Saturday, 12 June 2021

THE LOST BAND

THE SPANISH BIT SAGA
Book 26 of 29 + three special editions
By Don Coldsmith
Cover art by Tom Hall
Bantam, April 2001

For the Forest Band of the People, summer is a peaceful time of hunting and gathering. But when a band of Shaved-heads brutally attack, the People’s women and children are carried off into slavery. Most accept their fate, but one of the captives, the courageous widow White Moon, vows to keep the traditions of the band alive until the day the survivors can be reunited with the People. Her dream will inspire many of her tribe as they struggle to preserve their culture: a young hunter and his loyal wife, a troubled warrior on a vision quest, an aged storyteller, a wily trader – until at last the special child is born who is destined to lead the Forest Band back to its rightful place in the Great Council of the People.

A sweeping story that covers generations, even reaching further back into the past than before the first book in the series began as Don Coldsmith finally reveals what happened to the band that should occupy the empty place at the Council fire.

Coldsmith divides the book into four parts, each following a different person as the survivors of the Forest Band’s ancestors try to keep traditions alive, in secret as they often don’t know who they can trust, especially those originally taken by the Shaved-heads. Even though many want to find the People themselves there are a variety of reasons they cannot do so; the birth of children and not knowing where to find the People being a couple of those problems.

The lives of the four main characters, White Moon, Striker, Stumbling Bear and Story Keeper, are fascinating to read. Each is very different to the others but linked by the desire to keep their bloodline hidden and to be reunited with the People. I always thought Coldsmith was extremely good at character studies and they are as strong in this tale as they are in any other book in this tremendous series. Hope, expectation, wonder, happiness, love, fear, anguish, hate and sadness, mould the lead characters as they grow. As a reader I often found myself sharing their emotions as I was captured by the magic of their decades long quest.

Right at the beginning of the book Coldsmith lets the reader know that the Forest Band will return to the People, and the scenes of amazement when Story Keeper arrives at the Sun Dance and announces who he is captured my imagination immediately and I was hooked. I just had to discover what had happened to the Forest Band and the story proved to be just as good as I hoped it would be.

Monday, 31 May 2021

INFERNO


THE LONER 12
By J.A. Johnstone
Pinnacle, January 2012

Drifting into New Mexico Territory, Conrad Morgan, The Loner is turning his back on the past. Then he rides up on a wagon train of pioneers – and straight into an inferno of death and revenge…

Led by a charismatic fool, a group of pioneers are crossing Apache territory, blind to the danger around them. The Loner would ignore the passing pilgrims of it weren’t for a beautiful woman. Then, when he turns his back, the Apache strike. The night is lit with an unholy fire. Mutilated bodies are left behind. And four women are taken prisoner across the Rio Grande…

To go where no man should go alone, The Loner joins a brutal band of scalp hunters. His plan to strike before a notorious Mexican slaver gets a hold of the captive women. But the first shots The Loner fires might be the easy ones. Getting out of Mexico alive – with the two bands of enemies behind him and miles of desert straight ahead – will be the fight of The Loner’s life…

You’ll see on the book cover that this entry in The Loner series is announced as number eleven. Pinnacle dropped a clanger here, as the previous novel is also book eleven, which is why I have called this one book twelve. The next book in the series is correctly billed as number thirteen.

After a superb opening chapter, that sees The Loner telling a group of gunmen who are about to attack a saloon full of other men to wait an hour or so until he has left town as he doesn’t want his horse catching a stray bullet, in a tense, amusing scene that reminded me of something you’d see in a spaghetti western, I was hooked and didn’t want to put the book down.

The Loner spends a little time reflecting on past events that have him wanting to dispose of his former life completely. He is determined to banish Conrad Browning into the dark depths of history and become Kid Morgan permanently, as he drifts aimlessly across the West. It’s whilst doing this, that he rides to intercept the wagon train out of curiosity. He then accepts a job to help guide them through Apache territory. Once they safely reach their destination, the Loner parts company from them. It’s now that the action really mounts and the book becomes one long, violent, chase, or should that be two chases? One to try and free the women from the Apache and then another as Kid Morgan attempts to get the ladies back to America.

The story is filled will great characters, especially the scalp hunters, men that may turn on The Loner at any moment. They don’t straight away as they need his gun as even with The Kid riding with them, they are massively outnumbered by the Apache, the odds being about ten to one. If you want a book with a high death toll, then this one surely fits the bill.

Getting the women away from their captors makes for some dramatic reading as does the race for the border as the Rurales give chase, leading to an excellent bloody final showdown that brings the story to a terrific end.

This was an extremely enjoyable book that left me wanting to read the next one as soon as possible.

Thursday, 27 May 2021

COVER GALLERY: WILD BILL

WILD BILL
By Judd Cole

A series of eight books published by Leisure Books from February 1999 to May 2001. Judd Cole is a pseudonym used by John Edward Ames. The books weren't numbered, but are shown in the correct order. 



Marshal, gunfighter, stage driver, and scout, Wild Bill Hickok had a legend as big and untamed as the West itself. No man was as good with a gun as Wild Bill, and few men used one as often. From Abilene to Deadwood, his name was known by all – and feared by many. That’s why he was hired by Allan Pinkerton’s new detective agency to protect an eccentric inventor on a train ride through the worst badlands of the West. With hired thugs out to kill him and angry Sioux out for his scalp, Bill knew he had his work cut out for him. But even if he survived that, he still had a worse danger to face – a jealous Calamity Jane.



Wild Bill Hickok was a legend in his own lifetime. Wherever he went his reputation with a gun proceeded him – along with an open bounty for $10,000 for his arrest. But Wild Bill was working for the law when he went to Kincaid County, Wyoming. Hundreds of prime longhorn cattle had been poisoned, and Bill was sent by the Pinkerton Agency to get to the bottom of it. He didn’t expect to land smack dab in the middle of an all-out range war, but that’s exactly what happened. With the powerful Cattleman’s Association on one side and land-grant settlers on the other, Wild Bill knew that before this war was over, he’d be testing his gun skills to the limit if he hoped to get out alive.



