Sunday, 26 September 2021

MEDICINE PONY


By John Q. Pickard
Cover art by Michael Codd
Herbert Jenkins, 1975
Originally published by Ward Lock and Company, 1964

The Medicine Pony is a wonderful golden stud owned by the brutal Comanche chief, Black Mouth. ‘Sun Bird’, as it is known far and wide, is held sacred by the Indians – their talisman and magic shield against loss and defeat.

To help the Confederate cause, Bart Gannon, a notorious gunman in those early Civil War days, holds up a gold consignment from the Golconda Syndicate in the North and makes his way through Indian territory to deliver the valuable metal to the hard-up forces in the South. Attacked by the Comanches, he kills Black Mouth, caches the gold and escapes on Sun Bird, taking with him to safety Jane Burnett, whose father has been killed by the Indians. But at Fort Jay there are outlaws after both the gold and Sun Bird . . . 

Philip Antony John Borg wrote over 60 westerns under the names Jack Borg, Phil Bexar and John Q. Pickard. This is the first time I’ve read any of his books.

Borg’s hard-boiled prose makes for a fun read, his descriptions painting visual images of time, place and of the exciting action scenes, of which there are many. The plot moves forward swiftly as Gannon tries to outwit Comanches, outlaws and Union troops. The story contains some dramatic moments, the best to my mind being when Gannon comes face to face with some Comanches in the midst of a thunder and lightning storm. 

Although the tale reads pretty much as you’d expect, it does contain a few surprises and has a neat twist that wrenches Gannon’s soul near the end. 

Medicine Pony was an enjoyable read that will have me keeping an eye-out for more of Borg’s work. 

Monday, 20 September 2021

THE SABER BRAND



By Herbert Purdum
Tandem, 1976
Originally published by Doubleday, 1966 as My Brother John
Spur Award Winner for Best Western Novel, 1966

John Niles could get into more trouble without even trying than a dozen hardcases could get into on purpose . . . 

Frank Niles sometimes wished he’d never promised to look after his unpredictable younger brother . . . 

Colonel Belknap reckoned he owned Concho Basin and every man, woman and child who lived there – especially the women . . . 

When the Niles brothers rode into Concho, they collided head-on with Belknap’s outfit. That was when John Niles forgot he was a preacher and turned to more forceful methods of converting the wicked. Niles had plenty of guts and nerves like chilled steel, and he needed them when he tangled with Belknap’s Saber bunch. 

Even though the plot is similar to many other westerns, the rich man who rules the town and surrounding land with an iron fist and a small army of gunmen, Purdum’s storytelling keeps it fresh and exciting.

Told in the first person through Frank Niles, the tale is laced with humorous observations about everything that happens. There are many comic situations too, which give the tale a light-hearted tone, without turning it into a full-blown comedy western. 

Frank is a wonderful character, a frustrated man, a man not lacking in bravery, who is constantly being admonished by his brother for his use of bad language and for wanting to kill their enemies. His brother John, being a circuit-riding preacher, would rather resolve things peacefully, but isn’t opposed to using force when he has to. 

Purdum does write a lot of speech in slang and spells words how his characters say them, so some of it took a bit of careful reading to understand. Scottish, Irish and cowboy are all in the mix, but it didn’t take long for me to get used to, and I found it added a nice flavour to the story.

There are many well described action scenes as the Niles brothers attempt to stop Belknap from forcing a woman to marry him. Belknap has the town lawman in his pocket too. It seems to the best way to rid Concho of these men is to hold an election and remove the sheriff, but this doesn’t quite go to plan, although it does evolve into a very different candidate stepping forward who the townsfolk are right behind, especially the ladies of the town. The final showdown is dramatic, fun, and uses children to bring about the downfall of Belknap. 

