Wednesday 27 November 2013

The Afterlife of Slim McCord

By Jack Martin
Hale, November 2013

Blackman and Tanner have seen it all, but nothing has prepared them for what they find in the town of Possum Creek: the mummified remains of notorious outlaw Slim McCord, in a travelling carny show.

And Slim McCord, long after his death, is now involved in the most lucrative bank robbery of his outlaw career. The three men, thrown together again in the most unlikely way, must face this dangerous turn of events head on, as the bullets fly….

Having followed Jack Martin’s western writing career since the beginning I have to say this is his best book so far. The use of a mummified outlaw adding an unusual touch to this fast moving tale. Blackman and Tanner are well crafted heroes that will have you hoping they achieve their aims.

The use of the long dead outlaw adds thoughts of the supernatural to those who try to figure out how a bank can be robbed without any sign being left as to how it was done. All this adds to the legend of Slim McCord.

Alongside the bank robbery storyline, Jack Martin also includes some flashbacks that show how McCord meet Blackman and Tanner, this also leads to an explanation as to how they became wanted men.

Jack Martin also had me grinning when a reporter and dime novelist is discovered walking towards town. His name Gary Dobbs, which is Jack Martin’s real name. The fictional Dobbs will also have a small part to play in building the legend of McCord.

If you’ve never tried one of Jack Martin’s books then this could be the perfect place to begin.

The Afterlife of Slim McCord is officially released on November 29th, but is already available from the usual Internet booksellers.

Sunday 24 November 2013

Louisiana Stalker

By J. R. Roberts
Jove, December 2013

Capucine Devereaux is being stalked. The infamous Baton Rouge madam is used to unwanted attention from the weaker sex, but one man’s obsession is unnerving her. Making matters worse, Lee Keller, the gunman she hired to deal with her stalker, has his own fixation with Capucine that’s distracting him from doing his job.

In desperation, the madam turns to Clint Adams to get both stalkers out of her life. Keller doesn’t like the idea of being replaced and plans to put the Gunsmith in Boot Hill. But unknown to Keller, Clint has a stalker of his own who’s trailed him from Arizona to Lousiana – and he won’t let anyone else kill his prey…

This entry in the long running Gunsmith series is a tale filled with intrigue as the author doesn’t reveal the identity of two out of the three stalkers until he is good and ready too. This is also the case with the stalkers’ motivations. Both these storylines make for strong hooks that defied me to put the book down until I’d discovered the answers

J. R. Roberts’ smooth, fast-flowing, writing style is a joy to read. His pacing is superb, both building in pace and suspense as all the story threads start to converge, setting the book up for an exciting conclusion as rivers burst their banks and Baton Rouge, and the surrounding areas, begin to vanish beneath floodwaters.

Most of the story threads come to a satisfying end but J. R. Roberts (Robert J. Randisi) expertly leaves one hanging that will be continued in the next book, The Silent Deputy, thus ensuring I will be reading that when it comes out next month. 

Sunday 17 November 2013

Thunderhead Trail

By Jon Sharpe
Signet, November 2013

Fargo is used to tracking down killers and thieves, but he’s never had a quarry like this before. A rancher has just had his one-of-a-kind stud bull wander off into the mountains, and he’s offering a hefty sum to whoever gets it back. But the Trailsman isn’t the only hombre going after the horned bounty – and the disappearance may not have been as random as it seems….

The impressive bounty for the bull draws in a wild mix of characters ranging from three young boys to a seventy-year-old lady, all eager to claim the money. These are not the only people Fargo has to deal with as he’s made enemies of three brothers who are constantly trying to kill him. Then there’s the bull, a massive beast that kills those it feels threatened by….which is just about everyone. If that isn’t enough then someone is killing off the opposition and leaving no trace and there’s a handful of Blackfeet on the prod too.

The action doesn’t let up for one minute in this well told tale that’s filled with edge-of-the-seat situations, memorable characters, savage violence, and dialogue that, at times, had me laughing out loud. As the bull hunters began to fall to the mystery killers’ bullets or knife I soon found myself wondering if anyone would be left alive to claim the bounty on the animal. The author, in this case David Robbins writing as Jon Sharpe, also had me pondering on how the bull could be captured and taken back to its owner…if anyone could get anywhere near it without being killed.

I know some readers are put off this series due to its reputation of containing lots of graphic sex, and yes that was true of the early books, but these days they don’t contain anywhere near as much. This book has one such encounter and that takes up only a couple of pages, so I would say don’t let the adult tag that has been applied to The Trailsman series put you off trying this book as you’ll be missing out on a great read.

Wednesday 13 November 2013

Skeleton Hand

By C.J. Sommers
Hale, October 2013

It wasn’t aces and eights – the so-called dead man’s hand – that the skeleton was holding, but he was definitely dead. Cut loose from the Domino Ranch, Cody Hawk and his friends are facing a winter without work. So when the cowboys come across the skeleton it leads them to its treasure of gold and right into a deadly game, up against a band of killers and a money-hungry woman.

As they make their way across the empty land it seems that the skeleton isn’t holding the only deadly hand: Cody Hawk will need the luck of the draw, and some help from a wild mountain girl, to survive….

At first the story seems to be a straight-forward tale about finding some gold and then deciding what to do with it and trying to second-guess who the skeleton was and how he died. But C.J. Sommers doesn’t leave it there, he has some surprises waiting, one being a major plot twist that really does complicate matters for Cody Hawk as he meets various characters that have valid claims to  the gold, but can he trust any of them? And not only that, there’s the question of who is the person shadowing him?

