Thursday 30 April 2020

Trail to Nowhere

By Sheldon B. Cole
Piccadilly Publishing, December 2019
Originally published by The Cleveland Publishing Co., 1967

Blake Durant was on his way to Crimson Falls when he stopped by Jessica Gray’s ranch for water. Before he could move on again, the young widow’s son came galloping into the yard, badly beaten. Three men had stolen their two calves and beaten young Jess when he tried to stop them. Much as he knew he should just ride on. Blake knew he couldn’t. So, he stood shoulder to shoulder with the young widow and her son against a vicious land-baron with an army of gunnies on his payroll. And when the gunsmoke finally cleared, the winner would take all!

A few months ago I read the first entry in this series and really enjoyed it. Finally, I’ve found time to read the second. That first book only revealed a sketchy background to hero Blake Durant and I surmised that the author would probably reveal more as the series progressed. I was correct, as this tale divulges more about Durant’s background, which explains more about his character and hints at why he seems reluctant to act on the advances of the three female leads.

This is a gritty tale, full of hard men and tough women. Durant isn’t backwards in taking the fight to those who he determines are in the wrong, and he’ll do that through threats, fists or guns. These books aren’t long, around 90 pages in length, and the author manages to include a lot of action in his fast-paced, weaving plot. As expected, there isn’t any really graphic sex although sexual desire does play a part in the tale and the descriptions of this are tame, mainly left to the readers imagination. 

If you’re looking for a hard-hitting fast read then the books in this series are certainly worth considering. I’ll definitely be picking up the third real soon as this one proved to be just as enjoyable as the first.  

Sheldon B. Cole is a pseudonym for Australian author Desmond Robert Dunn.

Available from Piccadilly publishing as an ebook.

Trail to Nowhere has just been published in hardback by The Crowood Press under their Black Horse Western line.

Saturday 25 April 2020

Comanche Massacre

Number 2 of 10
By Chet Cunningham
Cover art by Bruce Minney
Leisure, 1987

The Comanches had been pushed too far by the corrupt government in Washington, driven to anger by the whiskey traders and formed into a deadly fighting force by cold-blooded gunrunners. They were killing mean and vowed to sweep across the territory like a cyclone – murdering, scalping, and raping….

The Pony Soldiers were a dirty, undisciplined rabble, but they were the only chance a thousand settlers had to see another sunrise. They were an unyielding rock in a sea of bloodshed, determined to fight to the last – each man swearing to kill ten Comanche before he died.

This story starts shortly after the events of the first book. Captain Colt Harding using his newly formed Lightning Troop to attack the Comanche whenever he can whilst also searching for his kidnapped daughter. Harding’s hate comes across strongly and he and his troopers’ willingness to kill their enemy sees them committing many similar atrocities to their foe. The opening massacre carried out by the Lightning Troop seeing them slaughter men, women and children without remorse. Seeing how Harding tries to justify this to himself makes for some interesting reading even though readers may not agree with his rationalizing. 

After the opening destruction of the Comanche camp the author mixes a number of different storylines. There’s further training for the Lightning Troop. A man-hungry young lady who doesn’t care if her conquests are married or not, nor for the consequences of her dalliances. Then there’s White Eagle’s band of Comanche and his quest to pregnant a wife with a son. They are also the Comanche who killed Harding’s family and stole his infant daughter, Sadie, now known as Laughing Golden Hair. A fair amount of the book deals with the Comanche way of life. Each of these plotlines slowly entwine and deadly confrontations are inevitable and much blood will be spilled, the death toll high as the soldiers face superior odds.

Chet Cunningham has written a decent, almost episodic, follow up to the first book. It’s very readable, contains some brutal action scenes and a little graphic sex. Harding and White Eagle’s characters are developed further as are other recurring individuals. Not all the storylines come to an end thus ensuring readers will want to pick up the next book, something I hope to do very soon.

I’ve stated this is the second book of ten, which is true of the original paperback series. Many years later Chet Cunningham continued the series, publishing three more stories as ebooks.

Monday 20 April 2020

Reunion in Hell

A Ralph Compton novel by Carlton Stowers
Cover art by Dennis Lyall
Berkley, April 2020

Brothers Clay and Cal Breckenridge, sons of a hardscrabble East Texas farmer, never did see eye to eye. Clay, the eldest, returned home after the Civil War to help his father run the family farm; Cal deserted his military post and disappeared into a new life with a new name. Everyone knew who was the good son and who was the bad.

