Saturday 30 June 2012

The Blackwell Claim

By Troy D. Smith
A Western Trail Blazer Dime Novel 
December 2010

GOLD... Seeking a fortune from a pile of rocks or out of a streambed. Men from all walks of life are digging and panning for gold in the West and the Blackwell brothers are no different. But along with gold mining comes rough towns like Grizzly Gulch, fighting the elements, and those pesky claim jumpers. Raised tough in the hills of Tennessee, are the Blackwell brothers up to the challenges of prospecting?

This is a short story of around 5,000 words that features the Blackwell brothers who also appear in four other similar length tales too. I haven’t read the others and am not sure where this one fits in with them, but my enjoyment of this wasn’t hindered in any way by not having read about them before.

Troy D. Smith has planned this story well, introduces the reader to the brothers and other characters that will play major roles in this tale of panning for gold and claim jumping. Descriptions and dialogue are well handled and the situation the brothers find themselves in is believable. The story is expertly paced building to its final fight that resolves the problems the brothers are having with a group of ex-soldiers (deserters) who are working the opposite side of the river to where they have their claim.

As I said, this is a short story so therefore is a quick read. I found it entertaining and a good introduction to Troy D. Smith’s writing and it left me eager to try some of his full-length novels.

Thursday 28 June 2012

The Bloodstained Crossing

By Matt Laidlaw
Hale, June 2012

Late at night, close to the silver town of Tombstone, Arizona, a wagon rattles down to the Mexican border laden with heavy crates of silver ore. Two weeks later, in the town of Rawton, a man’s death coincides with John Probity’s arrival. By the next day another person has died and Probity is in jail, accused of murder. Freed by the enigmatic town batber, Ulysses Court, Probity sets out to discover the truth.

With the number of dead rising, Probity and Court witness the gunning-down of some Mexicans at the San Pedro river and from that moment they are fighting factions from both Tombstone and Rawton. Can they make their way to safety and stay one step ahead of the furious, gun-toting outlaws?

Right from the opening paragraphs Matt Laidlaw grabs his readers attention with questions about the strange events surrounding the wagon of silver ore, and then continues to sink yet more hooks in as people die for, as yet, unknown reasons.

Matt Laidlaw brings together a group of superb characters, both fictional and real, Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, the Clantons and more, who might be behind the silver movements and killings. Probity already knows Earp as they worked together as lawmen for a time.

As Probity and Court struggle to piece together the sketchy evidence they have, and read between the lines of what they’ve been told, they find themselves fighting for their lives.

All the above makes this book very difficult to put down as the plot deepens and races towards the final showdown by which time Matt Laidlaw has answered all the questions he’s fired at his readers and the big mystery behind the silver is solved – the revelation being a complete surprise to me.

So once again Matt Laidlaw – which is one of the pseudonyms used by John Paxton Sheriff – leaves me fully satisfied and entertained by his latest book and I’m left very much looking forward to his next.

The Bloodstained Crossing is officially released tomorrow but is available now from all the usual Internet bookstores. You can also read an interview I did with the author here.

Monday 25 June 2012

The Ghosts of Poynter

By Amos Carr
Hale, June 2012

Chase Tyler is headed for the town of Poynter. An attempted ambush, the death of an innocent man, and a sheriff who won’t play by the rules, added to a brother-in-law who can’t be trusted, and a young man out for vengeance, all make for a pretty complicated visit. When Chase also meets a woman who bears more than a passing resemblance to Chase’s lost love there is little hope of him laying old ghosts to rest.

After a quick scene that helps define the type of man Tyler is, Amos Carr then takes time to fill the reader in on a couple of events from Tyler’s past; the first being how he came to own his horse and then tells how Tyler’s fell deeply in love and then lost that girl to a fire.

The story has two main threads; the first being who is attempting to kill Tyler and why, the other being the meeting of Sarah and the ghosts that rise in Tyler due to this, causing him to struggle with his feelings.

