Wednesday, 30 December 2020

WESTERNS READ DURING 2020

I've read more westerns in 2020 than I've done in recent years. As usual there's a broad mix of authors from the past and those still writing today. As well as reading old favourites, I tried some new writers too. I've also read a wide mix of types, from the very violent, those with adult content and those with traditional storylines. To read the review of any of the books listed below just click on the number.

1. Lone Star and the Hangrope Heritage (23) by Wesley Ellis
2. Widowmaker Jones 2: Buzzard Bait by Brett Cogburn
3. The Big Round-Up edited by Harry E. Maule
4. A Man Called Crow by Chris Adam Smith
5. Have Brides, Will Travel by William W. Johnstone and J.A. Johnstone
6. Vultures Over the Elk Fork Country by Bill Yenne
7. Starlight Range by Barry Cord
8. Man Killer by Thom Nicholson
9. Bad Apple by Lancaster Hill
10. Battle Mountain by Matt Cole
11. The Frontiersman 3: The Darkest Winter by William W. Johnstone with J.A. Johnstone
12. The Way of the Gun by Ralph Hayes
13. Tin Star – a Ralph Compton novel by Jackson Lowry
14. Reunion in Hell – a Ralph Compton Western by Carlton Stowers
15. Pony Soldiers 2: Comanche Massacre by Chet Cunningham
16. The Loner 2: Trail to Nowhere by Sheldon B. Cole
17. The Corrigan Brothers 2: Kill Town by Cotton Smith
18. The Frontiersman 4: Damnation Valley by William W. Johnstone with J.A. Johnstone
19. Sheriff Stillman 7: Once Late with a .38 by Peter Brandvold
20. Hot Lead 4: All Review Special – edited by Justin Marriott
21. The Gallowsman by Will Cade
22. The Badge 10: Blood Trail by Bill Reno
23. Murphy 4: Murphy’s War by Gary Paulsen
24. Apache Butte by Gordon D. Shirreffs
25. Ride the Long Night by E.A. Alman
26. The Searcher by F.M. Parker
27. Sheriff Stillman 8: Hell on Wheels by Peter Brandvold
28. Wilderness 71: Stalked by David Robbins
29. Thrilling Western – UK edition, May 1958
30. The Derby Man 10: Whiskey Creek by Gary McCarthy
31. The Gunsmith 45: Navaho Devil by J.R. Roberts
32. John Hawk 3: Montana Territory by Charles G. West
33. The Kelly Trail – a Ralph Compton Western by Terrence McCauley
34. The Trailsman 140: The Killing Corridor by Jon Sharpe
35. Sheriff Aaron Mackey 3: Get Out of Town by Terrence McCauley
36. The Loner 9: Killer Poker by J.A. Johnstone
37. Gunn 4: Blood Justice by Jory Sherman
38. Three for Vengeance by Matt Chisholm
39. Stagecoach Station 28: El Dorado by Hank Mitchum
40. The Jackals by William W. Johnstone and J.A. Johnstone
41. Guns Across the Pecos by Jackson Cole
42. Desert Stake-Out by Hondo Wells
43. Boothill Brand by Kirk Hamilton
44. Divine Wind by Lee Clinton
45. The Loner 10: Blood of Renegades by J.A. Johnstone
46. Ride for Justice – a Ralph Compton Western by Robert J. Randisi
47. Morgan Kane 13: The Law of the Jungle by Louis Masterson
48. Long Rider 20: Mountain Killer by Clay Dawson
49. A Killing in Kiowa by Lewis B. Patten
50. Animal Instinct by Lee Clinton
51. Sheriff Aaron Mackey 4: The Dark Sunrise by Terrence McCauley
52. Have Brides, Will Travel 2: The Shotgun Wedding by William W. Johnstone and J.A. Johnstone
53. Morgan Kane 14: No Tears for Morgan Kane by Louis Masterson
54. Ride the Hammer Down – A Ralph Compton Western by Terrence McCauley

Other posts
1. Cover Gallery: Faraday
2. Goodbye Black Horse Westerns

Review of a book read a few years ago
1. Longarm and the Bank Robber's Daughter (301) by Tabor Evans

Saturday, 26 December 2020

NO TEARS FOR MORGAN KANE


MORGAN KANE 14
By Louis Masterson
Corgi Books, 1972
Cover artwork Michael Codd
Cover photography by Peter Kibbles
Originally published by Bladkompaniet A/S, 1967

David Kominsky was a Missouri farmer, trying to eke out a living on land made barren by drought. ‘Swinging’ Johnson and his murderous band from Cross Bow ranch decided to lay claim to David’s land – and crucified him to ensure he wouldn’t dispute the matter. The Cross Bow gang had terrorised the countryside so thoroughly that Kominsky’s widow despaired of seeing them brought to justice. The neighbouring farmers went in fear of their lives, and the town marshal was a cowardly, useless creature. But by a lucky stroke of fate, Morgan Kane was not far away – waiting to pick up a bank robber…

This is a hard, brutal tale that is a superb read. One of the strengths of this series is the authors ability to portray emotion in a way that the reader shares the anguish, hate and joy of his characters, especially that of Morgan Kane. In this story, Kane experiences them all, and more.

Fans of this series will not want to miss this book as Kane finds himself back in the area that he was thrown off a train with a gunshot hand in the first book of the series, Without Mercy. In that story Kane met Linda Swift, a young girl that fell in love with him, and he with her. Kane rode away though in the need of revenge. Kane’s relationship with Linda is rekindled in this tale, so much so that he’s ready to hand in his badge and settle down with her. Before that can happen, Kane has to deal with ‘Swinging’ Johnson.

This is basically a land-grab tale. Black gold is the prize. The bank robber, Redek, Kane is chasing is hired by Johnson. There’s plenty of savage killings before Kane finds himself facing the Johnson gang alone in the dusty streets of Ash Grove. Kane against four in a classic showdown, and if you think you know how that will turn out you’ll be surprised by its shockingly hard-hitting outcome.

Louis Masterson doesn’t hold back in the gritty realism stakes. He certainly hammers Kane with pain, both emotionally and physically throughout the series. In this book he really makes Kane suffer. Gives him more scars to torment his soul. Kane has to control his fear too, as Redek could well be a faster gun than he. On top of this is the turmoil of meeting Linda again, can he find happiness with her this time? 

