Or better yet … a prequel! Now that sounds like fun.

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

I believe the Western genre is brimming with promise, as evidenced by the number of exciting writers of Westerns working today (look no further than to the members of Western Fictioneers, Black Horse Westerns Group, or Western Writers of America). The future for Westerns looks great, especially considering the recent cool crossover work with other genres: Western horror, steampunk, romance, and more.

What is your favourite western movie and why?

I’ll wimp out and choose two instead (for this week): “Will Penny” with Charlton Heston, and “Open Range” with Robert Duvall and Kevin Costner. “Will Penny” is like a big short story. It’s filled with great acting, believable situations and characters, and doesn’t end how you think it might. And “Open Range,” altered somewhat from the book by Lauren Paine, also offers top-shelf acting in an engaging story about characters who are all too human. And then there’s “Seven Men from Now,” “Ride the High Country,” “Tombstone”….

Finally what do you read for pleasure?

I read lots of stuff—comics, novels, non-fiction books. I spend a lot of time reading books for review and for research, so when I tuck into something for pure pleasure, it’s a real treat. Right now I’m reading Larry D. Sweazy’s mystery novel, The Devil’s Bones, and enjoying it immensely. I’m also dipping into a short stack of Joe Lansdale’s older stuff, Westerns and horror, and loving it. Those I’m reading on my Kindle and on my iPod Touch. The convenience and storage on such devices is amazing.


By Owen G. Irons
Hale, April 2012

In an unimaginable turn of events an outlaw gang had kidnapped the Colorado & Eastern train, leaving the passengers afoot in an early winter blizzard.

Tango and Ned Chambers are the men hired to prevent such things happening. They are left alone on the frozen prairie with the wealthy and attractive widow Lady Simpson and a brother of the vice-president of the United States as their charges.

Now all they have to do is recover the train, get through to Denver, and bring to justice those responsible for the outrage, without allowing harm to come to Lady Simpson and the politician.

Owen G. Irons has come up with an unusual twist to a kidnapping plot by not having humans taken for ransom, but a train. Why? I can’t spoil the reason by revealing that here, but like me, I believe you’ll have fun finding out, for this is a very entertaining book full of action and excitement.

If you like trains you’ll find plenty of enjoyment here, for most of the book revolves around the train in question. Obviously its kidnapping and then an attempt to steal it back, and how to get a train up a mountain side along snow covered tracks for instance.

Tango and Chambers make for a great couple of heroes who find themselves having to cope with getting the train back and/or saving the abandoned passengers. Both Lady Simpson and the vice-presidents’ brother have their parts to play, and it soon becomes evident that they could both be targets for different reasons.

I find Owen G. Irons (a pseudonym used by Paul Lederer) to be very readable. He writes fast paced books with plots that often have a twist or two waiting to surprise the reader, and this story does just that. After finishing Derailed I once again find myself eagerly looking forward to his next book.

Derailed is officially released tomorrow, but is available now.

Friday 27 April 2012

Morgan Kane: Pistolero

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

“The only way to cut these Kiowa down to size is to hunt ‘em down to the last man!”

On the Kiowa reservation at Bald Peak, someone was smuggling liquor to the Indians – but lips were tightly closed to all enquiries. A Kiowa raiding party had broken out of the reservation and made a murderous attack on Troop 3 from Fort Bowie, and the entire troop had been wiped out. Marshal Kane was not exactly new to such cases – but several things puzzled him about this one. What Kiowa would use a revolver and wear high-heeled boots? And why should two harmless Mexicans have been tortured to death?

Perhaps the most action-packed Morgan Kane story so far, including two soldier verses Indian battles, and Kane alone wiping out an entire community. There’s also the aftermath of rape to deal with and torture. Kane will also experience, once again, the heartache of losing someone he’s grown fond of.

Louis Masterson gives us an exciting story of Kane going it alone – although he does ask if it’s ok with his new boss – as he believes it’s a U.S. Marshals’ job to stop the liquor smugglers. But there are more mysteries than where the liquor is coming from, there is the question of the stolen medallion and gold coin, then there is the identity of the ‘faceless’ man – the story behind this man being particularly gruesome. All these challenges combine to make this a very fast moving, and at time brutal, read.

This book also continues Louis Masterson’s obsession of including characters whose name begins with a Z, in this case Zita, a beautiful girl who Kane struggles to resist, a girl who, perhaps, belongs to another world than his own. Is he successful? Does he discover all the answers to the other puzzles mentioned in the previous paragraph? I guess you’ll just have to read the book yourself to find out and I say those of you who like westerns with a darker tone will find this an enjoyable read.