Amos Carr also adds mystery to the story, not just as to the identity of the killer, but also with Tyler’s suspicions about his brother-in-laws activities that could see a rift form between him and his sister.

This is the first Black Horse Western to carry the author name Amos Carr, and is also the first to come from this author whose real name is Gillian McDonald-Constable. Her writing style is very readable and I soon became swept up in the story, as I needed to find the answers to the many questions the author hooked me with. Action scenes, descriptions of places and emotions, and dialogue are all handled expertly and provided me with an entertaining read.

The Ghosts of Poynter has an official release date of June 29th but has been available for some time now from the usual Internet bookstores. Amos Carr’s second book, Crazy Man Cade, will be published in October.

Oh yeah, no prizes for guessing which film the artist used for the cover illustration.

Friday 22 June 2012

The First Death

By William M. James
NEL, March 1978

First published by Pinnacle, 1974 
(cover shown below)

In the great tradition of Cochise and Geronimo, Cuchillo is a warrior to be feared. But he is not a man easily driven to war. When the brutal and sadistic Lieutenant Pinner removes two of his fingers for allegedly stealing his ornamental knife, and brands him Cuchillo Oro (Golden Knife), he seeks a peaceful solution. When the true thieves come after him, even then, he keeps his head. But when Lieutenant Pinner takes his squaw and his baby boy hostage – then the white eyes have gone too far… 

Pinnacle published George G. Gilman’s very successful Edge series in America and saw them agree to publish a new series written by the man behind the Gilman pseudonym, Terry Harknett, and Laurence James. In fact the series idea came from the latter. Both these English authors, alongside a couple of others would latter become known as the Piccadilly Cowboys. When Terry decided to stop writing for this series his place was taken over by John B. Harvey, another of the PCs. The series ran from 1974 to 1984 and saw the publication of 27 books. Only the first 12 were published in the authors’ home country. The first book I’m reviewing here being written by Terry Harknett. 

This opening novel deals with the misunderstandings that lead to the tragic deaths that will set Cuchillo on the vengeance trail in the following books. It also explains how he gets his new name, Cuchillo Oro, and how he comes to carry the bejewelled knife. 

The book is superbly paced, full of well-crafted characters, and savage bloody action. There aren’t any white-hat heroes here, just hard men, and women, struggling to survive. Sympathies lie with the Apaches, as to be expected in a series with one of them as the lead character, and the soldiers are painted, mainly, as vicious, heartless, men who think nothing of torturing and raping, who take great pleasure from doing this, so it isn’t long before the reader is urging Cuchillo to victory. There is one white man who is a friend of Cuchillo, teacher John Hedges, a man who will turn up from time to time in later books.

For those who’ve read the Edge books and are aware of the groan worthy, grin-making, one liners of gallows humour Terry Harknett always included you’ll be pleased to discover he continues that tradition here, not as often but just as good, or bad, depending on your point of view.

The book ends with a very violent rescue attempt that leads to a couple of horrific killings that sees the story end with a promise that paves the way to the next book in the series and will leave you wanting more.

Due to its continuing storyline I’d suggest reading the books in order to get the greatest enjoyment from them.

Cuchillo Oro is Apache. 
and Deadly.

Wednesday 20 June 2012

The Ranch Next Door

By Elisabeth Grace Foley
ebook, October 2011
CreateSpace paper book, March 2012

The Ranch Next Door
Disturbing the Peace
Cross My Heart
A Rangeland Renaissance
Angel Unawares
The Outlaw’s Wife
Delayed Deposit

After only reading the first tale in this collection of short stories I found myself becoming a fan of Elisabeth Grace Foley’s writing. Her descriptions of both people and settings are superbly done and dialogue is believable. I can honestly say there isn’t a weak story to be found here.

The opening tale seems at first to be the usual boy from cattle ranch falls for girl from sheep ranch story that can only lead to trouble. How this is resolved is through a superb twist that I didn’t see coming that adds a fresh angle to this theme.