Even among the toughest hardcases in the West, Abilene, Kansas, was known as pure hell on earth, a wide-open wild town that was reined in only briefly – when Wild Bill Hickok was its sheriff. Ever since he rode out of Abilene, Wild Bill had never wanted to go back. But now he had to. A lot of people were dying there. The Kansas Pacific Railroad was laying track where somebody obviously didn’t want it, and bullets were flying thick and furious. The Pinkerton Agency needed their best operative to get to the bottom of it and that meant only one man – Wild Bill. But as hard as it was for Wild Bill to go back, he knew there was a bigger challenge ahead of him – staying alive once he got there.



When the Danford Gang terrorized Arizona, no one – not the U.S. Marshals or the Army – could bring them in. It took Wild Bill Hickok to do that. Only Wild Bill was able to put them in the Yuma Territorial Prison, where they belonged. But the prison couldn’t hold them. The venomous gang escaped and took the Governor’s wife and her sister as hostages. So, it was up to Wild Bill to track them down and do the impossible – capture the Danford Gang a second time. Only this time, the gang’s ruthless leader, Fargo Danford, had a burning need for revenge against the one man who had put him and the gang in prison in the first place, a need as hot as the scorching Sonora sun . . . and as deadly as the desert trap he had set for Bill. 



All Wild Bill Hickok wanted as he set out for Santa Fe was a place to lie low for a while, to get away from the fame and notoriety that followed him wherever he went. But fame wasn’t the only thing that stuck to Wild Bill like glue. He’d made a lot of enemies over the years. And one of them, Frank Tutt, has waited a good long time to taste sweet revenge. He knew he was ready for him . . . ready and eager to make him pay. But he was in no hurry. After all these years he could wait a bit longer, long enough to play a little game with his legendary target. Oh, he would kill Wild Bill, all right – but first he wanted Bill to know what it was like to live in Hell.



Deadwood, South Dakota, held a special place in the pantheon of frontier hellholes. Even to a man like Wild Bill Hickok, that was the toughest town in the West, a town where only the strongest and most daring could survive. But that’s exactly where Wild Bill had to go, whether he liked it or not. He was sent there by the Pinkerton Agency to investigate reports of stealing at a particularly dangerous mine, dangerous even by Deadwood standards. The mine guarded by Regulators, vicious hardcases who made sure no one interfered with their plans. Three Pinkerton men had already been killed when they went up against the Regulators – and Bill was determined not to be the fourth.



The U.S. Army needed help. Someone seemed intent on driving the Sioux off their reservation. Someone was slaughtering their animals and poisoning their water. Were these the acts of renegades, like some thought, or something far worse? Whoever was responsible, the army knew it wouldn’t be long before the Sioux fought back and left the reservation for the war path. The army also knew there was only one man who could restore peace before all hell broke loose – Wild Bill Hickok. Bill had to ride point on a dangerous trail drive to bring cattle to the reservation before the simmering Sioux were pushed too far. But this was no ordinary cattle drive – it was a trip through pure hell, with enemies on every side.



Leland Langford, owner of the Overland Stage and Freighting Company, had a dangerous but essential job and he knew there was only one man for it, the legendary Wild Bill Hickok. Leland knew that only Wild Bill could ensure that an important gold shipment travel safely by stage from the Black Hills to the U.S. Mint in Denver. With Wild Bill as driver, the stage had to make it through. But there was an even more important part of Bill’s mission. Bill had to break up one of the cleverest and most vicious rings of thieves ever to terrorize the West, and send one message loud and clear: Steal gold from the U.S. Treasury and you’ll face the harshest law in the West . . . gun law.


Two artists fronted the books, Ken Laager’s work appeared on book one, and probably book seven – I’ve not been able to confirm the later. All the other books used paintings by Shannon Stirnweis – book eight isn’t confirmed though.

Sunday, 23 May 2021

COTTONMOUTH

 

THE GUNS OF SAMUEL PRITCHARD 2
By Sean Lynch
Pinnacle, February 2020

1874. After losing his innocence in the Civil War and risking his life as a Texas Ranger, Samuel Pritchard has finally settled into a peaceful life in his hometown of Atherton, Missouri. As marshal, he hopes to put his bloody past behind him. To see his sister marry his lifelong friend. To find a wife and raise a family. For the first time in his life, Pritchard isn’t gunning for anyone – and no one is gunning for him. Or so he thinks. Strangers have arrived in Atherton. Hard-eyed men with guns. Someone has placed a bounty on Pritchard’s head: $10,000 in gold, deposited anonymously in Wells Fargo bank, payable to anyone who puts the legendary pistolero in a pine box. . . . 

Although this is a self-contained novel, and if you haven’t already done so, then I’d suggest reading the previous book, Death Rattle, first, as a number of characters return from that book and some of the events from that story are mentioned too. Sean Lynch does include enough background in this tale to explain what has happened before so it isn’t essential you read that earlier book first but it may enhance your enjoyment of this one if you do so.

Once the bounty hunters start arriving in town, this book becomes a tale of almost non-stop action. Fast, violent gunplay that the innocent become victims of too. Pritchard leaves town in an attempt to draw the gunmen away from Atherton as he tries to discover just who put the bounty on his head and why. Not all the troubles leave town though, and those left behind find themselves in deadly peril and the townsfolk find themselves praying that Pritchard will return in time to help them face this threat.

Sean Lynch weaves a tangled web of deceit, mystery and danger that often explodes in bloody exchanges of lead. The author has created a wonderful set of memorable characters for this tale, both good and bad, that will have you rooting for them or hoping for their swift demise. Lynch also includes humorous moments, mainly in dialogue, that fit easily and naturally into the swift flow of the prose. 

Like the first book, I found Cottonmouth to be a thoroughly entertaining read. The next in the series, The Blood of Innocents, is due to be published in August and the fourth book, The Trainwreckers, will follow in October and I’m really looking forward to reading them both.


Tuesday, 18 May 2021

THRILLING WESTERN October 1953



THRILLING WESTERN OCTOBER 1953
British Edition, Vol. 5, No. 10

This edition contains three novelettes and four short stories, all of which appeared in the earlier American publication of Thrilling Western dated March, 1949. The same cover art was used for both.