This is one of the best Morgan Kane books I’ve read. It’s powerful, gripping and dark in tone. It features many of the writing strengths of Louis Masterson that keep me returning to the series time and again and I know for certain that it won’t be long before I read the next book.

Louis Masterson was a pseudonym used by Norwegian author Kjell Hallbing. 

Norwegian cover.

Monday, 21 December 2020

THE SHOTGUN WEDDING

HAVE BRIDES, WILL TRAVEL 2
By William W. Johnstone and J.A. Johnstone
Pinnacle paperback, December 2020
Original Kensington hardback published May 2020

Bo Creel and Scratch Morton are mighty proud. They managed to deliver five mail-order brides to the New Mexico mining town of Silverhill in one piece. The town is so grateful, they want to make Bo their marshal and Scratch his deputy. Bo and Scratch are happy to accept the job – and even happier to attend the weddings of the fine young women they brought here….

Cecilia has two young suitors – a well-off rancher and a low-born miner – but one of them is not what he seems. Tomboyish Rose has gotten herself roped into a cow-rustling scheme – with the wild young buck who’s stolen her heart. Luella has a not-so-secret admirer of her own, a former journalist who’s making headlines – with a gang of Mexican bandits. And the refined Jean Parker thinks she’s finally found a suitable match in this raucous boomtown. But it turns out her educated doctor has a dishonorary degree – in killing.

With marriage prospects like these, Bo and Scratch will have to fight tooth and nail to keep the ladies safe and sound – and a real shotgun wedding is about to begin.

Beginning shortly after the end of the first book, this story picks up the threads that were left hanging at the close of that previous volume. You don’t need to have read the earlier work as the author explains enough backstory to fill new readers in on just what has gone before. 

Switching regularly between the cast members and often leaving them in precarious situations, the author ensures you’ll keep reading as you’ll need to know what happens next. At times we get longer sections as the major storylines are dealt with in gripping action scenes. Plotlines include rustling, intimidation, brutal murders, revenge, stagecoach robberies, masked identities and kidnapping. Bo and Scratch sure have their work cut out to keep the five young women safe and stop the crimes, something our two old-timers do with style, grit, fast guns and a touch of humour.

Like the first book, this one is a very enjoyable read. Its pacing is excellent and each set piece seems more deadly than the last, culminating in and exciting and violent gunfight. The very end of the story appears to set us up for the third book in the series, Till Death, that is scheduled for publication in October 2021. I for one am really looking forward to that. 

Friday, 11 December 2020

THE DARK SUNRISE


SHERIFF AARON MACKEY 4
By Terrence McCauley
Pinnacle, December 2020

At long last, U.S. Marshal Aaron Mackey and Deputy Billy Sunday will see crime baron James Grant and his kill-crazy cronies stand trial for the mayhem and suffering they unleashed on the people of Dover Station. But as Montana Territory’s statehood is approaching, murdering devils like Grant can no longer be tolerated in positions of political power.

Or can they? Montana’s capital of Helena follows its own set of laws – laws that not only set Grant free, but give peacekeeping authority to a sadistic murdering gunslinger like Colonel Nathan Rigg, Mackey’s commanding officer during the war. The city’s leaders prefer keeping killers like Grant and Rigg under their thumbs.

Mackey knows there’s no controlling these bloodthirsty madmen. And if they think they’re above the law, then Mackey and Billy will just have to appoint themselves judge, jury, and executioners . . .

For those who have read the previous books this is a must read as it brings about a very violent conclusion to the plotlines that have run through those earlier novels. If you haven’t read any of the others then it might be wise to do so before reading this one, but if you’d rather just dive into The Dark Sunrise, the author does include enough background so you’ll pick up on what has gone before. 

There’s more of Mackey’s history to be discovered in these pages, some horrific actions that have helped mould him into the man he is. The author also includes other surprises such as the one Mackey faces when summoned to Judge Forester’s office for reasons unknown. There are also some powerful emotions for Mackey to have to deal with, more of which I can’t reveal here without including a major spoiler. There’s a lot of very visual destruction in this book and it also contains a high death toll. The final showdown which sees Mackey and Sunday taking on massive odds makes for gripping reading.

As I reached the end, I couldn’t help but feel this may be the last outing for Mackey. I can only hope I’m wrong and we’ll soon see him ride again.

As usual, Terrence McCauley paces his story superbly. His characters are well crafted and his action scenes are described in hard-hitting prose. As I read further and further into the story, I found myself grinning more and more as new characters were introduced. It was their names that had me smiling, as many of them will be recognizable to well-read western fans. 

With each book he writes, Terrence McCauley strengthens my belief that he is one of the best western authors writing today. 


Monday, 30 November 2020

GOODBYE BLACK HORSE WESTERNS



The close of another month, November 2020, and the close of a long-running line of westerns too. Robert Hale Ltd started publishing westerns in the U.K. in 1936. Since the mid ‘80’s they put them out under the Black Horse Western banner. Their books were produced for the library market but there were also a few for sale elsewhere. In 2015 Robert Hale and their imprint of Black Horse Westerns became part of The Crowood Press who continued to produce these hardback books. Unfortunately, they are no-longer viable and Crowood have made the decision to stop publishing them. Their back catalogue will still be available to purchase whilst stocks last.

As well as publishing work from new authors, Hale also put out work from established authors from various parts of the world. These were both reprints of old classic tales and brand-new stories. At their height, Hale were putting out ten new western books a month, more than any of the American publishers. Most were stand-alone novels, but series books appeared too. Crowood introduced ebook versions for a while and experimented with softback copies as well.

For many years Hale sent me all their Black Horse Westerns, often before they would appear in the libraries, so I could review some of them on Western Fiction Review. When Crowood took on the line they continued to supply me with review copies. I discovered many new authors to me, lots of whom became favourite writers with some becoming good friends. I can’t begin to think how many hundreds of these beautifully produced books I have in my collection. 

As these books become part of publishing history, gone but never forgotten, I can’t help but feel a little sad that there won’t be any new ones to read and that they will slowly disappear from library shelves. 