Disturbing the Peace is an award-winning tale about self-discovery. A Rangeland Renaissance is full of humour and comic situations. Like the first story, The Outlaw’s Wife is a twisting tale that offers unforeseen surprises.

As soon as I finished one story I found myself diving into the next, eager to read more of these beautifully told tales. 

I believe that all western fans will find something to enjoy in this collection and I hope it isn’t too long before Elisabeth Grace Foley puts out a full length western, or another selection of short stories.

Sunday 17 June 2012

Cover Gallery: Crow

by James W. Marvin

“Know what Crow used to say about livin’ by your guns? Said it made him like a kind of alchemist. Said he was the first man in history to turn lead into gold. Yeah. Meanest son of a bitch ever. Crow.”

No other name. Just Crow. Dressed in black from head to toe. The meanest man in the bullet-scarred annals of the West. Nobody ever turned their back on him. A cold voice in the shadows, a vengeful angel of death…

Time was when Crow was a Lieutenant in the Cavalry. A time when he rode against Crazy Horse and the Sioux. Commanded by Captain Silas Menges, a bloated, drunken obscenity of an individual. Even Menges’ beautiful, sensual wife, Angelina, couldn’t make up for the insults Crow took from him. No one crossed Crow and lived. No one…

You can read my review of this book here.

Time was when Crow was a loner, with just his weapons and his horse for company. A time when the snows covered Dakota Territory. When Many Knives led the Shoshone in battle against the white man. Against Captain Hetherington and a wagon train of helpless women. A time when Crow joined in the fight on an isolated plateau above the raging Moorcock river and defeat meant something worse than death…

Time was when Crow found himself holed up in Dead Hawk, Arizona. A time when the man in black wound up in jail. Killed a punk kid in self defence. Then set loose to bring back Mayor Abe Verity and his wildcat wife, Martha. Kidnapped by a band of Apaches. Or were they? Whoever it was better watch out. Best not to tangle with Crow if you wanted to live…

Time was when Crow picked up some business in Crossworld Springs, Arizona. A time he met the biggest, blackest man he’d ever seen. Name of Mavulamanzi. Spoke like an English milord. Seems he was hunting animals and needed Crow for protection, ‘specially for his woman, a real English lady. Strangest hunting party Crow’d ever been on. Kinda enjoyed it…until the Apaches showed up. Had to admit there was no one meaner or crueller than one of them savages. Except Crow…

Time was when Crow hankered to see San Francisco again. He’d no cause to get involved in that shoot-out at Death Valley but when Richard Okie started trying to buy his way out of trouble, Crow decided he could use some of that money himself – all six hundred dollars. So he hired himself out as a bodyguard to the Okie family – husband, wife and two teenage sons – to help ‘em find their lost gold mine. But the job turned out to be big trouble from the start – for he hadn’t reckoned on them being so city-soft…or the ruthless greed of Okie’s wife, Amy. But she’d met her match in Crow…

Time was when Crow found himself in the small town of Howell’s Leap, pursued by a lynch mob angry for his blood. A time when shots rang out from the church tower, and the panic-stricken townspeople sent in the shootist… But the story doesn’t end when Crow discovers crazy Alice and is forced to blow her head off, for she has two sisters – Olga and Marianna. Beautiful and innocent in appearance, the sisters will torture and mutilate for their pleasure. Now they have a motive – to avenge Alice – they’re deadly…

Time was when Crow found himself in Rosa Cruz, Arizona. Down on his luck – sick and stony broke. A time when the most menial of tasks would be welcome if it enabled him to eat. So when Ben Ford and the Spangel family ask Crow to guide them out West, he gladly agrees. He soon regrets his rashness, for the Reverend Spangel is a fiery, bible-thumping puritan, while his wife is half-witted. And almost all Crow’s charges are blind

Time was when Crow was visiting Fort Garrett. Took a dislike to a young cavalryman called Jonas…and nearly broke every bone in his body… But while they were making their minds up what to do with Crow, a boy disappeared from the Fort, name of Cyrus Quaid…a sadistic sixteen year old, hated by the Apaches. So they send Crow out to find him…

Published by Corgi in the UK, the first book came out in 1979 and the last in 1982. James W. Marvin is a pseudonym used by Laurence James, and his anti-hero, Crow, is probably the most vicious lead character to ever appear in a western series.