The British edition begins with the novelet Haunted Forest by Bradford Scott and is one of sixty-five plus tales that appeared in the pulps starring Texas Ranger Walt Slade who is also known as El Halcon (The Hawk). Slade keeps his identity a secret as he takes on a spectre in a fight for lumber lands. As usual Slade is really good at figuring out what is going on and solves everything with ease. This tale was filled with action, although it was slowed down a little when Slade explained how a hydraulic ram worked which I thought went on too long and became tedious. This was an entertaining story as have been other Walt Slade tales I've read. Bradford Scott is a pseudonym used by A. Leslie Scott.

Next came the short story Red Creek Showdown by Peter B. Germano writing as Barry Cord. Lin Peters has to face death as he tries to figure out who’s trying to stop him driving a stage and why. Like in many tales by Germano this one has a couple of neat twists, although the main reason as to why the culprit wants to stop the stage isn’t explained, it’s just left for the reader to decide. Very enjoyable, but could leave some readers frustrated. 

Novelet Six-Guns Sing at Night by John H. Latham is the third tale. I believe this is the authors real name and that he also wrote for the pulps as Tom Brand too.  Peter Weaver blames the death of his dad on Big Joe Brady but has never been able to prove it. The truth comes out when rancher Lon Gentry springs a trap to capture Brady who he accuses of being a rustler. There are some nice moments of humour in this tale and this was my favourite story in this issue and it left me eager to try some more of Latham’s work.


Trouble Talk takes just over three pages to tell. It’s written by Tex Holt, which is a house name, and I’ve not been able to discover who the real author is. This is the story of Sheriff Bill Lowell of Cottonwood, a man who didn’t think he needed a deputy as he hunts for a killer known as the Gray Ghost. It has a twist ending that was easy to work out, but the tale did hold my attention throughout.

Another short story follows, this one being Death Grins in Moonlight by Dupree Poe. Poe is the authors real name and he also wrote pulp tales as Roger Rhodes. This is the most gruesome story of all those in this issue and I was quite surprised by how graphic it was, especially during a vicious attack on a wolf. This animal will eventually get its revenge as it helps bring a scoundrel to retribution. Perhaps a little far fetched but it certainly made for an excellent ending that left me curious to try more of Poe’s tales.

The Doordevil of Humpwallips is a novelet by Sly MacDowell, which is the author’s real name, and it stars his series characters Swap and Whopper in a whole load of trouble as they get tagged as oyster pirates. I don’t think I’ve read any other stories about oyster rustling, so that added an interesting angle to the tale. The setting is a bit more modern than the other stories as people drive trucks whilst others ride horses. There’s some fun humour sprinkled throughout as Swap and Whooper try to talk themselves out of trouble only to dig themselves in deeper. I won’t be rushing to read another tale about Swap and Whooper but I won’t skip another story when I pick up another pulp that contains a tale featuring them. As far as I can tell they appeared in 73 pulp tales and I have four or five more in my collection.

The final tale is the short story Six-Gun Jamboree by Lew Martin. This is a pseudonym shared by Norman A. Daniels and Donald Bayne Hobart, but I’ve not been able to discover which of them wrote this. Lasting one and a half pages there’s not a great deal of plot to get your teeth into as two life-long friends suddenly become foes over a lady. 

Overall, I found this to be a very readable issue of Thrilling Western that has introduced me to a couple of authors I’d like to read more of. 


Friday, 14 May 2021

THE FEUD AT BROKEN MAN


By Frank Callan
The Crowood Press, January 2018

Lord Harry Lacey, the youngest son of an English aristocrat, has run away from debts at home to start a new life in America, using his skills with horses and guns to make a living as he journeys west to Colorado. Then he decides to give up his guns and start a new life as a public speaker in the new settlements where he believes people will be keen to experience culture.

However, arriving in Broken Man en route for Denver, Lord Harry witnesses a young girl being badly wounded in crossfire and quickly learns that the town is being torn apart by a feud. Seeing an opportunity to do something useful, he tries to influence local leaders to resolve the situation – and finds that some disputes can only be settled with a gun.

Frank Callan’s first Black Horse Western is filled with interesting people that play out the events in this slow burning tale. There’s not a lot of gunplay, something that should be expected as the main character, Lord Harry Lacey, doesn’t carry a gun. Violence is simmering under the surface though as the plot develops and backstories are revealed.

There’s a lot of bickering and internal politics, especially from the group of people who’ve brought Lacey to town to speak to them. Mixed into this is the main theme of revenge that the title of the book refers too. It isn’t long before someone else has their own desire for vengeance lit. Jealousy also fuels others, pushing them towards violence. Murder soon has the townsfolk reacting in anger. All these plot threads soon entwine as the author moves the story forward to it’s inevitable conclusion which see an unarmed Lacey trying to keep the townsfolk safe from a small army intent on killing. The final gunfight didn’t play out as I expected, although I did guess how it might end for one of the major players. 

The author certainly has his own style, and the story had a very English feel at times, mainly due to words and phrases used. I found the book to be an easy, quick read that held my attention but I would have liked a bit more action to satisfy my wants from western fiction. 


Friday, 30 April 2021

WOLF STOCKBURN, RAILROAD DETECTIVE


By Max O’Hara
Pinnacle, April 2021

The newspapers call them the Devil’s Horde. A well-oiled team of cutthroat bandits who terrorize the Northern Pacific Railway on route to the coast through Dakota Territory. They dynamite the tracks, blow open the express car door, murder the crewmen, rob the passengers, and empty the safe of gold and cash. If Wells Fargo & Company can’t find a way to stop the Devil’s Horde, there’ll be hell to pay . . . 

Enter Wolf Stockburn. A tall, rangy Scotsman who dresses like a gentleman but shoots like a cowboy, Stockburn learned his craft from a legendary gunfighter – and honed his skills as a Pony Express rider through hostile Indian country. Now the veteran Wells Fargo detective will ride the rails from coast to coast. Make sure the train and its passengers reach their destination safely. And take down the Devil’s Horde – one by one, bullet by bullet – the devil be damned . . . 

