Friday 31 December 2021

WESTERNS READ DURING 2021

Here’s my annual list of westerns read during the year, in this case 2021. Not as many as last year for a variety of reasons. As usual I’ve tried to read books by past authors and those writing today that include favourites of mine and a sprinkling of new to me writers. To read a review just click on the number.

1. The Loner 11: Crossfire by J.A. Johnstone
2. The Gunsmith 46: Wild Bill’s Ghost by J.R. Roberts
3. Luke Sutton: Lawman (8) by Leo P. Kelley
4. Spur 2: Arizona Fancy Lady by Dirk Fletcher
5. The Lawman by Lyle Brandt
6. The Derby Man 11: The Comstock Camels by Gary McCarthy
7. The Running Iron Samaritans by Barry Cord
8. Gun Law by Ralph Cotton
9. Canyon O’Grady 11: Soldier’s Song by Jon Sharpe
10. Cody’s Law 6: Renegade Trail by Matthew S. Hart
11. McAllister Makes War by Matt Chisholm
12. The Bozeman Trail War 1: Bluecoat Patrol by Alfred Wallon
13. Wolf Stockburn, Railroad Detective by Max O’Hara
14. The Feud at Broken Man by Frank Callan
15. Thrilling Western, Vol. 5, No. 10. (British Edition) October 1953
16. The Guns of Samuel Pritchard 2: Cottonmouth by Sean Lynch
17. The Loner 12: Inferno by J.A. Johnstone
18. The Spanish Bit Saga 26: The Lost Band by Don Coldsmith
19. Caleb Marlow 1: High Country Justice by Nik James
20. Man on the Buckskin by Peter Dawson
21. The Comanche Kid by James Robert Daniels
22. The Trailsman 141: Tomahawk Justice by Jon Sharpe
23. Stark’s Justice by James Reasoner
24. Wolf Stockburn, Railroad Detective 2: Hell’s Jaw Pass by Max O’Hara
25. The Badge 11: Dark Canyon by Bill Reno
26. Have Brides, Will Travel 3: Till Death by William W. Johnstone and J.A. Johnstone
27. The Guns of Samuel Pritchard 3: The Blood of Innocents by Sean Lynch
28. The Saber Brand by Herbert Purdum
29. Medicine Pony by John Q. Pickard
30. Pursuit in the Sun by Matt Chisholm
31. Buck Trammel 1: North of Laramie by William W. Johnstone and J.A. Johnstone
32. Longarm and the Rock Springs Reckoning (434) by Tabor Evans
33. Abilene 7: The Prizefighter by Justin Ladd
34. Sudden – Goldseeker by Oliver Strange
35. Trusty Dawson, U.S. Deputy Marshal 1: Lost Mountain Pass by Larry D. Sweazy
36. Easy Company and the Dog Soldiers (27) by John Wesley Howard
37. The Loner 13: Brutal Vengeance by J.A. Johnstone
38. Iron Eyes 22: The Tomb of Iron Eyes by Rory Black
39. Breed 1: The Lonely Hunt by James A. Muir
40. Powell’s Army 1: Unchained Lightning by Terence Duncan
41. The Guns of Samuel Pritchard 4: The Trainwreckers by Sean Lynch
42. Rain of Fire by Merle Constiner
43. The Proud Horseman by Matt Chisholm

Monday 27 December 2021

RAIN OF FIRE


By Merle Constiner
Ace Books, 1966 

Fane was just a quiet storekeeper in a small Montana rangeland town who had a hobby. He was a gun collector and an amateur gunsmith. But he was no gunman. 

Nevertheless, when a call came from an old friend, Fane picked up one of his best shooting irons and joined up with a couple of gunslicks to clear up the trouble.

His killer companions didn’t think much of Fane. He was a deadshot, sure, but he had a real slow draw. And in their business, a slow draw was a ticket to Boot Hill.

But there were a lot of other professional gun throwers around who were to test their skill against this amateur – and came out second best, even with a gun out first.

Not having read any of Constiner’s work before, I really didn’t know what to expect from this short novel that is told in thirteen chapters over 112 pages. The reason I picked this particular book was that the blurb caught my imagination so I was a little disappointed that Fane’s hobby played a very small part in the tale.

At first the plot is a little confusing, intentionally so, as Fane and his two companions, Arapaho and Crezavent, try to find out who they’ve been hired by and for what purpose. Even when they know whose payroll they are on, they still have questions as to the reasons. Throughout their attempts to find the answers, gunmen come out of the shadows trying to kill them. 

Constiner throws more twists into the tale through new characters, one of whom gives Fane cryptic messages that could help save their lives and possibly reveal the answers to why they’ve been hired and who they’re expected to kill. 

