Tuesday 31 December 2019

Westerns Read During 2019

I've managed to read more westerns this year than I did in 2018 and hopefully this upward trend will continue in 2020. To read the review of any title listed below just click on the number.

1. Wilderness #70: Love and Cold Steel by David Robbins
2. The Frontiersman by William W. Johnstone with J.A. Johnstone
3. The Badge #8: The Stranger by Bill Reno
4. Lou Prophet: Stagecoach to Purgatory by Peter Brandvold
5. The Judge #11: Iron Road by Hank Edwards
6. The Derby Man #8: Rebel of Bodie by Gary McCarthy
7. The Scout #2: Dakota Massacre by Buck Gentry
8. Webb’s Posse by Ralph Cotton
9. Straight Shooter a Ralph Compton novel by Marcus Galloway
10. Easy Company and the Blood Feud (#26) by John Wesley Howard
11. The Spanish Bit Saga #25: Medicine Hat by Don Coldsmith
12. The Gunsmith #44: The Scarlet Gun by J.R. Roberts
13. Hank Gannon #1: War Valley by Lancaster Hill
14. Two Thousand Grueling Miles by L.J. Martin
15. Blood River by Will Black
16. Home is the Outlaw by Lewis B. Patten
17. Wind River #7: Six-Gun Law by James Reasoner and L.J. Washburn
18. The Frontiersman #2: River of Blood by William W. Johnstone with J.A. Johnstone
19. The Judge #12: Lady Outlaw by Hank Edwards
20. Hot Lead #3: The Adult Western Special
21: Lou Prophet: Blood at Sundown by Peter Brandvold
22. Canyon O’Grady #10: The Great Land Swindle by Jon Sharpe
23. Longarm and the Sonora Siren (#426) by Tabor Evans
24. Hellraiser! by Sam Clancy
25. Gunsmoke Express by Gillian F. Taylor
26. The Derby Man #9: The Rail Warriors by Gary McCarthy
27. Sheriff Aaron Mackey #2: Dark Territory by Terrence McCauley
28. Wanted Dead or Alive by Ralph Hayes
29. The Loner #6: Seven Days to Die by J.A. Johnstone
30. Dark Horse by Lee Clinton
31. Whiskey River by Ralph Compton
32. The Ranger #2: Border Bandits by Dan Mason
33. Petticoat Marshal by George Snyder
34. Lou Prophet: The Cost of Dying by Peter Brandvold
35. El Dorado Sojourn by Paxton Johns
36. Death Rattle by Sean Lynch
37. The Loner #7: The Bounty Killers by J.A. Johnstone
38. The Other Madden by Brent Towns
39. A Conversation with Doc by Tell Cotten
40. The Badge #9: Backlash by Bill Reno
41. Gun Lust by Matt Chisholm
42. Abilene #6: The Hangman by Justin Ladd
43. Crow Creek Crossing by Charles G. West
44. Massacre at Crow Creek Crossing by Charles G. West
45. The Trailsman #62: Horsethief Crossing by Jon Sharpe
46. The Loner #1: Where Guns Talk by Sheldon B. Cole
47. Murphy #3: Murphy’s Herd by Gary Paulsen
48. Long Ride to Serenity by Harry Jay Thorn
49. The Loner #8: Trail of Blood by J.A. Johnstone
50. Remington #1: West of the Pecos by James Calder Boone
51. Fighting Men by Ralph Cotton
52. Fortress Iron Eyes by Rory Black

Sunday 29 December 2019

Long Ride to Serenity

By Harry Jay Thorn
The Crowood Press
Hardback March 2016
Paperback, July 2019

This is the story of a range war, the story of a railroad right of way, of murder, of greed and corruption littering the long dark trail from the East Coast of America, to south Texas. This is the story of the township of Serenity, and the people who live and die there. Above all it is the story of Louise Kettle, a frontier woman and her love for the aging gunfighter, a living legend, a man with a voice in the White House.

He rides that long dark trail leading back from the hollows of western Kentucky, and on to the slaughterhouse they call Shiloh. He is the fastest gun south of the Picket wire, and always behind him is a stone-cold killer on a mission from God. This is the story of the pistolero, shootist and gentleman, Rio Jack Fanning: The Undertaker…. 

As many will know, Black Horse Westerns have been issued as hardbacks only for many years, although they are now also coming out as ebooks once the hardbacks have reached their market. Crowood have also decided to test the market for paperback versions and have put out a small number of books from their backlist in this format which sell at roughly half the price of the hardbacks. The paperbacks are very similar in size to the hardbacks. The book I read was the paperback version.

Harry Jay Thorn is a pseudonym used by English author Chris Adam Smith, an ex-movie magazine producer, merchant sailor and military policeman. He writes westerns for the Black Horse Western line under both those names. I have read quite a few of his books and have always found them to be entertaining reads. 

Fanning is a compelling character but he is not the only one who grips the imagination, the killer does too and his history with Fanning adds a neat twist to this fast-moving tale that involves many people from all over America. Fanning’s relationship with Louise Kettle adds a touch of romance, and her struggle to accept the more vicious side of The Undertaker is fascinating to read. 

As Death claims more an more victims you have to wonder who will be alive by the story’s conclusion, an end that sees all the plot-threads tied up neatly with a promise of a bright future for those who survive. 

This is a book that I think would appeal to all fans of the western genre and like the books I’ve previously read by this author I was once again left with the desire to read more of his work very soon.