The story moves forward at a rapid pace and it isn’t long before Hawk is on the run from a variety of people all eager to get their hands on the gold. Everything leads to a dramatic final showdown that concludes the story neatly.

I’ve read one of C.J. Sommers six, to date, Black Horse Westerns previously and enjoyed both that and this one and will definitely be reading more soon.

As to the identity of Sommers I’m sure I know, and will add that he writes under a number of different pseudonyms and I’ve read lots of his books and found them all to be excellent entertainment. If you want to know who it is then check the comments on the last Sommers book I read, and if you are still unsure then here’s the dedication in Skeleton Hand, ‘To Owen Irons, friend and mentor’. 

Saturday 9 November 2013

Explosion at Donner Pass

By Gary McCarthy
Bantam, June 1981

The thundering engines of the Central Pacific are stalled in the quest to conquer the mighty Sierras. Only a mountain of a man, Darby Buckingham, could pound the railroad through the granite walls of trouble. Atop sheer rock cliffs just a death plunge away from the surging river a thousand feet below, braving punishing cold, Darby must lay down track foot by hard-blasted foot – with a construction crew that is threatening to tear itself apart with vicious fighting. But as they climb towards the notorious Donner Pass they face the most brutal challenge – an avalanche of sabotage and murder that could even crush the Derby Man.

Gary McCarthy perfectly blends historical fact with fiction to allow his hero, Darby Buckingham, to take part in, and witness, true events that shaped America.

The opening of the book sees Darby’s long-time girlfriend, Dolly Beavers, trying to get him to propose to her, and once again this is interrupted as her intendeds' presence is required elsewhere. It isn’t long after Darby sets out on his mission that attempts are made on his life.

As in the previous books in the series, Gary McCarthy mixes exciting action with comical situations, but, for me, it was the struggle to get the track down and beat the time limits that kept me enthralled. Even though I already knew some of the problems that faced the Central Pacific I found McCarthy breathed fresh life into this story and so kept me eager to keep reading.

The finish of the tale concludes the major storylines well but leaves a couple of threads hanging to be continued in the next book, one that I will be reading very soon.

The Derby Man series, for me, ranks right up there with the very best western series.

Wednesday 6 November 2013

The High Trail

By Rob Hill
Hale, October 2013

With his supply wagon lost at the bottom of a ravine, his men mutinous, and winter weather closing in, Lieutenant Calvin Glaze is facing a desperate struggle for survival in the high mountain passes of the Oregon Trail. As conditions worsen, the young lieutenant comes to realize that he has been set up, and that his mission was always designed to fail.

Facing down unspeakable horror on the high trail, Glaze forces himself to travel beyond the limits of ordinary human endurance to confront the man out to destroy him.

Rob Hill’s descriptions of the extreme conditions Glaze and his small band of troopers find themselves battling are superbly written, placing the reader right there with them, experiencing the deadly cold, the lack of vision, the hunger, and the fear of death. It’s during this strength zapping trek along the high trail that Glaze thinks about his past, horrific events that lead to him being sent on a fools’ mission.

There are many memorable scenes within this tale that will remain in the memory for a long while, such as a deer with a gun (yeap, you read that right) and a meal unlike any the soldiers have had before. It’s on meeting the deer that the book takes on a dark tone that continues until the end when Glaze returns to face his enemy, and it is here that Rob Hill has a great twist to the tale waiting, one I didn’t see coming that finishes the story in style.

With each Rob Hill book I read I find myself eager to pick up another, hoping it won’t be too long before a new one is published. Rob Hill has definitely become one of my favourite Black Horse Western writers and I’d suggest that if you haven’t read any of his work before then The High Trail would be a great place to start.

Sunday 3 November 2013

Comanche Moon

By Simon Webb
Hale, October 2013

The Reverend Jonas Faulkner, pastor of the First Claremont Presbyterian Church in Texas, is a man with a secret: in his younger days he was a notorious gunman, involved in a horrific massacre causing the deaths of many children. So when a party of young girls travelling to an orphanage in Claremont is seized by a Kiowa raiding party, Pastor Faulkner knows he must act.

Seeking redemption for his violent past, the elderly clergyman is still a force to be reckoned with, and he’s prepared to go toe to toe with anyone standing in his way.

Comanche Moon is the first Black Horse Western by Simon Webb and he writes in a style that took me a little while to get used to. The beginning of the book is written in such a way that the reader is being told the story by a narrator, something that took a little getting used too. Later, Webb seamlessly blends this storytelling method with the more usual third person technique – in fact I didn’t notice when it changed just suddenly realised it had – before returning to his opening style for the final few pages.

The plot moves forward at a fast pace and involves some tense situations as Faulkner, and the small group of people he reluctantly finds himself saddled with, track the missing girls to a Comanchero hideout. Action scenes are quite graphic in their description and perfectly illustrate the difference between the mild pastor and his vicious hidden character. The two sides of Faulkner cause problems for others, not least a cavalry Captain, as they struggle to decide how the man can have such different sides to his personality.

Does Faulkner find the girls and get them to safety? Does he find redemption? Of course I can’t answer that here without spoiling the story, but will say, that if you decide to pick up a copy of Comanche Moon I’m sure you’ll enjoy finding out.