The story moves forward well, although it is occasionally slowed down when the author includes lengthy descriptions of places or buildings that Fane finds himself at but most of the time Constiner doesn’t waste words and gets straight to the point, so much so, that if you don’t pay attention, you’ll find yourself wondering how the story has progressed from one point to another.

Summing up, I’d say this tale held my interest fairly well, although it didn’t grip me as much as I hoped it might as I found myself putting the book down to do other things rather than read it in one or two sittings. Will I read another Constiner book? Possibly, but having so many to choose from, I think it might be a while before I do so.

Rain of Fire is one half of an Ace Double and it is backed by Bitter Brand by Tom West and I hope to get around to reading that soon.

Sunday 19 December 2021

THE TRAINWRECKERS


THE GUNS OF SAMUEL PRITCHARD
Book 4 of 4
By Sean Lynch
Pinnacle, November 2021

1875. The escalating rivalry between the two major railroad companies takes a dangerous – and deadly – turn when a train is deliberately derailed. Many are killed. More are injured. And Marshall Samuel Pritchard’s longtime friend is crippled for life. The mastermind behind the train wreck claims to be the infamous Civil War criminal Jem Rupe, aka “The Trainwrecker of Platte Bridge.” There’s just one problem: Rupe has been dead for ten years.... 

With an oath of vengeance on his lips – and a pair of Colt .45s on his hips – Pritchard set off to find the trainwrecking fiend, whether it’s really Jem Rupe of some copy-cat maniac. Either way, he’ll have to ride the rails with some pretty deranged characters – crooked railroad tycoons, ruthless bounty hunters, trigger-happy gunfighters – before he reaches the end of the line. There’s just one way to stop a mass transit murderer . . . and that’s dead in his tracks.

Although this reads extremely well as a stand-alone novel you may well prefer to read the previous three as the author, Sean Lynch, brings back a number of characters from those earlier stories. There are also a few references to the plots of those books, but the author does provide any information you may need to know to fully understand any links to the plot of this tale.

Pritchard is suspicious of the blame being laid on Jem Rupe from the moment he arrives at the wrecked train and witnesses the horrors that have befallen the passengers and crew, not least the life-changing injuries his friend has suffered. The deliberate execution of any wounded mayors travelling together in a coach, points at this attack being more than just a robbery.

Most of the book follows Pritchard as he attempts to find out if Rupe is dead or alive, and if the latter, whether he was behind the train wreck. He also soon has ideas as to who the mastermind is and the reasons for the destruction and killings. The odds mount against Pritchard as gunmen seek him out and the author springs surprise after surprise. There is plenty of savage gunplay that test Pritchard’s abilities with a gun. Sean Lynch also tells of the danger facing Pritchard’s loved ones back in the town of Atherton as they try to solve the mystery behind the atrocity.

Like the other three books, I found this one to be a terrific read. Filled with fascinating characters and a twisting plot that never lets up in its intensity and I found it difficult to put this book down before I reached the end. Hopefully there will be more books in this series, but as Pinnacle seem to finish series after four books this may well be the last one, I hope that isn’t the case as I’d really like to read more.

Wednesday 15 December 2021

UNCHAINED LIGHTNING


POWELL’S ARMY
Number 1 of 8
UNCHAINED LIGHTNING
By Terence Duncan
Zebra Books, February 1987

Slashed and mutilated bodies of blue-coated cavalry troopers were turning up in the squalid streets of the Flats – a notorious community of gambling houses and seedy bordellos that hugged the outskirts of Fort Griffin, Texas. Other troopers had been knifed, drugged and otherwise forcibly relieved of their monthly pay. Authorities suspect a vicious crime ring of madams and grogshop operators, but official investigations accomplished nothing. In desperation, the military high command turned to Powell’s Army for help. Their assignment: Infiltrate the Flats’ bloodthirsty underworld. For the three troubleshooters, it’s an undercover mission that means risking their lives in a perilous gamble where death holds the winning hand.

Being the first book in a series this tale starts with the author filling in readers with background information about Powell and his operatives; Celia Burnett, Gerald Glidinghawk and Landrum Davis. There’s also information about their contact, Preston Fox and the history of the creation of Powell’s Army and how they are seen as unnecessary by some of Powell’s commanding officers. They must succeed in their mission if the unit wants to stay operational. This all takes up quite a few pages, which for me, slowed the start of the book down a little but did help flesh out the main characters.

Terence Duncan is a pseudonym which would be shared by four authors. This book, and the next two, were written by Barbara Puechner. As the author is female, I couldn’t help but wonder if that is why Celia takes centre-stage in this tale? In fact, her two companions barely feature in the story and readers don’t get to share what they are finding out about the killings until they pass that information on to Celia.