I really enjoyed The Saber Brand, a title maybe only used in the UK, its American title being My Brother John. It seems Herbert R. Purdum only wrote one other western, A Hero for Henry, which was published in 1968. Purdum also wrote scripts for many TV shows, including Death Valley Days and Broken Arrow

Thursday, 16 September 2021

THE BLOOD OF INNOCENTS


 
THE GUNS OF SAMUEL PRITCHARD 3
By Sean Lynch
Pinnacle, September 2021

As both a former Confederate guerrilla and Texas Ranger, and now a U.S. Marshal, no one knows the dangers of the frontier and cowtowns like Marshal Samuel Pritchard. A couple of wagon trains traveling the Oregon Trail have vanished and Pritchard’s got miles of bad road across hostile territory to investigate. But he must also reckon with a price on his head. Bounty hunter Captain Laird Bonner is the greatest manhunter throughout the west – and he’s as ruthless as he’s relentless in pursuing his prey.

Then the trail for both Pritchard and Bonner ends in an Idaho mining town named Whiskey Falls. Ruled by a man who earned his stripes in Andersonville, the town is a literal hell for everyone who lives there, slaying and dying to satiate their captor’s lustful greed. To escape, Pritchard and Bonner must declare an uneasy truce and take on an army of gunmen.

Nearly two years after the release of the second book in the series, the third finally appears (with a fourth due in November) and it easily stands as strong as the first two. 

Although the opening scenes take place in Atherton, Pritchard’s home town that he’s town marshal of, it isn’t long before Pritchard leaves it behind to investigate the missing wagon trains that seem to have vanished into thin air without leaving any kind of trace as to what happened to them. Joining up with a wagon train of travellers made up of Quakers leads to some lively exchanges between the Marshal and those he finds himself protecting from outlaws and Indians. The Quakers refuse to fight, believing God will protect them, a belief Pritchard just doesn’t agree with. 

As expected, the fate that befell the missing wagon train strikes the Quakers in a savage battle that results in a very high number of killings. This is also where Pritchard’s path crosses with Bonner, yet at this point he doesn’t know that Bonner is a bounty hunter after his hide.

There is plenty of violent action throughout the tale, but the desperate fight for survival mentioned in the previous paragraph is nothing compared to what is to come. If you like stories with colossal death tolls then this is the book for you as Pritchard and his companions face massive odds.

As the survivors escape the horrors that descended on the wagon trains, there is still the matter of Pritchard verses Bonner to resolve and one or two other loose ends to tie up. Sean Lynch does all of this neatly in an almost underplayed way after all the brutally violent scenes that came before.

The Blood of Innocents is a very entertaining action-packed read that should satisfy all western readers. 

Tuesday, 31 August 2021

TILL DEATH



HAVE BRIDES, WILL TRAVEL 3
By William W. Johnstone and J.A. Johnstone
Pinnacle, September 2021
First published by Kensington in hardback, April 2021

If anyone can get a shipment of brides to the church on time, it’s Bo Creel and Scratch Morton. But this time, they’ll have to cross hell and high water to escort four marriage-bound beauties to a remote gold mining town in Alaska. The brides-to-be include a dangerously attractive widow, her sweet-hearted niece, and two of their friends. The roadblocks to the altar include a lecherous saloon owner, a lovesick sailor, and a gang of hired guns. And that’s just for starters . . . 

The real trouble begins when they reach the Alaskan boomtown. It’s a hotbed of gold and greed, as wild as any on the Texas frontier. It’s clear to Bo and Scratch that the ladies’ “eligible bachelors” are definitely not as advertised. But – to Bo and Scratch’s surprise – neither are their mail-order brides. Before anyone starts exchanging vows and tossing rice, this gold-hungry wedding party will be swapping lead. And the RSVPs will be RIPs . . . 

Having enjoyed the first two Have Brides, Will Travel books, that saw the return of Bo Creel and Scratch Morton from the Sidewinders series, I was looking forward to reading Till Death. Our two elderly heroes soon find themselves facing superior odds from humans and nature, the latter taking place as their ship battles through a destructive storm. 

Quite a large portion of this tale takes place aboard ships and this makes for a welcome change to riding horses or wagons across inhospitable land. It is during this part that one of the mail-order brides, Caroline, struggles with her feelings for one of the sailors and those for her intended waiting in Alaska.

Bo and Scratch do their best to keep trouble at bay, but it seems everywhere they go they create new enemies, either those wanting to kill Creel and Morton or get to know the girls a whole lot better. Some of these adversaries are prepared to follow them to Alaska, and when various groups of these foes team up it looks like Bo and Scratch will have to take on impossible to beat odds.