Tuesday 24 December 2019

Massacre at Crow Creek Crossing

By Charles G. West
Pinnacle, November 2019

Cole Bonner will never forget what happened to his family at Crow Creek Crossing. His wife, her parents, and their three young children – brutally slaughtered by outlaws. The horror of the massacre drove him into the wilderness. Drove him nearly mad. And drove him to seek an equally brutal revenge . . . 

Now, against his better judgement, Bonner is returning to the place that almost destroyed him. While hunting in the mountains, he discovers that a man has been murdered and a woman abducted. He manages to track the killers and free her. But to bring the widow to safety, he will have to face his own demons. Return to his old homestead. And relive the violence – and the vengeance – of another massacre at Crow Creek Crossing . . . 

Having read, and been thoroughly entertained by a number of books written by Charles G. West I was pleased to see the publication of this book and eager to read it too. But something in the back of my mind began to ring a bell and had me running to my shelves to search through my collection of Mr. West’s work – yes, there was a book called Crow Creek Crossing that I had yet to read that had been published five years earlier. Reading the blurb, it became obvious that this earlier book tells the tale of the loss of Bonner’s family so I felt I had to read it before Massacre at Crow Creek Crossing. I read both books back to back, and would suggest to anyone intending to read the new release that they ought to read Crow Creek Crossing first as it will heighten your enjoyment of both books as a couple of storylines are continued in the second book and some characters return and their relationships with Bonner develop further.

Signet, July 2014

Wyoming holds the promise of a bright future for newlyweds Cole and Ann Bonner. Alongside Ann’s sister, her husband, and their children, the young couple has braved the long, hard road across Nebraska in hopes of building a new life for themselves on a tract of land near Crow Creek Crossing.

But their dreams of a fresh start are quickly cut short. While Cole is away in town, a gang of outlaws led by the vicious Slade Corbett raids the family homestead, leaving behind a smoking ruin and the mutilated bodies of everyone Cole holds dear.

The horror and anguish are almost too much for him to bear, and they transform this once easy-going man into a grim avenger. With cold, merciless determination, Cole vows to track down every last member of the gang and make them pay in blood.

The first book is a straight-forward tale of revenge and deals with Bonner’s grief and his lust for revenge and follows his struggles to track down the outlaws. Along the way Cole finds himself sided by an old mountain man, Harley, who prefers living with the Crow rather than the white man. The inclusion of this tribe, and the help they give Bonner in a moment of need, add a welcome element to the tale. There are strong female characters too, Maggie and Mary Lou, the latter of whom develops more than a passing interest in Cole, one he seems oblivious to, or is he intentionally turning a blind-eye to her? This leads to a great ending to the book in my opinion, but other readers found it a little annoying as the book didn’t end how they hoped it would. Now, with the publication of the second Cole Bonner book perhaps they’ll get the ending they wanted?

In a way the second book is similar to the first, in as much as a good part of it deals with Cole tracking down a bunch of outlaws. But there are some neat twists to the plot too, especially when we find out who the woman, Carrie, Bonner saves really is, and what her profession was. Carrie will also be the cause of jealously, which further complicates Bonner’s relationships with others. 

Charles G. West has created an excellent bunch of characters in these books, people he soon had me caring about and hoping they’d all get what they deserved, be this vengeance, love or death. The storylines move swiftly forwards and contain well-written action scenes and moments of humour before racing to their satisfying endings. The second book seems to tie-up all the story threads so this may well be the last time we read about Cole Bonner and for me it has certainly been a joy to read about him. 

After reading these two books I'm glad I still have a number of Charles G. West’s novels sitting on my shelves unread so I can enjoy more of his work anytime I so choose whilst waiting for Montana Territory, the third book in his terrific John Hawk series, to published in August 2020.  

You can read an interview I did with Charles G. West here.

Thursday 19 December 2019

Horsethief Crossing

#62 of 398
By Jon Sharpe
Signet, February 1987
Cover art by Jerry Podwil

There were six of them. They rode into town, looted the bank, and gunned down the innocents who got in their way. That was bad enough, but even worse, they took off with Skye Fargo’s Ovaro steed, with its saddlebag loaded with all his cash.

Skye was left with the clothes on his back, the gun in his belt, and the rage in his heart. He was going to get those horsethieves…even if he had to chase them clear across Texas…on a bucking mare that liked to throw any rider…with a luscious girl who could drain any man of energy…and with a Colt .45 loaded with just the right number of bullets to cut down the odds of six against one….

Most of the Trailsman books I’ve read have been from number 100 onwards and it’s always fun to see how differently Skye Fargo is presented in his earlier adventures, if at all. The author behind the pseudonym of Jon Sharpe this time around is, I believe, Frank Roderus, and he gives us a Fargo who isn’t that much different to how he is portrayed in the later books. The only real difference being that it was never mentioned that Fargo carried an Arkansas toothpick.

The story contains plenty of action, both gunplay and explicit sex. The violence is hard-hitting and at times graphic. As well as tracking down the horsethieves, Fargo finds time to get involved with a troop of Texas Rangers fighting a superior in numbers band of Comanches which results in some very exciting, and bloody, battles.

I think Frank Roderus only wrote three books in this series, one of which I’ve already read, #64: Fargo’s Woman, and on the strength of these two I look forward to reading his other, #60: The Wayward Lassie, very soon. I have read many other books by Roderus too, and have yet to be disappointed in any of his work. 