The book came over as a character study of Celia. Readers witness her doubts as to her abilities to do her job. We share her revulsions to other characters, to seeing men die and to having to take a life for the first time. Celia experiences love, hate, the loss of her virginity and the horror of being drugged and raped. All this and more, strengthens her resolve to get the job done. Failure is not something she will accept. Watching her change from being a doubtful girl, in some areas completely naïve, to become a determined young woman capable of anything, including killing, was fascinating. Which was a good job really, as there was very little other action taking place.

The bad guys were pretty easy to pick out, although the author did surprise me a couple of times throwing my thoughts of the who and why off track. Some of the descriptions of violence were quite brutal in their portrayal. Puechner’s writing style is easy to read and the story moved forward at a fast pace. 

Although I usually prefer a bit more gunplay in my western reading, I did find this story to be enjoyable and I was left looking forward to reading the next book in the series. I’m also interested in discovering whether Puechner always has Celia taking the lead role or whether she switched it around a bit and put either Glidinghawk or Davis into that central position.

Saturday 4 December 2021

THE LONELY HUNT


BREED
Number 1 of 22
By James A. Muir
Cover art by Colin Backhouse
Sphere, 1976

He stepped out of the shadows, a tall man with a gun on his hip and death in his eyes. ‘I am Matthew Gunn. Some call me Azul.’ He drew as he spoke, triggering the Colt in a violent explosion of sound that blew the Mexican backwards off his feet, twisting him around so that he hit the sand face down. Dead.

He was part-white, part-Apache, all killer. Around the border country they came to know him as Breed, and they feared the name, for it spelled violent death.

Breed is a series from the group of British authors later to become known as the Piccadilly Cowboys. Unlike many of those series the Breed books were all written by one author, in this case Angus Wells. Like most of the series coming from the Piccadilly Cowboys this one begins with the hero hitting the trail of revenge.

Azul returns to his village to find it destroyed and all the men, women and children massacred, including Azul’s white father and Apache mother. All killed for their hair. Azul swears to a blood oath. He will find and kill the six scalp hunters, slowly, painfully. Angus Wells probably wrote the most descriptive passages of death out of all the Piccadilly Cowboys, and having Azul wanting to take his time killing the men he hunted, gives Wells the perfect opportunity to create some gruesome ways of putting a man to death. And it’s not just the scalp hunters who will suffer a lingering death at the hands of Azul, there are others who become targets for the half-breed’s wrath. As the death toll mounts, so Azul becomes a wanted man. Soon Federales are out to stop him, and they have an Indian tracker. This Yaqui becoming a major problem that Azul has to deal with, but not quite as you’d expect.

What seems to be a pretty straight-forward plot gets more complicated as Azul meets other people during his quest for vengeance. Azul takes the time to help some, but mainly to kill. Soon the storyline takes a neat twist as the leader of the scalp hunters reveals that he knew Azul’s father, Kieron Gunn, but how they knew each other isn’t explained, at least in this book. Yes, some of the scalp hunters are still alive at the end, thus setting the theme for subsequent books as Azul continues on the vengeance trail. 

Wells switches regularly between characters, often not sharing Azul’s thoughts during the times he deals out death. Having these scenes told from the hunted viewpoints makes the half-breed seem more frightening, giving him almost mythical abilities, yet not to far stretched to be unbelievable. 

Like in many of the Piccadilly Cowboy’s series there are a few groan-worthy one-liners and names of people the author knew being used, such as calling a ghost town Jamesville (a nod to fellow PC author Laurence James). Even the popular band, The Beatles, gets a look in as one of the scalp hunters is named Jude Christie which allows the following to be directed at him, ‘Hey, Jude,’ said Nolan in a tone that promoted Christie to look away from the cold green eyes, ‘whyn’t you just let it be? I gave you a taste of honey, right? So tell me why I should have known better than taking a ticket to ride for Cristobal?’

The Lonely Hunt is a great opening book to a series that became one of the favourites of UK western readers back in the Seventies and Eighties. 

Tuesday 30 November 2021

THE TOMB OF IRON EYES


IRON EYES
Number 22 of 31
By Rory Black
Hale, 2015

Infamous bounty hunter Iron Eyes has the scent of his prey in his flared nostrils and is determined to add yet another notch to the gun grip of his famed Navy Colt.

Iron Eyes never quits even when the odds are stacked against him.

Yet the closer he gets to where he knows the outlaw is holed up, the more guns are turned upon him. Refusing to submit to the lethal lead of the men paid to stop his progress, Iron Eyes forges on toward Cheyenne Falls and the fate he knows awaits him.