Action come thick and fast and the plot writhes with twists. The author often switches from one set of characters to another and, more often than not, leaves them in danger, therefore making this a very difficult to put-down book as the reader will want to know what happens next. The final scenes feature some explosive gunplay that resolves everything in a suitable fashion and I was left hoping there will be a fourth book in the not-too-distant future. 

Thursday, 26 August 2021

DARK CANYON


 
THE BADGE
book 11 of 24
By Bill Reno
cover art by Shannon Stirnweis
Bantam Books, June 1989

Sheriff Tug Farrell discovers that young, healthy, able-bodied men – from ranchers to railroad workers to Indian braves – all across the country are being abducted. Destination: an illicit gold mine where the prisoners are forced to work as slaves under the most brutal and inhuman conditions. And no one, not even the guards, is allowed to see the face of the mine owner, Mr. Raven, who never leaves his cabin. Farrell knows that it will take an ingenious and daring rescue to free those prisoners, and he wastes no time planning his first move. Then the woman he loves is kidnapped and taken to the mine. Suddenly there’s no time for a plan, or a posse, or a prayer. Farrell’s going in alone – he only hopes he’ll come out alive.

A series of largely stand-alone novels linked by the fact that each stars a lawman of some kind. Having said that, some of these men who wear the badge do appear in more than one book.

Like many of the previous books, this one has quite a dark theme. Here it’s the total disregard for human life as the slaves are worked to death, gunned down if they try to escape, or put to death for trying to stand-up for themselves – the penalty for the latter being dealt out by whip, fist, knife, or if you’re lucky, a quick bullet to the head.

As Farrell struggles to locate the mine he has to deal with other problems too, such as vengeance seeking brothers out to avenge the death of their father at the lawman’s hands. Falling in love further complicates matters for Farrell. 

The author, Lew A. Lacy, writing as Bill Reno, switches from character to character regularly, weaving sub-plots into the main storyline. Each of these threads eventually tying together for the final showdown that has a terrifying ending for some of the main characters. One aspect of Lacy’s storytelling that I really like is that you can never be sure who will survive the tale, be they good or bad. 

Plot twists and plenty of gunplay make this a lively read. The identity of Mr. Raven wasn’t hard to work out, but seeing how the other characters would react once this was revealed was something that also kept me turning the pages. So, for me, this was another very good entry into The Badge series and I look forward to reading another very soon.

Sunday, 22 August 2021

HELL'S JAW PASS



WOLF STOCKBURN, RAILROAD DETECTIVE 2
By Max O’Hara
Pinnacle, August 2021

The killers are organized – and ruthless. One by one, they slaughter a railroad crew at Hell’s Jaw Pass in Wyoming Territory. No survivors. No mercy. To ensure the rail line’s completion, Wells Fargo sends their best detective, Wolf Stockburn, to the nearby mining town of Wild Horse. It’s a rowdy little outpost full of miners, outlaws, and downright killers smack in the middle of two of the largest ranches in the territory. It’s also as close to the pit of hell as Stockburn has ever been . . . 

Train holdups, ranch wars, slaughter – this little boomtown’s got it all. Stockburn’s not sure he can trust anyone here, even the deputy’s daughter. This pretty gal isn’t just flirting with Wolf, she’s flirting with disaster. And that disaster comes with a hail of bullets, and – before it’s all over – a lot of blood on the tracks . . .

The second book in the Wolf Stockburn, Railroad Detective series proved to be just as entertaining as the first. The story starts with Stockburn stopping a train robbery and saving a beautiful girl’s life – a girl that will cause all kinds of problems for Wolf. She’s not the only young lady that will complicate Stockburn’s investigation into just who is behind the massacre at Hell’s Jaw Pass, as there is also the deputy’s daughter who seems to know more than she’s telling.

As more characters as introduced, so the plot twists and turns. Surprising revelations add to the intensity of the tale as Stockburn slowly closes in on those responsible for the slaughter. Another obstacle for Wolf to overcome is an unknown sniper with a Sharps who is doing his best to put Stockburn down. 