Just a quick note about the cover image, above Kane’s name it says ‘Texas Ranger’, this has been corrected to read ‘U.S. Marshal’ on the books you’ll buy.

Wednesday 25 April 2012

No Peace for a Rebel

By Peter Wilson
Hale, April 2012

The Civil War had been over for exactly one year when retired soldier Ethan Cole is persuaded to join a group led by his former major, Daniel Reno. Little does he realize that he is being drawn into a plot that could change the course of history.

Ethan believes he owes Reno his life and reluctantly agrees to go along with the deluded major’s plan to stage a gold bullion robbery to help finance a fresh uprising among some disillusioned Southerners. But the power-crazed Reno has a far more sinister goal in mind, and when Cole learns the terrifying truth behind the raid he finds himself, single-handedly, trying to prevent a war – and a vicious showdown with a former friend,

Peter Wilson’s fifth Black Horse Western proves to be a terrific read. Yes, we’ve all read other westerns about groups of Southerners wanting to continue the war against the Northerners, and yes, this book begins with that familiar plot. But Peter Wilson soon deviates from that storyline as he hints at something much more shocking behind Reno’s plans. I’m not going to reveal what that is here, all I will say is I don’t remember reading anything like it before, and it makes for gripping reading.

How to deal with Reno isn’t the only problem facing Cole as the bullion robbery leads to more difficult situations and decisions that will see friends turn on friends amid treachery and vengeance.

Peter Wilson tells his story in short scenes that switch from character to character, thus making it difficult to stop turning the pages until you find out what happens to each of them. Descriptive prose is excellent and dialogue believable, and tied in with the great plot makes this a book I’d say all western fans should enjoy.

No Peace for a Rebel is officially released on April 30th but is available now.

Monday 23 April 2012

The Search for the Lone Star

By I.J. Parnham
Hale, April 2012

It had long been rumoured that the fabulous diamond known as the Lone Star had been buried somewhere near the town of Diamond Springs. Many men had died trying to claim it, but when Diamond Springs became a ghost town, the men who went there had many different aims. Tex Callahan had been paid to complete a mission, Rafferty Horn wanted to put right a past mistake, George Milligan thought he knew what had happened to the diamond, and Elias Sutherland wanted revenge.

All were united by their hatred of Creswell Washington, a man who had cast a dark shadow over all their lives during the search for the diamond. Only after a violent retribution will the truth be finally revealed about the Lone Star.

Ian Parnham expertly captures the readers imagination with his superbly crafted characters and the fact that their true goals aren’t all revealed at once, this he succeeds in hooking the reader with the need to discover just what they are all really up to, and if any of them will be alive at the end of the book. And it’s not just characters that grab attention, what of the diamond itself? Does it exist, and if so where is it? Then there’s the diary that weaves a fascinating story, but just as the truth behind the diamond is to be exposed, the final pages have been torn from the book. Who has them and what do they say?

Ian Parnham mixes loads of intrigue into this story along with many twists and turns. I was very surprised when, without warning, one of the major characters was shot down, leaving me wondering how on earth the story could continue.

If it’s action you want then this book provides plenty of that too. Gunplay seems to fill most of the pages as the characters race to discover the whereabouts of the diamond, and the final revelation about the Lone Star is both surprising and humorous. 

If you’ve never read any of Ian Parnham’s work before then I’d urge you to get hold of a copy of this book as I’m sure you’ll be thoroughly entertained whilst finding out the truth of the Lone Star.

The Search for the Lone Star is officially released on April 30th, but is available now from the usual Internet bookstores.  

Friday 20 April 2012

Thunder Valley

By David Robbins
Signet, April 2012

Tucked away from danger, Thunder Valley is a lush expanse of land cultivated by a tight community of farmers and ranchers. They’ve never had a need for lawmen, but now the Wyoming Overland Railroad wants to clear out the townsfolk to make way for a new rail line. Thunder Valley’s residents won’t budge, so the company decides to take drastic measures.

They hire four blood-hungry assassins to do the dirty work. But the lowlifes don’t know that Rondo James – an infamous ex-Confederate soldier who aims for the head and never misses – is passing through Thunder Valley. And he doesn’t take kindly to bullies. On the horizon is a bloodbath that will rival battlefields from his past, but Rondo, with the help of the townspeople, won’t stop until he has the enemy begging for mercy….

Rondo James is the kind of western hero you will remember for a long time, mysterious, even though his back-story is revealed as the book unfolds, a man who wants to live a peaceful life yet seems to attract trouble, a man with a reputation that others see as a challenge to better, a shootist with honour.