This is a fairly straight-forward track them down and kill them story. Having some gunmen waiting in Cheyenne Falls to take out Iron Eyes ensures there’s plenty of opportunity for some lively gunplay. There is also a twist in that someone has hired a professional gunfighter, Drako, to come to town and kill the bounty hunter and the author keeps the reason for this a secret from Iron Eyes and the reader until he is good and ready to reveal it.

Rory Black writes in a visual way, his words playing out like images on the silver screen, more in a spaghetti western style than those of John Ford. Black’s stories are as brutal as those European westerns, bleak, savage and full of stylish scenes. Iron Eyes isn’t a particularly likeable character, but he does command attention and you will want to know what happens to him next. Followers of this series will also be aware of Squirrel Sally, the girl who follows Iron Eyes and calls him her betrothed, even though Iron Eyes does his best to get rid of her. Sally has a part to play in this tale too and provides the occasional lighter moment to the story. 

Like the other books in the series, The Tomb of Iron Eyes is a quick and entertaining read and left me wanting to read more.

This beautifully produced hardback book might be hard to find these days as they were aimed at libraries and rarely made it onto the shelves of bookstores. They do turn up second-hand though. Piccadilly Publishing are putting this series out as ebooks, and The Tomb of Iron Eyes is number 21 in their run, for reasons unknown they’ve skipped a book. 

Rory Black is a pseudonym used by Michael D. George. 

The cover art doesn’t illustrate anything that happens in the story. Hale tended to use generic art for the majority of their westerns, something I always thought was a shame as they had hundreds of paintings to choose from.

Friday 26 November 2021

BRUTAL VENGEANCE


THE LONER
Number 13 of 15
By J.A. Johnstone
Pinnacle, April 2012

For a posse chasing a murderous band of outlaws, a quiet kid like the Loner with a lightning-fast gun is good company. And when the outlaws turn around and attack the posse, The Loner doesn’t have a choice: he’s now caught up in a running gun battle across West Texas. The Loner knows the men he’s fighting are bad to the bone – led by a merciless killer named Warren Latch. But what about the guys on his side? As men on both sides of the fight bite the dust, the Loner has fewer allies and no way out. That’s when a beautiful bounty hunter appears on the scene – to lead the way into another vendetta, another betrayal, and one final, bloody fight to the death . . .   

If it’s all-out action you want, then this book is for you. The author hardly gives his characters chance to draw breath between each bout of gunplay. From a savage robbery that sees the fiery destruction of a town, to the attempts of the outlaws to wipe out the vengeance driven posse, before a bloody final showdown. 

The plot is pretty much a chase storyline, as the posse tries to bring down the outlaws before they can reach San Antonio. The Ranger, Asa Culhane, leading the posse fears they will lose the men they are hunting in the crowded town. The posse has troubles within, as not everyone agrees with the Ranger’s decisions and many don’t want the Loner to lead them should something happen to the Culhane. Divisions in the posse could prove deadly. 

The author switches between the two side regularly allowing development of characters in both the outlaw gang and posse. The arrival of the beautiful bounty hunter causes more problems, especially for the Loner as he already knows Lace McCall – you can read about their first meeting in the seventh Loner book: The Bounty Killers – and the knowledge that they work well as a team is further strengthened in this tale. 

If you like reading stories that feature unusual weapons then this story will fulfil that need for you as the outlaw leader, Warren Latch, uses a matching pair of Mauser C96 machine pistols, guns that don’t turn up that often in westerns.

The closing scene sees the Loner offered an exciting opportunity, but will he take it? I guess I need to read the next book to find out, something I’m very much looking forward to doing as I’ve really enjoyed all the Loner series so far and can’t see any reason why the next one won’t be equal to them in every way. 

Monday 22 November 2021

EASY COMPANY AND THE DOG SOLDIERS


EASY COMPANY AND THE DOG SOLDIERS
Number 27 of 31
By John Wesley Howard
Jove, April 1983

When self-styled preacher Ethan Deal whips his wagon through the gates of Outpost Number Nine, trouble rolls right in behind him. He has the sacred blood of a Cheyenne “Dog Soldier” on his hands, and now the whole tribe is screaming for vengeance.

What “Easy” doesn’t need is the murderous Jellicoe clan wreaking havoc on the tawny plain and a wagon train of westward bound settlers heading right into their clutches.

A rugged test for Lt. Matt Kincaid’s courage and the most unlikely plan ever devised could be “Easy’s” only chance to head off an all-out massacre.

Like the majority of books in this series, this one contains a great mix of interesting characters having to deal with deadly situations mixed in with the everyday running of the Outpost Number Nine. If you’ve read any of the previous books then you’ll find a lot of familiar soldiers and Outpost staff tackling the next set of problems that the army finding themselves facing.