Descriptions of people, places and action are excellent and the plot moves forward at a rattling pace, leading to a dramatic and frantic showdown but there is still work for Stockburn to do before he rides off into the sunset. There’s a race against time that it seems Wolf will fail to win . . .

Let’s hope it’s not too long before Pinnacle publish more in this series. 

Tuesday, 17 August 2021

STARK'S JUSTICE



By James Reasoner
Pocket Books, January 1994

For years Big Earl Stark rode shotgun on the Concord stagecoach, sentencing any man fool enough to test him to an early grave. But now, for the love of spritely Laura Delaney, he’s secretly studying his law books at night, determined to settle down and put up his own shingle. Fate, however, deals him a cruel and tragic hand. Laura’s stagecoach into Buffalo Flat – a coach Earl would have been guarding if he hadn’t left that life behind – is set upon by outlaws, and Laura is savagely killed.

No doubt destined for greatness in the courtroom, Earl is presently out only for revenge, and he makes some shocking and dangerous discoveries – not only about the identity of Laura’s killers, but about his own nature as well. For when you act as judge, jury and executioner, the pursuit of frontier justice can lead straight to hell….

The first of three books published by Pocket Books featuring Judge Earl Stark covers the early days of Big Earl’s career as he sets up his law office. The story explains his switch from stagecoach guard to lawyer and with the death of Laura the story becomes a revenge tale. Stark has to battle with his emotions, those he feels for the loss of Laura and then those that see him struggling with his need to kill the stagecoach robbers or see justice served by the letter of the law.

The story starts as a typical western tale of revenge, with a little mystery thrown in as Stark has no idea who Laura’s killers are or where their hideout is. But the book is by James Reasoner and as anyone who has read his work knows, his tales don’t remain straightforward for long. The storyline soon becomes full of twists and surprising revelations about some of the characters, giving Stark new problems to face, often over the barrel of his LeMat.  

If you have the copy of the book shown above, I’d urge you not to read the character list at the front of the book as it gives away too much about some of them and will spoil some of the surprises the author has in store for you. I’ve always wondered why publishers do this and have long stopped reading this kind of listing due to the spoilers they often contain.

There is plenty of action before Stark satisfies his need for revenge and his new career is set to go off in another direction and it’s one I’m eager to follow in the next books. In fact, there are more than the two put out by Pocket Books as James Reasoner has written a few more stories about Judge Earl Stark. 

One last note, is that the tough looking hombre staring at you from the book’s cover, is in fact, Mr. Reasoner himself.

Saturday, 7 August 2021

THE COMANCHE KID


By James Robert Daniels
Cutting Edge Books, June 2021

Out of nowhere Comanches attack—and sixteen-year-old Jane narrowly survives the slaughter of her family and the kidnapping of her baby sister. Driven by grief and fury, she rides headlong into Indian territory, seeking vengeance. But the odds are stacked against a young girl on the trail, and Jane soon realizes she must disguise herself as a boy to join forces with a tough company of cowhands on a cattle drive to Dodge City. The harrowing trek pits her against tough drovers, raging rivers, ruthless soldiers, and ends in a bloody reckoning that forces Jane to discover her surprising capacity for love, survival—and revenge.

This is James Robert Daniels first book, and what a powerful debut it is. Enthralling, tragic, heart-warming, humorous and brutal. Daniel’s prose pulled me into the story from the opening scene and didn’t loosen its grip until the final words. At times this is a dark tale but there is a lot of hope, of lightness in the mix too.

Jane’s hatred for the Comanches who slaughtered her family and stole her sister is intense, and she’s prepared to accept whatever the cost to achieve her quest to free Sally without complaint, even if that means her own death. 

A major part of the story is a cattle drive. Jane disguising herself as her dead twin brother, soon to be known as The Comanche Kid, is a great plot element, and I was waiting, and waiting to see if the cowboys would see through her masquerade, especially when they decide that The Kid needs to lose his virginity with a whore. This part of the story being compelling reading, how would Jane deal with this situation without revealing herself to be a girl rather than the boy her companions believe her to be?

One of the major strengths of this book is the authors’ ability to portray emotions, be they hate, despair, fear, frustration, love and anguish. Daniels perfectly captures all of these including the confusing emotions Jane experiences as she begins to fall in love with one of the cowboys yet cannot act on it without revealing the truth about herself. 