Monday 16 December 2019

The Hangman

ABILENE #6 of 16
By Justin Ladd
Pocket Books, February 1989
Cover art by Gordon Crabb

Ruth Carson is set to swing from a scaffold – unless Marshal Luke Travis proves that she didn’t kill Cheyenne’s mayor. Leaving Deputy Cody Fisher in Abilene, Travis high-tails it out to the Wyoming Territory to rescue his sister-in-law. On the way he saves the life of a fellow traveller: none other than P.K. Nelson, a hangman enroute to Cheyenne do the job.

Cheyenne’s sheriff wants Travis out of town. The territory’s leading citizen is gunning for blood. Everyone has something to hide – everyone but Travis and Nelson, two adversaries who hold Ruth’s fate in their hands. Now they must discover the truth – before frontier justice prevails!

The town of Abilene takes a backseat as most of this story takes place in Cheyenne or Laramie and their surrounding areas. This means the majority of people who have taken centre stage in the previous books don’t have a part to play in this fast-moving tale that takes place over a few days. The date is set for Ruth’s hanging even before Travis races to save her and time to prove her innocence starts to run out fast.

Even though Travis and Ruth don’t get along the lawman can’t bare to see her hang, especially as he believes she’s innocent. Hangman P.K. Nelson is a superb character, a man who always carries out his duty, but this time is troubled by the fact that he’ll have to hang a woman – guilty of not. 

As many western readers will probably already know, Justin Ladd is a pseudonym, and for all but the first book of the series, which was written by Paul Block, the rest are by James Reasoner, an author who knows how to pace a story, build tension, create memorable characters and write lively action scenes. His stories usually contain a twist or two making if difficult to predict the outcome of his books. This excellent entry in the Abilene series has all that, ensuring that readers will find this book difficult to put down until the last page is reached, and like me eager to pick up the next book in the series as soon as possible.

Saturday 7 December 2019

The Other Madden

By Brent Towns
The Crowood Press, March 2019

There is oil on Madden land and Bren Deavers means to have it. But when Joe Madden is killed and sent home wrapped in barbed wire, things heat up. For the Maddens are fighters and Elmira and Emily are going to do just that.

But Joe also had a brother. One nobody talked about. The dangerous one.

They just referred to him as – the other Madden!

Trace Madden, the other Madden, is an outlaw. This makes for some interesting situations when he arrives in town to discover who killed his brother. People fear him. The law doesn’t want him around and neither does Bren Deavers. Worse than that, his mother would rather he left too, but she has a problem there as she likes Trace’s companion, Meredith, who has also ridden the outlaw trail alongside Trace. So, the story contains some complicated relationships that will have to be resolved while justice is sort for the death of Joe Madden.

Brent Towns tells the story in a mixture of first person and third. The switches between the two types of viewpoint are smoothly done and I hardly noticed as I became immersed in the fast-paced story that explodes with violent action without hardly taking a breath between these bouts of gunplay. 

Towns also has a couple of plot twists that came as a welcome surprise, but to say more would spoil the story for anyone intending to read this entertaining book. 

Brent Towns is an Australian author who writes Black Horse Westerns under other pseudonyms too, these being B.S. Dunn and Sam Clancy. I’ve read books under all these names and have yet to be disappointed in any of them.  

Wednesday 4 December 2019

Gun Lust

By Matt Chisholm
Panther, 1968

The country was laid waste by the ferocious Apache. Arch Kelso’s ranch was raided. He was ruined. He needed to make a stake.

So he found himself guarding a wagon-train of gold through the devasted land. A tough job – defying attacks by white cut-throats and the onslaught of renegade Indians.

Men died as the desert took its toll. But Arch Kelso was tough . . . 

If you’ve ever read any of Matt Chisholm books, you’ll know you’re in for an entertaining read whenever you pick one up, and this one delivers the goods superbly. It doesn’t have a complicated plot but the quality of the storytelling is what draws you in to this desperate tale of survival.

It begins with Kelso and his men trying to replenish their water barrels as they take much needed goods to Crewsville – a town that readers of Chisholm books will have come across before, especially in his McAllister series. Chisholm’s writing is top class in the scenes that see Kelso approaching the waterhole and attempting to fill the barrels under the nerve tearing tension of the threat of the as yet unseen Apache, and when they attack, you’ll share Kelso’s fear.

Once in Crewsville the author introduces the other major players in the story. Gold thieves and Martha, the woman in his life who adds to his troubles when she insists on joining the wagon-train for its return journey shipping gold, which too many people know about and is certain to draw the attention of outlaws and the Apache.

The return trek takes up a good portion of the book and is one long running fight. One thing I like about Chisholm’s storytelling is that you can never be sure who will survive, and that is the case here as death strikes swiftly and suddenly. Kelso also has a difficult choice to make regarding the gold and this leads to a neat plot twist. 

If you’ve never tried any of Chisholm’s work then this book would be a fine introduction as it highlights all his strengths; gritty, tough, at times savage, strong characters of both sexes, extremely fast pacing, a plot that offers a couple of surprises, and plenty of gunplay. 

Every time I read a book by this author (Matt Chisholm is a pseudonym of Peter Watts) I’m left eager to read another, and I’m sure I will be doing just this very soon.

Saturday 30 November 2019

Where Guns Talk

By Sheldon B. Cole
Piccadilly Publishing, October 2019
Originally published by Cleveland, 1967

Ahead was a cold-blooded killer and an innocent woman who wanted to believe he was no such thing. Behind was a God-fearing tyrant by the name of Isaac Madie and Madie’s three sons, all of them with vengeance in mind.

