Friday, 20 May 2022

THE MULESKINNER

By Robert MacLeod
Coronet, third impression, 1974
Originally published by Fawcett, 1967

They called him the ox – too big to resist – too good to beat – and just too stubborn to die . . . 

Among the savage, ceaseless horizons of this godforsaken country, nobody gave a damn who or what a man really was. All that counted was what he seemed to be. And Ben Davis seemed to be a walking, breathing challenge to every brawling drifter with a pair of itchy fists and a hot gun hand.

Only a fool would brace him in a fair fight. And the gang of cut-throat killers who wanted him out of the way were anything but fools. They loaded their guns and laid a trap as certain as death and taxes. What they had in mind no man could survive. No man except, maybe, the Muleskinner.

Although this book, and Six-Guns South, have been in my collection for many years, I’ve never read them or any other book by Robert MacLeod. Two of MacLeod’s novels have been made into films, the Appaloosa starring Marlon Brando and The Californio filmed as 100 Rifles starring Burt Reynolds, Raquel Welsh and Jim Brown. I can remember seeing and liking the latter, but can’t recall every watching Appaloosa. 

The first few pages of The Muleskinner didn’t immediately grip me. Nothing really happened other than introducing Ben Davies, the man known as Ox and his swamper, Jake – a dependable man even though he’s constantly drunk. The author also includes a lot of detail about driving freight wagons pulled my mules which whilst informative did seem to slow the narrative down a little. After a couple of short chapters, the pace began to pick up and events started to get more interesting and I started to enjoy the tale. 

Stagecoach robberies are the main theme to the story. Who is behind them? Apaches? Someone else? Love interest is mixed into the plot too when Ox falls for Gwen, but she seems to prefer another man, Lew. This causes all kinds of problems as jealousy pushes Ox to do and say things he probably shouldn’t if he wants to win Gwen’s heart. Further complications arise when Ox saves a young Mexican boy who has been living with the Apaches and taking part in their raids. When Ox brings Flaco to town there are people who want to see the boy dead. This includes a couple of buffalo hunters who are friends with Lew. 

There is plenty of hard fist action as Ox isn’t above punching anyone who annoys him. This leads to plenty of hand-to-hand fights, one of which leads to a surprising death. There’s gunplay too, often during freight drives. Everything is resolved in an exciting final showdown which finished the book as I expected.

Overall, a story that entertained me enough to want to read the other MacLeod book that I have but not enough to add it to my must read soon pile.

Sunday, 15 May 2022

THE FIRES OF BLACKSTONE


BUCK TRAMMEL 4
By William W. Johnstone and J.A. Johnstone
Pinnacle, May 2022

“King” Charles Hagen is dead. The empire he carved out of Blackstone, Wyoming, by hook and by crook now lies in the hands of his children. Caleb Hagen has long stood in his father’s shadow, ambitiously plotting, and ready to stake his claim. Young and impetuous Bart Hagan planes to expand the family legacy across the nation. Debora Hagan’s ruthless nature believes the time has come for a queen to reign over the Hagan kingdom.

Only Adam, their estranged brother, has a different plan. His vengeance against their father requires him to tear down everything “King” Hagan ever built, even if that means shedding family blood. But none of the siblings reckoned that the bloodthirsty crime honcho Lucien Clay was prepared to send a murderous pack of gunslingers against them all for control of the territory.

Blackstone has been ruled by lawlessness long enough. The town is Buck Trammel’s jurisdiction. And he will protect it as judge, jury, and executioner . . . 

Those of you that have read the previous three books in this series will know that each story is self-contained, yet carries plotlines and characters from book to book. If you’ve been following the difficulties that have faced Buck Trammel as he tries to bring peace to Blackstone this book will be a must read for you. If you’ve not read the earlier books then you might prefer to do so before beginning this one, but if you do dive right in to this story, you’ll find the author includes enough information for you to understand what has happened before.

The introduction of “King” Hagan’s sons and daughters adds a great set of new characters to those that have survived the series so far. And it’s not just them that add fresh blood to the storyline, there’s the hired assassin Stanton who seems to be more than a match for Trammel, perhaps he’ll be the man who’ll finally put the lawman in his grave. If you enjoy courtroom drama, then this story has that too, as the validity of “King” Hagan’s will is contested in some gripping scenes that offer surprise after surprise. There’s an interesting turn of events in Trammel’s relationship with Emily. Trammel also gets an offer he finds impossible to turn down. All this and more, makes for a complicated and gripping plot that made the book difficult to put down.

The author neatly brings everything to a rousing and violent climax played out on the streets of Blackstone that seems to bring a close to all the storylines in this tale and those that have continued book to book. I say seems to bring a close, as a neat twist at the end could mean there’s more trouble in store for the survivors. One can only live in hope.


Wednesday, 11 May 2022

THE FLYING WAGON


FERGAL O’BRIEN 4
By I.J. Parnham
Avalon Books, 2007

The showman Fergal O’Brien and his assistant Randolph McDougal come to the aid of a damsel in distress who has been attacked by the bandit Van Romalli. She pays their kindness by riding off with their display of authentic historical memorabilia.

Now Fergal must find a new way to earn a living. An opportunity arrives when Jim Broughton sells him an attraction called the Treasure of Saint Woody. But all is not as it seems. Jim is really a U.S. Marshal and the only patron he wants Fergal to attract is Van Romalli. Blissfully unaware he is being used a bait, Fergal is starting to rebuild his fortune when Ezekiel T. Montgomery rides into town to promote the wondrous maiden voyage of his flying wagon – a Conestoga dirigible. 

Faced with a seemingly unbeatable competitor, Fergal tries to solve all his problems with a reckless wager, which leaves him facing the greatest challenge ever. He has twenty-four hours to learn how to fly or he’ll lose everything.

I’ve enjoyed many westerns written by I.J. Parnham, especially the Fergal O’Brien series and I couldn’t believe I’ve let ten years slip by since I read the third book in the series, Miss Dempsey’s School for Gunslingers

The majority of the main characters are showmen or conmen – sometimes they’re a mixture of both, as is our hero Fergal O’Brien. Once again Fergal and his sidekick, Randolph McDougal, find themselves in a self-made situation that had me wondering how they could possibly come out on top? 