There are plenty of violent confrontations mainly involving the Jellicoe clan, although the soldiers are involved in combat too. The more savage elements of the tale are nicely balanced with humorous situations and comments, mostly revolving around a visit to the Outpost by Captain Conway’s mother-in-law. Mrs Dodgson’s attempts to bring culture to the Outpost provide many laugh-out-loud moments, as do some of the Dog Soldiers who are contraries, braves who do everything backwards.

A lot of the storylines are resolved as you’d expect but that doesn’t mean the book isn’t enjoyable. I appreciated it as much as any other Easy Company tale. I might not place it up there with the very best the series has to offer but I did find it an entertaining read and I look forward to reading another soon.

Wednesday 10 November 2021

LOST MOUNTAIN PASS


 
TRUSTY DAWSON, U.S. DEPUTY MARSHAL 1
By Larry D. Sweazy
Pinnacle Books, October 2021

Kosoma, Indian Territory. The outlaw Darby brothers have been sentenced to hang until dead. Witnessing the execution are Amelia Darby, sister of the condemned men, as well as U.S. Deputy Marshal Sam “Trusty” Dawson and Judge Gordon Hadesworth. After justice is served, Trusty hits the trail, escorting the judge – and begrudgingly, Amelia – back to Oklahoma. Ambushed en route, the judge is murdered and Amelia vanishes, leaving Trusty to believe she led them into a trap for revenge.

To find Amelia, Trusty will have to put his faith in Father Michael Darby, a fourth brother who gave up his criminal ways to take up the cloth and collar. Unwilling to let his sister continue to fall to the wicked evil that claimed the rest of his family, Michael joins the hunt for Amelia. But as their journey turns deadlier by the day, Trusty starts to doubt that Michael is truly of the righteous path . . . 

As is stated on the copyright page, this book is based on a short story that was published in the anthology The Traditional West under the same title in 2011. I have read that tale and enjoyed it. The opening scenes are the same as in this book, and the theme is generally the same, although it plays out quite differently. Sweazy has also changed some of the character names, not least the lead, although he was still known as Trusty.

Larry D. Sweazy has adapted that earlier tale extremely well. Plot changes and more twisting story threads make for a gripping read. In a much longer story, Sweazy can flesh-out his characters, and his does this well, especially with Trusty Dawson, as there are many flashback scenes to his childhood, his meeting of a special girl and of his time in the army. Alongside Trusty’s past and his present, there is another storyline, that of a scheming rancher who is soon riding a killing trail. Discovering how these three seemingly separate storylines will entwine is what made me keep turning the pages. All I will say, is that there is a possible life-changing shock awaiting Trusty. It is fascinating to witness how Trusty deals with all the problems thrown at him and he is soon dealing with self-doubt, questioning his abilities to do his job and make the right decisions. 

Sweazy also includes some real-life characters and the book contains plenty of gunplay and a couple of brutal murders. As the three plot threads develop, Sweazy starts to include information that will give you some idea of how they will end, but there are still a few surprises in store as the story moves into its final scenes, especially the very last one, which offers a possible storyline for the next book. It’s just a shame readers will have to wait such a long time to discover if this will be part of the second book as, according to information at the end of this book, the next title won’t appear until the winter of 2022. 

Saturday 30 October 2021

SUDDEN-GOLDSEEKER


By Oliver Stranger
Cover art by Michael Codd
Corgi Books, 1977 (nineteenth edition)
Originally published by George Newnes, 1937 

It was a roaring boomtown filled with men who lived, talked and dreamed only of finding gold; a gaudy town where killings were frequent; a hell town where desperate men were prepared to go to any lengths to achieve their ends: wealth and power.

Paul Lesurge was one such man; and he had many men and women under his thumb. But he had a major obstacle to his plans too. A quiet-spoken Texan named Green, otherwise known as Sudden!

When Oliver Strange wrote the first Sudden book, The Range Robbers (1930), it was intended to be a standalone novel and the only western Strange planned to write. The books’ massive success taking author and publisher by surprise so a sequel was soon being written. The series continued for ten books; all being reissued numerous times. The final book carrying the author’s name of Oliver Strange, Sudden Plays a Hand (1950), is a pale shadow of those that went before and there is some doubt as to whether Strange wrote it. 

In the 1960’s the books were published as paperbacks and a new audience was found. Sudden became a must-read westerns series once again and in 1966 a brand-new story appeared, Sudden Strikes Back, from a new author; Frederick H. Christian (real name Fred Nolan). Four more stories followed by this author, the last being published in 1970. The Christian books were also republished a number of times, the last being as hardbacks under the Black Horse Western line with different titles.