And Blake Durant was caught smack in the middle.

He wanted to rescue the woman and return a fortune in gold bullion to its rightful owners. But Madie had other ideas. And if it came to that, so did Ringo Nyall, the killer who’d set his mind on the gold … and the girl!

My western book collection contains a handful of Cleveland publications but I’d never got around to reading any of them. My first edition copy of Where Guns Talk was put out under their Bobcat Western line and numbered 405. Although I have read work by some of the authors who wrote for Cleveland, I haven’t read any of Sheldon B. Cole’s stories and as Piccadilly has begun to publish The Loner series in ebook form (along with other Cleveland series) I decided to hunt out my dog-eared copy and give it a go.

Cleveland westerns aren’t very long, this one having 92 pages of fast-paced prose. Each of the ten chapters are titled. 

Blake Durant’s past is hinted at in this opening tale and this adds a hint of mystery to the reasons he gets involved in other people’s troubles, and by rescuing a young woman from three attackers he soon finds himself facing a number of deadly situations where some folk keep their real identity hidden and conceal some or all of the truth about their motivations.

The author presents the reader with some wonderful characters, particularly Isaac Madie, a man who is hard to like but you will feel his pain when things go wrong in the worst way possible. The girl, Angela Grant, is a memorable character too. Watching her slowly realize the man she is fixing to marry may not be all he says he is provides some fascinating reading, and she will also add an unforeseen twist to the end of the story.

Sheldon B. Cole’s descriptions are excellent, and they produced some very visual imagery within my minds eye, especially when reading the hard-hitting action scenes. Everything comes to a neat end and the final act left me with a grin on my face and the desire to read another Loner story soon. 

Sheldon B. Cole is a pseudonym for Australian author Desmond Robert Dunn (1929 – 2003) who wrote over 400 westerns for Cleveland under a variety of pen-names, these being Adam Brady, Sheldon B. Cole, Matt Cregan, Morgan Culp, Shad Denver, Gunn Halliday, Brett Iverson and Walt Renwick. 

Saturday 23 November 2019


By Bill Reno
Bantam, February 1989

Marshal Wesley Clarke was a fast-draw, tough-as-steel lawman who met force with force, bullet with bullet. That was why gambling king Tip Ruckman wanted him out of the fast-growing Idaho town of Rock Falls, dead or alive. Ruckman had secretly brought in hired gunslingers to help him shoot his way to a bloody takeover of Rock Falls, lock, stock and barrel. But first the cunning gambler had to discredit Clarke and get the marshal’s badge pinned on one of his own men. Pretty, prim and proper Jeannine DeGarmo fit right in with Ruckman’s scheme, and now Clarke was heading for a showdown that could cost him his honor . . . or her life. 

Marshal Clarke is an excellent character, his belief that the only way to punish outlaws is to see them killed by either bullet or a hangman’s rope to ensure they won’t commit a crime again, forms one of the main story threads of this very fast-moving tale. Clarke’s methods of dealing with the criminal element soon sees him banging heads with newly arrived Jeannine DeGarmo who thinks the way of the Eastern cities is the only way to bring justice to the lawless towns of the West and that’s by trial and prison sentences. Both views are effectively represented by the author and will certainly make the reader think.

Even though Clarke and DeGarmo’s differing opinions cause them to clash every time they come into contact, there is an underlying tension, an attraction neither will admit to, both denying it to themselves. These feelings add another layer of depth to the story.

There is plenty of action too, as Ruckman puts his plan into operation, that will ultimately force DeGarmo to realize everything isn’t quite as black-and-white as she thinks it is. Then there’s other law-breaking people who Clarke has to deal with and this often leads to hard-hitting deaths, one of which is both tragic and horrific – and it’s this that is superbly portrayed on the books cover by artist Shannon Stirweiss. 

One of the strengths of the author behind The Badge series, is that you can never be sure whether good will win over evil completely or that the hero will get the girl. Bill Reno (real name Lew A. Lacy) often makes his characters suffer emotionally as well as physically and this, for me anyway, is something I welcome in my reading. So, does Clarke’s methods of upholding the law win the day? Does he get the girl? I guess you’ll just have to read the book to find out, and in doing so will hopefully enjoy it as much as I did. 

Wednesday 20 November 2019

Petticoat Marshal

By George Snyder
Crowood Press, April 2019

Gunfighter Cort Packet rides into the town of Scarlet intending to kill Yucca Frazel, but many try to prevent him: Frazel’s employer rancher Addison Blackwell, an Indian agent cheating Apaches out of goods, a gunfighter rumoured to have murdered the marshal’s husband, and the marshal herself – Rebecca Rogers, trying to find the truth about her husband’s death, forced into being marshal in a fixed election by the powerful rancher who professes warm feelings for her. But are the feelings for here, or are they for the riches on her land?

Before Cort can finish his business with Yucca Frazel, he finds himself caught up in killings, treachery, stealing and politics that threaten to leave him lying dead.

I’ve not read any of George Snyder’s Black Horse Westerns, under that name or his other pseudonym of George Arthur before, so I approached this one open minded. The book has a hard-hitting start with fairly graphic descriptions of violence and death. Those first few short chapters explain why Cort is intent on killing Yucca Frazel.

Cort Packet is also slightly more unusual to many other western heroes, as Snyder has a cripple as the leading character, having had his leg shattered during the Civil War and now needs the aid of a silver topped cane to get around. 