The author uses a very different method of telling the story in the opening chapter that is extremely effective and memorable. After that the tale is told in a more traditional way. O’Hara has created a terrific cast for this opening book in a new series, not least the title character. Wolf Stockburn is tough and determined and haunted by a dark past that is revealed throughout the tale. We also discover that he has been searching for his missing sister and has been doing so for years. Two women give Wolf plenty of trouble, their instant dislike of each other providing some cracking dialogue. Both have important roles to play in the outcome of this excellent read.

The story builds well, captivating the reader easily. Plot twists and cliff-hanger chapter endings ensure the reader will want to keep turning the pages. There’s plenty of action, often quite graphic in description. There’s also a race against time to stop a train robbery and its crew and passengers from death that makes for gripping reading. Over all of this hangs the question of who are the Devil’s Horde? 

The ending is tense, bloody and exciting, bringing the story to a satisfying close. I was left eager to read the next volume in the series, Hell’s Jaw Pass, that is due to be published in August, 2021. On the strength of this book, let’s hope that the Wolf Stockburn series is in for a long run.

Friday, 23 April 2021

McALLISTER MAKES WAR


By Matt Chisholm
Cover art by Gino D’Achille
Panther Books, 1969

Rem McAllister was the embodiment of his turbulent age. He made his own law. He carried out his own justice. He killed his own snakes. He was a legend in his lifetime.

Vengeance – for his friend, shot down right in front of his eyes. Vengeance – against the toughest, cruellest, all-fired meanest operator the West had ever seen, a man who took what he wanted just whenever he wanted it. Gold, other men’s lives, control of the whole damn’ town, he grabbed it all.

Rem McAllister set out to avenge his friend and clean up the town. All he had to fight with were his two fists, his gun – and his courage. But these were weapons McAllister knew how to handle better than any man around…

McAllister is probably the most successful character Matt Chisholm created. McAllister starred in 39 books, a couple of them being put out under a different pseudonym, Cy James. Those books were eventually re-written and put out under the Matt Chisholm name with different titles. This happened to a couple of the Chisholm McAllister books too. McAllister made brief appearances in other westerns by this author as well. So successful were the McAllister books that they were reprinted time and again. The book featured in this review was reprinted in the same year it was originally published.

Ever since reading my first McAllister book I’ve been a massive fan. Not just of McAllister but of the authors work overall. The authors real name is Peter Watts and he wrote westerns under the pennames of Matt Chisholm, Cy James and Luke Jones. He had over 100 westerns published. I’m pleased to say I own every one of them.

McAllister Makes War is a great entry in the series. As is usually the case with this authors work, this book is packed with action. Tough men, and women, battle it out with words, fists and guns. The plot doesn’t offer any surprises as it moves forward at an extremely rapid pace. McAllister believes he knows who’s responsible for the death of his friend but needs proof. Whenever he arrests someone he hopes to persuade to tell the truth they meet a violent death. Even being locked up in jail doesn’t save them. Frustrated, McAllister pushes hard, alienating himself to many, but that doesn’t bother him, he needs the guilty to make a mistake. It isn’t long before gunmen are set on McAllister and the town erupts in all out war.

If you like fast-moving westerns with a tough gritty edge then this book, indeed this series, is certainly worth looking for. One thing for sure, I won’t be letting too much time pass before I grab another off my shelves. 

Tuesday, 20 April 2021

RENEGADE TRAIL


CODY’S LAW
Number 6 of 12
By Matthew S. Hart
Cover art by Steve Assel
Bantam, August 1992

Many a time Cody has eaten the alkali dust of West Texas while riding on the trail of a hardcase killer…but never in pursuit of a sworn comrade. Barry Whittingham used to be a Ranger. Now he’s a lawless gun. Spreading hot lead with a heavy hand, the onetime Ranger heads a gang of desperadoes preying on the army supply train running through the burgeoning territory. 

Cody’s the manhunter with the guts for the job, but his former friend-turned-outlaw might recognize him – so Cody has to team up with a straight-shooting young firebrand who will handle the undercover work. But when the inexperienced Ranger becomes involved in a holdup and Whittingham gang abducts a lovely young innocent, Cody must step in…to prevent a wide-open bloodbath and a war on the open range.

So far, Cody’s Law has proved to be a very entertaining series, and this book more than matches those that have gone before it in terms of quality and enjoyment. The storyline is gripping and has plenty of plot twists. The book is filled with excellent dialogue and frantic action scenes. 

The inexperienced Ranger, Seth Williams, soon finds himself in all kinds of trouble and you do have to wonder if he’ll survive. There are also two young women who have major roles to play and their involvement adds to some of the mystery elements of the tale and will have a big impact on how things end. Whittingham proves to be a terrific adversary who is hoping to leaving his outlaw life behind him, but unknown to him, some of his men are plotting against him. 

Matthew S. Hart is a pseudonym, and like all the books before, this one was written by James Reasoner, and as is expected from this author Renegade Trail proved to be a terrific read that was difficult to put down as I just had to find out what happened next. 

Wednesday, 31 March 2021

SOLDIER'S SONG


CANYON O’GRADY
Number 11 of 25
By Jon Sharpe
Cover art by Jerome Podwil
Signet, January 1991

Canyon O’Grady was wearing the uniform of a full-bird colonel. This masquerade was part of the big redheaded U.S. special agent’s mission to find out what was going wrong with the Fourth Cavalry Regiment in Texas.

Someone was giving the rampaging Comanches government-issue guns…somebody was giving the troopers a bloody taste of hell…and somebody was going to pay full price for murder when O’Grady found his target and pulled the trigger….

The gun problem is just one plot thread in this fast-paced read. Another being the health of the Colonel Colton, commander of Fort Johnson and the Fourth Cavalry – O’Grady’s assignment being to discover if Colton is fit enough to remain in charge. Colton has ambitions to become a General, and believes he has to prove himself by leading his men into battle to make this happen. Unfortunately, he’s been making some rash decisions or none at all, and these could prove to be fatal to both him and his men.