I.J. Parnham is a master at blending western action with a humorous plot and I found myself grinning and laughing out loud many times as I read this book. As twist after twist further complicated the problems Fergal and Randolph faced, I found myself unable to put the book down before I found out how it all ended.

The horse Fergal and Randolph find themselves lumbered with is just one of the very memorable elements of this book. The slowest pursuit of an outlaw ever is another. 

Catching Van Romalli became a small problem compared to the challenge Fergal takes up. A race in a straight line across a lake without touching the water. Fergal has just a day to work out how to make his wagon take-off and fly to beat Montgomery’s flying wagon. The scenes of Fergal’s wagon racing down a slope as it attempts to make enough speed to launch itself into the air with attached wings flapping like mad were so visually written that it felt like I was there, laughing along with the crowd gathered lakeside to watch this historical event.

Did Fergal’s wagon get into the air? Did Montgomery’s for that matter? Who won the race? That is something I can’t reveal here as that really would spoil the ending for anyone planning to read the book. If you want to know, I guess you’ll just have to grab yourself a copy and I’ll sure you’ll have fun finding out the answer.

If you struggle to find these hardback books, and don’t mind reading ebooks, then you’ll be pleased to know that I.J. Parnham has recently made all the Fergal O’Brien novels available in this form.

Saturday, 30 April 2022

BULLETS DON'T DIE


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

Conrad Browning, a.k.a. The Loner, knows what it’s like to have a family and a home. And he knows what it’s like to lose it all. Now, he has met a man living on the edge of sanity: a good man, a flawed man, a solitary man who might just cost The Loner his life…

Jared Tate is an aging U.S. marshal who has saved lives, made enemies, and planted a lot of bad men in hallowed ground. But Tate is in deep trouble, the kind that comes from a troubled mind. Not remembering as much as he wants to, not forgetting as much as he should. Tate has one person to trust. Because the Loner has made Tate’s enemies his own, taking on Tate’s demons and Tate’s fight. In the lawless and violent Kansas territory, a young wanderer and an again lawman will journey side-by-side one last time – into a fight that will take every bullet they have…

The theme of memory loss due to age is a storyline that doesn’t turn up that often in westerns, and having this tale revolve around that condition makes this story a bit different to other books. Tate’s condition provides one or two humorous moments, but mainly his mixed-up memories will trigger feelings of sadness within the reader. The author handles these scenes with a sensitivity that’ll soon have you hoping you won’t suffer in a similar way when you get older.

The Loner and the lawman get involved in a number of deadly situations as the former escorts Tate to his daughter’s home. At first The Loner doesn’t realize that Tate is suffering from memory loss but it soon becomes very evident and The Loner has to confiscate Tate’s gun when the lawman tries to kill him when he confuses the Loner for an outlaw he tracked down many years before.

An unfortunate newspaper report reveals Tates’ whereabout to both old and new enemies and several attempts on his life are made. As well as gunfights the Loner gets involved in a couple of vicious fistfights as he tries to protect the old lawman. 

I don’t want to make any comments about the ending so as not to spoil it for those who are planning to read the book, except to say that it didn’t quite turn out as I expected.

Talking of endings, Bullets Don’t Die is the last book in the Loner series and for me that is a shame as I’ve thoroughly enjoyed them all. But I will be able to read more about Conrad Browning as in 2021 the Johnstone’s put out a book called The Morgans which sees the Loner team up with his father, Frank Morgan a.k.a. The Last Gunfighter, and I’ll be reading that very soon.


Monday, 25 April 2022

BLOODY JOE


BLOODY JOE MANNION 1
By Peter Brandvold
Wolfpack Publishing, April 2022

“Bloody” Joe Mannion is a town tamer of great renown. His temper is just a famous. Known as the most uncompromising lawman on the Western frontier, he’s been the town marshal of Del Norte in the Colorado Territory for the past five years. When his temper gets the better of him and he badly beats Whip Helton, the son of a prominent rancher, Joe’s house is burned down and his daughter kidnapped and raped. Joe goes on a vengeance-fuelled warpath, putting him at odds with the whole town he’s sworn to protect.

To make sure Whip Helton hangs for the kidnapping and rape, Bloody Joe will risk everything, including his life, the town, and a hail of hot lead!

Bloody Joe is the first book in a tough new series from Peter Brandvold, an author I’ve long been a fan of, and for me he’s yet again come up with a terrific lead character who I’m going to enjoy reading more about. Once Joe sets his mind on doing something, he’s going to do it, and to hell with everything and everyone else. This single-minded determination could see him lose his job, his woman, and his life.

There are loads of excellent confrontations throughout this fast-moving tale and you have to wonder how Blood Joe can emerge victorious as the rancher has a small army ready to take on the lawman and bust Whip Helton out of jail. How Joe gets Whip into jail is just one of the thrilling parts of this brutal tale.

Peter Brandvold excels at fast and furious action scenes and hard-hitting violence, yet he can also write tender scenes just as well, Joe’s love for his daughter comes across superbly. Joe’s haunted mind regarding eyes and his almost uncontrollable temper are appealing traits to his character too.

One of the scenes that built-up tension to breaking point for me was when Joe daughter, Vangie, took her first steps into the streets of Del Norte after her horrific ordeal. I had no idea how this was going to play out. Was she going to snap, be ok, or perhaps take her own life?

There are other great characters to discover too, such as Stringbean, one of Joe’s deputies who doubts his abilities as a lawman, with the opposite sex and as a man and it isn’t long before he’s battling with his belief that he is a coward.

Everything is resolved in a gripping final showdown that has a high death toll and includes a couple of surprising moments making for a very satisfying ending to this great book. 

If you are a fan of Peter Brandvold’s work, then you’ll not want to miss this book, this series. If you love fast-paced action-packed westerns then this is a book that should be on your must-read list. If you’ve never read anything by Peter Brandvold then this is a great place to start, to find out what you’ve been missing.

Book 2, Revenge at Burial Rock is due out in May 2022.


Wednesday, 20 April 2022

BOBBIES, BAUBLES AND BLOOD


DOC & RAIDER
Book 21 of 73
By J.D. Hardin
Playboy Paperbacks, January 1983

Let loose in London, Doc and Raider are supposed to help Scotland Yard find a master jewel thief. Instead, they crash Victorian society and smash Victorian morals, unable to resist those lusty ladies of nobility who find Western ways so exciting – and who need protection from a crazed medieval-style killer. From the West End to Ascot, from Buckingham Palace to the Tower of London, the Pinkertons take on the high life and the low, while Britain holds its breath.