The story is very fast moving and the author regularly switches from Cort to other characters, and in doing so Snyder makes sure the reader knows what is going on with the storylines even if Cort and Rebecca Rogers don’t. It’s the plot behind the rancher’s desire for Rebecca’s land that fills the bulk of the tale. 

Snyder does keep one sting-in-the-tail for the end, shocking both Cort and the reader with its horror, which leads to a bloody and vicious finale. Even though I had worked that twist out quite early on it in no way diminished my enjoyment of this book and I closed this book feeling thoroughly entertained.

Friday 15 November 2019

Border Bandits

By Dan Mason
Harper, March 1991

The Ranger: Hard, sharp, fearless. He’d face down the devil himself to bring evil to justice in the untamed West.

Border Blood: Violence on the sizzling no-man’s land between Texas and Mexico is nothing new. It seems one side always has what the other wants – money, power, freedom. Now, a new series of brutal raids by a ruthless band of brigands has handcuffed the local law. In rides Texas Ranger Lex Cranshaw. Outnumbered or not, he vows to bring one of two things to the border – peace or blood.

So how do you find a brutal band of bandits when you have no idea where to find them? This is the problem that author Dan Mason gives Texas Ranger Lex Cranshaw, and this is the hook that kept me turning the pages. 

Cranshaw starts the investigation alone whilst waiting for a fellow Ranger to join him. Along the way he will find himself accepting the help of others and trying to stop more joining the chase, especially a padre named Murtagh. The padre believes he has reason to ride with The Ranger, Cranshaw believes the man is out of his depth and, as I expected, things don’t work out the way either want.

Bandits, Rangers and those caught up in the hunt are well drawn, each having their own character traits that make them a joy to read about. The story contains plenty of action, some of the deaths and discoveries of corpses quite gruesome in their description. Pacing is excellent and the plot takes a twist when the Mexican Army get involved – not liking that Texas Rangers are operating on their side of the border without permission. 

The final showdown between The Ranger and the bandits is exciting and bloody. Everything is tied up neatly but not everyone survives, giving the story a hard-hitting ending that left me looking forward to reading more books in this series.

Dan Mason is a pseudonym for author Charley McDade. 
Cover art is by Larry Schwinger.

Monday 21 October 2019

The Bounty Killers

By J.A. Johnstone
Pinnacle, October 2010

He didn’t want much – just the chance to drift out of Texas into New Mexico Territory. That’s when the Loner discovered there was a price on his head. A victim of mistaken identity, he broke out of Hell Gate Prison a few years back. Now, he’s behind bars again, until a sheriff’s love-struck daughter decides to come to his aid, and a beautiful bounty hunter – who also has eyes for the Loner – joins in.

Riding out of the frying pan and into the fire of a land war, the Loner has all kinds of murderous cutthroats on his trail. But he doesn’t have any problem with women – as long as they’re willing to ride on the wild side once the lead starts flying.

The above blurb is taken from the back of the book and it contains one big inaccuracy, and that’s where it says ‘broke out of Hell Gate Prison a few years back’, this ought to read a couple of months back. That story is told in the previous book, Seven Days to Die, and this one follows closely on from that, the events of that tale shaping this one.

All through the series the Loner has resisted the advances of women, whilst mourning the death of his wife, and even though he will never forget Rebel, the Loner will finally give in. Please note this is not an explicit adult western. So, that’s one change for the Loner and it would seem he might be ready to give up being the Kid and return to being Conrad Browning as the story heads to its conclusion.

This author definitely knows how to spin a yarn, tell a tale that hooked me from the opening pages and ensured I kept reading as twist followed twist. Packed with plenty of action and great characters, this story proved to be as entertaining as all the previous books in the series. Everything comes a head in a final showdown that sees justice done and concludes with a dramatic revelation that guarantees I will be reading the next book very, very soon.

Thursday 17 October 2019

A Conversation with Doc

By Tell Cotten 
Independently published, August 2019

Doc Holliday was a dentist by trade, a gambler by profession, and a gunfighter by necessity. Above all, Doc Holliday was a loyal friend to the Earp’s by choice.

When Doc Holliday arrives in Tombstone, all he wants is to gamble, live peacefully, and allow his ailing lungs to recover. However, soon Doc must choose; betray his friendship with the Earp’s, or join them in the most famous gunfight of all time.

Having greatly enjoyed reading the books in Tell Cotten’s Landon Saga I was looking forward to reading this. Tell has said it took him three years to write, due to putting out books in the Landon series and researching Holliday and the events in Tombstone to ensure he got his facts right.

A Conversation with Doc is told through Holliday as you’d expect. The opening chapter, and others, have Doc answering questions put to him by reporter Kate Fenady. The rest of the book is also told in the first person as the reader witnesses events leading up to that gunfight at the O.K. Corral and what happened after.

Political manoeuvrings provide intrigue as the Earp’s clash with a group of outlaws called The Cowboys. Loyalties are tested to the limit as Doc is also accused of robbery. Doc is superbly crafted character whose often humorous outlook on life had me laughing out loud and these comments added some welcome light relief to the darker deeds the Earp’s have to deal with, not least the loss of a family member.

All the main players of that time in Tombstone have roles to play, people such as the Billy and Ike Clanton, Tom and Frank McLaury, Billy Claiborne, Johnny Behan, Curly Bill Brocius, Johnny Ringo and Big Nose Kate to name just a few. 