There are some terrific battle sequences in this tale, both with the Comanches and the gunrunners. Most of the story, though, revolves around O’Grady’s investigation, his attempts to discover who is selling the army’s guns and also trying to find out who is plotting to assassinate Colonel Colton. The Canyon O’Grady series falls under the banner of adult westerns, so there are also some explicit sex scenes too. There is little in the way of surprises as the author makes the reader aware of who is doing what but following O’Grady’s struggle to unveil the truth makes for entertaining reading.

Jon Sharpe is a pseudonym behind which a number of authors wrote, in this case I believe the author to be Chet Cunningham. If you’re a fan of Cunningham’s Pony Soldiers series you might be interested to know that when O’Grady is discussing tactics with Colton, he describes the exact method that Lightning Troop use in the Pony Soldier books.

Saturday, 27 March 2021

COVER GALLERY: McMASTERS

McMASTERS
by Lee Morgan

Armed with a custom-built .70 caliber rifle, he is the law. To his friends, he is many things – a fighter, a lover, a legend. To his enemies, he is only one thing – the most dangerous man they have ever known…

Lee Morgan is a pseudonym behind which a variety of well-known western authors wrote this adult series. The first book being written by Giles Tippette, the second by James Reasoner, the third by Robert Vaughan, the fourth and sixth by David Jacobs. The fifth book by either Robert Vaughan or Charlie McDade. The first book appeared in June 1995 and the last in April 1996.



Once upon a time, Boyd McMasters had everything a man could want: a pretty young wife, a profitable working ranch, and a sheriff’s badge in West Texas. But that man died when a band of ruthless outlaws slaughtered his wife. The new McMasters is an angry man, and no amount of whiskey or women can change that fact. He stumbles into Oklahoma City, a filthy, ragged shadow of his old self. In desperation, Boyd’s older brother enlists him in the Cattleman’s Protective Association – giving him authority over local lawmen and, if necessary, a license to kill. And as Captain Boyd McMasters sets out to deal the West his own brand of justice, a legend is born…



When the Cattleman Protective Association’s Captain Boyd McMasters finds out that his next job is a case of cattle rustling in the little town of Silver Creek, Texas, he figures he’s in for a vacation. He couldn’t have been more wrong. The town’s biggest ranch, the JF Connected, is missing four head, wouldn’t be a big deal if they weren’t four prize bulls, worth about twenty thousand dollars. That’s a mighty big chunk of change – enough to kill for, it seems, because someone keeps drawing a bead on McMasters every time he goes into town. But when McMasters figures out who’s behind it all, he’s gonna send them on a vacation…a permanent one.



The Cattleman’s Protective Association’s Captain Boyd McMasters is through taking prisoners. He already put Curly and Frank Dobbs behind bars in New Mexico for murder and rape. But they broke out of jail and killed a deputy. Then they robbed an Arizona bank of over fifty thousand dollars and kidnapped a young lady and her five-year-old daughter. Luckily, the bank is one of the Association’s clients, and that gives McMasters the authority to hunt them down. And when “Bullet Boyd” catches up with the Dobbs boys, he’s gonna put them somewhere they’ll never escape from – their graves…



Smoke Tree, Arizona, is a dusty little town where people live in fear. A cutthroat gang of cattle rustlers called the Rock House Boys runs roughshod over the local ranchers. They steal at will, and anyone who fights back ends up full of lead. The U.S. marshal and the town sheriff are either too yellow or too busy fighting each other to do anything about it. That’s why ranchers have the Cattleman’s Protective Association to help them. And that’s why the Association hires men like Captain Boyd McMasters to solve its problems. McMasters has decided that the Rock House Boys are through, and that cattle rustling is finished in Smoke Tree. He’s made his decision – now he’s gonna enforce it. And anyone who disagrees can take it up with his rifle, Big .70…



The Nueces Strip, down near the Rio Grande, is home to a bunch of cutthroats who put fear into the Rangers, the marshals, and even their own mamas. It’s also home to a hardworking rancher named Ben Allison who losing thousands of beeves to moonlight rustlers. Sent in by the Cattleman’s Protective Association, Captain Boyd McMasters gets a tip from two beautiful señoritas. Word is it ain’t the usual Strip debris that’s robbing Allison…it’s a powerful honcho across the border. This midnight cowboy has big pesos and mean hombres in his employ, but McMasters has the mighty .70 working for him…



Amid the beauty of Montana’s Blue Pine Hills is a horrifying display of human nature’s ugly side. A twisted bunch called the Hell Killers has turned the locals yellower than a mountain man’s teeth, and for good reason. Not entertained by rustling cattle, the gang kills and mutilates them before moving on to the ranchers, their families, and anyone else they come across. The Cattleman’s Protective Association is fighting back – they’ve put cash bounties on the Hell Killers’ heads, and have sent McMasters to collect. And he and his Big .70 are gonna see to it that they visit Hell real soon…


Cover art by Morgan Kane, who signed his name as M. Kane. This series artwork borrows heavily from the style fronting romance books at the same time these were published. The man not wearing a shirt was a requirement. Whether these covers shout western is for you to decide. Interesting to note that the books carry a banner stating McMasters comes from the creators of Longarm and that Morgan Kane painted the first covers for that series too.

Thursday, 11 March 2021

GUN LAW


By Ralph Cotton
Signet, April 2011

On the trail of four wanted men, Sherman Dahl, the hired gun known as the Teacher, finds his prey in the town of Kindred, New Mexico Territory. He kills all four in a saloon gunfight that leaves him wounded and in the care of soiled dove Sara Cayes.

Marshal Emerson Kern was hired to keep the peace in Kindred, and he doesn’t want Dahl’s kind in his town. His “gun law” forbids folks from carrying firearms, but Kern’s edict is far from altruistic. No one can stop Kern and his “deputies” – the only armed men in town – from extorting every cent the townsfolk earn. No one except Sherman Dahl…

This is the third book to feature Sherman Dahl, but in this tale, he doesn’t have a very large role to play, in fact he doesn’t appear that much at all. The story mainly follows Marshal Kern as he recruits more gunmen as his deputies and their attempts to enforce the gun law needed so they can begin to extort the townsfolk. Sounds like a simple plan, but the author has a few surprises in store as the various groups of “deputies” plot against each other. Then there are some townsfolk who begin to suspect the ulterior motives behind the gun law and refuse to hand over their weapons.

