Monday 31 May 2021


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


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



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


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


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.