The story is told in the smooth and very readable style of Tell Cotten that soon had me engrossed in this tale. Dialogue is believable, action scenes vivid and visual and the pacing superb. 

If you’re a fan of Tell Cotten’s Landon series then this is a must read as it is for anyone interested in Doc Holliday, The Earp’s and The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. If you’re just looking for a well told, exciting western, then this book could be just what you’re looking for. 

Friday 13 September 2019

Death Rattle

By Sean Lynch
Pinnacle, July 2019

In 1863, a teenaged boy fled his home in Atherton, Missouri, to escape the power-hungry men who murdered his father and stole his family’s land. He joined the Confederacy under an assumed name and rode with guerrilla raiders in the Civil War. Then came a decade as a Texas Ranger. Now, after ten blood-soaked years, he is finally coming home. Finally using his real name. And finally getting revenge against the cold-hearted devils who destroyed his family and his life . . .

This is the story of Samuel Pritchard. A man with a long history of violence, a deep sense of honour, and a wild streak of justice as dangerous as the guns that made him famous . .

The first book in a new series and the first western from Sean Lynch, at the moment best known for his crime fiction but with this book that could, perhaps, all change.

Death Rattle is divided into four parts, Soldier, Ranger, Gunfighter and Home. Each section could almost be a stand-alone story in itself but Sean Lynch links them with passages about Pritchard’s surviving family members, his mother and sister, and the horrors that are befalling them back in Atherton. Will Pritchard return to his home town in time to save them?

The first three parts of the book show how Pritchard changes from boy to man, becoming a brutal killer as a death spirit seems to guide him and control him as his rage rises to drive his actions. This dark force seen by those around him, one of whom tells Pritchard how he can rid himself of it. As a reader I was gripped by this element of the story and wanted to discover if Pritchard could lose this cold-hearted blood-lust that had motivated him ever since he rose from the grave so to speak. Let me quickly add that this isn’t a supernatural tale, Pritchard isn’t dead, isn’t a zombie or anything like that, he’s a man who experience some very dark times and these horrific changes to his life seem to take a grip of his soul.

Sean Lynch writes in an extremely readable style that has produced a story that demands the reader keeps turning the pages. There is plenty of tough, violent action that sees Pritchard taking on massive odds at times. There’s even time for him to fall in love but like most things in Pritchard’s life that doesn’t end well either. The author has also created a terrific supporting cast of both friends and enemies that are a joy to read about too. Pritchard does border on the mythical a little in his abilities with his guns and to survive the situations he finds himself in, but that didn’t dampen my enjoyment of this novel and I’ll certainly be reading the second book, Cottonmouth, when it is published in January 2020. 

Also available in audio formats.

Wednesday 28 August 2019

The Cost of Dying

By Peter Brandvold
Pinnacle, August 2019

Lou Prophet decides to cool his heels at a local honky tonk but things heat up fast when he defends one of the girls from a sadistic brute who also happens to be the deputy sheriff. And now Lou Prophet is running for his life . . . 

Heading south of the border to Mexico, Prophet isn’t the only man marked for death. The young red-headed pistolero Colter Farrow has made an awful lot of enemies, too—and now practically every bounty hunter south of the Rio Grande is gunning for blood. For money. For fun. And, now, for Lou Prophet . . . 

At over 400 pages in length, Peter Brandvold gives his readers a book that never lets up in pace and bloody, violent action from beginning to end. It’s also great to see Prophet teaming up with another of the authors heroes, Colter Fallow. Even though the story is told mainly through Prophet, Farrow is riding alongside for most of the tale and the banter between the two men is often laced with humour which provides some light relief from the savage confrontations they find themselves in.

After some chapters dealing with Prophet and Farrow individually as they attempt to outrun their different sets of pursuers the two men decide to team up for a while and it isn’t long before they rescue a very attractive young lady from a deadly situation which in turn leads to them being hired to find her sister, kidnapped by slave traders. 

Things don’t go according to plan and both our heroes soon find themselves buried up to their necks in the ground. How can they possibly escape from this certain death? Obviously, they do, and in the process meet an excellent character in Baja Jack, a drug dealer who could help them find the bandits behind the kidnapping. 

Long-time readers of the Lou Prophet books know about his relationship with Louisa Bonaventure—The Vengeance Queen—and she also has a small part to play in this story too, or does she as Prophet begins to believe he imagined seeing and speaking to her. This encounter adds a neat touch of mystery to the story.

There are a number of surprises in store, the main one coming when Prophet finds the stolen girl. The tale contains a high body count and little in the way of explicit sex (something that is often found in Brandvold’s work). After plenty of lead-slinging action the story closes with a final brutal showdown that ties everything up neatly.

This is a book that all fans of Peter Brandvold should make sure they don’t miss, especially if you enjoy reading about Lou Prophet and Colter Farrow. In fact, this is a book that should be on the reading list of all western fans.  

Sunday 25 August 2019

El Dorado Sojourn

By Paxton Johns
The Crowood Press, February 2019

Born Gallant returns to Salvation Creek on a whim, but this leads to a bloody saga he could never have foreseen. Word from the elderly Frank Lake leads Gallant on a quest to rescue a young lawyer, who has been kidnapped to prevent her from blocking a corrupt Kansas City politician’s chances of fame. To the north of the town of El Dorado, an old line cabin becomes the focus for Gallant’s efforts. But it’s back in Kansas City that the climax unfolds, when Gallant confronts old enemy Chet Eagan in a clawing fight to a bloody finish.

