Thursday 31 October 2013

Valley of the Damned

By Cordell Falk
Imagicknation Press, December 2012

Matthew Carter comes to the violent boomtown of Darwin just one job away from leaving his troubled past behind. When his mentor is murdered, he must choose between running into the desert and staying on to find the stash of gold that could mean his redemption. Caught in a firestorm between the competing wills of a legendary lawman, a corrupt rail baron, and a vengeful Colonel, Matthew rides hard with the fear that his last job may turn out to be just that.

Valley of the Damned is the first in a series of that name. According to the author’s website there will be a further five books.

At first glance the cover of this book isn’t that inspiring, doesn’t grab a viewers’ attention, but on reading this book it perfectly illustrates an element of the story. I just hope prospective buyers don’t pass it by as it doesn’t shout western in a way we usually see.

Cordell Falk has created a fascinating group of characters that find themselves on a collision course that can only have one outcome; a bloody battle that all sides participate in.

Getting to this final showdown makes for a great read. At first the story seems to be yet another version of a range war tale but it doesn’t take long for this to be seen not to be the case. There’s much more going on than that, and with the introduction of each new character the plot becomes more and more complicated. I can’t really say anymore on this without spoiling some of the surprises waiting in store.

With plenty of mystery and intrigue Cordell Falk hooks the reader, keeping them turning the pages to find the answers to such questions as who is the Chinese girl, Mai, and what are her motives? How can a barbed wire fence staked across a railroad track hope to stop a train?

As all sides come together for the last gunfight most of the story threads are tied up but, like in all the best series, Falk leaves a couple dangling ensuring his readers will be on the lookout for the next book.

Tuesday 29 October 2013

R.I.P. Bill Gulick

Bill Gulick has passed away at the age of 97. 

He wrote a number of westerns, three of which were filmed:
‘Bend of the Snake’ became the 1952 movie ‘Bend in the River’ which starred James Stewart, Rock Hudson and Arthur Kennedy.
‘The Road to Denver’ became the 1955 movie of the same name starring John Payne, Mona Freeman and Lee J. Cobb.
‘The Hallelujah Train’ became the 1965 movie ‘The Hallelujah Trail’ starring Burt Lancaster, Lee Remick and Bill Hutton.

As well as writing fiction he also wrote a number of factual books.

He will be sadly missed by family, friends and fans.

Friday 25 October 2013

Rowan's Raiders

By Buck Gentry
Zebra, 1981

Orphaned at eight and a frontier runaway at fifteen, Eli Holten spent six years of his life in the camps of the fierce, savage Oglala Sioux learning the ways of the plains. Driven by his restlessness, ruthlessness and cunning, famous for his tracking, hunting and killing expertise, Holten was compelled to move on. He returned to the white man’s civilization and became an Army scout.

Now he leads the way for Army wagon commands, venturing into Indian camps to parlay with hostile chiefs and serving as a courier through hundreds of miles of treacherous wilderness. With each new danger-filled adventure he risks his life and dares to tempt death. He is a man to respect, a warrior to fear and a professional who knows the meaning of revenge.

The early 1980’s saw the launch of many series tagged as adult westerns and The Scout series falls into that category. The first book appeared in 1981 and the final one, number 34, in October 1992. Buck Gentry is a pseudonym behind which two or three authors wrote. I’m not sure who wrote this one.

If you don’t mind some explicit sex scenes in your westerns and enjoy tales revolving around Army verses Indians then The Scout is a series worth considering.

The story is extremely fast moving and jam-packed with action. Holten barely has chance to catch his breath before being involved in more deadly clashes. Some of the descriptions of these bloody encounters are fairly graphic and Holten isn’t immune to taking a hit or two – although he does seem able to shrug his wounds off and carry on easily whereas many men would be struggling to continue. The only slight criticism I have is that twice Holten was caught in a virtual no escape situation and his nick-of-time rescue came about in an almost identical fashion.

Buck Gentry created a great lead character in Eli Holten and a memorable supporting cast. His story offers one or two twists and all his plot lines are neatly resolved by the end. 

I found this to be a very entertaining read and will certainly being reading the next book in the series soon.

Sunday 20 October 2013

The Ghost with Blue Eyes

By Robert J. Randisi
AmazonEncore, October 2013

It was a sight that would haunt Lancaster's soul for the rest of his life - a beautiful little girl with startling blue eyes. Eyes that looked up at him as he fired the shot that killed her.

He hadn't meant to do it. Why did she have to get in the way just as he drew down on the man he was hired to kill? He asked himself that question every day, but he never found the answer, or a way to forgive himself. Even before the girl's body was cold, Lancaster hung up his guns and picked up a bottle. But even the booze couldn't get those blue eyes out of his head.

And when he found another another little girl who needed his help. a girl as desperate and sad as the one he'd killed, he knew he'd finally found a way to regain his soul ... even if it cost him his life into the bargain.