The fact that this tale takes place in London was what made me decide to read this book as I was curious to see how the author presented the English capital city and its people. As expected, it was full of stereotypes and the fact that the upper-class finished many of their sentences with the word ‘what’ was fun to start with but got a little tedious as the story progressed, almost like the author was using the way people speak to differentiate the Americans from English and the privileged form the poor. I certainly wasn’t going to let this spoil my enjoyment of this book though.

Doc and Raider were forbidden of taking part in any investigation to apprehend the jewel thief. They were there so Doc could confirm the identity of the crook as he was the only person to have seen the criminal when the Pinkertons had pursued the criminal in America. Sightseeing and visiting with the super-rich was how they would pass their time, and this was how they got involved with a vicious killer who hacked his victims up with medieval weapons – this killer possibly being the jewel thief too.

As usual Doc and Raider squabble about how to pass their time. This leads to some funny moments, especially when Raider meets a young Winston Churchill. The killings are gruesome and the body count mounts up quickly and soon both Raider and Doc find themselves battling to survive. After a few twists and turns, they have some idea of what they are dealing with but can they defeat this madman? Of course, both plots, killer and thief, entwine and the Pinkertons find themselves involved in a robbery to steal jewels from Queen Victoria which becomes part of the final showdown. 

The Doc and Raider books fall into the adult category of westerns so they do contain some explicit lengthy sex scenes but these are easy to skip if you don’t like reading this kind of thing.

If you want a different kind of western to read, due to where it takes place, then this is certainly a book worth considering. At times it felt like a crime murder mystery rather than a shoot ‘em up western but that was ok with me as it added a bit of variety to my reading.

J.D. Hardin is a pseudonym in this case the real author is Neal Barrett Jr. who wrote three books in the series. There isn’t any continuation in the Doc and Raider series, so you can jump in anywhere and enjoy each as a stand-alone story. Raider would go on to appear in his own 42 book series.

Tuesday, 12 April 2022

BUTLER'S WAGER


GAMBLER 1
By Robert J. Randisi
Wolfpack Publishing, April 2022
Originally published by Harper, April 2007

Ty Butler came from Eastern wealth—but ruthless killers destroyed everyone—and anything—who shared his name. Seeking a safe haven in the open West, he discovered refuge among the outlaws and fugitives who staked their claims at the gaming table. His remarkable, and at times uncanny skill at reading faces and cards has kept Butler flush with cash and living comfortably—but it has also kept him sharp and ready for the numerous assassins hunting him, eager to finish the job of wiping the Butler name and legacy from the pages of history.

Arriving in Dodge City, Butler finds the place in chaos. A new type of law is in play here where Bat Masterson carved his legend. Old and powerfully dangerous grudges are about to explode, and Ty Butler is caught smack dab in the middle. When the smoke clears and the undertaker has cleared the corpses, Butler will have friends and enemies in all the wrong places.

Robert J. Randisi is a name fans of western fiction will know as he has written hundreds of westerns under his own name and a variety of pseudonyms. If you like reading Mr. Randisi’s work then you’ll want to grab a copy of this book.

Many of Robert J. Randisi’s westerns fall into the adult category of books, but this series doesn’t as there isn’t any explicit sex to found within its pages. You will find a little profanity but this is used sparingly. Like all the books I’ve read by this author, the pace is fast and dialogue driven.

Butler is an interesting character and we meet him just before he heads to Dodge City so his past is shrouded in mystery. As the story progresses, we find out a little more about a private bounty that has been placed on his head by a person unknown that has seen many attempts on his life and there will be more in this story.

Robert J. Randisi often uses real life characters, events and places in his books and this is one of those stories. Here you will find the fictional Butler interacting with Ben Thompson, A.J. Peacock, Al Updegraph, Jim Masterson and Neal Brown among others. 

The story includes tense gambling scenes and some mystery as to who a bounty hunter is after when there seems to be more than one possible target. There is also another man with a secret past who may, or may not, have a role to play in the outcome of the tale.

For me, Robert J. Randisi has come up with the perfect blend of fictional and historical to make for a very entertaining read that should be enjoyed by all western fiction readers. I’m certainly looking forward to reading the second book soon.


Friday, 8 April 2022

BLOOD ON THE TRAIL


JEREMIAH HALSTEAD 1
By Terrence McCauley
Pinnacle, April 2022

Deputy U.S. Marshal Jeremiah Halstead is escorting notorious outlaw John Hudson across the territory for trial pursued by a pack of Hudson’s men, anxious to rescue their partner from custody. Halstead puts the blast on them, but outnumbered and outgunned, he has little choice but to hole up in an old mining town known as Silver Cloud, Montana. It’s a place where he can keep a lock on his prisoner while figuring out how to get past Hudson’s gang alive.

But the folks in Silver Cloud are none to happy playing host to the lawman or his kill-crazy prisoner. Unable to trust the sheriff to back his play, Halstead finds himself standing alone against Hudson’s gang as they slip into town, recruiting gunmen to help free their leader.

Except for Ed Zimmerman. He’s spent his whole criminal life in John Hudson’s shadow. He wants Hudson dead and buried so he can become the leader of the gang. And if he has to, he’ll put everyone in Silver Cloud six feet under – including Deputy U.S. Marshal Halstead . . .

This book is a terrific start to Terrence McCauley’s new western series. The plot moves forwards at a tremendous pace and is full of twists and turns as different characters are introduced and make their own impact on the situation in Silver Cloud. There is plenty of gunplay and tension mounts as the author builds towards the final deadly shoot-out that sees the death toll rise considerably.

If you’ve read Terrence McCauley’s Sheriff Aaron Mackey series, particularly the last two books, you’ll have met Jeremiah Halstead before and Blood on the Trail does reference events in those books. In fact, some of the characters from the Mackey series, including the sheriff, have small parts to play in this story too. There is also a link to the first Mackey book in that Zimmerman rode with the outlaws Mackey had to deal with in that tale. Having said all that, you do not need to read the Mackey books before reading this spin-off series, as McCauley includes enough information for readers to understand what has gone before and the relationships the various characters have with each other.