There have been many debates as to the correct order to read the Sudden books as Strange wrote prequels and sequels to The Range Robbers, and the majority of readers would place Goldseeker into forth place, although it was the sixth book Strange wrote.

Strange mixes cowboy slang and formal English, which takes a little time to get a grip with, but once you do, it is this that adds a certain charm to the tales. The plots aren’t anything special, and are usually foreseeable, but Goldseeker does contain a couple of neat surprises (even though one is easily predictable from early on in the story). Also, Goldseeker sees the appearance of a real Western character, Wild Bill Hickok, and there’s a great scene when Hickok and Sudden decide to find out which of the two is the fastest draw.

Strange includes a lot of humour in Goldseeker, mainly in the form of observations in conversation. Two women have strong roles to play, one who is trying to seduce Sudden so she can get him to do as she wants in an attempt to take control of Deadwood. She’s not the only person setting people up for a double-cross and it seems not many of the characters can be trusted. Everything builds neatly to an exciting and dramatic ending that ties up all the plot threads. 

The Sudden books are definitely a product of their time, and if you can accept the terms that would be seen as politically incorrect today then I would think most western fans would find this series worth exploring as the books are extremely readable. 

Tuesday 26 October 2021

THE PRIZEFIGHTER


ABILENE
Number 7 of 16
By Justin Ladd
Cover art by Gordon Crabb
Pocket Books, April 1989

Everyone’s spoiling for Seamus O’Quinn, even though the prizefighter claims he’s only in Abilene to train for his next match. But when a big-city triggerman arrives to give O’Quinn the business, Marshal Luke Travis knows this fight is for keeps. A Chicago mobster has put a price on O’Quinn’s head that’s as good as lead in his back – and there’s a hardcase in Abilene itching to do the job.

O’Quinn’s lawman bodyguard thinks he can handle it alone – until the prizefighter rides into a trap. Marshal Travis and Deputy Cody Fisher are up against the lawman and the gunmen as they try to uncover the truth – and nail two killers before they strike again!

The author opens this book with a couple of brutal killings that introduces the readers to the main characters of the story. Shorty after O’Quinn and his police guard, Jack McTeague who is posing as the prizefighters trainer, arrive in Abilene. For those who’ve read the previous books in this series, a number of people from those earlier tales now find their lives intertwined with that of O’Quinn and McTeague. 

McTeague’s frustrations with O’Quinn, as the prizefighter seems incapable of lying low, are portrayed extremely well by the author. One of O’Quinn’s old boxing acquaintances is now a school teacher in Abilene and it isn’t long before they set up a sparring display for the school children, which comes to an unfortunate, yet humorous, end before it’s really begun.

As the story progresses the Chicago mobster discovers where O’Quinn is hiding and sends his hitman to dispose of the prizefighter. The plot is further complicated by O’Quinn falling in love and it’s the girl of O’Quinn’s affections who the killer uses to bait a trap. This all leads to an exciting final showdown involving some of Abilene’s townsfolk too, not least Marshal Travis and Deputy Cody Fisher.

Like the earlier books, this one proved to be an enthralling read. I was hooked from those vicious opening scenes and found it difficult to put down until I discovered how O’Quinn was going to escape with his life and see if his testimony to what he’d witnessed would put the Chicago mobster away. 

I would imagine that most fans of western fiction would find this book, in fact the whole series, an enjoyable and entertaining read. I know that I’m eagerly looking forward to reading the next book in the series, something I’m planning on doing very soon.

Justin Ladd is a pseudonym used by James Reasoner. 

Tuesday 19 October 2021

COVER GALLERY: BUSHWHACKERS

BUSHWHACKERS
By B.J. Lanagan

Cover art by Bill Dodge
(except book 7)

This nine book series was published by Jove. First book appeared in July 1997 and the last January 2000.
B.J. Lanagan was a pseudonym used by Robert Vaughan.