The action scenes are superbly described, gunfights, stampedes, or cavalry attacks on Indian camps, all making me feel that I was there, sharing the exhilaration and fear that these deadly situations evoked. 

There has been a lot of praise heaped on this book, and I can only say that it is all warranted. This really is a terrific read; one no western fan should miss.

Monday, 26 July 2021

COVER GALLERY: SHILOH

SHILOH by Dalton Walker
Cover art by Guy Deel

A series of eight books published by Charter/Diamond Books from October 1990 until July 1992

The West made him a man. The War made him Shiloh . . . named for the bloody battle that twisted his soul. And when the fighting ended, he became a bounty hunter. Because for him, death is a way of life.

Lawrence Callahan was a heatless killer who deserved to die. And Shiloh reckons he deserves the $1,000 reward for bringing him in. There’s just one or two things standing in his way. Like a little dustball called Splendid, Nevada. Like a man named Merriweather who’s got the town – and the sheriff – under his thumb. Like Merriweather’s two sadistic sons . . . 

Shiloh’s not in town one day before he’s on the wrong side of trouble. But the fine citizens of Splendid are about to discover that Shiloh’s only got one side – his fighting side!



First they killed a man in cold blood. And then they shot Shiloh’s horse. The vicious gang of outlaws, led by a crazed butcher named Follard, didn’t realize they were dealing with the deadliest manhunter alive. But they’d find out – the hard way . . . 

Shiloh’s coming after them. There’s no bounty at stake – this time it’s personal. But the body count is rising, the desert sand is red with blood, and Follard ain’t running scared – he’s gunning for Shiloh.

Who is the hunter . . . and who is the prey?



Every man has his price, and tycoon J.W. Bannerman has Shiloh’s figured out just right. The old coot is desperate to win back the only thing he’s ever lost: his daughter. And the mighty chunk of change he’s throwing Shiloh’s way has the bounty hunter thinking he’s the right man for the job.

But before Shiloh can get his nose to the trail, he’s sniffed out by a fearsome rival. A man of his own breed – a bounty hunter. Now the hunter is the hunted . . . and only one can survive.



Pinkerton lawman Christian Brady was a good man. Now he’s a dead man – and Shiloh hits the trail vowing revenge against the low-down vermin who slaughtered his old war pal. Then some fool of a badge tosses Shiloh in jail . . . for Brady’s murder.

Breaking out’s the easy part. It’s the crazy lynch mob and cold-blooded posse hot on his heels that’s got Shiloh worried. And when a bounty hunter like Shiloh becomes the hunted . . . there’s no defense quite like bullets and blood.



Frank Haven has the evil heart of a dictator, the twisted mind of a madman, and fifty kill-crazy desperados to do his fighting. He holds a small border town in a reign of terror, governing a labor camp where no one finds mercy. Above and below the Rio Grande, every lawman wants him stopped. But only one man has the guts.

Shiloh infiltrates the camp’s inner circle posing as one of Haven’s gun-toting gang. Now the only way out of hell is straight through it – as Shiloh tries to battle Haven with blood and bullets.



First he killed a man in cold blood. Then the crooked gambler named Ratlin set off across the mining country of northern California, leaving blood and bodies everywhere he hung his hat . . . 

What Ratlin doesn’t know is that the deadliest manhunter alive is hot on his trail. And when Ratlin tries to backshoot Shiloh, it’s his first big mistake. Now gunning down Ratlin isn’t enough . . . the bounty hunter won’t stop until he sees this killer swing from the gallows. 



In the midst of a harsh Nevada blizzard, Shiloh takes refuge in an abandoned barn – and finds himself held captive by three low-down ranch hands from the Lazy B. In a blaze of bullets, Shiloh busts out of their trap. But wealthy rancher Horatio Ballock will see to it that Shiloh stays in trouble – and plenty of it.

At a high-stakes card game, Shiloh calls Ballock’s son a cheat. Now he’s got the rest of the Lazy B after his hide, along with a slick gun named Falcon. Suddenly the bounty hunter is on the wrong side of the chase – and he’s running for his life.