Terrence McCauley includes lots of gripping story elements that demand you keep reading. There’s Halstead’s face-off with Silver Cloud’s sheriff Boddington and his two deputies that results in simmering hatred from Silver Cloud’s lawman towards Halstead. Can the U.S. Marshal count on them in his time of need? Then there’s the murder of a whore – who killed her and why? And why does she have books about manipulating others and gaining political power under her bed? Then there’s the question of why Mackey orders Halstead to stay in Silver Cloud? All this and more further complicate things for Halstead as he desperately tries to hang onto his prisoner.

Blood on the Trail proved to be an excellent start to a new series from Terrence McCauley and if it isn’t already on your want-to-read list then it should be. Mr. McCauley is definitely a rising star in western fiction.


Thursday, 31 March 2022

THE GUNS OF HAMMER


By Barry Cord
Pearson’s Western Library, 1957
Originally published 1956

Miles North’s father had suddenly saddled up and ridden away without a trace or explanation. At the same time, just as young Miles found himself in a showdown fight to hold the mighty range, a group of ornery strangers rode into the land, lined themselves up alongside Hammer’s foes, and started to close in.

But Miles was no quitter. He knew that even though the odds against him had doubled, there was at least one way to save his hide and his father’s holdings. It would involve taking a backtrail into the distant past – one that would lead either to utter disgrace or to the kind of discovery that would bring all the guns of Hammer into thundering action!

As expected from Barry Cord, this tale is a tough, hardboiled read that gallops forward at a tremendous pace. Full of hard men who will stop at nothing to achieve their aims, which is to either take control of Hammer or defend it. 

From the opening scene we find that Miles North can be as vicious as any of the cold-hearted killers he'll come up against as the fairly straight-forward tale progresses. I say fairly straight-forward, as Barry Cord includes a couple of neat plot twists that keep what is essentially an often-used storyline in westerns interesting and fresh. This mainly revolves around the content of a mysterious letter that Miles’ father has left behind that no-one knows about other that the sheriff who is killed before he can read it. Of course, this letter becomes the central point around which the plot revolves.

Barry Cord is a pseudonym used by Peter Germano and I’ve read quite a few of his books and enjoyed them all. Whilst The Guns of Hammer might not be right up there with his very best, I did find it to be entertaining and would say that most fans of western fiction would find it a satisfying read too.

Monday, 28 March 2022

BITTER BRAND


By Tom West
Ace Books, 1966

     “We need a dependable man,” the leading citizens of Cold Creek told Lobo Lawson, “and we figger you’re him. So we’re offerin’ you the post of town marshal.”
     Lawson was a stranger in town, but they already knew he was a good man with a gun. He’d just shot it out with a passel of bank robbers on the road to town and he demonstrated his skill with a six-shooter and a fast draw.
     Folks in Cold Creek appreciated that because they sure had been having their troubles. Marshals were being buried at a fast pace, there were son many hardcases around.     
     Lobo had brass all right, because he took that badge and pinned it on. He’d bring law to Cold Creek – hot on his heels, because Lobo had just escaped from a jail sentence and the Wanted posters would be featuring is face everywhere! 

Tom West is a pseudonym for English author Tom East, and perhaps others, and this is the first time I’ve read anything by him even though I have a few of his books in my collection.

The story starts with Lawson’s escape from the stagecoach taking him to Yuma prison. Soon he finds himself in Cold Creek and in need of funds. His intention is to rob the bank but he’s beaten to it. Tracking the bandits, he kills them and plans to move on with the loot, but the posse arrives before he can hit the trail and they hail him a hero, which in turn leads to him being offered the marshal’s badge.

Lawson still plans to rob the bank but his priorities change as he gets to know the townsfolk, particularly a certain young lady. After a child is wounded by drunk cowboys, Lawson finds himself enforcing a no guns in saloons law, which doesn’t go down well. Lawson is also at odds with one of the most influential men in town. Eventually two U.S. deputies arrive in Cold Creek and Lawson’s troubles really begin.

The author writes in a fairly hardboiled style and uses many terms I haven’t come across before in westerns, such as characters referring to others as “hairpins.” Other words at times made me wonder if I was reading a noir private-eye tale. Not that I minded any of this, as it certainly gave the book a character of its own. The pace was extremely fast and I wasn’t sure how the story would end for Lawson. Working out who the main bad guy was wasn’t hard, I had that nailed right from the beginning, but what he was up to was another matter. Once Lawson knew, he then had the problem of proving it as the vital evidence vanished. 

With plenty of twists and turns, the author kept me glued to the story. Characterization was pretty good for such a short tale and brief descriptions gave a good sense of time and place. There was plenty of gunplay and the vanishing evidence added some welcome mystery to the story. All in all, I found this to be a very entertaining read and I’m looking forward to reading another Tom West book soon. 

Bitter Brand is one story in an Ace Double book and it is backed by Rain of Fire by Merle Constiner and you can read my review of that here. I much preferred Bitter Brand of the two.

Thursday, 24 March 2022

THE INTRUDERS


BUCK TRAMMEL 3
By William W. Johnstone and J.A. Johnstone
Pinnacle, July 2021

Blackstone, Wyoming, belongs to “King” Charles Hagan. The rancher bought land, built businesses, and employed most of the townsfolk. Unfortunately, Sheriff Buck Trammel is not on His Majesty’s payroll. The lawdog won’t be tamed or trained to accept the king’s position as master of the territory, but neither will he threaten his empire.

Adam Hagan, the king’s second in command, is vying to take control of his father’s violent empire in Blackstone. Sidling up with the notorious criminal Lucien Clay, Adam is adding professional hired guns who perform his dirty deeds without question. But moving against his father means crossing paths with his former friend Buck – the man who once saved Adam’s life.

A civil war is coming to Blackstone. And when the gunsmoke clears, Buck Trammel is determined to be the last man standing . . . 

This is a series that you may prefer to read in order as many storylines continue from book to book. Having said that, each book does have its own specific plot that will be resolved even though this may give birth to new story threads that will entwine with series running plots and carry on in the next book. 

Whereas some westerns read like one long gun battle from beginning to end, the Buck Trammel series doesn’t. These books revolve around complicated powerplays as most of the main characters attempt to wipe each other out by destroying each other’s businesses in any way they can so they can take control of them themselves. These twisting power struggles offer surprise after surprise and often have unexpected outcomes. All this makes for gripping reading. Of course, there is gunplay, and murder, all of which leads to an excellent showdown at the end that sees a lot of lead slung and many bodies littering the streets of Blackstone.