Clay had almost forgotten his wayward brother until the morning a limping horse approached the farm with young Cal Breckenridge’s body slumped in the saddle, shot in the back.

Vowing to avenge Cal’s death, Clay sets off on a perilous journey across the West to find the man responsible and bring him to justice – and take down an outlaw enterprise in the process.

It was back in March 2016 when Signet stopped publishing Ralph Compton westerns and now Berkley has decided to re-launch the line. Starting in April 2020 they are putting out two brand new books each month, and like before, they are printing the real authors name on the cover of the books. Carlton Stowers had just started writing for the Compton line when publication of them came to a halt. In fact, one of Stowers two earlier books, Phantom Hill, was the last one to be published. This is my first time reading anything by him.

When this book was first announced it was called The Breckenridge Boys but as you can see it had a title change to Reunion in Hell, a much harder hitting sounding title. The flames, the pursued riders, that title, all give promise of a violent action western, so did it live up to my expectations? Not really, at least not the brutal action-packed content I’d hoped for. Having said that, the story did pull me in and I enjoyed reading it.

The book is split into four parts a prologue and an epilogue – the prologue explains Cal Breckenridge’s reasons for deserting the army in the last days of the Civil War. The first part covers Clay’s reactions to the death of his brother and his hunt for whoever killed him. Part two is a flashback that tells of what happened to Cal and the other two parts deal with Clay’s revenge and what comes after.

The story is filled with great characters and deals with how they all deal with the events triggered by Cal’s death. Relationships are formed whilst others break under strain. When stolen money goes missing the outlaw leader is driven by a destructive need to recover it and no-one is safe from his wrath. Throw some Comanche into the mix and you have a recipe for a lot of action. And there is plenty of that, particularly in the third part of the book. I’d have liked the action scenes to have been a little longer as they were often over in a flash, but that is just my taste.

The epilogue explains what happens to most of the main characters after the main plot is resolved and is a neat and fitting way to end this very readable story. 

As you’ll have noticed, the book cover carries a tag saying this is part of the Gunfighter series, which may confuse long time fans of Ralph Compton books if they’re expecting this to be a continuation of the older Compton books that carried this series title which were about Nathan Stone and then his son Wes Stone as it has nothing to do with them, and neither do any of the coming books that are also being published as part of the Gunfighter series. As far as I can tell they are all going to be stand-alone titles.

Amazon UK still have the paperback version listed under the title The Breckenridge Boys but the ebook is listed as Reunion in Hell.

Thursday 16 April 2020

The Way of the Gun

By Ralph Hayes
The Crowood Press, March 2018

Fired from the Provost ranch and humiliated in front of the whole bunkhouse, Duke Latham swears vengeance on the owner Maynard Provost. Pursuing a life of crime and violence at the head of a small gang of outlaws, six months later Latham kidnaps Provost’s beloved daughter Dulcie.

Provost’s ranch hands scour the country searching for the girl, but in vain. Then fate throws them, and Provost himself, into the path of notorious bounty hunter Wesley Sumner, known as ‘Certainty’ because of his countrywide reputation for never failing to find and kill his man. Sumner is persuaded by the desperate father to take up the search for Duke Latham and his kidnapped prisoner.

This is the second of three books to feature bounty hunter Certainty Sumner from author Ralph Hayes who wrote the popular Buffalo Hunter series that first appeared in 1971. Hayes would later add four more books to that series published under the Black Horse Western banner, the last of which appeared in 2016. The following year the first of the Certainty Sumner books was published.

Unfortunately for me I had already read the third book in this series so knew how part of this tale would end as the books do have some continuity to them. Having said that, it was great to be able to find out what had happened that lead to the relationships that are further developed in that third book. Each book can easily be read as a standalone novel as the author includes just enough background information to explain what has happened before, but readers yet to discover these stories may prefer to read them in order.

Certainty Sumner is an excellent lead character, although in this book he doesn’t appear for quite a while. He’s more than capable of taking on odds that should see him on the losing end but his ability with a gun seems unbeatable. In this story he meets someone who may just get through his tough exterior. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that this person is a young woman, the very one he has been hired to rescue.

Duke Latham is another well-drawn character, who’s driven by hate. An all consuming desire to hurt Maynard Provost in the worst way possible, something that all his gang members don’t quite agree with and this provides some conflict of interests within the outlaw gang that you can never be sure of how it will turn out.

Dulcie’s infatuation with her rescuer adds another element to the tale and you have to wonder if Sumner will be able to resist her charms. 