Cephas Beck was a mean old man – a mean, rich old man. When Shiloh trades blows with Beck’s lowlife son Elias, he’s quick to discover that Cephas Beck can pay any price for revenge on anyone who messes with his boy.

But faster than Shiloh can count his new enemies, fate steps in – and Elias meets a cruel death under the hooves of a ferocious stallion. Now Cephas’s greedy dreams of racing the magnificent beast come crashing down in a madman’s rage for vengeance – and Shiloh is hired to track a mount fit for the Devil himself!

Thursday, 22 July 2021

TOMAHAWK JUSTICE


THE TRAILSMAN
Book 141 of 398 + 7 giant editions
By Jon Sharpe
Cover art by Jerome Podwil
Signet, September 1993

1860, Yellowstone country . . . where raw wilderness, natural wonders, and human bloodlust made for a killer combination

The two young Shoshone women seemed too good-looking to be real when Skye Fargo met them in the virgin wilderness. But they were real – real dangerous, as he soon found out. Their father was a chief looking for a vision in the Yellowstone, and looking for Fargo to cover his tail while the chief lifted his eyes to the heavens. For the sacred valley was swarming with the most bloodthirsty redskins in the West – and Fargo was in the middle of a tug-of-want between sisters who gave him no rest, and in the line of fire of Indians who gave no quarter and took no prisoners.

This book doesn’t have a big cast. Fargo is the only white man, then there’s the Shoshone and a band of Bloods. All of this tale unfolds in the wilderness and the author adds some terrific descriptions of the magnificent landscape to give the reader a great sense of place. Amid all the mayhem, Fargo gets a moment to reflect on the advancement of the white man and what it will mean for this wild yet beautiful country. Wildlife also has a part to play, and these creatures add some tense scenes to the story. 

Character studies are well crafted, and dialogue often has humorous undertones adding light-hearted moments to balance the more vicious elements. The many action scenes are at times brutally savage in their descriptions. Let’s not forget that The Trailsman is an adult western series so there are also a number of graphic sex scenes, not as many as in the early books, but a few more than in those towards the end of the series.

Jon Sharpe is a pseudonym shared by a variety of authors. This time it’s David Robbins writing behind that alias, and he has written a fast-moving, action-packed tale that surprised me with its twist ending and proved to be a very entertaining read throughout.

If you’re think of trying to find this book remember the number too, as it shares its title with an earlier entry in the series, book 39.


Monday, 12 July 2021

MAN ON THE BUCKSKIN


By Peter Dawson
Cover art by Carl Hantman
Bantam Books, March 1979
Originally published by Dodd, Mead & Co., January 1957

Frank Rivers spent four agonizing years in the filth and terror of the territorial prison – framed for the killing of his own father. When he came out, there was nothing left in Rivers but raw, bitter vengeance. He was going to track down the killers who murdered his father and execute justice with his own hands. But Kate Bond, the one human being who believed in Rivers, was in desperate trouble – trouble that got in the way of River’s scheme of revenge…

This book proved to be a gritty read. Filled with tough men, and one woman, who are determined to get what they want, whatever the cost. Rivers’ first problem is the Ute Springs lawman, sheriff Jim Echols who detests Rivers and hates the idea he’s been pardoned so does everything he can to drive Rivers out of the area. Then there’s Lute Pleasants, he’s trying to drive Kate Bond and her brother off their land and his methods involve the use of barbed-wire fences, building dams and killing his own half-brother. The story involves plenty of hard talk, beatings and fast gunplay.

The author, Jonathan H. Glidden writing as Peter Dawson, lets the reader know near the beginning of the tale who is who and that Rivers is an innocent man. Following Rivers’ struggles to decide whether he should leave Ute Springs, stand-up to the sheriff, or stay and help the Bonds in their fight with Pleasants, makes for some gripping reading. Pleasants’ changes from anger to calm provide some tense scenes that are all the more enthralling when the reader knows who he really is and you have to wonder how Rivers, the Bonds and Echols can beat his schemes.

What of Rivers’ quest to find the killers of his father? Will he be successful as he hasn’t got any clues as to where they are? Will helping the Bonds put him on the right trail? You'll have to read the book to find out the answers to those questions.