This is the fourth book in Paxton Johns’ series featuring Born Gallant. The story does mention events of the earlier three books and the author does provide enough information for a new reader to the series to understand how those events shape what happens in this tale, along with the relationships between the various characters, so that the book can be read as a stand-alone tale, but I would recommend reading the earlier books first to get the most from this one. Those books being Encounter at Salvation Creek, The Killing of Jericho Slade and The Bloody Trail to Redemption. It’s not just Born Gallant who links the books and once again Gallant finds his life entwined with that of Melody Lake and Stick McCrae, to name but two. 

The plot seems fairly straight-forward to begin with, but the author soon slips in a number of twists and turns that soon had me wondering how Gallant and friends could possibly rescue Melody in time to bring down the corrupt politician. It’s these surprising elements that keep me returning to this author’s work along with his ability to tell his stories in a gripping and entertaining style that is a pleasure to read. 

There may only be four Born Gallant books at the moment but there are plenty of other Black Horse Westerns from this author to choose from as he writes under other pseudonyms too, Will Keen, Matt Laidlaw, Jim Lawless and Jack Sheriff. His real name is John Paxton Sheriff and you can read an interview I did with him here. If you are looking for a new western author to try then this author is certainly one worth considering. 

Tuesday 13 August 2019

Whiskey River

By Ralph Compton
Signet, January 1999

They came back from the war, and their land was gone. The Texas soil they’d nourished with years of backbreaking work has been snatched away. And in a moment of fury at this Yankee plunder, Mark Rogers and Bill Harder cut down a pair of tax collectors…and wind up behind bars in Fort Worth.

But then the former Confederate soldiers are offered a choice: They can face their sentences – or infiltrate a gang of whiskey runners who have been evading the law between St. Louis and Fort Smith. If they succeed, they’ll gain their freedom…and their confiscated land.

But when the two Johnny Rebs meet up with Wolf Estrello and his fellow bandits, they wish they’d taken their chances with a firing squad….

It’s been a long, long time since I read a Ralph Compton novel by the man himself, my usual choice being the later books written by a variety of authors who kept his name alive after his passing. In fact, I seem to think I’ve only read one of Compton’s Trail Drive books and I don’t remember much about it, it was so long ago. This time I decided to pick one of his stand-alone novels to see if it would help me understand why he is held in such high esteem by so many people. 

After the opening chapters which introduce the reader to Rogers and Harder and the challenge set to them, they become just another couple of characters within the fast-moving tale that involves a wide cast of characters that are given equal prominence within the story. 

Compton’s writing style is easy to read and he includes a sprinkling of footnotes explaining in more detail about certain elements, be they places or items, he mentions in the story. There is a fair amount of action, but for me it didn’t command enough page space, often being over and done with in a paragraph or two. I’ve also never read a book where so many people get thigh wounds and nearly all the characters seemed to be able to shrug off being hit, even by a Sharps, and within a matter of hours be as good as new again. There were also one or two other things that happened that stretched my belief a little like how far horses could be galloped (120-mile round trip) and how quickly. 

The story contains very little bad language, no explicit sex or graphic violence. Although the premise of the plot was very good it was predictable and offered no surprises. Having said that, the book was enjoyable enough to keep me reading it to the end. I’m not sure it helped me discover just why Compton is held in such high regard, perhaps I picked a book that isn’t one of his best?

Saturday 20 July 2019

Wanted Dead or Alive

By Ralph Hayes
The Crowood Press, March 2019

A year after being saved from kidnapping, Dulcie Provost is waiting for the return of her rescuer, bounty hunter Certainty Sumner. But first Sumner has to carry out one more mission – tracking down the sadistic outlaw known as the Lakota Kid.

But unbeknown to Sumner, he himself is also the quarry of an equally ruthless bounty hunter, Luther Bastian. The father of a gang member Sumner killed while rescuing Dulcie wants vengeance and has duped Bastian into believing that Sumner has turned outlaw.

Can Sumner possibly survive being hunted down by a bounty hunter as skilled and determined as himself.

Ralph Hayes is a name many western fans will recognize. He’s an author whose work has been published for many years, his popular series featuring Buffalo Hunter: O’Brien first appearing in 1971. In 2011 O’Brien got a new lease of life as he returned in four new books under the Black Horse Western banner. Hayes also began writing other new westerns that would be published as BHWs.

Wanted Dead or Alive is the third book in the Certainty Sumner’s series. The author includes enough information to explain what has happened in the earlier stories so this one can be enjoyed as a stand-alone title but readers may prefer to read The Lawless Breed and The Way of the Gun first. Not only does this book feature Sumner’s but it also has a leading role for another of Hayes’ characters, Luther Bastian, and, again, you may like to read the book he first appeared in, Texas Vengeance, to fill yourself in on his backstory.

This fast paced tale switches regularly between the main characters as it builds towards an inevitable showdown between Sumner and Bastian and the questions I soon had were would Hayes kill off one or the other, perhaps both? If Sumner survives would there be a future for him and Dulcie Provost? What of the Lakota Kid – would he have a deciding role in who lives and dies? Whatever the outcome to these questions this was another very enjoyable book written by Ralph Hayes and I look forward to any future publications.

