Saturday 29 February 2020

Vultures Over The Elk Fork Country

Gideon Safford series, book 1
By Bill Yenne
DS Productions, December 2019

Gideon Safford drifts into town quietly and unpretentiously, fully and completely expecting to drift out again in that same manner, just as he has passed like a shadow through so many other settlements and fading boomtowns across the West.

It is not to be. Guns are drawn. Safford kills a man to save a man, but quickly finds that he has helped to upset a delicate balance of conflicting interests in the foothills and placers across the remote Elk Fork country of Montana Territory.

As the wind ruffles the golden leaves of the aspens, war explodes between avarice and innocence. Cold hearts exact cold-blooded revenge. Safford puts a thumb on the scales of justice, but a mysterious malevolence lurks within the deepest ravines.

Winter falls hard upon the country, icy winds blow, death stalks the mountains, and vultures circle in the sky.

Bill Yenne had a couple of westerns published by Berkely back in 2012 and 2013 and then disappeared from this genre, which was a shame as I really enjoyed those books. I was really pleased to discover that Bill had written another western, the first in a new series, and I was very eager to read it.

Gideon Safford makes for an excellent lead character, but as the opening chapter reveals Gideon Safford isn’t his real name. This, and the reason he rides under an alias, adds a great sense of mystery to this man. As the story develops, we discover a little more about his past and his hopes for the future. One thing is for certain, he’s very good with a gun.

Yenne has also created a superb cast of supporting characters, each having important roles to play as the tale unfolds. Hired guns are killing off settlers, is this part of a landgrab? As Safford begins to whittle these gunmen down, he discovers someone else is taking them out too. Who is this mystery sniper and what is his motive? It isn’t long before the vultures of the title have plenty of corpses to feast on as the story races forward at a fast pace, and before the conclusion is reached the author springs plenty of surprises as to the who and whys of the tale. 

Yenne’s writing is extremely readable, his dialogue is believable and bad language is kept to a minimum. His action scenes are visual and graphic. The descriptions of emotions after innocents’ die are beautifully written and are very moving at times. 

All too soon I found myself reading the final page so all I can do now is patiently await the arrival of the second book in this series. If it’s anything like this one I’ll be in for another exciting and entertaining read. 

Wednesday 19 February 2020

Have Brides, Will Travel

By William W. Johnstone and J.A. Johnstone
Pinnacle paperback, October 2019
Kensington hardcover, April 2019

Bo Creel and Scratch Morton are lifelong drifters who keep one eye on the horizon, one finger on the trigger, and one foot out the door. Roaming the West is what keeps them young, or so Scratch tells Bo. But when they save the life of Cyrus Keegan – the owner of a matrimonial agency – they receive an unexpected proposal that’s hard to resist. Keegan needs to deliver five mail order brides to a mining town in New Mexico Territory. All Scratch and Bo have to do is get these gals to the church on time – and alive, if possible . . . 

The job seems easy enough – and the brides-to-be are even easier on the eyes. Cecilia, Beth, Luella, Rose, and Jean all need good husbands. But their prospects look bad when the journey to the alter includes Mexican banditos, scheming silver robbers, and one overbearing rancher who won’t take no for an answer. Bo and Scratch promised to keep the ladies safe – and keep their hands to themselves – but it could be the last vow they’ll ever make . . . 

This book is billed as the first in a new series but the two main characters, Bo and Scratch have starred in another Johnstone series, Sidewinders that ran from 2008 until 2014, and it is great to see them back. They aren’t the only characters making a return, fans of the Johnstone books may well recognize Cyrus Keegan too as he appeared in Ride the Savage Land, book four in the Those Jensen Boys! series. 

Bo and Scratch are a very likeable pair of old-timers, whose long friendship and background is explained briefly during the opening chapters of this story. Escorting the brides-to-be offers plenty of opportunity for danger and humour. There’s plenty for these ladies to learn, such as the art of firing a handgun and a rifle. It’s during these lessons that the author really brings out each ladies’ personality. 

After a violent clash with bandits, the small group finally reach their destination – the boomtown of Silverhill, and it’s here that the first twist to the tale takes place. Many more characters are introduced as the plot gets more complex as different groups of outlaws and individuals use the arrival of the brides as a distraction as they put their own plans into motion, one of which involves kidnapping one of those young ladies. 

The author builds his story extremely well to the last desperate battles in the streets of Silverhill and the descriptions of the action scenes are very visual. The author has another surprise waiting for the final scenes with the arrival of someone who further complicates matters. The conclusion of this book does bring an end to most of the story-threads but a couple are left hanging. Maybe they’ll be continued in book two of the series, Shotgun Wedding, and I for one am very much looking forward to reading that.

Available in hardback, paperback,
ebook and audio CD.

Friday 14 February 2020

Lone Star and the Hangrope Heritage

By Wesley Ellis
number 23 of 153
Jove, July 1984

Who was the mysterious gunman who burst into Jessie’s room shivering with fear? He had come to talk, to tell everything he knew about the cartel, the mortal enemy of the Starbuck empire. But as he opened his mouth to speak, a well-aimed bullet struck him dead.

Now all Jessie and Ki had to go by was a faded old photograph the gunman claimed was the “key.” It wasn’t much of a clue, but it might unlock the secret plot in time to save Jessie’s life!

