Friday, 25 November 2022

THE KILLING SHOT


By Johnny D. Boggs
Pinnacle Books, October 2010

Deputy U.S. Marshal Reilly McGilvern is hauling criminals to Yuma when his prison wagon is attacked. Three guards die violently in a hail of gunfire and McGilvern is left locked inside to die. When another outlaw gang comes upon the scene, Reilly McGilvern thinks he’s lived to see another day . . . but his problems are just beginning.

Bloody Jim Pardo wants to avenge the Civil War – and to steal the kind of weapons that will let him do it. Riding with his mother, his trusted killers and two hostages, Pardo thinks McGilvern is a fearsome criminal. Now, to stop Jim Pardo’s bloody madness, McGilvern needs to play his part perfectly. And when the time comes, make every shot a killing shot . . .

Johnny D. Boggs has created a wonderful set of characters for this all-action tale. Pardo, his mother and other members of his gang. Pardo’s hostages, especially ten-year-old Blanche, who at times provides some comic relief and McGilvern. Boggs certainly doesn’t believe in giving his lead character an easy time of it. Once rescued by Pardo, McGilvern’s nerves are stretched taught as he plots to free himself and the hostages. At anytime he, and the reader, expect his cover to blown and there are many instances when I was thinking this is it, this is when Pardo finds out who he really is. This makes for a lot of tense scenes and when they are added to the threat of death in the many exchanges of gunplay, a train robbery that goes wrong, an Apache attack, freeing an imprisoned explosive expert from an unusual prison, transporting nitro-glycerine over very uneven ground, and more, everything combines to make for a gripping read.

Boggs also includes a rifle that I haven’t come across very often, the Evans. This is McGilvern’s gun and it causes its own problems for the marshal, in that it is unreliable and ammunition is hard to find. Will it let him down at the wrong moment?

With all the twists and turns this story takes, I just couldn’t predict how it would end and who would be left alive, if anyone, when I reached the final page. What I do know is that I want to read another book by Johnny D. Boggs as soon as I can. 

Tuesday, 22 November 2022

KNIFE IN THE NIGHT


APACHE
Number 2 of 27
By William M. James
Cover art by Colin Andrew
NEL Books, March 1978

Cuchillo Oro, Apache warrior, continues his bloody bid for revenge on the man who removed two of his fingers joint by joint, destroyed the peace of his tribal settlement, and murdered his squaw and son.

Lieutenant Pinner is a marked man – a ruthless and sadistic Indian-hater who finally met his match. Luck seems to be with him for the moment but sooner or later his time will come, and when it does, he knows he can expect no mercy.

Apache was one of the best series to come from the group of British authors known today as the Piccadilly Cowboys. The series idea came from Laurence James, who wrote this book, and he shared writing duties on the series with Terry Harknett. When Harknett stepped away from the series, he was replaced by John B. Harvey. What makes this series unusual, is that it was first published in America by Pinnacle whereas all the other Piccadilly Cowboy series first appeared in the UK. 

Knife in the Night was first published in America in 1974. It was a few years later that English publisher Sphere began publishing the series but they only put out the first four books. NEL then relaunched the series in the UK and published the first 12. You can see the cover art for both Pinnacle’s and Sphere’s editions below.


Knife in the Night begins a couple of days after the end of the first book, The First Death. Cuchillo is consumed with hatred, but needs to recover from the attack on Fort Davidson. Laurence James gives enough information to fill new readers to the series in on what has gone before so that reading the first book isn’t necessary, but I’d suggest doing so as it will greatly enhance your enjoyment of this book. 

Cuchillo’s quest for revenge is interrupted when he witnesses the massacre of a complete village. The bandits make it look like Apache’s are the culprits. Cuchillo will not allow this, so aims to set things right by taking on all 14 bandits alone. This makes for an exciting and tense section of the book. Cuchillo then teams up with some other Apache’s to once again attack Fort Davidson in the hope of finding and killing Pinner. Cuchillo’s only white friend, John Hedges, is at the fort and their friendship will be severely tested when Cuchillo orders his friend to be tortured in an attempt to discover the whereabouts of Pinner which sets up another confrontation with the hated soldier. Will Cuchillo be successful in quenching his thirst for vengeance this time?

