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.