Trammel tries his best to keep a lid on things whilst wrestling with affairs of the heart as the two women in his life respond in different ways to him – to say more about this would give away too much of the plot. The author piles on problem after problem for the lawman to deal with. Strained relationships reach breaking point. There is also a surprising death, the aftermath of which sets up the violent ending to the tale. 

Like the two books before it, The Intruders turned out to be an enthralling read and the end left me very much looking forward to the next book in the series.


Monday, 21 March 2022

AMBUSH AT APACHE PASS


By Frank Leslie
Signet, September 2014

When Chiricahau Apaches attack a stagecoach bound for Fort Hell, Yakima Henry and fellow scout Seth Barksdale rush to defend it – only to discover that one of the fallen Apache is a blond-haired, blue-eyed white boy. This is shocking news to the fort’s commanding officer, Colonel Ephraim Alexander. Years ago, his family was kidnapped during an Apache attack, and his desperate search was cut short by orders to evacuate. If this white Apache warrior is his son, can his wife and daughter still be alive?

The colonel charges Yakima and Seth to lead a search party. Riding as far as the forbidding Shadow Montañas in Mexico, they come up against a ruthless warrior queen – a beautiful blond white woman with cornflower blue eyes. Can this unlikely leader of the fierce Winte Wolf People and a pack of ex-Confederate desperadoes actually be the colonel’s long-lost daughter? As bullets fly and blood paints the desert red, Yakima and Seth grow ever more determined to find the truth.

This book was announced as being the first in a new series that would feature Yakima Henry as a young scout during the Apache Wars. Frank Leslie had already written ten books about Yakima in his later life. As many will know, Frank Leslie is a pseudonym used by Peter Brandvold and the book was republished in 2021 by Wolfpack Publishing under the authors own name. 

The story offers everything readers would expect from a western written by Peter Brandvold; an extremely fast-moving tale, tough men, sensuous women who can handle weapons as well as any man, savage action that at times is quite graphic in its description and plenty of surprising twists to the plot. 

Yakima Henry isn’t in the book as much as some of the other characters and what great characters they are. People such as Seth Barksdale, Samantha Tunny and her father Gila River Joe. Then there’s Riona the Apache Queen and Luz Ortega, the latter being in one of my favourite scenes of the story that could have come straight-out of a spaghetti western when Yakima and Seth face some Mexican bandits lead by a man known as The Scorpion. The book also features a Gatling Gun which creates carnage a couple of times in spectacular fashion, especially during a raid on Fort Hell.

As I’ve already mentioned, this book was the first in a new series so I’m guessing that Peter Brandvold had plans for the survivors of this tale as some of the forming relationships are left hanging. Sadly, there wasn’t another book but now that Wolfpack is republishing past westerns from the author along with new work, maybe we’ll get another in this series too. Let’s hope so, as this first Apache Wars novel was an excellent read and deserves a sequel. 


Wednesday, 16 March 2022

COMANCHE!


PEACEMAKER
Book 1 of 9
By William S. Brady
Fontana Books, 1981

McLain had nothing left in Missouri. His wife was dead, his farm burned out.

The Civil War taught him the bloody art of killing, and now he was alone. He owned a brace of Colt’s Dragoon pistols, a Sharps carbine, and a horse. He followed the rebel guerrilla trail south to Texas.

And there, the Nokoni Comanche took his horse and plunged him into a violent struggle for survival that was even more savage than the whiteman’s war. A brutal fight for life that sent McLain down the killing trail again… But this time in pursuit of a dream.

All the Peacemaker books begin with a prologue that explains what has gone before, and this being the first sketches out the background for the place this and the following books will be set. Peacemaker comes from the group of authors later to known as the Piccadilly Cowboys and this series stands out from the others in that it is set in one place rather than featuring a drifter. These books follow the growth of a town. This means McLain isn’t the only regular character to appear in the series.

William S. Brady is a pseudonym shared by Angus Wells and John B. Harvey, the latter only writing a couple of entries in the series. Having multiple people returning in each of the books allowed the authors to develop their characters deeply which makes it easy for the reader to come to care about them, share their ambitions, their joy, their anger and frustrations and experience shock when a likeable character is in danger, hurt or even killed. 

This first entry into the series was written by Angus Wells and the story is really one long conflict against the Comanche which involves the US Army as well as McLain. Trying to free a captive who is being used as bait adds some excellent tension to the tale. Having McLain and Captain Donnely at odds with each other creates some great situations too in battles of words which see McLain facing the threat of being shot. The action scenes are vicious and extremely graphic as the author describes the damage done to the human body when hit by bullets, lances and arrows. The pace of the story never lets up as it races towards its final bloody battle. But the tale doesn’t end there as some of the surviving characters have personal differences to sort out and the seeds of a dream need planting.

Comanche is an excellent start to what was one of my favourite series to come from the Piccadilly Cowboys. The books can be hard to find these days, but there is some great news and that is that Piccadilly Publishing have finally been given permission to put Angus Wells’ work out in ebook form. Comanche will go on sale on April 1st, 2022. Other series that Wells wrote books for are set to follow too.

 

Sunday, 6 March 2022

BLOOD ON THE MOON


RUFF JUSTICE
Number 3 of 28
By Warren T. Longtree
Signet, December 1981

With her father dangerously ill, lovely Baroness Sophia Mancek was desperately determined to track down her missing sister. And once she’d decided that Ruffin T. Justice was the only man for the job, Sophia made him the kind of offer no real man could resist. But Ruff soon realized the seductive Sophia had roped him into much more than he bargained for, as he found himself riding a trail that led through treacherous snow-filled passes and straight into a bullet-blazing battle with gunrunners and renegade Indians….

Warren T. Longtree is a pseudonym used by Paul Lederer. I’ve read a lot of books by him and enjoyed them all so was this one as good? The book seems to have a straight-forward plot but it isn’t long before the author throws in some twists and the bodies begin to pile up.

Sophia Mancek’s train carries an interesting variety of people and shortly after the journey begins Justice finds one of them dead in his sleeping compartment. Why has he been killed and who did it? After Justice disposes of the body, he’s surprised that no-one seems to miss the dead man. Justice soon has his suspicions about some of his fellow travellers, and this leads to him being on the wrong end of a savage beating. Pounded to a bloody pulp with broken ribs you have to wonder how he can survive, never mind find Sophia’s missing sister. 

