Friday 31 December 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


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


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


Number 1 of 8
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


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.