Laurence James probably wrote the more sadistic books out of the group of authors who make up the Piccadilly Cowboys, and this one certainly has some of that in it. James is good at exploring the darker side of the human race and this he does regularly in this tale. Whist James’ descriptions of violence aren’t as graphic as that written by Angus Wells, he certainly creates some vicious acts for this story, yet for all its horror it works, emphasising the harsh world that Cuchillo finds himself inhabiting. 

Like in many of his books, James’ name drops, and one of the ways he does this in this story is by calling one of the characters Andrew Ettinger – Ettinger was the editor at Pinnacle. Ettinger is an actor who appears in the opening and final scenes and through him James adds some dark humour to the story. 

Maybe not as good as the first book, but certainly a worthy follow-up that continues to develop the character of Cuchillo and the series theme extremely well and I was left eager to read the third book as soon as I can.

If you have trouble finding a copy of this paperback, you’ll be pleased to know that Piccadilly Publishing have started to put out the whole series as ebooks.

Friday, 18 November 2022

THE GALLOWS


THE BADGE
Number 14 of 24
By Bill Reno
Cover art by Shannon Stirnweis
Bantam Books, December 1989

The desert town of Raton, New Mexico, metes out justice swift and severe. When respected Marshal Dan Washburn is gunned down in cold blood, the townsfolk exact their own brand of revenge with a hangman’s rope. But U.S. Marshal Ben Bryce thinks they hanged the wrong man, and he’s the one lawman bold enough to stand up to the town and tough enough to go after the real killer – someone who has a score to settle with the whole Washburn clan. Bryce has only one weakness: he’s fallen in love with Dan Washburn’s pretty young daughter. And now, as the buzzards circle, he alone stands between her and the bloodlust of a crazed killer.

Each book in this series is a stand-alone novel, all that links them is that the main character wears a badge of some kind. The Gallows is one of the best books in the series as far as I’m concerned.

The book starts with a hanging that doesn’t quite go as planned. This leads to the people of Raton deciding they need purpose-built gallows rather than using a horse and a tree. Soon after the this, the incident depicted on the book cover takes place and U.S. Marshal Ben Bryce rescues the daughter of Dan Washburn from three outlaws. Bryce is wounded during this and remains in town to recover, and it’s whilst being tended to by Washburn’s daughter, Lisa, that they begin to fall in love, much to the disgust of Washburn’s deputy, Ned Mills, who believes Lisa is going to marry him.

The author introduces many characters, fleshing them out well, making the reader care about their futures, their hopes, their dreams. Not everyone is quite as likeable though, and some of these make threats against Washburn. Others smoulder with their own hatred and this could explode into violence at any time. The author increases tensions extremely well and when Washburn is gunned down by a killer unknown the reader will have many suspicions as to who might have done it and why, and this is where the problems lie, as there are many possible culprits. Bryce tries to work out who the killer is, yet clues are thin on the ground. Then the bodies really begin to pile up as more of the Washburn’s meet violent ends. Trying to work out who the killer was, is what really hooked me, drew me deep into this gripping tale.

Bill Reno is pseudonym used by Lew A. Lacy and I’ve yet to read a book by him I haven’t enjoyed. His tales often contain many twists and turns, and that is the case in this story. I’ve found you can never be sure who will survive, be they main characters or secondary and that certainly applies to this book. The ending was both shocking and surprising and produced an ending I shall remember for a long time and left me looking forward to reading the next book in the series as soon as I can. 

Tuesday, 15 November 2022

CHINATOWN JUSTICE


ANGEL EYES
Number 4 of 9
By W.B. Longley
Cover art by Don Besco
PaperJacks, October 1985

After Liz Archer wakes up next to a corpse in a Frisco whorehouse, she’s arrested for murder. Innocent of the crime, she escapes from jail desperate to uncover the truth.

With help from an oriental “lady of the evening,” Liz learns more than the identity of the killer. She learns her way around the brutal nocturnal world of a Chinatown bordello!

Although the reader knows who killed the man Liz Archer wakes up next to, the author keeps the identity of the person who hired the killers a secret as he does the reasons behind the murder. This adds a couple of elements of mystery to the story. Even when Liz discovers who this person is it leads to even more problems, and I can’t reveal anymore about that here without adding a major spoiler. 

