Monday 30 November 2020


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. 


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


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


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


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


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.