Now Piccadilly Publishing is bringing the series back as ebooks, and the first is already available.

Friday 15 June 2012

Blood of the Scalphunter

By John Legg
Western Trail Blazer May 2012

Lije Paterson, a longtime mountain man, finds a young man wandering the mountains after Indians killed the trappers who hired him as camp helper. Paterson takes on Dougal McKagan for the same position and begins teaching him the ways of the mountains and of trapping. 

Over the next couple of years, McKagan takes to enjoying the killing of Indians and taking scalps, much to Paterson’s disgust. Paterson finally sends him packing, but the action soon comes back to haunt him, bringing nothing but trouble and death. 

Several years later, Paterson, down on his luck, learns that McKagan is leading a large group of men killing Indians to sell their scalps. With help from an unexpected quarter, will Paterson be able to stop McKagan's bloodthirsty rampage?

Having enjoyed many of John Legg’s books in the past I was very keen to read this one. As expected the book is extremely well written and peopled with memorable characters. Descriptions of landscapes and conditions are vivid and dialogue is believable.

The story takes place over a number of years and through various dealings with Indians the reader witnesses McKagan become a ruthless killer. This leads to some shocking deaths that set Paterson on the vengeance trail. Like when Paterson first helped McKagen, the mountain man will find himself saving another person which leads to happier times once again before the violent final battle with the scalphunters.

Throughout the tale Paterson deals with all kinds of emotions, the sadness of loss, the joy of taking a new wife, the struggle to comprehend the end of the beaver pelt trade, and the burning hatred that leads to the desire for revenge.

If you enjoy books about mountain men, or those that have real people in them (and I can’t say who as that will spoil the surprise), or just want to read a fast moving highly entertaining western, then I urge you to consider Blood of the Scaplhunter. 

Available as both a paper book and ebook.

Wednesday 13 June 2012

Silvertip's Roundup - in pictures

By Max Brand
Comic Book Version

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

The artwork is very detailed with a lot going on in each panel. Characters are recognizable and the artist uses a variety of viewpoints to add dramatic drama to his illustrations. Unfortunately I can’t name the artist, as he isn’t acknowledged in the comic.

Never having read Silvertip’s Roundup before, I can’t say how faithful the comic version is to the original. In this much shortened telling the story is fast moving and full of action. Silvertip is a man who seems to live to right wrongs and has a couple of faithful companions to help him, both animals, his horse Parade, and his wolf, Frosty. Both these animals have amazing abilities and seem to understand the human tongue, which for me stretches belief somewhat. Silvertip himself is very good at second-guessing and terrific at spotting even the smallest clue to help him perfectly work out what has happened.

The bad guys and the man Silvertip is trying to save, Passkey Jones, are entertaining characters too. The plot includes an amazingly lucky escape from a house set to blow up at any second and, of course, good triumphs over bad by the end.

Overall an enjoyable read that leaves me looking forward to reading the other Double Western Pictorial that I have in my collection, this has Silvertip and Stolen Stallion as one of the stories.

This issue of the comic book sees Silvertip’s Roundup backed with Zane Grey’s The Rainbow Trail.

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

Monday 11 June 2012

The Red Sabbath

By Lewis B. Patten
Tandem, 1976

Originally published by Doubleday, 1968

“The column of dust was like the smoke from a monstrous prairie fire, boiling, yellow. Beneath it was a savage horde, yelling, barbaric in their feathers and brilliant paint, firing into the air out of sheer exuberance, coming in hungry for the vengeance due to them for fifty years of broken promises, for half a hundred savage massacres.”