When the Civil War was over, the regular soldiers of the blue and gray returned to the peaceful lives they had known before. Not so for Win and Joe Coulter, members of Quantrill’s Raiders, the most brutal gang of Yankee hatin’ cutthroats ever assembled. They returned not as heroes, but as wanted men. Now they’re committed to a lifetime on the edge – experts with guns, with women, and with keeping just ahead of the hangman’s rope…


Like others in Missouri, Win and Joe Coulter didn’t take sides during the war. Until a band of marauding Yankees brutalized and murdered their parents. They had nothing left but each other and a desperate thirst for vengeance. Then they met William Quantrill and joined his bloodthirsty Raiders. Killing men at the drop of a hat, the Coulter brothers became two of the most wanted men in the West. And learned just how sweet – and deadly – revenge could be…


After the fall of the Confederacy, every one of Quantrill’s Raiders was a wanted man. But in San Saba, Texas, Yankee hatin’ and baitin’ were still favourite pastimes. Lured there by a promise of easy money, Win and Joe Coulter joined forces with a fiery redhead in a plan to rob her lover – the richest Yankee in the county. Win was happy to oblige the woman, in more ways than one. Because for men with a score to settle, the war wasn’t over – it had only just begun…


Win and Joe don’t like getting shot at, especially by varmints who don’t have skill enough to kill them. Then, after fending off an unsolicited attack, they find themselves a genuine lady in distress – bound, gagged, the works. Her name’s Pamela Wellington, and her daddy owns Camelot, a bright, shining sixty-thousand-acre kingdom in the middle of Texas. But like that golden ranch of yore, there’s foul-smelling evil afoot. And it’s not Joe Coulter’s boots…

Someone’s about to mess with the Bushwhackers. And that means someone’s about to be messed back.



All Win Coulter wanted was a nice hand of poker. But his hand was hotter than the Devil’s coffee mug, and he ended up winning the deed to a Belle Springs saloon named the Desert Flower. Now Win and his brother Joe, have a place to drink for free.

But Belle Springs is run by a sheriff as crooked as an old man’s spine. He runs his own watering hole, and he doesn’t cotton to competition. So it looks like the Bushwhackers will have to ante up a special “sheriff’s tax” – or get out of town.

Yeah, right.




Normally the Coulter brothers didn’t pay any mind to some varmint’s love life. But Win and Joe were down to their last dollars, so they agreed to find the guy’s long-lost lover, a little filly named Cat Clay. It seemed like their easiest job yet. Except that Cat was living smack-dab in the middle of a Mexican ranch war with bullets flying thicker than blazes.

Now they have to find a ruthless killer, settle a ranch dispute and rescue a very lovely lady in distress without ending up six feet under. All in a day’s work for these two men from Missouri…



Epitaph, Arizona. Nice place. Beer’s cold, at least. But Win and Joe barely get two drops to their lips before the shootin’ starts. When the smoke clears, a marshal and two lowlifes are dead, and the Coulter brothers are hip deep in a war.

On one side’s the ranchers. Other side’s the miners. Who’s good and who’s bad ain’t the issue. Who’s gonna survive is. And with the Coulters in town, every two-bit gunslinger’s chances just dropped to zero.



These ain’t the kind of fireworks Win and Joe were expectin’. The coldhearted massacre of a Bushwhacker’s family turns their Fourth of July festivities into a funeral. All signs point to the work of Kansas Charley Beckett, a Jayhawker who rode against the Bushwhackers during the war – and who lusts to gut every rebel soldier who ever forked a horse.

Now, the only red, white, and blue Win and Joe want to see are the red of his blood, the white of his eyes, and the blue of his body as it hangs from the gallows…



All Win and Joe want out of the tiny town of Sulphur Springs is a cold beer, a hot bath, and some warm company for the night. But Win’s company offers more than he bargained for when she confides that her brother has been murdered by an outlaw rustler bent on ruining every rancher for miles around. It’s more than the Marshal can handle, but word is that it’s something the Coulter brothers can…




The Coulter brothers have gone their separate ways for the time being. While Joe’s strikin’ gold, Win is being tracked by someone with a well-placed burr under his saddle…

But what really rankles Win is his less-than-hospitable welcome in Horseshoe, Nevada. After being left for dead in the street, all Win wants is a good meal, a cold beer, and the sultry coos of a soiled dove. All that stands in his way is a no-good sheriff, whose mouth is faster than his draw. Killing the man gets Win a date with the gallows. But you can’t count one Coulter out while his brother still has the gumption – and the guns – to do something about it…

Monday 11 October 2021

LONGARM AND THE ROCK SPRINGS RECKONING


Number 434 of 436 + 29 Giant Editions
By Tabor Evans
Cover illustration by Milo Sinovcic
Jove, January 2015

After saving soiled dove Lucy Potter from two attackers, Longarm takes pity on the young woman. He buys her a new dress, gets her cleaned up, and takes her out for a fancy steak dinner. Lucy’s got a good heart, and Longarm hopes his kindness might encourage the jaded prostitute to try another line of work.

But before Lucy can begin her new life, she’s killed by the same men who attacked her. Blinded by rage, Longarm can no longer see the line between justice and revenge. He turns in his badge and rides off after the killers. But as he trails them to Rock Springs, her learns the killing was premeditated – and greed was the motive. . . 