Murder, gunplay, threats and trying to convince the “lawmen” that someone is dead, all add twists and turns to this fast-moving tale. Dahl doesn’t want to get involved, wants to ride away since he’s completed his mission to take down the four wanted men. Soon though, he wants nothing more than to deal out his form of justice to three of Kern’s men when he discovers what they’ve done to a newly married couple and because of this he finds himself caught up in the town’s troubles.

Ralph Cotton has written another excellent book, a story that takes a hold of the reader from the opening scenes and demands you keep reading to find out how everything is resolved.

After the final gunsmoke has cleared I got the feeling this will be the last time Sherman Dahl will ride as his life as a fighting man seems to come to an end. Shame, as I found him to be an interesting and compelling character and his use of a bulletproof vest made him a little bit different to the majority of western heroes. 


Sunday, 28 February 2021

THE RUNNING IRON SAMARITANS


By Barry Cord
Ace, May 1973

Wandering cowmen, Long Jim and Windy befriend troubled cripple Lincoln Fervans and his wife at the V Bar Ranch. Lincoln has received warning notes telling him to leave his spread. Fearful for his and his wife’s life Fervans sells the ranch to Long Jim and Windy and now they become involved in the mystery of "Miguel" whose name is on the note. The men must soon draw on every reserve they have to track down a killer - to save their lives and see the ranch is returned to its rightful owners.

Barry Cord packs a lot into the pages of this story. There’s an excellent mix of characters, all of whom may have hidden agendas, even the Sheriff. And what of the Englishman known as Tally Ho, does he know what his ranch hands are doing and are they working under his orders? Then there’s the ghost of Miguel who seems to have come back from the dead to reclaim the V Bar Ranch, and is pretty handy with a rifle. 

I’ve read many books by Barry Cord and have enjoyed them all and this story is as equally entertaining, perhaps not up there with his best, but very good nonetheless. The story is a little more straightforward than a lot of Cord’s work. It doesn’t contain as much mystery as others or that many twists to the plot. In fact, the reader knows just about everything that is going on throughout, although Cord does spring one or two surprises later in the tale.

This is also the third story I’ve read about Long Jim and Windy and I don’t believe there are any more. It certainly doesn’t matter what order they are read in. In fact, I’m not even sure in what order they were originally published. This one is part of an Ace Double and is backed with another Long Jim and Windy tale, Desert Knights, that has the same publishing date. The other book, The Coffin Fillers, I’ve seen listed as being first published both in 1972, 1973 and 1974. I do think it’s a shame Cord didn’t write anymore books about Long Jim and Windy as they are a couple of likeable rogues. 

Barry Cord is a pseudonym used by Peter Germano and for me he is certainly an author worth checking out.

Monday, 22 February 2021

THE COMSTOCK CAMELS


THE DERBY MAN 11
By Gary McCarthy
Doubleday, April 1993

Darby Buckingham, the famous writer known to his legions of dime novel fans as the Derby Man, and his fiancée, Dolly Beavers, run into a pack of unusual beasts on a dangerous road mountain road heading towards Lake Tahoe. Their horses are terrified by the exotic animals, and Darby and Dolly’s carriage plunges into a raging river. Though they escape with their lives, their future fortune, which lay in the profitable pages of Darby’s latest Western manuscript, is now irretrievably washed away in the currents of white water.

Determined to make the owner of the camels pay for his ruin, the Derby Man becomes the unwilling owner of a herd of twelve spitting, dirty and disagreeable camels. Along with all his possessions and his manuscript, Darby has also lost the will to write, so the only answer to his dilemma lies in competing for a freight contract to the Consolidated Mining Company’s most inaccessible mine, the Gold Peak.

Unfriendly Paiutes, scorching desert and steep, impassable trails are not the worst of the problems that now plague Darby. The horrors contrived by the murderous band of another competitor make the unyielding tortures of nature pale in comparison. It will be up to the Derby Man, camels trailing behind him, to create the kind of happy ending for this real-life adventure that he does for his novels.

It’s a well-known fact, that Darby doesn’t like horses, now he may have found another type of animal he hates more. The camels also prove to be the source for many of the humorous scenes that come at regular intervals throughout this fast-moving tale.

Gary McCarthy has also created a terrific set of characters for this story, Big Bert Jasper, the former camel owner and leader of a gang of cutthroats. Then there’s Emil El Babba, the Arab camel handler who will not let anyone harm his beloved camels, even the Derby Man. It’s also great to see the return of Bear and Zack. All these and more come together to take part in the race to win the contract from the mining company.

There’s plenty of action, be that brutal fist-fights or exchanges of lead. There’s the mystery of who is killing off the other competitors, although this isn’t kept a secret. The final confrontation between Darby’s band and the killers takes another twist as the Paiutes arrive ready to wipe out everyone. Can Darby use the camels to save the day?

For me, it is a great shame that this book is the last of the Derby Man novels. I’ve enjoyed every one of them. Gary McCarthy surely came up with one of the most unusual western heroes in his portly, ex-circus strongman, prizefighter and novelist Darby Buckingham. All the books have been hugely entertaining, mixing both nail-biting action, superb characters and comical situations. The majority of the stories also revolve around real events adding historical interest too. The Derby Man series gets a high recommendation from me.

Friday, 19 February 2021

THE LAWMAN


By Lyle Brandt
Berkley, 2007

Jack Slade pulled up roots a long time ago to take life one day at a time, risking his livelihood, and his neck, at gambling tables across the West. A disappointment to his family, he’s been estranged from them for years. Then he receives word of his brother’s death – under mysterious circumstances – in Lawton, Oklahoma.

It’s been four years since Jack saw Jim, who had firmly planted his roots to become a successful rancher. In addition to acres of land and herds of cattle, Jim left behind a fiancée who has been fending off offers on her property – and cattle rustlers.