After a deadly show of gun ability Rondo finds himself swept up in the troubles of Thunder Valley. Who is responsible for the slaughter of hogs and then people? And if this isn’t enough of a problem there is unknown danger riding for a showdown with Rondo.

Rondo James isn’t the only well crafted character within this novel. There are the four hired assassins, the people who live in the valley and the nearby town, the gunmen riding for a reckoning with Rondo, and the elderly lawman who arrives with a warning and will maybe find a new life.

David Robbins gives the reader a fast paced story filled with gunplay, suspense, and more than one twist to the tale as all aren’t exactly who they say they are. The story is spiced with moments of humour, mainly presented through dialogue. 

Thunder Valley is a very difficult to put down book that thoroughly entertains. It’s a book that should be on every western fan’s reading list.

Mention should also be made of the cover. The artist has really captured a terrific likeness of Rondo James.

Tuesday 17 April 2012

Buff Tea

By Edward M. Erdelac
Texas Review Press, October 2011

In 1874 a boy leaves a comfortable life in Chicago and heads west to work on the burgeoning railroad, quickly finding the labor not to his liking. He joins a disparate group of itinerant buffalo hunters led by a tough old ex-Indian fighter named War Bag Tyler and they pass into Texas to participate in the great slaughter. The season draws to a close and death strikes the outfit. War Bag swears a Cheyenne Dog Soldier from his past is responsible. As War Bag plots a new hunt, a hunt for the Cheyenne, the boy must choose between life and death.

Edward M. Erdelac superbly mixes fact and fiction in a gripping read that is told in the first person. His story is filled with colourful characters that have their own personalities, each with an important role to play in the outcome of this fast moving and well thought out tale. The story mixes humorous banter with life changing lessons for the boy as he experiences the excitement and disappointments of hunting buffalo. Along the way he will meet a handful of real people who will become famous figures in western history.

I wasn’t far into the story before I’d become attached to the main players and, even though the book blurb had prepared me for it, I was shocked at the death of one of these leading characters. How each of the survivors reacted to this provided some fascinating reading as darker sides to some of their personalities began to emerge. Action scenes are described in fairly gory detail, be it the killing and skinning of buffalo or the brutality of an Indian attack.

The title, Buff Tea, refers to…..nope, I’m not going to reveal that here, but will add that I believe all lovers of westerns will really enjoy finding out themselves by reading this book, and like me, will find themselves adding Edward M. Erdelac to their list of favourite authors.  

Friday 13 April 2012

Slocum and the High-Rails Heiress

By Jake Logan
Jove, April 2012

#398 in the series

Slocum’s at the end of his tether when a stranger offers him a hot meal, a job escorting precious cargo to Salt Lake City, and a thousand dollar advance. It may be too good to be true, but it’s also too good to turn down – especially when he gets a look at the cargo…

In his care is a mysterious chest, the key to which rests on another chest – that of Augusta Barr, a stunning heiress with more than a little mystery of her own. Pursued by a deadly pair of redheaded roughnecks, Slocum finds himself caught in a deadly mix of beauty, bounty, and bullets.

This book is the first by a new author to the Slocum stable, but it’s not his first western, his other books have gained him wide acclaim and saw one of his short stories nominated for a Western Writers of America Spur Award. The man writing as Jake Logan this time around is Matthew P. Mayo.

The characters that this story revolves around are all superbly crafted, such as the redheaded brothers, Augusta Barr and her oriental cook, but the best, for me, is the veiled woman; just who is she and what is she after? Her true identity coming as an excellent surprise that I didn’t guess was coming.

Most of the story takes place on a train. Dialogue and descriptive scenes are handled extremely well. Action comes thick and fast and often painted very visual images within my mind. There’s plenty of mystery that grabbed my attention and refused to let me go until the answers had been found, such as the already mentioned identity of the veiled woman, along with the air of suspicion placed around Augusta Barr and the truth as to the content of the chest.

Slocum and the High-Rails Heiress is a well-paced book that provided a thoroughly enjoyable read, leaving me looking forward to Matthew P. Mayo’s next entry into the series.

Tuesday 10 April 2012

Morgan Kane: Marshal and Murderer

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

Morgan Kane’s first assignment as a U.S. Marshal was tough - tackling a series of brilliant and brutal train robberies in Kansas and Missouri. Dynamite charges and derailments were commonplace, and losses were up to one and a half million dollars…

Kane got on the track of Miles Rudyard, a slick gambler who owned a travelling circus. Rudyard lived like a king and Kane thought he knew where the money was coming from – but how to prove it?

He decided to set a trap…

This book sees Kane signing on to become a U.S. Marshal but there is a catch. As long as he wears the star the murder charge hanging over his head (see previous book, A Ranger’s Honor) will be put on ice. This is something Kane can live with and life as a U.S. Marshal seems to suit him.