ANIMAL INSTINCT


By Lee Clinton
The Crowood Press, November 2020

It was the perfect hold-up, conducted with military precision by four men who calmly walked out of the Ozark Branch of the First National Bank with close to $50,000. Then it all went wrong. One unfortunate shot hits their leader Frank Jerome as he rides away. What to do? Take the risk and try to ride out the 250 miles back to the mighty Mississippi? Or let the other three escape without being slowed by a wounded man? Frank didn't hesitate. In a selfless act he stayed to face a prison sentence and an uncertain future. Now, years later on release, his companions have all disappeared along with the money, and it is going to take more than luck to untangle the lies, deceit and secrets that have been left behind. It is going to take animal instinct.

The book begins with the bank raid that results in Frank going to prison. Then moves forward to his release and the challenge that faces Frank in finding his partners in crime. Here we also get some backstory that reveals how the robbery came about and that there are more people involved than just the four who held-up the bank.

As it becomes apparent to Frank that his fellow bank robbers have been killed, Frank sets out to find out by who and what became of the money. He is determined to get his share no matter what. As other people become involved in Frank’s quest so the plot takes on more twists. 

This story held my attention from the opening scenes to its exciting ending. The action is at times brutal, especially when Frank has to fight for his life on a train. The final showdown is frantic, desperate and nail-biting. The final lines have a great touch of humour to them and closed the book superbly.

Lee Clinton is a pseudonym used by Australian author Leigh Alver and Animal Instinct is his 10th Black Horse Western. I’ve enjoyed every one of his books and would recommend any or all of them to western fans. 

Tuesday, 24 November 2020

COVER GALLERY: FARADAY

FARADAY
By William Grant

A series of books following undercover detectives working for the Faraday Security Service as they attempt to keep the railroads safe. Six were published before Lynx Books went out of business. Two more announced books never saw the light of day. The series ran from July 1988 to May 1989.

William Grant is a pseudonym shared by five authors. James Reasoner wrote the first one, Paul Block the second, Robert Vaughan wrote books three, five and six and Bill Crider wrote the fourth. The two none-published books were number seven, Avalanche Run, by Crider and number eight, The Owlhoot Express, written by Chet Cunningham.


Matthew Faraday is as much a mystery as those he solves. But, as head of the Faraday Security Service, he’d already earned a reputation: tough, smart, fiercely loyal to his friends, dangerous to his enemies, and as much at home on the back of a horse as in a Kansas City boardroom.

And it is from such a place that his latest case comes. The Kansas Pacific Railroad is in trouble. Indian raids, sabotage, and murder have halted the laying of track that would tie the west – and the list of suspects rangers from Kansas City to the Nebraska railhead.

The mystery only deepens when Faraday dispatches his best undercover agent Daniel Britten to Nebraska – into a hornet’s nest. Now Faraday’s shuffling the clues in Kansas City – caught in a conflict between an old friend and an old sweetheart – getting closer to the secret that could cost his life, while Dan dodges bullets, arrows, and the attentions of two beautiful women – either of whom may hold the secret that will stop the railroad, and halt the destiny of The Iron Horse.



Indian raids. Armed bandits. Violent storms. These were nothing…at least not compared to a railroad man’s worst nightmare: Two trains. One track. A head-on collision. The ungodly sound of ripping metal. The terrified screams of the dying. And on the Colorado plains, it finally happened. A terrible accident. 

When two more trains meet the same grim fate, “accident” is not a satisfactory answer – and Matthew Faraday, the tough, smart honcho of Faraday Security Service, is called in to uncover the saboteurs. With the help of Nora Sutherland and Stuart Kennedy, two of his top operatives, and Jim Hart, a clever young newsman, he’s closing in on the murderous truth.

But time is running out – at the speed of a locomotive – as the Faraday agents take to the rails aboard a train headed for a date with disaster – while a cold, vicious mastermind plots their Collision Course.



The train-top murder of one of his female operatives has thrust Matthew Faraday, the wily chief of Faraday Security Service, into the dark and twisting tunnel of another railroad mystery, and a coded message in the dead woman’s pocket is the only clue.

But it’s enough to send Faraday to the War Department looking for answers, and two of his best undercover agents – Leah Saunders and Mike Rindell – into the heart of the Rebel South to save a Yankee gold shipment from the notorious Tyreen’s Raiders.

Now it’s a race for a fortune, by train, on foot, on horseback, and in a silk balloon…a race against time, treachery, and murder, where every turn of the track hides unseen friends, unsuspecting enemies, and death in several guises.



Until personal tragedy hit him, and he spent a year hitting the bottle, Jim Stone was once of Faraday Security’s top operatives – quick with his fists, or his gun.

Now Matt Faraday’s giving him a chance to make his way back. There’s trouble on the Denver & Rio Bravo line – the railroad carrying the Allen Players on a theatre tour to far Colorado. One of the troupe has been found dead on a dark stage. Murdered. And Stone’s been sent – undercover – to replace him and unravel the mystery. But the bodies are piling up faster than the clues, and everyone looks like a perfect suspect.

The stage directions in this case call for a train ambush, a deadly masquerade, screaming bullets, flashing swords, and a poisonous climax before the final curtain falls!



Many people believed that Ironsprings should be called Iron Fist, because that’s how self-serving Marshal Josh Wade and his deputized brothers ran things – letting gambling, boozing, brawling, and prostitution run rampant as long as Wade collected a “business tax” from the profiteers.

But Ironsprings was a railroad town as well, and there were signs that the rash of robberies plaguing the Union Pacific originated somewhere in Josh Wade’s domain.

That’s when Jared Macalester, the trackwalker, came to town. But Macalester was more than he appeared to be; he was Matt Faraday’s good friend and crackerjack agent gone undercover to uncover the truth, stop the crimes, and save the town in the process – but not until first facing ambush, train wrecks, a small civil war, pistolero Tim Quick, whose temper and gun matched his name, and the hottest blood-feud since the Earps and the Clantons reddened the dust of the O.K. Corral!



As our wounded nation heals itself in the aftermath of the Civil War, it is once more plunged into sorrow. In one treasonous moment President Abraham Lincoln is dead, and – though his assassin, John Wilkes Booth, is quickly caught – the treachery is far from over.

A plot is being hatched to kidnap Lincoln’s body from the funeral train that will carry the fallen leader through the countryside of mourners, from Washington to its final resting place in Springfield, Illinois.