The mysterious circumstances behind Jim’s death are starting to become clear. And when fate pins a badge of Jack, he finds himself walking the line between justice and revenge…

This is the first in a series that ran to eleven books. Lyle Brandt is a pseudonym used by Michael Newton.

As expected there is plenty of background information as to why Slade left his family and headed out West. We also discover that Jack and Jim are twins. The reactions of some of the inhabitants of Lawton and some outlaws are excellent as they believe they are seeing a ghost when Slade arrives in town. A lot of the tale explores Slade’s thoughts as he reflects on the past and his future and quite often goes over the same ground, which got a little repetitive. 

Slade’s need to find and punish Jim’s killers sees him at odds with the marshal, Harmon Ford, who needs evidence before he can arrest anyone. Once Slade becomes a lawman himself, he also has to follow rules which restrict how he can deal out his own brand of justice. These aren’t the only problems Slade has to deal with, there’s his growing attraction to his dead brother’s fiancée, Faith Connover.

Full of interesting characters, and a twisting plot, the book moves along at a steady pace with bursts of well described violence. The ending is satisfactory and leaves you wondering what the future holds for the survivors, something I’m hoping to find out soon as I don’t think it will be long before I read the second book in the series.


Monday, 8 February 2021

ARIZONA FANCY LADY


SPUR 2
By Dirk Fletcher
Leisure, 1982

Spur McCoy was an Easterner, but when it came to justice he was as shrewd and savvy as any gun-seasoned marshal in the West. As top man in the government’s new Secret Service Agency, he was assigned to investigate reports of a rebel colonel out to capture the Arizona Territory and set up his own nation.

The mountains were towering and the cold was unbearable. The only relief from the low winter sun was a farm fire and as many shots of whisky as a man could stand. Then, along the trail of the outlaw colonel, Spur met up with a feisty beauty who showed him another way to get his mind off the cold.

This is the original book two in the Spur series. For some reason I’ve never been able to find out, after book three, Leisure changed the cover style and began numbering the series from number one again. This means there are two books one, two and three. 

Spur finds himself looking for a missing photographer, whose sister is one of the many women he enjoys the company of. This series is billed as an adult western so these sexual encounters are very explicit in their depiction. For at least the first half of this book Spur seems to find himself pleasuring a woman in every chapter and after a while I did find this to be tedious and I wanted the mission to stop the rebel colonel to begin. Unfortunately, I did have to read these sex scenes as some of the story plot was revealed during these sections of the book. 

As well as being an expert lover, Spur is a tough and capable fellow in the pursuit of his mission. He’s also capable of recovering from a gunshot wound to the shoulder very quickly. Good job, as he soon finds he will be taking on two hundred outlaws with just the help of one man and the photographers sister. Their attack on the outlaw stronghold is exciting, violent and lasts for quite a good portion of the book. In fact, the sexual content drops off to virtually none when Spur sets off to destroy the colonel in an explosive showdown that results in a high body count. 

If you don’t like lots graphic sex, which includes rape, then this book probably isn’t for you. If you don’t mind it, and like hero against massive odds action stories then you’ll certainly enjoy reading this tale.

Dirk Fletcher is a pseudonym used by Chester Cunningham.

Saturday, 30 January 2021

LUKE SUTTON: LAWMAN


LUKE SUTTON: LAWMAN
By Leo P. Kelley
A Black Horse Western from Hale, published June 1992
Originally published by Doubleday, 1989

Luke Sutton faces a tough job when he is hired by lawyer William Smythe to find three eyewitnesses to a murder. All of them – Dennis Rutledge, Hank Tully, and Etta Spode – have already testified that Jimmy Lee Cranston committed the killing. Jimmy swears he’s innocent, and it is up to Luke to save him by finding out what the witnesses really saw.

For a man like Luke, who makes his living tracking down people who don’t want to be found, finding a runaway husband, a slippery card shark, and a very popular dance hall girl should be no more than a few days’ work. The problem is keeping them alive after he finds them.

It seems someone else is just as interested in their whereabouts. Someone who’s determined that Rutledge, Tully and Spode stick to their original stories – right to the grave!

Lawman is the eighth book of a nine-book series. It’s certainly the first book I’ve read by Leo P. Kelley that I know of. This could easily be a stand-alone novel as there is very little mention of Sutton’s history and you certainly don’t need to have read any of the earlier books to enjoy this one. 

The story starts with a scene that outlines the type of man Sutton is and features a lengthy fist-fight that lands Sutton the job of tracking down the three missing witnesses. Sutton is also given a lawman’s badge to make his hunt legal.

Sutton finds each of the three one by one, but the first two are killed before they can tell him the truth. Will the third live long enough to reveal what really happened and the identity of the real killer? The answers are kept secret until the final gunfight that includes a neat twist to the ending.

There was never any doubt that Sutton would find the witnesses and save Cranston from the hangman’s noose. Sutton solved everything with ease and never had much opposition in completing his mission. The book was a quick read that proved entertaining enough and someday I’ll probably read the other Sutton book I have. 

Wednesday, 27 January 2021

WILD BILL'S GHOST



THE GUNSMITH 46
By J.R. Roberts
Charter Books, November 1985

The rumours are flying in Leadville – Hickok is still alive! The way the story goes, somebody else, and not Wild Bill, was killed by Jack McCall in Deadwood.

Clint Adams isn’t one to put much in rumours…but he’s never actually seen Bill’s body and he can’t swear that Hickok is dead. Besides, the Gunsmith and Wild Bill were great friends and if there’s a chance that Hickok is alive, it’s worth the trip down to Mexico to find out. Will the Gunsmith find Wild Bill alive, will he find an imposter – or will he find Wild Bill’s ghost?

This fast paced tale sees Clint Adams become involved in a Mexican revolution, or at least a planned uprising. The story goes that Wild Bill has been hired as a mercenary by the revolutionaries. Turns out those plotting to overthrow the Government are nothing more than bandits, but this doesn’t stop Adams making it known his gun is for hire too as a way to joining the mercenaries and discovering whether it really is Bill or not.