This is the first time I’ve read anything by this author and even though the plot didn’t standout from countless other westerns, the writing style gave it an enjoyable edge that’ll have me on the lookout for more books by Jonathan H. Glidden. 


Wednesday, 30 June 2021

HIGH COUNTRY JUSTICE



CALEB MARLOWE 1
By Nik James
Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2021

Caleb Marlowe carved out his own legend as a frontier scout and lawman before arriving in the Colorado boomtown of Elkhorn. Famous for a lightning-quick draw and nerves of steel, he is mysterious, guarded, and unpredictable. Now, he wants to leave the past behind. But the past has a way of dogging a man…

When Doc Burnett, Caleb’s only friend in town, goes missing, his daughter, Sheila, comes seeking Caleb’s help. Newly arrived from the East, she hotly condemns the bloody frontier justice of the rifle and the six-gun.

Murderous road agents have Doc trapped in their mountain hideaway. To free him, Marlowe tracks Doc’s kidnappers through wild, uncharted territory, battling animals and bushwhackers. But when Sheila is captured by the ruthless gunhawks with a score to settle, Marlowe will have to take them down one by one, until no outlaw remains standing.

Nik James is a pseudonym for authors Nikoo and Jim McGoldrick. More well known for their thrillers and British-set historical novels, they’ve now ventured into the world of fictional westerns.

After an opening scene that shows how proficient Marlowe is in the art of killing as he takes down six rustlers, the reader is quickly introduced to the other lead characters, Shelia and the Doc. Burnett has already been kidnapped when we first met him and his situation is dire to say the least. He’s been taken for his medical skills, so the story becomes a race against time, both for Marlowe as he tries to find the Doc and for Burnett to save his patient and his own life.

Nik James often switches between the well-drawn characters, often leaving them in dangerous situations that makes sure the reader will keep turning the pages. There is a lot of mystery surrounding Marlowe, but this is slowly unravelled as the authors reveal some of his background through memories. 

There’s plenty of action, tense situations and twists to the plot. Relationships between the lead characters are nicely developed. Early on, the authors throw some questions into the storyline, such as why a band of outlaws have suddenly started killing their victims? There are some surprising revelations about some of the main characters too. 

High Country Justice proved to be an entertaining read; one I think all western fans will enjoy. I was left looking forward to reading the next book in the series, Bullets and Silver, that is set to appear at the beginning of 2022. A third book, Silver Trail Christmas, has also been announced. 

Tuesday, 22 June 2021

BLUECOAT PATROL



THE BOZEMAN TRAIL WAR 1
By Alfred Wallon
Blitz-Verlag, January 2021 

News of the gold discoveries in Montana have spread like wildfire. The Alder Gulch near Virginia City attracts adventurous pioneers, prospectors and scoundrels from all directions.

The shortest way to Montana leads from Laramie along the Bozeman Trail, through the middle of the land of the Sioux and Cheyenne on the Powder River and through the Black Hills. The first bloody clashes have already begun.

When the Oglala chief Red Cloud learns that the soldiers are building a fort to protect the prospectors on their way to Montana, the situation escalates. A trek accompanied by an army patrol is ambushed on their way to Virginia City. The Sioux and Cheyenne want to defend their country against the white invaders by all means. A bloody war will start very soon!

Alfred Wallon is one Germany’s leading western writers. His many books are published in his home country, but now a few have been translated to English and released as ebooks. Bluecoat Patrol is the first in a new series dealing with the resentment the Sioux and Cheyenne felt towards the invasion of white settlers passing through their land. This leads to violent clashes as the U.S. Army tries to protect the pioneers.

The author has certainly done his research and his story sees chapters and scenes headed by the dates that the events he describes happened. Of course, historical fiction such as this include many real people and Wallon does a good job in bringing them to life and we get to witness the views of characters on both sides of the conflict. There is a lot of action as the opposing sides meet in fast and furious skirmishes. A good portion of the story deals with the Battle of the Tongue River. Some of the storylines come to an end, but a number are left open to be continued in the following books of the series.

It would be wrong of me not to mention the translation. This English version is very readable, at times it did wobble a little, but once I got used to it, I found myself enjoying the tale.


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.