This isn't a review as I read this book when it first came out in August 1999 which was before this blog was even thought of. So why am I posting this now? Simply because I think it's a book that needs attention bringing back to it as AmazonEncore have just made it available again and that I think it's a terrific read and one that should be considered by all western fans.

Robert J. Randisi believes it's one of his best westerns ever, if not his best, and this is something I just have to agree with.

Originally a stand-alone title I believe, the book, and its hero, became such a hit that Randisi went on to write three more books featuring Lancaster in the lead role.

Wednesday 16 October 2013

El Paso Way

Blood for Justice #1
By Steven Law
Berkley, October 2013

When everything you love is lost to a vicious killer, you can either trust the law or take matters into your own hands…

As a young boy, Enrique Osorio witnessed the destruction of his entire family at the hands of Antonio Valdar, the Demon Warrior. Father Gaeta took him in, encouraging Enrique to wait for the right moment to confront Valdar man to man. But when Enrique meets Pang Lo, who lost his own father to Valdar, he knows his moment has come…

With Pang’s mastery of martial arts and Enrique’s hunting skills, they plan to catch the Demon Warrior before he reaches the Mexican border. With a determined sheriff also tracking Valdar, Enrique and Pang pray for the justice they deserve, fuelled by a passion to make a bloodthirsty killer finally taste his own blood…

Steven Law writes well, his descriptions painting vivid imagery within the minds’ eye. His dialogue is believable and his characters are very memorable. Actions scenes are often brief and hard hitting. His story is laid out in non-numbered chapters (each having a title instead) and are of varying length, and these are broken by scene changes.

This story brings together a small group of people from very different backgrounds and unites them in a deadly hunt for vengeance and a race against time to free kidnapped girls from Valdar’s clutches. Along the way, Enrique in particular, will have his beliefs tested, such as the temptations of alcohol and that of the flesh. He, and Pang, will also struggle to comprehend the decisions of others, especially after attempting to free two girls from slavery.

One of the biggest problems facing Law’s group of justice hunters is that each desires to kill Valdar themselves. How this is resolved I can’t tell here so as not to spoil it for those intending to read this book, what I will say is that how this turns out throws in some great twists to the plot.

Steven Law neatly leaves a story thread hanging and the close of the tale suggests that this will be the theme of the next book in the series, one that I’m certainly looking forward to reading.

Sunday 13 October 2013

Cover Gallery: FOXX

by Zack Tyler

Meet Foxx, chief detective of the C&K Railroad. He’s tracking a pack of killers to their lair in the treacherous Nevada hills.

First he sets his trap in a San Francisco jail. Then he stalks his prey across the desolate mesas. Pursued by women whose passions lead to murder…pursuing a gang of men who settle debts in blood, all he has is a quick draw, a wily mind, and one last, deadly gamble: surprise.

The prospectors were lined up against the homesteaders in simmering Sherman, Kansas, where gold-rush fever had the town trigger-taut. That was when Foxx rode in to settle the dust so the C&K Railroad could resume construction of its brand-new southern spur.

Foxx was a cool hand at danger, but he hadn’t counted on the hired gun who was Sherman’s only law…or the land-scam kingpins who sealed their contracts in lead…or Romy, the beautiful Pinkerton detective who made it clear she was out to uncover a lot more in Kansas than trouble!

Their guns were still smoking when Foxx lit out after the Clark gang, wanted for robbery and murder on the C&K Railroad. Armed with his Smith & Wesson, a few raw clues, and his Comanche-honed instincts, Foxx followed a dangerous trail that led from a dusty southwest café through a maze of outlaw hideouts. Almost thrown off the track by the wiles of two hot-blooded women who wouldn’t take no for an answer, Foxx made it from Hell’s Half Acre to New Mexico’s treacherous Cañón Quimera where luck ran out and the shooting began…

Foxx rides herd on a payload of cattle through the snowbound hell of Wyoming Territory armed with only a ragtag trail gang and unflagging endurance.

It’s a new job for the chief detective of the C&K Railroad – an innocent-sounding longhorn drive that’s mined with blizzards, bison, and an army of angry Sioux. But the biggest hazard of all is the one Foxx least expects – a lonely beauty who comes along for the ride and turns their trail of trouble into a hotbed of tension – and a stampede for survival!

They were vicious killers determined to stop the C&K Railroad’s eastern spur…a gang of Spanish and Apache night riders who left a trail of scalped and mutilated bodies in their wake.

The stakes were high and the fight was dirty as Foxx rode into the lawless Arizona Territory to check out the rowdy railhead camp where the violence began. It looked like sabotage from within. But who was calling the shots and why? Foxx finally found his lead in a Queen of Spades who was playing with a stacked deck and a loaded pistol in a game she couldn’t afford to lose.

Foxx was doing the honors, pouring champagne for Vida Martin, when the bullet shattered the plate-glass window. The second slug slammed into the table. Someone had just missed his target, and that target was Foxx’s lady.