There’s a great selection of well-drawn characters for Adams to deal with. Gunrunners, bandits, Federal troops and an assortment of other toughs. Wild Bill isn’t the only real person that features in this tale, Luke Short has a part to play at the beginning. Then there’s the women, and there’s plenty of them in this story, all eager to jump into bed with The Gunsmith. As this is an adult western series the sex scenes are explicit. 

The story builds well to its final showdown that involves all the different groups of people during which Adams discovers the truth about whether Wild Bill is alive, is an imposter or a ghost. Of course, I can’t answer that here, but I will say anyone reading this book is sure to have fun finding out.


Saturday, 23 January 2021

CROSSFIRE


THE LONER
Number 11 of 15
By J.A. Johnstone
Pinnacle, October 2011

Conrad Browning is The Loner, a man on a mission, crossing the country – and crossing a lot of bad men – to rescue his kidnapped young twins. The trail has led him all the way to San Francisco’s perilous red light-district, where a crime lord is the proud father of newly adopted twins. The Loner knows his children when he sees them. But they’re hostage to a brutal, violent mob feud. Then, just when he needs it most, The Loner is no longer alone: he is joined by his own father, Frank Morgan – the most notorious gunman in the West.

A family’s pain. A woman’s betrayal. A city exploding in violence… The Loner has come to the right place to save his children. But will they get out of Frisco alive?

It was at the end of book seven that The Loner found out he was the father of twins, and all the following books have featured Conrad’s search for them. Now that search comes to an end.

During this tale we witness Conrad let his heart rule his head. Driven by anger he endangers himself and those helping him. All through his hunt for his children there have been attempts on his life and these continue in this story. There’s a lot of action involving Tongs and criminals. Conrad is shanghaied which leads to a desperate escape bid from a ship. People get used so others may gain, this includes The Loner.

This is an excellent story that pulls you in, makes you share the anguish, the hatred and pain of The Loner. He, and his father, certainly take some punishment before the terrific, twist ending.

Top class entertainment that left me looking forward to reading the next book in the series.

Just in case anyone doesn’t know, Frank Morgan stars in his own 23 book series; The Last Gunfighter put out under the William W. Johnstone name and both Frank and Conrad have appeared in another William W. Johnston book that was published in 2018; The Morgans.

Tuesday, 19 January 2021

COVER GALLERY: THE HORSEMEN

THE HORSEMEN
By Gary McCarthy

They were bound not only by blood, but by their love of horses…and together, they rode the West in search of freedom…

This series ran from June 1992 to August 1994 and were published by The Berkley Publishing Group as part of their Diamond line.


The Ballou’s were the finest horsemen in the South, a Tennessee family famous for the training and breeding of glorious thoroughbreds. When the Civil War devasted their home and their lives, they headed West – into the heart of Indian Territory. As horsemen, they triumphed. As a family, they endured. But as pioneers in a new land, they faced unimaginable hardship, danger, and ruthless enemies…


Haunted by the blood and bitterness of the Civil War, Houston Ballou left Tennessee on the proud stallion High Fire, followed by his brother, his sister, and the last four mares from the Ballou farm – one of them heavy with foal. But there were deserters wandering the roads who would kill for valuable horseflesh – and others who would kill a man just for being Southern…


In the wake of tragedy, the surviving members of the Ballou family sought a new beginning on the Texas frontier. There, the Comanches shared their love and respect for horses – training the wild mustangs that ran free across the plains. And there, a tribe of savage hunters called the Kiowa offered a challenge to any people fearless enough – and foolish enough – to cross their path…


Ruff Ballou and his sister Dixie journeyed west with trouble at their heels. But luck is on their side in Rum River, New Mexico, where they race one of their champion thoroughbreds to victory. Now a rich man’s greed pits their good fortune against Ruff’s life – and they must take up a money-making challenge to capture Blue Bullet, the legendary stallion that no man has yet tamed. But their worst enemy is time – as they race to save the lone fury from savage killers who’ll bring in their bounty – dead or alive…


They had been driven from the South, trying to save the horses it had taken their father a lifetime to breed. Now Ruff Ballou and his sister Dixie are on their way to Denver to make a new life…but when they are confronted by a lawman in the town of Rio Paso, the two find themselves embroiled in a search for a murderous outlaw. The Rio Grande Valley may be their home for now…as they struggle to build a new dynasty with their proud thoroughbred – and try desperately to hold on to all they have left…

Thursday, 14 January 2021

RIDE THE HAMMER DOWN


A Ralph Compton Western by Terrence McCauley
Cover art by Dennis Lyall
Berkley, December 2020

Marshal John Beck was the law in the dangerous town of Mother Lode, Arizona. On his own, he’d managed to keep bandits, rustlers, and desperadoes at bay. It was a tough job for one man to handle, but he made it work…until the day Bram Hogan and his Brickhouse Gang got the drop on the lawman.

They beat Beck to within an inch of his life and dropped him in the desert, where nothing but a slow, painful death awaited him. But the hand underestimated Beck. At his lowest point, he found a way to survive. Now he’s coming back, and anyone who stands against him is going to ride the hammer down to the grave.

From its brutal opening scenes this booked proved to be a gripping read. Terence McCauley’s gritty storyline is filled with engaging characters, some that will have you urging them on, hoping they survive, and others you’ll be wanting to meet a vicious demise. Amidst all the ferocity, the author finds time to add a little romance as love is born from violence, but will Beck survive to enjoy this new found relationship? Throughout the tale you can never be sure if Beck will be alive at the end, or any of the other characters for that matter.

Descriptions are excellent, especially those telling of Beck’s struggle to survive in the desert. You’ll share his desperation, his spiral into madness. Later his elation that becomes fear as he believes he brings death to those who get near him. During the final savage shootout, you’ll feel the aches of his battered body, his weariness and determination to let nothing stop him from killing those who wronged him.

I certainly wondered how this book would end, and at no time did I predict the final scene that provided a fitting close to this tremendous tale.

If you’ve not read anything by Terence McCauley yet, then I’ll suggest this book as the perfect place to start.