Angel Eyes is an adult series and this story has much more explicit sex scenes than I can remember reading in the earlier books, or in fact other adult westerns. Liz beds the vast majority of the male cast and one of the women too. She even witnesses’ others enjoying each other but is sickened by the incest she sees. If that wasn’t enough sex, then other characters indulge too, out of sight of Liz. In fact, there seemed to be more sex than anything else in this story and I soon found myself speed-reading these pages to get back to the murder plot.

W.B. Longley is a pseudonym used by Robert J. Randisi, perhaps known best as J.R. Roberts, author of long running The Gunsmith series. At times, I found myself thinking how easily this book could have been an entry in that series, although there is much more sex in this one as I’ve already said.

If you’re a fan of Mr. Randisi’s writing, then you’ll probably enjoy this one, although you will have to like an extreme amount of sex in your westerns too. 

I’m not sure how easy it is to find the original Angel Eyes paperbacks these days, but the series has since been made available by Speaking Volumes in both paperback and ebook form under the authors’ real name.

Wednesday, 9 November 2022

THE BIG SHOWDOWN


CALEB YORK
Number 2 of 6
By Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins
Kensington hardback, May 2016
Pinnacle paperback, April 2017

Times are changing. Caleb York is saddling up to try his hand as a Pinkerton man out California way. But before he can leave Trinidad, New Mexico, a peaceful morning erupts in a barrage of gunfire. When the dust settles, Caleb has gunned down two bad men, with another just dodging a ticket to hell . . . but leaving one very good man lying dead in the street.

Lightning quick, Caleb rides after the fleeing gunman, only to be swept up in an evil wind blowing back through the sleepy town, threatening its very existence. Caleb’s only chance to restore justice is to load his guns, dig in his spurs, and take on a ruthless killer. In a town drowning in blood, riddled with bullets, and hoping for a hero, Caleb York is the right man at the right time – ready to face the vengeful outlaws in a chilling storm-swept showdown.

I’m not sure why it has taken me so long getting around to reading the second book in this series after enjoying the first one a lot. Like the earlier book, this one falls into the traditional category of westerns, so it should be a pleasurable read for all fans of the genre. There are a lot of links, both in characters and plotlines, between both books, so new readers to the series may find it worthwhile reading The Legend of Caleb York first, although this is not essential.

The author spins an entertaining yarn on many levels. The situations that York has to deal with, both facing outlaws and the two women that have central roles in this tale caught my imagination from the opening scenes. York does seem to place his needs before those of anyone else, which causes some interesting developments in his personal life. The story also contains strong mystery elements. Who’s behind the bank robbery and where has the money disappeared to? Then there’s a series of murders to solve. On top of all this, five gunmen are heading to Trinidad to avenge the death of their brother. Amid all the killings, the author includes some touches of humour, in both his descriptive observations and conversations that had me laughing out loud a couple of times. 

Even though the author kept the identity of the person behind the problems York finds himself facing, I didn’t find it difficult to work out who that character was before it was revealed. Having said that, in no way did it dampen my enjoyment of this story and I look forward to reading the third book in the series very soon. 

Monday, 31 October 2022

HANG McALLISTER


By Matt Chisholm
Cover art by Gino D’Achille
Panther Books, 1970
Piccadilly Publishing, March 2022

Rem McAllister was on one of the toughest missions of his violent career. He rode into Mexico – and found a whole heap of trouble brewing. For one thing, he discovered that there were some mean hombres bent on invading Texas. For another, he found himself mixed up in a vicious war. And soon enough his outsize talent for trouble got him into a situation where two different leaders and a whole army were bent on hunting him down. Even for McAllister, these were fearsome odds . . . 

This book is a must read for fans of Matt Chisholm’s McAllister. His father, Chad McAllister, was always vague about the identity of Rem’s mother, stating she was either a Mexican lady of high birth or a Cheyenne princess, depending on how drunk he was at the time of telling. Rem has never met his mother and now he might just discover who she really is when he meets an old lady named McAllister. That isn’t the only shock for McAllister regarding family as he also finds himself fighting alongside a man who claims he is Rem’s brother. At first McAllister is suspicious of both, even though they know enough about Chad McAllister to make their stories ring true. Could it be that Rem has finally found his mother and at the same time a sibling he was unaware of?