Matthew Faraday has gotten wind of the plot – although its perpetrators are still a mystery. With the blessings of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and the aid of his newest and boldest agent, Cole Yeager, Faraday is sworn to protect the great man’s body from desecration – while ambush, runaway locomotives, and death-dealing renegades wait up ahead of the Train of Glory.

Thursday, 19 November 2020

A KILLING IN KIOWA


By Lewis B. Patten
Signet, April 1972

None of the four was really drunk, but all were feeling reckless and wild. They’d been talking about women and all four wanted one. Not one of them would have dared attack Daisy alone, but tonight they were a miniature mob. She was only a girl from the saloon. For money she’d probably take on anyone. Well, tonight she was going to take on all four of them. And she wasn’t going to get a dime for it . . .

The vicious events that follow force Matt Wyatt, sheriff of Kiowa, to a bloody showdown between the law and the lawless . . . 

A story that mixes western and murder mystery extremely well. Who did the killing isn’t really a mystery as Daisy knows who attacked her and the victim names two of them before dying. Part of the book follows Wyatt’s as he tracks down and arrests the four young killers, two fifteen-year olds, one sixteen and one seventeen.

The intrigue comes from the fact that Wyatt knows them all, knows their families. One of the killers is his deputy’s son. Wyatt is also in a relationship with the deputy’s daughter. Enforcing the law puts a massive strain on these friendships and could bring about the end of them.

Two other fathers are desperate to save their sons from prison and the noose. They aren’t above threatening Daisy and the Doctor to change their stories. If bribery isn’t enough then there’s other methods. How can Wyatt keep the killers in jail if the witnesses won’t back his play? It’s these storylines that really gripped me and kept me turning the pages.

This is a fairly dark tale. It’s a gritty story that never lets up in pace and one that made it impossible to guess at its outcome. Wyatt is badly wounded about half-way through the story, a brutal wound that could kill him but bringing the killers to justice seems more important to him than his own life. 

A Killing in Kiowa is a short book compared to today’s standards and I wish it had been longer. Although the conclusion is satisfactory, I felt there was more of the story to tell. Perhaps the author intended for his readers to decide how a couple of the unfinished story threads came to an end. Even though the book finished in this way, I still enjoyed it and look forward to reading more of Lewis B. Patten’s work soon.

Monday, 16 November 2020

MOUNTAIN KILLER


LONG RIDER
Number 20 of 27
By Clay Dawson
Diamond, September 1992

Long Rider cheated death when he was attacked by a savage grizzly. Now, nursed back to health by the beautiful Ella Porter, he’s on the trail of the beast who left him scarred – and left Ella’s husband dead.

But he’s about to sniff out a different kind of predator – a greedy rancher who’s grabbing up land left and right. And Caleb Burr’s sights are set on Ella’s place next – not to mention Ella herself. Only Long Rider stands in his way. And he’ll go for the throat if he has to….

The above blurb is taken from the book and it’s not completely true to the story. Long Rider killed the bear that attacked him, but there is another that is terrorizing the valley and it’s this one he sets out to eliminate. Strangely, this creature seems to only kill those that Burr wants out of his way. Nope, this isn’t another man dressed as an animal type tale, it is a bear that does the killing. Can it really be under Burr’s control and if so how? This is the story-thread that grips the reader and ensures they keep turning the pages.

I have no idea who wrote this book under the pseudonym of Clay Dawson but the author sticks well to the character of Gabe Conrad (Long Rider) that I remember – it has been a long time since I read one of these books though. Burr makes for a terrific adversary as does his gunman Mace. Burr’s current woman, Lulu, is a great character too.

As well as the bear story-line the tale also features double-cross and a murder plot to get rid of Burr, yet the man seems too mean, too astute to be taken out. Burr always seems to be one step ahead of the game and has an easy way to get rid of those he feels are a threat.

There’s plenty of action, some quite gruesome in its description and the plot moves forward swiftly. Even though everything ends more or less as expected this book proved to be a fun read, even though the method of controlling the killer bear stretched my belief a little.

Monday, 9 November 2020

THE LAW OF THE JUNGLE


MORGAN KANE 13
By Louis Masterson
Corgi, 1972
Original published in 1967

Morgan Kane was on a boat in the Gulf of Mexico. He’d been ordered to sail to Yucatan and bring back a team of geologists who’d become involved in a spot of bother. A piece of cake, thought Kane, who was enjoying the voyage. But when Bahama Jack Delaney, a buccaneering adventurer, came on board with his story of massacre, arson, and terrorism on the peninsula, Kane began to think again. The geologists, said Delaney, were in a highly dangerous position, eighty miles inland, surrounded by bloodthirsty Indians. Kane knew there was nothing for it but to go in and get them out…

With a messy ending to his last assignment, Kane is sent far away whilst his superiors try to save his job as a U.S. Marshal. Kane might enjoy life at sea but the jungle is something else, something he is not comfortable with. It’s not just geologists he has to save, he also finds himself escorting nuns and a padre. Finding them is fairly easy but getting out again with them is another story as the Uxmals want to kill them all. 

The jungle scenes are extremely well described. You can feel the heat, hear the insects and screams of vicious animals. Kane is out of his depth and his fear is palpable. These kinds of emotions I’ve always thought are one of the strengths of Louis Masterson’s writing. Also, the feelings of nausea Kane experiences every time he has to kill come over strongly.

Even though this book is part of a western series it’s easy to forget this and imagine you’re reading a jungle adventure, a gripping tale packed with many exciting, tense, action scenes. As Kane’s party gets whittled down one by one, you’ll soon be wondering how many will make it to safety.

When the survivors make it make to the ship, Masterson has a surprising twist waiting in store. An ending that ties the book up neatly and brutally.

Perhaps not one of the best Kane books for me as I prefer those set in the more traditional landscapes of the American West, but it still provided a couple of hours of great entertainment.

Louis Masterson is a pseudonym for Norwegian author Kjell Hallbing.


Friday, 30 October 2020

RIDE FOR JUSTICE


A Ralph Compton novel by Robert J. Randisi
Cover art by Dennis Lyall
Berkley, October 2020

Matt Wheeler was a legend in the West. His fast gun and dedication to justice made him a sought-after lawman for hire, but all of that promise vanished one sunny day when his wife was shot down in cold blood by a heartless band robber.