Lederer’s descriptions of land, people and action are very good. He soon had me wondering just who was telling the truth about anything and what their real motives were. It seems as if Justice shouldn’t trust anyone and he soon finds himself driven by his need for vengeance due to the death of a friend. 

Ruff Justice is an adult series so the book contains some explicit sex scenes but these only last for a couple of pages so don’t take up too much of the story and can be easily skipped if you don’t like reading this kind of thing.

There were a couple of scenes that stretched my belief a little, such as what Justice manages to do whilst suffering from broken bones and a battered body, but who wants to let reality get in the way of a good yarn? Because of this Blood on the Moon is probably not the best book I’ve read by Paul Lederer, but it was still an entertaining read and I was left looking forward to seeing what kind of scape Ruff Justice gets into in the next book in the series.

Sunday, 27 February 2022

GUNSTOCK


BUCKSKIN
Number 2 of 42 + 10 Giant Special Editions
By Roy LeBeau
Leisure Books, 1984

When wealthy Abe Bridge, owner of the fabulous Idaho mountain resort, Gunstock, hired Farris Lea as a hunting guide, he didn’t know that Lea was actually Buckskin Frank Leslie, the fastest gun alive. And Buckskin didn’t know he’d wind up trading lead with a robber baron who aimed to swindle Bridge out of a fortune in silver ore.

Though Buckskin was loyal to the man who’d hired him, Bridge’s lovely daughter Sarah was another reason for his remaining at Gunstock. In spite of the allure of a lusty kitchen wench and the erotic expertise of a beautiful German countess, it was for Sarah that Buckskin risked revealing his true identity and facing a hangman’s noose, as he was forced to use his murderous gun skills once more!

Gunstock is a resort for the very rich, and guests come from all over the world for a good time and to do some hunting, but this has very little to do with the plot. Most of the storyline revolves around Buckskin trying to keep secret who he is and how good he is with a gun. This is something he’s been very successful at until the silver ore is discovered and the killings begin. It seems obvious as to who is behind the murders, and soon Buckskin is trying to stay alive and protect the resort owner. 

Early on we discover just what Buckskin will do to keep his real identity a secret. Trouble comes when news gets out that a gunman has been hired to do away with Lea and if that isn’t enough of a problem Ned Buntline arrives at the resort, and he will certainly recognize Lea as Buckskin Frank Leslie. 

The author keeps the plot moving forward well, throwing in a few twists and surprises, including a bloody fight with some Cossacks. Buckskin takes a lot of physical punishment and soon wants to avenge the death of a maid. Some of the fights are hard-hitting and quite brutal – I thought the last confrontation between Buckskin and the hired gun was particularly effective.

Buckskin is an adult series so there is a lot of very explicit sex throughout the story, each act taking place over numerous pages. Occasionally extremely bad language is used too.

Roy LeBeau, a pseudonym used by Mitchell Smith, takes liberties with the real-life story of Buckskin Frank Leslie, but does include some true facts about him in this fictional tale that for me turned out to be a fun read.   

Wednesday, 23 February 2022

HARD LUCK MONEY

THE LONER
Number 14 of 15
By J.A. Johnstone
Pinnacle, July 2012

A beautiful young woman has an incredible story about her outlaw father who got busted out of jail and then met a bloody end. Katherine Lupo believes her dad, a career train robber, was sprung by someone who wanted to set him up for another crime – and then killed him when the job was done. A Texas Ranger believes her and turns to The Loner, to go undercover and find out who was behind Lupo’s escape and murder. Posing as train robber, The Loner finds what he is after: a cold blooded and deadly master criminal. But from the get-go, The Loner is fighting for his life, for the lives of men and women on the right side of the law – and one desperate shot to plant an evil man six feet under.

The first part of this book tells of what happened to Lupo, telling the tale of his jailbreak and reveals who was behind it and what they want from the bank robber. The story then follows his involvement with the gang and his death at the hands of a cold-blooded killer. 

Kid Morgan, The Loner, doesn’t want to get involved, but eventually agrees. Given a new identity the Kid is thrown into prison hoping the gang will free him for his fake talents as a successful train robber. There are some tense scenes inside the prison as the Kid finds he can’t trust anyone, fellow prisoners or guards.

Soon the Kid is sprung in an explosive jailbreak and he finds himself riding with the gang on a train robbery, will he be forced to break the law? He is also surprised to find a beautiful young woman is part of the gang and he is puzzled as to her involvement. Can she be trusted as she wants him to help her escape the gang?

Like the previous books this one moves forward at a tremendous pace. The plot is straight-forward enough but the author keeps it interesting by adding twists and turns that soon had me wondering how the Kid could possibly bring the gang to justice. Filled with great characters and lots of action I found this book to be just as enjoyable as those before it and on reaching the end I was left eager to read the next in the series, something I’ll be doing very soon.

Friday, 18 February 2022

SKINNER


By F.M. Parker
Sphere  Books, 1989
First published by Doubleday, 1981

For centuries the harsh badlands of the west had played host to only the harshest and toughest of beings. John Skinner was one of them – a man as hardened as the mustangs he bred. Using bullets to thin out his herd, he ensured hat the fittest survived.

But now Skinner had a different use for his rifle. It was him against a thieving, murdering gang that held to ransom the woman he loved. They would kill her if he tried to wreck their plan: they would do worse if he didn’t.

Putting bullets into horses was an unpleasant necessity for Skinner. But when he got this gang in his sights, pulling the trigger was going to be a pleasure…

As far as I can tell, this is Fearl Parker’s first western, and like those that come after, it begins with a prologue subtitled The Making of the Land. These pages explain how the land came to be as it is in the story, in this case how a lake had been formed that eventually dried out and became a dusty harsh land where little water could be found. It is in this landscape that Skinner hunts his prey.

Parker is extremely good at describing the land and the struggles to survive in such a hostile place. It is easy for the reader to feel the unrelenting heat and become as parched as the characters looking for water. You’ll share their frustrations when discovering that the life-giving liquid isn’t where it is supposed to be. Over all this hangs the nerve-stretching fear of death from an unseen enemy.

