Friday 31 May 2019

River of Blood

By William W. Johnstone with J.A. Johnstone
Pinnacle, August 2015

Breck Wallace was turning into a true mountain man on the American frontier. As a teenager in Tennessee he killed in self-defence, then left behind a woman he loved. With a gun and trap lines he is learning how to survive in the Rockies, braving the punishing elements, ruthless outlaws, and forging an uneasy peace with the Indians. But as dangerous as life is, nothing is worse than a powerful man with a murderous grudge. Breckenridge has left two such men in his past – and they both send cold-blooded killers for hire after him. Now the young frontiersman must fight a whole new kind of enemy – armed with his courage, strength, and raw skill with knife and gun…

Although this tale continues storylines begun in the first book you don’t need to have read that earlier publication to enjoy this one. The author includes enough information to fill readers in on what happened before to explain how he met his three fellow trappers and why the killers have been sent after him.

The story is filled with colourful characters such as the two warring men who bring whiskey and women to the rendezvous, which is the major event around which the attempts on Breckenridge’s life will revolve. At first Breck doesn’t realize he is the target and even when he does, he still has to figure out the why. Chapters mainly end on cliff-hangers ensuring the reader will keep turning the pages and they will soon be wondering how Breckenridge can possibly survive with so many people determined to kill him.

There are plenty of savage fights, both with fists and guns, to satisfy all western fans who like their books to be action-packed. The story also contains a few more light-hearted moments mainly in the form of dialogue, especially that of trader Nicodemus Finch. 

By books end it does seem as if all the storylines begun in both this novel and the previous one have been tied up neatly and a new future beckons for Breck, but there are more books in this series so it’s doubtful a happy life awaits The Frontiersman, and I for one am looking forward to reading book three as soon as possible.

Fans of Johnstone’s work will be pleased to discover that one of his other long running series heroes appears in this story, but I’ll leave you to read the book and find out who that is yourselves.

Tuesday 28 May 2019

Home is the Outlaw

By Lewis B. Patten
Fawcett Gold Medal Books, 1958

Morgan Orr stepped clear as the horse fell. He looked at the dying animal with pity, then he drew his gun and put a bullet into the horse’s head. Then, weary and empty, he turned and stared down at the town.

Ten long years and this is what it came to. Ten years of violence while the name of Morgan Orr became whispered from one end of the frontier to the other, while his gun became a legend told in a thousand saloons. Ten years of watchfulness etched in his bony face, of wildness and caution stamped in his long, lean stride.

And this is what it came to. A ragged, hungry man, limping down the slope of the mountains – tired of killing, sick of his life, heading back to his home at last. Back to a place called Arapaho Wells – the last town in the world that would let him hang up his gun….

This book has a fairly dark tone throughout. Patten excels in his writing of despair, frustration and empty hope. The surprise that greets Orr when he meets Tena again – the woman he left behind but never stopped loving – causes more grief to rise within him, all written so well the reader will share the pain Orr feels.

Even though Orr tries to lay down his gun (he even sells the weapon) and step away from fights, you just know he won’t be able to do so forever. One man cannot control his own destiny it seems.

Orr is an interesting, and troubled man, and Patten doesn’t give him an easy ride, even having a childhood friend wanting to draw on him, to be the man who kills fast gun Morgan Orr. This is a confrontation Orr does his best to avoid.

All this mixed into a plot that includes mistaken identity, a crime that will completely destroy the town that can only be kept secret by killing, and you have a twisting storyline that you can never be sure of where it will go next, thus providing a gripping and exciting read.  

I’ve only read a handful of Lewis B. Patten’s work and they always leave me hungry for more and this book has reinforced that desire.

Sunday 26 May 2019

Lady Outlaw

By Hank Edwards
Harper, April 1994

If it wasn’t for a bunch of renegade Pawnee, Clay Torn might have made it to Lonesome Pine sooner and avoided the wild shootout that left three men and Sheriff Logan dead. All because Miss Chancey Lane stirred up a ruckus and chose jail and justice over outlaw suitor Ash Wheeler. Ready to strike again, Wheeler doesn’t care who he has to kill to get her back.

Now Torn wants something, too – to see Ash Wheeler behind bars. Using the pretty, deadly Chancey as bait, Torn rides across the meanest country in Nebraska to smoke out the infamous Blue River Gang and nail the most wanted man on the western frontier.

Book twelve is the last of The Judge series. Would it bring the run to a satisfactory end or just be another fast-paced action-packed entry in this enjoyable series by Hank Edwards and vanish from the shelves with no indication that this would be the final book?

You don’t need to have read any of the other books to enjoy this one, as it is a self-contained tale like all the rest in the series, only linked by a single story thread that runs through the entire series, that of Clay Torn’s hopes of finding his missing fiancĂ©e as he travels the west dealing out his kind of justice as a federal judge. Would he finally discover what had happened to her in this book? We do discover that Torn is now beginning to think he may never find her, and in Chancey Lane there might just be a woman to replace his intended.

Hank Edwards is a pseudonym, ten of the books written by Jason Manning. Robert W. Broomall writing books two and four. Like all the other entries in this series it is a very entertaining read that sees Torn having to make some tough decisions and deal with some brutal outlaws by using his gun rather than a gavel. 