Monday 15 July 2019

Seven Days to Die

By J.A. Johnstone
Pinnacle, July 2010

Once he was a young, happily married businessman. Then he lost his wife to human madness and that young man was gone, replaced by Kid Morgan, the wandering son of legendary gunfighter Frank Morgan and the current occupant of a cell in Hell Gate prison. The Kid’s crime? He looked too much like an outlaw who escaped from this very prison. So the Kid teams up with a fellow inmate with an escape plan, vowing to hunt down a loo-alike killer on the loose. But in or out of prison, Frank Morgan’s boy knows better than to trust anyone. And with Hell Gate behind him, any day could be his last. So every bullet must be his best.

I can’t believe seven years have passed since I read The Loner #5, especially as I enjoyed the previous books a lot, making The Loner my favourite Johnstone series at that time. The Loner is also the only series to come from the Johnstone family credited to just J.A. Johnstone rather than William W. Johnstone with J.A. Johnstone.

The author behind this series certainly doesn’t believe in giving his hero and easy time. The Kid’s experiences in Hell Gate being particularly brutal. The prison warden being a sadistic man who seems to delight in others suffering. The Kid’s eventual escape providing some tense reading that sees him on the run with another prisoner, Drake, and the Warden’s kidnapped daughter, Jillian.

Once free from the prison, The Kid begins to doubt his fellow ex-prisoners motives as his involvement with the man, Bledsoe, whom The Kid was mistaken for, start to emerge. Can he be trusted? As The Kid, Drake and Jillian begin to close in on Bledsoe so the danger mounts as the best laid plans go astray leading to an exciting, bloody finale.

Seven Days to Die is another excellent story in The Loner series and is a book I believe will be enjoyed by all western fans. I know one thing for sure, I will not let another seven years pass before I read the next one, hopefully it’ll be in the next month or two. 

Thursday 11 July 2019

Dark Territory

Sheriff Aaron Mackey book 2
By Terrence McCauley
Pinnacle, April 2019

A rash of deadly train robberies has the chief investor of Dover Station feeling itchier than a quick draw without a target. And he wants Sheriff Aaron Mackey to scratch that itch with every bullet his battered badge authorizes him to shoot. When Mackey and his backup gun down four kill-crazy bandits, they uncover a plot cooked up by respected citizens of Dover Station – someone who can pull enough strings to replace Mackey with a disgraced marshal from Texas. Now Mackey’s badge may not say much, but his gun defies all fear. Anyone who stands between Mackey and the future of Dover Station is about to become buried in the pages of history . . . 

All the main characters who survived the previous book, Where the Bullets Fly, return in this gripping struggle for control of the rapidly growing Dover Station. Author Terrence McCauley has won awards for his crime and thriller stories and this tale borrows heavily from those genres in that Mackey and his deputy have to solve a lot of puzzles to unravel the mysteries of who is doing what and for what reasons so Dark Territory reads like a detective novel at times with a heavy dose of noir…and for me that isn’t a bad thing.

As each incident is solved either by word or gun, then another is born from that result. Even as Mackey begins to suspect the who and the why, proving it becomes another problem and it begins to look like Mackey will be on the losing side, stripped of his badge and unwelcome in Dover Station, perhaps dead as the army of gunmen stacking against him rise to unbeatable odds.

Tough, brutal, tense, edge-of-the-seat action scenes and plenty of twists, Dark Territory proved to be a difficult to put down read that has a very satisfactory ending that could lead to a third book. Let’s hope Pinnacle sees fit to continue putting out novels featuring Mackey rather than have him vanish after just two books like many of their recently launched series have done. 

Sunday 7 July 2019

Dark Horse

By Lee Clinton
The Crowood Press, July 2019

Nettie Youcheck must fight for what is rightfully hers, the large and profitable Double U cattle ranch. If she fails, her future will be a life of servitude under the control of a vicious and vindictive father. By her side are just two allies – Hollis, the old, black house servant, and Rita, who runs the town brothel and knows Nettie’s past.

If justice prevails then all will go well for Nettie, but since when was life like a fairy tale? Certainly not with the involvement of Albert Hopkins from the Missouri Savings and Loans Bank who has his own malicious agenda. Just thank the Lord that Nettie can shoot straight – because she soon has a fight on her hands.

Having read and thoroughly enjoyed all of Lee Clinton’s Black Horse Westerns I’m always eager to read his new books as soon as I can. Like his previous work, Dark Horse, is a gripping read that is filled with interesting characters that get caught up in a plot full of suspense, surprises and twists that I don’t see coming.

Dark Horse is also different in that it is told in the first person – something Black Horse Westerns weren’t known for when published by Hale, but since being put out by Crowood this method of storytelling is appearing more frequently. Lee Clinton still manages to get a first though, at least I don’t remember any other BHW being told from this type of viewpoint, and that is telling the tale through the voice of a female lead character who is in her eighties and she is the Dark Horse of the title.

Nettie tells of events in her past. A tale of devious events, of greed and learning, of shocking revelations and new experiences that held my attention superbly. Nettie seems to be in a no-win situation and her attempts to gain control of what should be hers could see her branded a murderer and face a life-time in jail and as the story progresses this seems to be the only possible outcome. 

Lee Clinton resolves all these seemingly impossible situations with clever solutions that bring the plot to a fitting end but he has one last twist waiting for the final short chapter that left me wondering and with a big satisfied grin on my face, eagerly looking forward to his next book.

Lee Clinton is a pseudonym used by Australian author Leigh Alver and I can honesty say he is one of my favourite Black Horse Western writers working today and more than matches the best of the past too. 

Available in both hardback and ebook at the end of July.