The story is a straight-forward chase tale, a race against time. The characters are well-drawn and you’ll soon be wondering if Skinner will be able to free Beth. Skinner also befriends a young man on the run, who wants to turn his life around, return the money he stole from a bank due to a misunderstanding of his father’s words. A chance discovery seems like it could give him the opportunity to do just that.

There is plenty of hard-hitting violence. Sometimes death strikes so suddenly it’ll take your breath away. One such killing took me totally by surprise and I had to reread the paragraph to make sure it really was the person I thought it was that had died. 

This is only the second Parker book I’ve read, and I’ve really enjoyed them both. I like the gritty descriptions of land and characters. The brutal action scenes and the unpredictability of the plot, which includes the uncertainty of who will be alive at the end. I’m just glad I have a few more Parker books on my shelves as I’m looking forward to reading more by this author.

Recently Fearl Parker has been putting his work out as ebooks, and has also made available some new novels.

Monday, 14 February 2022

RED SUN


By William Terry
NEL, July 1972

A train carrying a Japanese delegation with a golden ceremonial sword for President Grant is robbed by outlaws led by Link and Gauche. When Gauche double-crosses Link and leaves him for dead, Link is ordered to team up with Kuroda, one of the ambassador's samurai bodyguards, who has a week to recover the sword or commit 'hara-kiri'. Kuroda will also kill Link before taking his own life. Hoping to find out from Gauche where the gang buried the loot from the train before Kuroda can kill him, Link tries to unsuccessfully escape from the samurai. Soon a truce is formed between the American and the Japanese samurai and they close in on Gauche but a new threat is waiting for them all, a band of Comanche warriors eager to take all their lives.

One of three film novelisations written by William Terry, whose real name was Terry Harknett, whom westerns fans will know better as his pseudonym George G. Gilman behind which he wrote the extremely successful Edge series. 

Terry told me that his movie novelisations were based on the screenplays and that he didn’t get to see the film before writing the book. He was also given information on who would be starring in the film so he could base his characters descriptions on them. When reading this book, it is very easy to imagine the actors in the leading roles, and hear their voices too. 

The clash of cultures makes for some humorous scenes that add a light-hearted feel to the story but it is not a comedy western. The plot is simple yet entertaining and the many action scenes can be quite brutal at times although nowhere near as graphic as Harknett’s series westerns. 

If you’ve seen the film or are a fan of Terry Harknett’s writing, then this is a must read for you. If you like stories where cultures clash then this is a tale you will probably enjoy. I also think anyone who likes westerns should find this a worthwhile read. 

Red Sun is a 1971 Franco-Italian Spaghetti Western that was directed by Terence Young (better known perhaps for his James Bond films). Red Sun starred Charles Bronson, Toshirō Mifune, Alain Delon and Ursula Andress. The original screenplay was by Denne Bart Petitclerc, William Roberts, and Lawrence Roman, from a story by Laird Koenig. 


Wednesday, 9 February 2022

THE VIOLENT LAND


JUBAL CADE
Number 21 of 22
By Charles R. Pike
Cover art by Richard Clifton-Dey
Granada Publishing, 1983

If Cade hadn’t wanted so badly to track down the man who murdered his wife, he probably would never have ventured into the mountains in such weather. Probably would never have found a couple of lovers crucified on a tree, or been taken by the crazed Ezekial to the weird lost valley which the iron rule of a fierce religion dictated that he should never leave alive . . .

But he did want to find the murderous Kincaid, and he had found the valley. Now, if he wanted to live, he would probably have to kill.

A series begun by author Terry Harknett, who many will know better as George G. Gilman, but from number four the books were all written by Angus Wells, except book 11 which was by Kenneth Bulmer. Harknett said he hadn’t the time to write any more of them after the first three due to other series commitments so happily passed the series over to Wells.

Wells continued with the theme of Cade searching for his wife’s killer, started by Harknett, throughout the series, giving the doctor a reason to be wandering all over the West. Wells soon made the series his own, stamping his very readable style on the books. Of the authors that would become known as the Piccadilly Cowboys, Wells wrote the goriest graphic scenes. Having a doctor as an anti-hero gave Wells the excuse to really get creative in his descriptions of violence and attempts to save people’s lives.

It's the fact that Cade is a doctor that keeps him alive once captured by Ezekial, as he is sick and isn’t ready to die, but even so it’s a fine line Jubal walks between life and death throughout the story. 

After discovering the hanged man and crucified girl, Cade tries to save the latter as she’s just clinging to life. A vicious wolf pack attack adds to Cade’s problems and he’s saved by Ezekial, only to be taken to a hidden community from which he isn’t allowed to leave - ever. Most of the rest of the story revolves around Jubal planning to escape and then putting his plan into action. He doesn’t make his bid for freedom alone, there are others that tag along and they are soon pursued by Ezekial and his right-hand men. The end of the book finishes just as violently as it began in a savage showdown that few will survive.

For followers of this series or fans of Angus Wells’ work, you’ll want to read this book. For those new to the series, it’s a fairly good entry point, even if it is the second-to-last book in the series, as it includes many of the elements the series is known for – good writing, an interesting plot, well crafted characters, bloody violence and detailed medical procedures. This one also contains some great religious speech as Ezekial uses the teachings of the Lord to justify his rules and Cade fires back quotes that make Ezekial doubt himself.

Having read all the books in this series a number of times, I would say it is certainly one of the stranger plotlines, and it’s more than entertaining for that reason alone. I wouldn’t say it was one of the best Jubal Cade books but it’s certainly a fun read.

I must mention the cover art, as this for me is one of the best covers of the entire series – all painted by Richard Clifton-Dey. 

Monday, 31 January 2022

GOLDEN BULLETS


THE TRAILSMAN
Book 142 of 398 + seven giant editions
By Jon Sharpe
Signet, October 1993

Skye Fargo knocked on the door of the Black Hills Mining Company looking for the missing father of a beautiful girl he couldn’t say no to. The door was opened by Linda Ayler, the luscious lady who ran the operation – and Skye was in the kind of trouble he couldn’t get out of even if wanted to. He had two women to satisfy in very different ways, a string of murders that kept getting longer, a labyrinth of lies with death waiting for him at every twist of the truth, and a mine shaft that seemed to go down to hell itself. It would take Skye a lot of digging to uncover the truth about who killed who and why – and a lot of shooting to keep him from being buried with it….