This story features Ki more than Jessie, she almost takes a backseat in this fast-paced action-packed episode in the Lone Star series. The Lone Star duo have to do some investigative work to discover who the photograph is of and why it is so important. What it leads to is a devious plot where life is cheap and no-one is safe. Double-cross, hooded riders and sensual women combine in a page-turning read.

The Lone Star books are classed as adult westerns and they do contain explicit sex scenes but don’t let that put you off reading them as these encounters are easy to skip and you’ll be left with a gripping tale of intrigue, gunfights and martial arts – Ki is a martial arts expert and prefers to use his talents in this kind of fighting rather than using traditional western weapons.

I believe the person behind the pseudonym of Wesley Ellis this time around is Jeffery M. Wallmann, who wrote book one in the series along with many others. I usually find this writers’ work to be very entertaining and this book is right up there with his best. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I’m sure I’ll be reading another Lone Star book very soon.

The Lone Star series may long be out of print but they are now available as ebooks.

Monday 10 February 2020

A Man Called Crow

By Chris Adam Smith
The Crowood Press
Paperback edition, November 2018
Hardback edition, January 2016

Old time lawman Charlie Crow finds peace and tranquillity in Wyoming, but before he can settle down with the woman he loves, he must face a distant and dangerous past. 

The long forgotten trail leads back to the lawless Texas borderlands and a date with destiny. Old ghosts, graves and range wars; greed and double cross mark the long trail back to his youth.

His quick gun is wanted one last time if the town of Carol Creek is to survive the threatened chaos. From behind a county badge, Crow tries desperately to ride out the storm and return to Cheyenne, and the woman he left behind. Young gunfighter Billy Joe Watts rides hard on the lawman’s trail, determined to kill the one man he fears.

It is a long, hard ride for a man named Crow. . . .

I’ve read quite a few Black Horse Westerns by Chris Adam Smith, under his own name or pseudonyms, and have yet to be disappointed by any of them, and this one is right up there with his very best.

Crow is an engaging hero and he’s supported by a variety of characters equally as well-drawn as he is, especially Billy Joe Watts. The author uses flashbacks to fill us in on Crow and Watts' background, they used to ride together and separated with much animosity.  The tale revolves around their inevitable meeting, especially as Watts has been hired to kill Crow. 

The threat from the arrival of Watts isn’t all Crow has to deal with.  There are soon others eager to blast Crow into eternity. Then there’s a growing attraction to a woman much younger than himself that Crow has to ignore – at least he tells himself he has to as he has a lady waiting for him back in Wyoming.

Chris Adam Smith tells the majority of the story from a first person point-of-view through Crow, although he occasionally switches to the third person when the plot needs carrying forward through others. There is also a nod to the horse owned and ridden by singer and actor Roy Rogers that put a smile on my face, as it should any fan of westerns.

Packed with action that is graphically described, this story races through a number of twists and turns before it reaches its bloody climax. But does it have a happy ending for our aging hero Charlie Crow? I guess you’ll just have to read it to find out and hopefully you’ll enjoy making that discovery as much as I did. 

Available in hardback, paperback and ebook.

Tuesday 4 February 2020

Buzzard Bait

number 2 of 3
By Brett Cogburn
Pinnacle, September 2017

Newt Jones is none too proud of his deadly nickname. But when you tangle with the likes of Judge Roy Bean and the notorious Mexican outlaw Juan Cortina, a man’s bound to earn a reputation. Or get stuck with a moniker like “Widowmaker.” Even so, Newt is ready to put his gunslinging days behind him, hang up his Winchester, and take it easy. There’s just one problem: Ain’t nothing easy about living in Apache country . . . 

When Newt gets word that a renegade tribe has kidnapped Matilda Redding’s grandson, he can’t just sit back and let the local authorities bungle it. Matilda once did him a good turn up on the Pecos and – flat broke and half-drunk or not – he’s got to help the old gal out. So, he saddles up his horse, straps on his dead man’s gun, and sets off to save the boy before he’s buzzard chow. Sure, Newt’s outnumbered, outgunned, and probably out of his mind. But they don’t call him Widowmaker Jones for nothing . . . 

Brett Cogburn once again has Newt Jones riding alongside a real person from the history of the West. This time it’s a young, and very talkative, Tom Horn. Other real people make an appearance too, such as Al Sieber. According to the author’s notes at the end the story is based on the kidnapping of Charlie McComas and this child has a role to play in this tale too. It is unknown what really happened to this boy and Cogburn puts forward some facts so you can make your own mind up. There are other real characters too but to say more will spoil some of the books surprises.

Cogburn mixes truth with fiction superbly. He counters the more horrific aspects of the tale with comical moments, mostly through conversation. Jones and Horn couldn’t be more unalike – Horn likes to run off at the mouth whilst Jones prefers silence – and it’s often their clashes of personality that create the humour. 

The story is fast moving and vividly described. There are some memorable bad guys, such as a man called The Hatchet and a Federal Colonel. Violent action comes frequently as The Widowmaker strives to fulfil his promise to Matilda. 

Like the first in series, I found this to be a hard to put down book that left me very eager to read the next Widowmaker Jones tale. Hopefully I’ll get to that very soon as the third book, Gunpowder Express, has finally been released.

Available in paperback, ebook and large print.