Sioux, Cheyenne and Kiowa, they longed to wipe out the detested Yellow Hair. But not only the Indians loathed General Custer; many of the men who rode with him towards the valley of the Little Big Horn also hated Custer, and with good reason. He was ruthless and vain and ambitious – and he needed a victory. So he led two hundred and twenty-five men of the 7th Cavalry into one of the bloodiest massacres in American history. With them was Miles Lorette, hard-bitten civilian scout whose life had twice been wrecked, by white men and Indians, and who was to take part in the violent and terrible hours of that blood-soaked Sunday in 1876.

This whole book pretty much takes place over that one bloody Sunday, moving into the next day for the conclusion. The story is told in the first person through Miles Lorette and his back-story is explained through a series of flashbacks during lulls in the battle.

There are many exciting, and tense, scenes throughout, one of the best for me being the desperate attempt to get water. Patten superbly portrays the fear of discovery and the frantic race back to the soldiers’ lines when discovered.

Lorette finds himself with Reno and Benteen’s commands, pinned down and helpless to go to Custer’s aid, hoping for Custer’s death but saddened by the thought of the loss of the men with the General. Lorette isn’t the only man who has these wishes, for most of the characters Patten features in his novel also want to witness Custer’s death for past wrongs.

Lewis Patten captures the atmosphere of the battle and its immediate aftermath in moving and visual prose. Even though the outcome of this savage clash between white men and Indian is well known, I still found myself swept up in the story, eagerly turning the pages to see what happened next, the final scenes of Lorette riding through the masses of dead making for a powerful ending to the book.

The Red Sabbath is a must-read for anyone with an interest in Custer and/or the Indian Wars, and, of course, for fans of Lewis Patten’s work.

This book was the winner of the Spur Award for best western historical novel in 1968.

Friday 8 June 2012

Mano A Mano

By Matthew S. Hart
Americana Publishing, November 2003

Originally published by Bantam Domain Books, May 1992

She is known as the Yellow Rose, a singer with the voice of an angel and the beauty of a goddess. But her sensual powers conceal a secret and dangerous past – one which draws Cody into a deadly contest beyond the Texas frontier. 

When Rose is kidnapped and delivered to a ruthless murderer who lives for the pleasure of killing, Cody is the one man with the skill and the guts to track him down. But the trail leads south of the border and over the line. In the scorching heat of the Mexican desert, Cody has no authority save what he carries in his heart…and in his holster. Here a Ranger’s badge is but a piece of tin, and the ultimate law – between one man and another – is fixed on the blade of a bowie knife.

Although this Americana Publishing audio book is a slightly abridged version of the original paperback novel you wouldn’t have any idea that certain passages are missing unless you listen to the narration whilst following the words of the book. This audio version is presented on two cassettes and has a running time in total of just under four hours. The start of each new chapter is signified with a short piece of music and the story is superbly read by Grady Jim Robinson (although for some reason the spoken introduction to the book says it’s performed by Charlton Griffin) who expertly alters his tone and pitch for different characters and knows when to draw out words or pause for dramatic effect, making this audio book a pleasure to listen to.

The story is well plotted and offers plenty of action and surprises, the latter mainly when discovering the back-story to the Yellow Rose. In fact much of the first part of the book follows her misfortunes and kidnapping in an exciting raid on a party being held in her honour.

The tale is filled with very visual action and peopled with wonderfully drawn characters, a number of whom Cody finds himself saddled with when setting out to free the Yellow Rose from her captors. Cody’s desire to cross the border to rescue the singer sees him threaten to quit being a Ranger, so strong is his sense of purpose in this mission…or is there something more between them driving him on? As certain characters reveal their true personalities the story unfolds in an increasing pace that leads to an exciting final showdown.