The thirst for vengeance sent Wheeler on a quest to find the killer. For taking the law into his own hands, the former lawman was convicted and sent to prison.

Seven and a half years have passed, and Wheeler has completed his sentence. One question remains: Will he ride for vengeance or for justice?

The first part of this book concentrates on Wheeler’s attempts to get work so he can raise the money needed to travel to his wife’s grave. He also battles with the question of whether he wants to track down the other two men involved in his wife’s death. Wheeler is fairly old too, so another question is does he still have the stamina and ability to track and face the killers? It takes a while for Wheeler to figure out what he wants to do, and his wife’s grave plays a large part in his decision making.

Like the majority of books I’ve read by Robert Randisi, this is a fast-paced easy read. The tale is dialogue driven and action scenes are dealt with quickly and efficiently, so as not to hold up the fast-developing plot for too long. Randisi also has a neat twist waiting for the final scenes that makes for a memorable ending.

Many of Robert Randisi’s books mix real people with fictional characters and this is another of them. Bass Reeves, Judge Isaac Parker and President Porfirio Diaz all have import roles to play in the outcome of this book.

Fans of Robert Randisi’s books will certainly enjoy this one and if you are yet to try this author this could be the perfect place to start.

Thursday, 22 October 2020

BLOOD OF RENEGADES


THE LONER
number 10 of 15
By J.A. Johnstone
Pinnacle, July 2011

The damsel is in distress, or so it seems to Conrad Browning. On his way across the wide, tall Utah territory to California, the Loner meets a beautiful Mormon girl on the run from a forced wedding – and the gun-toting faithful trying to hunt her down. But there are two sides to every story – and the ones you don’t hear are the ones that can get you killed.

The runaway bride has a little history of her own. Soon, the Loner touches off a storm of unholy gunfire, drawing blood from an outlaw and a death sentence from a patriarch. Among murders and Mormons, Bibles and bullets, the Loner finds himself riding to a wedding – a ceremony he intends to crash with a vengeance…

Browning’s search for his missing children is interrupted by the runaway Mormon girl and the trouble she brings to the Loner. This is a story of the younger generation not wanting to follow the path of their elders. The Loner gets caught up in the middle of this as he decides to help the youngsters escape the grip of the Mormon leader and his band of Avenging Angels. 

There is plenty of exciting action that doesn’t always involve gunplay, such as a very different method of escape across the salt flat of the likes I can’t remember reading about before. The Loner also has to deal with unfounded jealousy that could see him killed by one of those on the side he his trying to help. 

The author is an expert at pacing and creating tension and that made it hard for me to put this book down as I just had to find out what happened next. The final battle proving to be spectacular in its destructive power. 

When the Loner finally gets to continue with his search for his children the author springs a surprising twist to the tale that instantly had me wanting to read the next book in this terrific series.


Sunday, 18 October 2020

BOOTHILL BRAND


By Kirk Hamilton
Cougar Books, date unknown

It was three years ago they’d run him out. Lou still bore the mark of Boothill on his chest – the brand he’d carry till he died. And the old man had waited for him to scream as they did it, and looked somehow disappointed when he didn’t.

“Come back here, Lou,” the old man had said meaningly, “And you die!”

They had thrown him off the ranch then. Without a horse, without his guns, with only what he stood up in. And Shane had stood and watched, her face expressionless.

He’s come back now. Come back to kill the old man, to kill Johnny Wena if he was still around, to humble the proud Shane and break her life for her as she had broken his.

Cougar books were part of Cleveland Publishing and like the majority of their publications they don’t carry a date, so it’s not easy to find out when they were published. This story is a re-issue, complete and unabridged, except for a title change from Danger Spread to Boothill Brand, which was originally put out under the Cleveland name. I’ve included the original below and I think the cover art of that first issue fits the story a lot better as it does illustrate a scene from the tale.

Lou Masters makes for an engaging lead character. He’s tough, quick with a gun, yet na├»ve, blinded by his love for Shane which leads him into many dangerous and life-threatening situations. Shane isn’t the only woman who will cause problems for him as he’s caught the eye of Lena Blair. There are some excellent twists and turns to the plot that sees both of these women get Lou on the wrong end of a gun.

The story never lets up in its fast pace as Lou is framed, struggles to recognize who is his enemy and who he can trust. Vicious gunmen arrive and it seems no-one is safe from their desire to take what they want and kill anyone who opposes them. There’s plenty of gunplay before everything leads to Lou having to face unbeatable odds which makes for a nail-biting climax. 

Boothill Brand proved to be an excellent read, but then again, I thought it would having enjoyed many westerns by this author already. Kirk Hamilton is a pseudonym, one of a handful, used by Keith Hetherington, an Australian author who has had well over 600 stories published – probably closer to 1,000 – and he comes highly recommended by me.


Tuesday, 13 October 2020

DESERT STAKE-OUT


By Hondo Wells
Cover art by Colin Andrews
Mews Paperbacks, November 1976
Originally published by Fawcett, 1961

Any chance Merrick’s party had of escaping the Indian fury was gone now – destroyed by the gun-happy youth who had just killed the Apache who lay before them on the desert.

Now they could only wait the Apache revenge – and hope the three renegade white men didn’t turn on Merrick first.

And clear in Merrick’s mind was the fate that waited them all if the Indians took them alive – staked out in the sun, their mouths full of sand, praying they were dead . . .

Hondo Wells is a pseudonym for Harry Whittington. In America the book was published under the authors real name, so what lead to the use of a pen-name in the UK I have no idea. Mews published three other westerns by Whittington, Shadow at Noon and Prairie Riders both as by Hondo Wells but the third one, High Fury was put out as by Harry Whittington. Why the switch to his real name for the last one?

The book begins by describing the harsh land through which Merrick is travelling. This inhospitable place offering a place of respite from a waterhole. It’s around this life-giving pool that most of this brutal tale takes place. Is it possible to escape this small waterhole as the Apaches are closing in, slowly, tormentingly? The author’s prose is as tough as the landscape and the despair and desperation of those trapped by the waterhole comes over extremely well.

There’s also the fear that the three outlaws may try to kill Merrick at any moment, steal his horses and make a break for freedom. The author creates a tense atmosphere that will have the reader on the edge of their seat. 