Mix all this together and you have another great read from Ralph Hayes that fans of his work, or western readers in general, will not want to miss. 

Saturday 11 April 2020

Tin Star

A Ralph Compton novel by Jackson Lowry
Cover art by Chris McGrath
Berkley, April 2020

Luke Hadley never imagined he would be left for dead with a chest full of bullets on the day of his wedding. All he wanted to was tend to his farm with his new wife, Audrey, and begin their lives together.

But when the Rhoades hang crashes his wedding party, they wreak havoc and abduct his bride, leaving the lifeless bodies of his guests. Luke has only a sparse trail of clues to follow, but with help from a phony Pinkerton bade and a mysterious woman with many skills – including breaking him out of jail – he finally rides down those who’ve wronged him….

It’s been four years since the last Compton novel appeared on the shelves. The line came to an end at the time many publishers ceased producing westerns. Now Berkley have decided to bring the Compton books back, the first two appearing in April 2020 and two more have been announced for each and every month of this year and into the next. As many western fans will know, Ralph Compton passed away in September 1998, but with his books being so successful the publisher decided to keep his name alive by putting more new novels out under his name but written by a variety of other authors, their names also printed on the covers. Berkley have continued with this trend. Looking at the coming books they have been written by old favourites and some newer western authors, all promising some great reads for fans of the western genre.

Tin Star has been written by Jackson Lowry. He’s not a new author to me, although I have only read a short story by him and that was sometime ago, so I was keen to try a full-length novel by him.

Lowry has created a wonderful cast of characters for this book, each having their own personalities which is very evident in the three main female roles in his story. The hero, Luke Hadley, is also an engaging character, a farmer who is totally out of his depth tracking, and fighting, seasoned outlaws. Hadley’s ability with a gun is poor and he mostly misses his target. He’s also prone to charging into situations with thinking the consequences through and takes some heavy punishment for his rashness.

The story begins like many other westerns that have a man seeking vengeance against those who wronged him. The author adds an element of mystery in the unknown woman who appears to be helping him and this throws up the question of why? Lowry also has a couple of surprises waiting in store, one that proves to be a shocking revelation that proves to be a great twist to the plot, one I didn’t see coming.

Due to that great twist I don’t want to reveal anymore of the plotline here so as not to spoil the book for those planning to read it. What I will say is I really enjoyed reading this story and will be keen to read Jackson Lowry’s next Compton’s – two more have been announced, Never Bet Against a Bullet in June and The Lost Banshee Mine in July. 

Tuesday 7 April 2020

The Darkest Winter

number 3 of 4 to date
By William W. Johnstone with J.A. Johnstone
Pinnacle, August 2017

Exiled from the Smokey Mountains for gunning down a man in self-defence, Breck Wallace tries to make a new home in St. Louis, even tries his hand at romance, but some men are too wild to settle down. Breck is soon back on the trail, where a vicious gang of trappers, after his goods, picks up his scent and begins to dog his every step, until Breck’s only choice is to bed down for the winter with a tribe of friendly Indians. In the frigid, brutal cold of a Rocky Mountain winter, he hopes to find peace . . . but death is not done with Breck Wallace. When Breck’s partner, Morgan, is left for dead, the frontiersman must ride deeper into the mountains than he has ever gone before. Peace be damned. The blood with flow until vengeance is his alone . . . 

Book two in this excellent series ended with Breck Wallace heading for a new life which included getting married. It soon becomes apparent that this happy day never happened and Breck is unwilling to discuss why, even with his best friend Morgan. The reason is eventually explained, told in a heart-rendering flashback sequence. The rest of this story introduces us to some terrific new characters that will cause Breck’s actions to be driven by an all-consuming blood-lust.

The book is packed with violent encounters for Breck, both with rival trappers and Indians. But it’s the trappers who are his main adversaries and this leads to a deadly trap being set that Breck willingly charges into with no regard to his well-being, just that he satisfies his need for revenge.

Strangely, the book’s blurb isn’t correct when it tells of Breck’s reason for vengeance. He had no idea that Morgan has been attacked and is presumed dead. This isn’t revealed to Breck until after the final brutal battle with the trappers. I’m not going to say why Break goes on the rampage as that will spoil one of the main storylines for readers or tell here of Morgan’s fate.

This author really does know how to spin a gripping yarn. The pace of the book is relentless and the majority of the chapters end on cliff-hangers, making it almost impossible to put this book down before finding out what happens next. And that is exactly how one of the story threads ends too, promising of things to come in the next book that guarantees I’ll be reading it very, very soon.