I’ll finish by saying that I believe this story will appeal to most western fans and point out that you don’t need to have read (or listened to) the previous books to get full enjoyment of this tale, although I do believe once you read (or listen to) this one you’ll find yourself tracking down those earlier books and those that come after (the Cody’s Law series ran for 12 books). 

Matthew S. Hart is a pseudonym, the books being written by a small group of authors. Mano A Mano was written by James Reasoner. 

Here’s the original book cover.

Tuesday 5 June 2012

Have Gun, Will Play

By Camille LaGuire
ebook, June 2010

Two gunslingers, one little girl, a big bag of toys... and murder.

Mick and Casey McKee aren't exactly your average gunslingers. He's young and inexperienced, and has much too sunny a disposition for a gunman. She's younger, meaner, less experienced, but a much better shot.

When they get a job protecting the daughter of a stagecoach king--and her grand collection of toys--it seems like an opportunity to go someplace new. But after the wrong kidnapping, a murder, another wrong kidnapping, a couple of jewel heists and a few knocks to the head, Mick and Casey are left holding the bag of toys. Mick, however, is not as dumb as he seems, and as for Casey...nobody steals her gun and gets away with it.

This book is a little different from the type of westerns I usually read in so much as it is more a mystery novel. Mick and Casey are hired, as it seems they are far too inexperienced and dumb to carry out the job, which the bad-guys are counting on, and of course they under-estimate them…

Told in the first person through Mick the reader is treated to a twisting plot filled with engaging characters, particularly Mick, Casey and the little girl, Laurie. The kidnapping of Laurie seems to be the cloak to hide the main plot of stealing her family’s fortune in jewels and the question of where they are hidden becomes the major mystery thread of the story along with who cut Tyson’s throat.

The story involves secret lovers, double-crossing family members, the innocence of the young, lawmen, puppeteers, and a whole host of treasured toys. All have their part to play in the mystery of the missing jewels.

Mick and Casey’s history is slowly revealed as the story progresses. The reader finding that they are married – even though they don’t much act like a married couple. The reason for this is explained but I’m not going to spoil the why here. Being so young themselves they constantly bicker like children and that I found added to the humour of the many situations they find themselves in, a number of which are resolved through gunplay.

I found this to be an enjoyable read that has a light-hearted tone throughout and was left looking forward to the next Mick and Casey story that the back of the book says Camille LaGuire is set to write. In the meantime I’ll just have to settle for the short story, The Curse of Scattershale Gulch, that is available now.

Have Gun, Will Play is available as both a paper book and an ebook.


Friday 1 June 2012

Tribute to a Legend

By Connor McKenzie
ebook, January 2012

Connor Mckenzie lives in New Zealand and has a keen interest in the American West. In this collection of five short stories his knowledge of firearms shines through, all of these stories playing tribute to either the Henry Repeating rifle, the Model 66 Yellowboy, or the Winchester 73.

You’ll find stories featuring mountain men, cowboys and Texas Rangers. All the main characters discovering one of the above rifles for the first time and using it to beat off heavy odds, be they Indians, Comancheros or river pirates.

The stories are well thought out and offer plenty of gunplay alongside information about the featured rifle. Even though each tale shouts out loud about the excellence of the weapons one tale has an anti gun theme running through it. Humour plays a strong part too, a couple of the tales close with lines that had me smiling broadly, one having a neat laugh-out-loud twist ending.  

Connor McKenzie’s writing is extremely readable. I’d intended to read this collection a couple of stories at a time between full length novels but found myself reading the whole lot in one sitting. His characters, whether hero or supporting, are equally memorable, so much so I’d like to read more tales about each and every one of them.

To be Remembered
A Fortuitous Meeting
Power of the Gun
The Sacrifice
Privileged Information

At $2.50 or £1.68 (at the time of posting this review) this ebook is well worth its price.