Armed with his .44 Cloverleaf Colt and a beautiful Pinkerton detective – a seductive decoy – Foxx rode the C&K out of San Francisco headed for the Idaho badlands. Setting himself up as a sitting duck, he swore to flush out a vicious outlaw – a foe from the past – someone who wanted revenge in the worst way and wouldn’t hesitate to kill a lady to get it. 


The Foxx series was published by Dell, the first book appearing in January 1981 and the last in September 1982. Zach Tyler is a pseudonym used by Melvin Marshall.

Thursday 10 October 2013

The Return

By James D. Best
Wheatmark, 2013

It’s the summer of 1880, and Thomas Edison’s incandescent bulb is poised to put the gaslight industry out of business. Knowing a good business opportunity, former New York shopkeeper Steve Dancy sets out to obtain a license for Edison’s electric lamp. Edison agrees, under one condition: Dancy and his friends must stop the saboteurs who are disrupting his electrification of Wall Street.

After two years of misadventures out West, the assignment appears to be right up his alley. But new troubles await him in New York City. Dancy has bought a woman with him, and his high-society family disapproves. More worrisome, he has also unknowingly dragged along a feud that began out West. The feud could cost him Edison’s backing…and possibly his life.

This is the fourth book in James D. Best’s Steve Dancy series and once again Best proves that he has the ability to write fascinating and very entertaining stories. Real history mixes perfectly with fictional making you believe it could have happened like this.

There’s plenty of fighting action, some of which is done with unconventional weapons, but the confrontations I enjoyed the most were verbal, between Dancy, and/or his intended, taking on Dancy’s mother, some of the wit and put-downs had me grinning broadly.

The possible sabotage of Edison’s new industry and the feud Dancy brings with him make for two gripping storylines both of which offer their fair share of plot twists so you are never quite sure what direction the tale will take next. It’s the feud that leads to Dancy trying to manipulate a final showdown with his enemies that concludes in a tense gunfight that brought about a surprise in just who on Dancy’s side got shot.

The story is superbly paced and I found it very difficult to put down. Let’s hope James D. Best doesn’t keep us waiting too long for another Steve Dancy tale. 

Sunday 6 October 2013

The Hot Spurs

By Boyd Cassidy
Hale, September 2013

When the riders of the Bar 10 run up against an escaped prisoner and his ruthless gang they find themselves in deep trouble. Cole Logan and his henchmen are heading to Mexico when they learn that the Circle J ranch have returned from a profitable cattle drive and are heavy with loot, making them a sitting target for a raid.

But Gene Adams and his Bar 10 cowboys are soon in hot pursuit and all they need to do is stop the outlaws before they reach the border….

This is the eleventh book in Boyd Cassidy’s Bar 10 series.

From the opening pages this story moves forwards at a terrific pace and is filled with action. If we count the killings that happen off screen, so to speak, along with those that we witness, this book has to be at the top of the pile for the most deaths in a Black Horse Western you’re likely to read, the opening chapter tells of over two hundred killings alone!

Gene Adams and his men aren’t afraid of taking on larger odds, and this is what they set out to do after witnessing the aftermath of another slaughter, eventually tracking the outlaws down and taking them on in a savage battle that sees justice dealt out.

Boyd Cassidy is a pseudonym used by Michael D. George, and he can always be guaranteed to provide the reader with an entertaining read. His descriptions place you right in there with the action and his dialogue is sprinkled with humour which balances out the more violent aspects of his gritty storylines.

Let’s hope it isn’t another three years before the next Bar 10 book appears. 

Thursday 3 October 2013

Sipping Whiskey in a Shallow Grave

By Mark Mitten
Sunbury Press Inc., November 2012

It is 1887. Snow is falling in the high country of Colorado. Bill Ewing led a bank heist in the small mountain town of Kinsey City — but just woke up tied to the back of a mule. Bill Ewing’s gang of thieves are tracked by the posse that takes after them, cowhands of the B-Cross-C. 

Following the Great Die-Up, the harshest winter to ever hit the West, LG Pendleton and Casey Pruitt lead a mixed herd of Polangus and Durham cattle down the stage road in Lefthand Canyon. Their way of life is fading with the changing times. Fences cross what once was open range, locomotives are eliminating the trail drive, and both Casey and LG must learn to change with it — or fade away themselves.

Virtually every chapter of Mark Mitten’s story switches to another of the many characters whose seemingly unconnected lives are about to come together in violence. A stage robbery that will have some kind of effect on all those who are there, and some who are not, the outcome of which sees each and every one of their lives taking a turn for the better or worse through hope, fortune, love, despair, loss, and, for some, death.

A lot of the tale tells of everyday life, the hardships and joys, the strengths and weakness’ of the human spirit. Mark Mitten doesn’t present the reader with a hero figure, none of his many characters take centre stage, all are given equal story time, which makes it hard to predict the outcome for any of them.

To help the reader keep track of his large cast Mitten includes a who’s who list at the beginning of each of the three parts of his book. Even with this you will need to concentrate to remember who rides for who, who works for the law and who’s an outlaw.

On the strengths of this book, I’d say that Mark Mitten is an author worth keeping an eye on.