As the story progresses then more questions need answers. Does Merrick know the three renegades? Who is in the grave by the waterhole that had been dug by Merrick? Why has the army sent him on a mission, alone, through a land filled with hostile Apaches? 

The tale moves through a series of twists and turns as allegiances switch from one person to another. No one can trust anyone it seems. 

There’s plenty of tough talk, eruptions of gunplay and double-cross before the Apaches close in, and when they do the plot takes on a much more vicious tone that sees some horrific, graphic acts of torture that lead to a surprising turn of events.

For me, Desert Stake-Out proved to be a gripping read that captured my imagination superbly and left me hungry to read more of Harry Whittington’s work as soon as I can.

Thursday, 8 October 2020

DIVINE WIND


By Lee Clinton
The Crowood Press, October 2020

Robert Brodie was always a practical man. It helped him survive the war as a Texan Confederate - as a miner in Death Valley - and now as a muleskinner hauling borax across one of the most inhospitable places on the earth's surface. So, when an old Indian bestows the Divine Wind upon him from Tanka the Great Spirit, it is accepted with both bewilderment and scepticism. Especially, as Brodie is trapped under a four-ton borax wagon at the time and expecting to die of thirst...

The opening scenes of this book provide some excellent, tense reading that results in Brodie becoming trapped beneath the borax wagon. The arrival of the old Indian adds an extra element to the story. Is he real or just a figment of Brodie’s mind? From then on, the tale edges into the supernatural as strange events shape Brodie’s future, events that have no rational explanation. It’s these storylines that shape the rest of the tale as Brodie struggles to comprehend these twists of fate.

Amid all the strangeness there is plenty of action as Brodie finds himself helping a young lady deal out God’s justice as they track four killers. There are some particularly gruesome deaths, one killing done by the girl that will make all male readers shudder. The bond between Brodie and the girl becomes stronger and they begin to fall in love, but can this really work as Brodie is quite a lot older than Chastity? 

I’ve got to mention the two mules, Sergeant Smith and Corporal Jones, whose antics at times had me laughing. Brodie’s relationship with these two animals being one of the many highlights of this book. 

I’ve read and enjoyed all of Lee Clinton’s previous Black Horse Westerns. One of the things that I really like about his books is that they all have very different storylines and this one certainly keeps that trend going. The supernatural elements, real or not, taking this tale down a totally different trail to any of his others. Not being able to predict where the next Clinton plot will take me is one of the reasons that I always look forward to his next release. 

Lee Clinton is a pseudonym used by Australian author Leigh Alver.

Divine Wind is released on October 23rd but is available for pre-order now.

Wednesday, 30 September 2020

GUNS ACROSS THE PECOS


By Jackson Cole
Popular Library, 1965

In the fertile oasis of the Delnorte Valley seethed a full-scale range war. Lynch fever spread. Bombs exploded along the wire fences – reflecting the hate that filled the valley. The Coral River ran red with blood and open war was expected at any moment. Ranger Jim Hatfield had to find the man responsible for the violence before Delnorte became a valley of death.

The man Hatfield had to stop was protected by a terror organization called “The Black Cappers.” Their specialties were killing and destruction and they had forced the nesters and the ranchers into two armed camps. Hatfield found himself caught in the crossfire – an easy target for anyone with an easy six-gun. He was running on sheer power and had to get his man in a hurry . . . before the powder-keg of Delnorte Valley exploded!

This story was originally published under the same title in the November 1937 issue of Texas Rangers (see below). I’d guess the 1965 version has been expanded to create the length needed for a book. Jim Hatfield was created in 1936 by A. Leslie Scott and all the stories were published under the pseudonym of Jackson Cole. Scott was the main writer for the long running series alongside Tom Curry. A few other authors wrote for the series too. Guns Across the Pecos was written by Curry.

This is a tough, fast-paced story that contains a number of surprises and plenty of action – more or less every chapter containing gunplay or fist fights. Although the tale does include women, they don’t have very big roles – even the girl who provides the love interest.

Hatfield is extremely fast with his guns, talks to his horse Goldy, and has a quick mind that helps him solve all the problems he faces almost effortlessly. Hatfield occasionally comes across as superhuman when it comes to second-guessing his enemies and when he gets shot – the latter occurring more than once in this tale but Hatfield seems able to shrug his wounds off and carry on as if nothing had happened.

Being such an old story there is some of the kind of lingo we don’t see much of nowadays, such as ‘dawggone it’, ‘keerful-like,’ and ‘shoot yuh daid.’ This, to me, is part of the fun of reading these old tales but at times can be a challenge when there’s a lot of it in one sentence. 

Tom Curry keeps the main plot twist a secret until near the end, and it was one I didn’t see coming, although I did work out who was behind whatever it was that was going on. The story ends with a classic hero chasing bad guy across country scene, making for a final dramatic showdown that ends the tale in suitable style. 

I’ve read a few Jim Hatfield tales in pulp magazines and found them to be very entertaining and this extended book length story proved to be as equally enjoyable. 

Saturday, 26 September 2020

THE JACKALS


By William W. Johnstone with J.A. Johnstone
Pinnacle, February 2019

With Apaches on the prowl, ex-cavalry sergeant Sean Keegan, bounty hunter Jed Breen, and ex-Texas Ranger Matt McCulloch take shelter in a West Texas way station – along with a hot-as-a-pistol female bound for the gallows, a spiteful newspaper editor, and a coward with $50,000 who promises them five grand if they’ll deliver his blood-soaked stash to his wife.

Turns out, Indians might be the least of the problems for the trio, soon to be known as the Jackals. The loot’s stolen property of the vengeful Hawkin gang, and these prairie rats are merciless, stone-cold killers. And the brother of the man the woman killed wants to butcher her himself rather than watch her swing. McCulloch, Keegan, and Breen are ready for a showdown – but the Jackals may not live to spend that $5,000.

These Johnstone books are getting longer and the author certainly packs a lot of excitement into those 359 pages. This story fairly gallops along and there’s never a dull moment as gunfight follows gunfight. 