This book is action all the way, from the opening scene of Fargo walking into his hotel room to find five men and a bound woman occupying it, to the final exchange of lead and capture of a murderer. In between there’s loads more deadly situations and lots of verbal fencing that could bring about Fargo’s death if he says or does the wrong thing. 

Twist after twist, suspicion and bluff all ensured that I kept reading as ideas came into my head about just what was going on, and who was behind it, only for these thoughts to be swiftly cast aside as the author skilfully wove misleading information and hints of the truth into the plot.

Character studies are superbly done, especially those of the two main female leads, Bess Darby and Linda Ayler, who soon have Fargo’s head in a spin. Two prospective buyers of the Ayler mine proved to be very amusing as they battled to better each other with their offers. These people, and others, all making it extremely difficult for Fargo to discover the truth about Bess’s father’s disappearance and who was responsible for this and the murders. 

With the Trailsman series being classed as adult reads the book does contain some graphic sex. I was surprised to find that none of this took place until I was at least half-way through the story, the author using the first half to weave his enthralling plot and hook his readers into his fast-flowing tale.

I’m not sure who wrote this entry into the Trailsman series, but I think it was more than likely Jon Messmann, and he once again has come up with an entertaining read that explains why I keep coming back to the series, time and time again.

I also believe the cover art was done by Hiram Richardson.

Thursday, 27 January 2022

TALES FROM DEADWOOD


TALES FROM DEADWOOD
Book 1 of 4
By Mike Jameson
Berkley, November 2005

It’s 1876, Dan Ryan, formerly of Custer’s 7th Cavalry, is leading a party of prospectors to the Black Hills – Sioux territory – where gold was discovered two years before. Although off-limits to whites, the region is overrun by so many fortune-seekers that the U.S. Army is powerless to stop them. Besides, what’s a paper treaty worth next to gold-rich land?

In nearby Deadwood, men raise hell all night after prospecting all day. An outlaw town with no right to exist on Indian land, Deadwood is a lawless cesspool where those who strike it rich can lose everything – including their lives. Possibly the meanest man in the Dakotas, Al Swearengen sells liquor that can poison a man when gold is involved. And now, even Calamity Jane and the legendary Wild Bill Hickok – losing his eyesight but still finding trouble – are coming to stake their claim.

Dan Ryan is going to have to fend off roaming gunmen, angry Sioux, ruthless gamblers, whores and thieving prospectors in order to protect his claim, because in the Badlands of Deadwood, trouble always comes at you from behind… 

The author introduces a whole lot of characters, both real and fictional, that will form new relationships and destroy others and this was one of the elements of the story that kept me glued to the pages. There are many incidents that befall these people such as drinking some of Swearengen’s potent whiskey and suffering from doing so. There’s falling in love and losing one’s virginity to deal with too. Calamity Jane’s pursuit of Hickok and his attempts to avoid her add some humour to the tale. There’s plenty of gunplay and fistfights, twisting schemes, suspense and a mysterious relationship that’ll hook you into the story along with seeing how the characters deal with the news of the massacre of Custer and the 7th Cavalry.

If you like the television series Deadwood, starring Timothy Olyphant and Ian McShane you’ll want to read this book. Even though the books aren’t tied into the TV series in any way, they both share a number of characters, as many of the people were real. The author also includes others than those mentioned above, such as Charley Utter and Buffalo Bill Cody. Characters such as Swearengen only make brief appearances, thus distancing the book from the TV series and in my opinion doing this was an excellent decision by the author. Like the television show, the book does have its fair share of bad language, but nowhere near as much as the TV series, and it also contains some fairly explicit sex scenes.

The pacing of the book is superb and the author, James Reasoner writing as Mike Jameson, certainly knows how to create characters you’ll want to read more about. As you get deeper into the story it soon becomes clear that the author has introduced a number of plotlines that will continue further into the series and I, for one, am eager to find out what happens with these so I will be picking up book two very soon because if it’s anywhere near as good as this book I know I’ll be in for an exciting read.

Sunday, 23 January 2022

DEATH LIST


THE BADGE
Book 12 of 24
By Bill Reno
Cover art by Shannon Stirnweis
Bantam Books, August 1989

Rancher Bruce Ringle is a man to be reckoned with – and those who don’t usually live to regret it. He is the leader of the Stockmen’s Association, a ring of wealthy Wyoming ranchers bent on taking control of the cattle range, and he’s hired a ruthless band of vigilantes called the Regulators to carry his brutal message to the independent ranchers: either join the association or join the dead.

At the top of the Regulators’ dreaded death list is the name of the newly appointed sheriff, Will Iron. The legendary lawman has pinned on a dead man’s badge vowing to bring the last sheriff’s killers to justice and law and order back to the town. Ringle and his Regulators figure they have the outgunned sheriff just where they want him. But they’re wrong. For Will Iron is also a man to be reckoned with – and the day of reckoning is here.

This series of books has only been linked, so far, by the fact that the lead character wears a badge of some kind. Death List is the first to see the author bring back one of the earlier lawmen for a second outing, in this case Will Iron who first appeared in book four, Powder River.

After the brutal killings that open the book, the author slows the pace down whilst introducing his readers to the various people that will play major parts in this story. For those who haven’t met Will Iron before, the author includes plenty of information regarding his background. 

Once Iron arrives in the town of Casper, he soon starts stirring up trouble for those breaking the law and the pace of the story really picks up. A band of rustlers soon adds Iron to their own death list, and Ringle sets out to hire a professional killer to take Iron out. The body count rises impressively as everyone attempts to take control of Casper and the surrounding county.

Bill Reno includes a couple of excellent female roles too, one is Iron’s wife, Vanessa, and the other being Nora Bramley who seems to be hiding a dark secret. 

Even though Iron soon figures out who is behind the Regulators, there’s the matter of proving it, and that is the main problem that Iron struggles with. Whilst trying to get the proof he needs, Iron will find himself taking on impressive odds, sometimes by himself, other times with the backing of those that live in or around Casper. The final showdown sees Iron facing his own death as he stands alone against far superior odds.

Perhaps not my favourite book in the series so far, but Death List was readable and enjoyable and I’m certain it won’t be long before I read the next one.

Bill Reno is a pseudonym used by Lew A. Lacy.