What at first seems like a straight-forward revenge tale slowly takes on a few twists as Lucy Potter’s family become involved and Longarm finds he has a puzzle to solve. Were any of Lucy’s family responsible for her death? Most of Longarm’s investigation takes place in the last quarter of the story, the earlier chapters used for introducing various characters and Longarm forming a plan to track down Lucy’s killers. The author also follows the murderers flight for a couple of chapters which helps make the reader wonder how Longarm will ever catch up to them.

The author paces the book well and kept me turning the pages as I wanted to discover whether Longarm would just kill those he hunted to satisfy his need for vengeance, or would he control that urge and attempt to arrest them? 

There’s not a lot of gunplay in this story which may disappoint some. The Longarm books are an adult series but sex is kept to a bare minimum, just a couple of pages in total. This tale is more a murder mystery with Longarm just asking questions, listening and watching to find out who was behind Lucy’s killing.

For me, I wouldn’t place this Longarm book up there with the best the series has to offer, but it did keep me entertained. The final scenes offering some surprises into the fate of a couple of the characters that tied the story up neatly.  

An observation on the book itself. The Longarm books are around 180 pages long, but this one has blank pages so all chapters can start on a right-hand page and those chapters start about half-way down the page. All that means is that the story is 30 pages shorter than the overall count. 


Tuesday 5 October 2021

NORTH OF LARAMIE



BUCK TRAMMEL 1
By William W. Johnstone and J.A. Johnstone
Pinnacle, May 2020

Once upon a time in the Old West, Buck Trammel was a Pinkerton agent with a promising future. But after a tragic incident in a case gone wrong, he struck out for the wide-open spaces of Wichita, Kansas. Working as a bouncer at The Gilded Lily Saloon, he hopes to stay out of trouble. But soon enough, his skills are put to the test. Two of the Bowman clan turn a friendly card game with a drunk gambler into a killer-take-all confrontation. Buck saves the gambler’s life, but at the cost of the Bowman men. That’s when Deputy Wyatt Earp arrives. He warns Buck that he’d better get out of town, pronto, and take the gambler with him. The rest is history – if he lives long enough to tell it . . . 

The blurb deals with the opening scenes of this fast-moving tale about greed, power and the law. As Trammel and the gambler, Adam Hagen, put distance between themselves and Wichita their true characters slowly emerge and a friendship is formed. Behind them come some of the Bowman’s, desperate for revenge. Other killers are on Trammel’s trail too. The author switches between characters  as subplots develop and shape the main storyline.

Adam decides he and Trammel should head to the Hagan family home near the town of Blackstone, just North of Laramie, even though he doesn’t think he’ll be welcomed by his cattle baron father. Once they arrive at the Blackstone Ranch the author introduces more complications to the plot that will cause deadly problems for Trammel to overcome. Trammel finds himself appointed Sheriff of Blackstone and is soon involved in plenty of gunplay and powerplays.

As the story races towards its end, it becomes obvious that some of the plot-threads won't be completely resolved, neatly paving the way for the second book, Bury the Hatchet, a book that I’m sure I’ll be reading very soon as North of Laramie was a very entertaining and enjoyable tale that left me wanting more.


Thursday 30 September 2021

PURSUIT IN THE SUN



By Matt Chisholm
Panther, October 1960

Henry McGladdery Forty, United States Army . . . ending his days after twenty years’ service in a shabby frontier fort on the edge of the south-western desert, tempted to quick promotion by a colonel’s daughter with better looks than morals; tempted to civilian freedom by a wild mustanger’s daughter . . . 

Then his thoughts were disturbed by the thunder of the unshod hoofs of Apache ponies, their riders yelling in fury at the soldiers and civilians who barred their way to the riches of the country. Forty knew there was only one way to fight an Apache – fight him alone. So fight him he did . . . 

If you like westerns filled with gunfights then this is the book for you. In fact, the final third of the story is pretty much one long, frantic chase and gun battle between the Apaches and Forty’s small band of men who are determined to bring an end to Correoso’s raids. A lot of the fights involve horses, as the Apaches attempt to steal fresh mounts and Forty tries to stop them.

Although long-time readers of westerns won’t find anything new in this book, Matt Chisholm always keeps the story interesting and gripping and immediately has you wondering what’s going on as his tale begins in the midst of a dangerous situation. His heroic figures will have you urging them on as they battle superior odds. Chisholm’s taut plotting is often laced with mild humour and you can never be sure of just who will be alive by the end. 

Matt Chisholm is the most well-known pseudonym used by Peter Watts and he’s always been one of my favourite British western authors, and even though this book isn’t one of this best as it was a little predictable, it was still very entertaining and left me eager to read more of his work. 

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.