At the start the author switches between his three main characters, to tell the stories of how two become ex-cavalry and ex-ranger and of the events that see them and the bounty hunter following separate trails that will see them arrive at the way station under siege by the Apaches. We are also introduced to the outlaws, the coward, and the woman. There is another character waiting at the way station, an actor with a wagon load of props and both he and his items will have an important role to play in the bloody, violent outcome of this tale.

I found the book an easy read that urged me to keep turning the pages. There were some terms used that I don’t often see in westerns, such as the words bubba, punk and arse – the latter appearing only once before being replaced by the more commonly used ass in books about Americans. 

Once knowledge of the $50,000 become known to the people trapped in the way station it was interesting to see how some of their character traits changed as greed took its grip on them.

Amidst all the violence there are some moments of humour, mainly coming from the actor, in either deeds or words.

The final desperate attempt to break-out of the way station makes for gripping and dramatic reading. The race for freedom being a real out of the frying pan and into the fire situation that leads to more gunplay and double-cross that very few of the characters survive in one piece.

This book is the first in a new series and the second one has just been released and I’m looking forward to reading it very soon.

Sunday, 20 September 2020

EL DORADO


STAGECOACH STATION
Number 28 of 52
By Hank Mitchum
Cover art by Guy Deel
Bantam Books, March 1987

The stage carrying Andrea King never made it to Placerville. Solomon King, her husband, knew she was somewhere in the Sierra Nevada mountains, but was she alive or dead? With Andrea’s sister Lorraine and the Indian guide Gray Hawk, King began his grim search. 

Then the first storms of winter hit with blinding fury. Accompanied by a lost party of miners carrying gold, King made it to the relay station of El Dorado – only to find that someone in the party wanted all the gold for himself and thought eleven lives was a small price to pay. 

The snows made them prisoners of El Dorado, and one by one they died. King had to find the killer before the killer found him – and ended his desperate search for his wife.

The Stagecoach Station series of books are stand-alone novels that are linked by having a story that revolves around a stagecoach or stagecoach station. One or two books do see returning characters, so those tales probably need reading in order, but generally you can dip into this series anywhere and enjoy each book for what it is.

Hank Mitchum is a pseudonym behind which 14 authors wrote. The writer of this entry is Lew A. Lacy and he wrote more books in this series than anyone else.

As well as being a western, this is a murder mystery tale too. The author keeps the reader in suspense as to who the killer is until the end. Of course, as the victims fall the list of suspects gets smaller. Lew A. Lacy writes the growing sense of fear well, and his characters become more and more on edge with each death. Accusations fly and friendships crumble. No-one trusts anyone and being trapped in a snow bound stage station doesn’t help.

This is a well told story that had me on the edge of my seat a number of times. The characters are all engaging and the desperation to discover who the killer is provides some great tension to the story. Being murdered isn’t the only threat to the trapped people’s lives, dying of starvation is another fear.

Lew A. Lacy also keeps the fate of Andrea a secret too. This only to be discovered after the murderer is unmasked and dealt with. Lacy also has a couple of twists waiting to surprise the reader which added to my enjoyment of this story.

This book proved to be a very entertaining read and I’m sure it won’t be long before I read another by Lew A. Lacy, or try one or two of the other books in this series as there are some great authors  behind the pen-name of Hank Mitchum. 

Thursday, 17 September 2020

THREE FOR VENGEANCE


By Matt Chisholm
Cover art by Carl Hantman
Mayflower, 1963
Reissued 1967


There were three men – unwanted, except by the law.

Arch: the gunman, lover of horses and woman.

Rance: touch as rawhide, wild as a Comanche, steady as a rock.

Jim: young, unpredictable, often frightened – but with guts.

They fled into the desert, three desperate men with all hands turned against them, but they kept their pride and their code.

When they met the woman and saw what had been done to her, they ignored their own danger and offered her the only thing they had – themselves.

Together the three came riding into the open maws of death. They did waver, wanting only that their epitaph should tell those who came after them that they did not step back or flinch in the face of death.

I’ve long been a fan of Matt Chisholm’s writing. His books are packed with action. His characters are tough, heroic when they have to be, and capable of making the wrong decisions too. His stories often contain touches of dry humour. His plots are rarely predictable and he isn’t afraid of killing off some of the main characters. 

This book begins with the three main characters being pursued across the desert. Chisholm’s descriptions of hopelessness, heat, and desperation for water are superbly written. Why these three men are being chased is slowly revealed as is the fact that the posse isn’t exactly law abiding, even though they have the sheriff along who is a drunk and is easily led. It seems their real mission is to kill every Mexican they can find, drive them back over the border.

When the woman, Maria, is introduced to the story, then the plot becomes more complicated. A nameless corpse in a tower also adds intrigue – who was he, who killed him and why? 

It isn’t long before Arch sets out to rescue Maria, alone, against impossible odds. When Arch attempts to free her from her home proved to be one of the highlights for me. I could almost feel the tension as Arch tries to break into the heavily guarded building. 

Matt Chisholm, once again kept me thoroughly entertained with this very fast moving western, reinforcing my belief that he is one of the greatest British western authors.

Matt Chisholm is a pseudonym for Peter Watts, who also wrote westerns under the pen-names of Cy James and Luke Jones. 

Saturday, 12 September 2020

BLOOD JUSTICE


GUNN
Number 4 of 29
By Jory Sherman
Cover art by Pino Daeni
Zebra, 1980

Once Gunn met the beautiful Jilly Collins, her loving wouldn’t let him kiss her goodbye. She was the kind of woman who could please, tease and entice a man to do whatever she wanted – and what she wanted was revenge. So, she convinced Gunn to ride to Cataldo Mission and help her get even with Jason Berryman, the ruthless scoundrel who married her, took her money and ran.

They found Berryman in the local saloon playing out a winning hand of cards, but when he saw his wife with the sharpshooter Gunn, he knew that death would be the winner – and that lady luck had run out.

As you’ll see from the cover, this book is part of an adult western series. Explicit sex does take up a fair portion of the pages and it seems Gunn gets to bed most of the main female characters. This also leads to a very funny scene with an embarrassed Gunn caught by Jilly with another girl in his room. Jealousy also rears its head in another well written part of the story when two women engage in a wild catfight much to the amusement of the onlookers.

There is plenty of other action too, the kind involving fists, knives and guns that is often graphic in its description.