For me, and other fans of The Judge books, it's a shame it doesn’t bring the series to a close. Presumably the publisher decided to bring the series to an end after this book had been written so that the author couldn’t make it obvious this was the last one. 

Overall, this series has provided me with hours of reading pleasure and I believe many other western readers will have enjoyed it too. 

Monday 20 May 2019

Hot Lead: Adult Western Special

The Paperback Fanatic, May 2019

Hot Lead is a beautifully produced fanzine and this, the third, concentrates on the rise of the adult western. This issue contains 52 pages of fascinating articles backed-up by many reproductions of book covers and associated artwork, all illustrated in full colour.

The main feature, Sex and Six Guns by Paul Bishop, delves into series adult westerns, looking at a variety of them in well researched detail. This section of the fanzine taking up sixteen pages and is essential reading for anyone who enjoys this kind of western.

Three western series get their own sections, Cimarron and Ruff Justice, both written about by editor Justin Marriott and The Trailsman by Steve Myall. All three providing some great insights into why these contributors liked these books so much. 

Then there’s a terrific article by Andreas Decker that looks at how the American series Lassiter by Jack Slade took Germany by storm. Starting with some of the original novels, the German publisher then continued the series and the number of books that have been put out featuring Lassiter is just staggering. Those long running American series like Longarm and The Gunsmith, don’t even come close! 

The final article by Ian Millsted moves away from adult westerns and is a personal look at his top ten western comics and it offers a couple of surprise entries in the countdown. One especially bringing back fond memories for me, that of El Mestizo in Battle Picture Weekly, a comic I read without fail and it now has me wanting to track down a copy of the mentioned hardback book of this comic strip. 

This issue of Hot Lead, is a must read for any fan of adult westerns. It, and the two previous fanzines, provide a lot of informative and entertaining reading that fans of this genre will find themselves returning to time and again. 

Thursday 16 May 2019

Blood River

By Will Black
Crowood Press, August 2017

Gold was becoming harder to find as panners by the hundreds swarmed to any site where even the smallest nugget was found. One mine was still operating north of the Sierra Nevadas. And that was the problem. Transporting the gold down narrow, sandy, and rocky trails, wagons were easy targets for outlaws.

The Pinkerton Agency was charged with the security of a large haul of gold. But they had a daring plan. If it worked, 500 gold bars would make it East. If it failed, all was lost. Unknown to them, the Greeley gang had inside knowledge of their plan and were intent of stealing the gold.

At any cost.

I really enjoyed the last Will Black book I read, Death Comes Easy, so I was looking forward to this one and it more than matched the entertainment value of that previous story.

Will Black has a knack for creating interesting characters and plunging them into ingenious plots, and the plan that the Pinkerton’s have come up with is as fantastic as it could be foolhardy. The method of transporting the gold containing many edge of the seat moments.

The author regularly switches between the different groups of people fighting for possession of the gold as he tells his story that is filled with danger, double-cross, gunplay and deadly weather, before everything comes to a nail-biting and satisfying climax that could see many more folk decide to help themselves to the gold, which adds even more problems for Sheriff Brad Morgan to deal with.

Will Black is a pseudonym used by Adam Smith, and on the strength of this book, and others I’ve read by him, he has firmly established himself as one of my favourite Black Horse Western writers. 

Sunday 12 May 2019

Two Thousand Grueling Miles

The Oregon Trail
by L.J. Martin
Wolfpack Publishing, April 2019

Young but determined, the man of the family too soon, Jake Zane comes of age with the help of a massive mute escaped slave. It’s conquer the wilderness, protect your mother and sisters, or die trying.

A grueling challenge…2,000 miles of rutted trail with little or no civilization, no water or far too much, wild animals, wicked weather, and savages both red and white. The good news: you have family and friends, and hundreds more making the trip. That is, until disease and accidents threaten everything. 

The Oregon Trail is the artery that brought lifeblood to the west, long before wagon or rail. It was the ultimate challenge for thousands who wanted land and opportunity. 

This is the first full-length story I’ve read by L.J. Martin and I found his writing to be very readable in what is an episodic tale of travelling the Oregon Trail as told in the first person through teenager Jake Zane. The author points out many details of what life would have been like undertaking such a journey, such as the countless graves marking the trail, emphasizing how dangerous this long trek would have been. Martin also includes a number of surprises, for instance in who lives and who dies.

One thing I did wonder, though, was at what age group this book is aimed at. I’d say young readers most likely as Martin has Jake’s mother teaching him and his sisters a new word everyday and Martin includes a lot of them and their meanings. The author also explains a lot of history about people and places which at times came over like he was trying to educate his readers rather than entertain. The first couple of chapters read like lists of items being taken on the journey, and Martin told us about some of them a number of times, such as where the chicken crate was hung. Even though this got a little monotonous for me I’m glad I stuck with it as the story really picked up once the Zane’s joined the wagon train and their journey began.

Martin’s story is filled with well-drawn characters and well described action scenes. He tells of the wonder of discovery, and the agony of losing those you love, that the reader will find themselves sharing those emotions with those experiencing them.

Overall, I found the book to be an enjoyable read and I liked it enough to want to try one of L.J. Martin’s many other westerns sometime down the trail.