Louis Masterson (real name Kjell Hallbing) once again presents his readers with a very fast moving tale filled with memorable characters such as Rudyard, the three acrobats and the woman, Liz La Salle. Action scenes are described in a very visual manner, one of the best being when Kane and Liz are tied to the front of a train as it roars down the tracks and the desperate struggle to free themselves provides some terrific and gripping reading.

For once Kane doesn’t really add to his emotional scars although the author does develop Kane’s character further, mainly as he adjusts to his new job. The book also introduces a number of new people who will have further roles to play in future stories so readers new to the series will not want to miss this book to see how Kane’s working relationships with them begin.

If you’ve not managed to read any of Kane’s previous adventures I say this is an excellent place to jump in due to Kane starting a new period within his life. 

Friday 6 April 2012

Violence at Sundown

By Frank O’Rourke
Pan, 1958

Originally published 1953 by Random House

“Turn around,” said Travis. “Check in those guns and get back across the line. I’ll give you one minute to start.”

Big talk…for a lone marshal facing fifty wild men from Texas. But Bob Travis had known for a long tome that this moment was coming. He had known the killers would be back. And he was waiting. He had to wait. He had to take his chance of getting killed – if he wanted to live.

I don’t remember the last time I read a Frank O’Rourke novel, if ever, so I came to this with an open mind. This book was published before I was born so I wondered how dated it would be in both outlook and writing style, so I was pleasantly surprised to find it stood up well with the westerns being written today. The only problem I had was with the pacing…it just seemed to take forever for anything to happen.

Frank O’Rourke spends a lot of time fleshing out his characters and describing life in the town of Olalla and explaining how the lawman, Bob Travis, is looking forward to his retirement and settling down on his own farm. The relationship between Travis and the man who will lead the fifty men into town with the sole purpose of wiping Olalla off the map, takes up a fair part of the tale too.

The killing that leads to the threat to the town takes sometime to happen, after which witnesses change their statements, one of whom goes on the run. With a hired gun tracking the frightened witness, Travis sets out to find one or both of them and stop a further killing. This chase takes up most of the book and leads to a tense and exciting showdown. After this there is another lengthy portion of the story that just tells of town life before the fifty cowboys return.

The anticipated final gunfight of lawman against massive odds looked set to provide an action-packed ending to a story that seemed to exist just to build to this one event. Imagine my disappointment when this just fizzled out to nothing with not a single shot fired.

Hopefully this book isn’t representative of Frank O’Rourke’s work as I’ve read lots of positive comments about his storytelling, so I will try another sometime down the line as Violence at Sundown was very readable, just so slow compared to the books I usually read.

Tuesday 3 April 2012

Dead Man's Brand

By Norbert Davis
Black Dog Books, 2011

Dead Man’s Brand is a superb collection of eight stories written by Norbert Davis, a writer perhaps better known for his mystery and detective fiction. In this book, Tom Roberts of Black Dog Books has brought together eight of his western stories, the first of which was made into a Hollywood film under the new title of Hands Across the Rockies. These stories originally appeared in the pulps such as Star Western and were published in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s.

The eight stories are sandwiched between a fascinating introduction by Bill Pronzini in which he outlines Norbert Davis’ publishing history, and an Appendix in which Ed Hulse looks in detail at how A Gunsmoke Case for Major Cain was turned into a Hollywood film.

A Gunsmoke Case for Major Cain
Their Guardian from Hell
Leetown’s One-Man Army
Dead Man’s Brand
The Gunsmoke Banker Rides In
Death Creeps
Sign of the Sidewinder
Boot-Hill Bait

Due to the time these stories were first published I expected them to be filled with old cowboy lingo and was surprised to find this wasn’t true, other than one or two terms and the lack of bad language these tales could have been written today. I was also surprised at how dark some of these stories are, none really feature a white-hat, clean-cut hero. The lead roles in Davis’ stories are taken by what I would call anti-heroes, tough men who won’t let anything stop them achieving their goals. Davis’ often includes moments of humour to lighten these darker themes.

Each story is action packed and fast paced. The plots are well thought out and filled with twists and turns. Opening sentences grabbing the readers’ attention instantly, making you want to read more to discover just what is going on, and then you’ll find yourself wondering how everything will be resolved making it impossible to stop reading a story once started: for instance how can the main character in the title story convince anyone that he hasn’t killed himself to gain an inheritance? 

So, once more, praise must be given to Tom Roberts for producing this excellent book and bringing Norbert Davis’ western work back into the limelight. This is definitely a book all western fans should own.