Berryman makes for an excellent adversary who always seems to be one step-ahead of those pursuing him. When Gunn and Jilly catch up to him, he is in the process of swindling another woman in a similar way to how he tricked Jilly. Getting Jilly’s money back soon becomes less of a priority to staying alive. 

I’ve read quite a few books written by Jory Sherman and have always enjoyed his writing style, his attention to detail and often poetic descriptions of emotions and landscapes are a joy to read and this story lived up to all my expectations. If you appreciate westerns that have a fast-paced plot, are filled with violent gunplay, contain graphic sex, and have some humorous scenes too, then this maybe a book you should consider reading.


Monday, 7 September 2020

KILLER POKER


THE LONER
Number 9 of 15
By J.A. Johnstone
Pinnacle, April 2011

Conrad Browning had money, a manservant and a mission: to find his missing children and meet them for the first time. He’s come as far as Denver, dodged a bullet from a beautiful assassin, and landed in a big buy-in poker tournament against a ruthless heavy-betting cattle baron with a plan of his own – to take this city slicker into the wilderness, and hunt him like an animal.

But Rance McKinney doesn’t know who he is facing. The son of legendary gunman Frank Morgan, Conrad goes by the moniker of the Loner. Now it’s the Loner against McKinney, the hunter and the hunted. And when he’s cornered, the Loner is the most dangerous beast of all…

Still searching for his children, the Loner meets a man who just might be able to shed some light on their whereabouts, but getting McKinney to talk is just one of the problems facing Browning. It also seems that someone else is sending hired assassins to kill him. 

The author weaves a tangled plot that moves forward at a tremendous pace and also features a real western character, namely Bat Masterson. As well as organizing the poker tournament, Masterson plays a major role in the outcome of this tale. 

The poker game provides some tense and gripping reading but it’s when the Loner becomes the subject of a deadly manhunt that the book really picks up in the action stakes. There are also a couple of surprises in store amid the flying lead and brutal deaths. 

For me, this is another strong entry in this excellent series. The author certainly knows how to craft a tale that will capture the readers imagination from the very beginning, and then piles on the suspense making the book difficult to put down until the gunsmoke drifts away from the scene of the final climactic gunfight that resolves most of the story’s plotlines, leaving me eager to read the next book in the series.


Sunday, 30 August 2020

THE KILLING CORRIDOR


THE TRAILSMAN
Number 140 of 398
By Jon Sharpe
Signet, August 1993

The Pawnee were running amok from Kansas down to Oklahoma, and the only thing the U.S. Army was stopping was their arrow heads. That’s why General Eakins turned to Skye Fargo for help. Skye liked Eakins’ hotblooded daughter Annabel far better than her cold-fish father, but still took the job and headed south to a Missouri swept by a firestorm of savage fury. What he found was a woman doing a man’s dangerous job, and a mystery that went beyond Indian uprisings to unspeakable white treachery, as he followed a trail of greed and gore with his country’s future at stake and his life on the line at every false lead, wrong turn, and dead end….

After opening scenes that result in Fargo being troubled by a statement Eakins makes regarding his daughter, the author piles on the problems facing The Trailsman. Why are the Pawnee making half-hearted attacks on the soldiers and how is gold being smuggled to finance the confederate states as the threat of Civil War grows? Whilst trying to solve these mysteries, Fargo finds himself in a number of fights, some of his own making as he attempts to force those he suspects to reveal themselves.

The Trailsman is an adult western series so the book does contain some graphic sex, but after the first explicit scene these acts are dealt with quickly so they don’t interrupt the story's main plot too much. 

The book is easy to read and the pacing is superb, never letting up in the action department, each chapter have at least one round of gunplay or fist-fights. Going by the length of the chapters, I’d hazard a guess at this being written by series originator Jon Messmann, but I wouldn’t like to say for sure. One thing I did notice, and that is that Fargo doesn’t carry an Arkansas Toothpick in this book, instead he has a throwing knife concealed in his boot. Perhaps the toothpick was introduced later in the series?

The plot isn’t particularly complicated and offered little in the way of surprises and how the gold was being smuggled was easy to work out. Having said that these points didn’t lessen my enjoyment of this book and I’d recommend it to all fans of the Trailsman series.


Wednesday, 26 August 2020

GET OUT OF TOWN


SHERIFF AARON MACKEY 3
By Terrence McCauley
Pinnacle, September 2020

Dover Station, Montana, is no place for a lawman. A sheriff’s badge ain’t worth a nickel here – unless you’ve got the bullets to back it up . . .

When he signed up to be sheriff of this dirty little boomtown, Aaron Mackey knew he was asking for trouble. Once, when Mackey was the U.S. marshal for the whole Montana Territory, he swore no job could get any harder. But that was before he took down a few of the bank-robbing Hancocks – and incurred the wrath of the gang’s maniacal matriarch, Mad Nellie Hancock.

And the was before every avenging outlaw and hired henchmen came crawling out of the woodwork to kill him – in the meanest, bloodiest showdown the town had ever seen . . . 

Aaron Mackey knows you can’t fight city hall. But you can flush out every kill-crazy outlaw, greedy grifter, and boomtown rat – then exterminate with extreme prejudice . . . 

Murder, political wrangling, outlaws, lawmen, intrigue, opium, gunfights, tense standoffs, false accusations, this story has them all and much more.

Terrence McCauley brings back all those characters who survived the previous books and adds a few new ones to spice up this excellent mix in a twisting plot that proves to be a gripping read. Mackey’s new role as a U.S. Marshal gives him more ground to cover but his desire to take on the people he sees as ruining Dover Station also puts him at odds with his new employers.

The power hungry Grant is the man Mackey is determined to bring down but the crooked mayor always seems one step ahead of the lawman. Grant also has the Hancock clan working for him and they cause a lot of trouble for Mackey. 

As the plotlines entwine so the tension mounts. Will Mackey find the proof he needs to bring down Grant once and for all? As the story races towards the end it seems that Mackey is doomed to fail in his mission. 

Terrence McCauley has once again come up with a page-turner, a book that is very hard to put down. McCauley’s pacing is superb, his descriptions vivid and his plot ensnares the reader from the opening page.

Get Out of Town is another terrific entry in this first-class series and I’m now counting down the days until the fourth book, Dark Sunrise, hits the shelves in November.