For both McAllister fans and those who just enjoy a good western read, then this book should satisfy all. From the opening scenes this book grabs the imagination, hooks the reader with questions, and creates tension with plenty of how is he going to get out of that situations. The action is almost nonstop, as McAllister battles vastly superior odds. The author doesn’t give his hero an easy time of it either as McAllister is viciously beaten a couple of times and imprisoned. 

Matt Chisholm is a pseudonym used by author Peter Watts, and yet again he’s written a book that is thoroughly entertaining. The story is packed with great characters and has a terrific plot revolving around an invasion of America. Profanity is minimal, and the violence is hard-hitting but not overly graphic. The author also has a neat twist at the end that clears up McAllister’s questions about his new found family members.

The McAllister series ran for 39 books and they can take some finding these days in paper form. If you don’t mind reading ebooks, then you are in luck as Hang McAllister and many others are available electronically.  

Monday, 24 October 2022

CUTTHROATS


SLASH AND PECOS
Number 1 of 5 to date
By William W. Johnstone and J.A. Johnstone
Kensington hardback, February 2019
Pinnacle paperback, July 2019

Not every Western hero wears a white hat or a tin star. Most of them are just fighting to survive. Some of them can be liars, cheaters, and thieves. And then there’s a couple of old-time robbers named Slash and Pecos . . . 

After a lifetime of robbing banks and holding up trains, Jimmy “Slash” Braddock and Melvin “Pecos Kid” Baker are ready to call it quits – though not completely by choice. Sold out by their gang, Slash and Pecos have to bust out of jail and pull one last job to finance their early retirement . . . 

The target is a rancher’s payroll train. Catch is: the train is carrying a Gatling gun manned by deputy U.S. marshals who know they’re coming. Caught and quickly sentenced to hang, their old enemy – the wheelchair-bound, bucket of mean, Marshal L.C. Bledsoe – shows up at the last minute to spare their lives. For a price. He’ll let them live if they hunt down their own gang, the Snake River Marauders. And kill those prairie rats – with extreme prejudice . . . 

Slash and Pecos are a couple of bickering old outlaws who’ve never killed anyone unless it was whilst defending themselves. Both are very likeable characters whose reflections on their past and observations on their now and future often had me grinning or laughing out loud. I will quickly add that this isn’t a comedy western, far from it.

After a lengthy gunfight with bounty hunters the story swiftly moves on to the ill-fated train robbery. This leads to them being sentenced to death by hanging. Saved in the nick-of-time, Slash and Pecos now have to face up to the realization that they have been double-crossed and have no choice but to track down and kill their old gang. Fittingly the final showdown revolves around another train robbery which contains many edge-of-the-seat moments.

There are many other terrific characters in this book too; Marshal “Bleed-‘Em-So” Bledsoe and the beautiful statuesque blonde, Abigail Langdon, who pushes the Marshal around in his wheelchair. Then there’s Jaycee Breckenridge, a long-time friend who it seems set them up to be captured, which is a revelation that Slash and Pecos struggle to comprehend. 

Descriptions of characters, landscape, architecture, trains and the many action scenes are superb, painting vivid imagery that played out in my minds-eye in a very visual, gripping tale that made this book difficult to put down. On reaching the end, I was left wanting to read the next book in the series as soon as possible.

Thursday, 20 October 2022

DEVIL'S DEN


THE TRAILSMAN
Number 269 of 398 plus seven giant editions
By Jon Sharpe
Signet, March 2004

When Dave Donaldson heads into Indian Territory and never comes back, Skye Fargo agrees to track him down and—if at all possible—bring him back to safety. Finding the young man near the lawless land of Devil’s Den, Fargo learns that Dave isn’t just in trouble—he’s part of it, tangled up with a gang of killer smugglers. It’s up to the Trailsman to keep Donaldson alive—and let the others fall where they may…

After being ambushed for reasons unknown Fargo meets up with a friend and agrees to find the man’s son. Dave Donaldson had headed into Indian Territory to start a freight line only to be never seen again.

Fargo’s hunt soon has him riding into the lawless Indian Territory in time to save an Indian girl from outlaws who are set to destroy her wagonload of honey. And here lies the mystery element of the story, why are outlaws out to kill the girl and her father and bring an end to their honey selling business?

Fargo’s questions seem to point to the man he’s looking for being a member of outlaw gang. Throw in a gambler, a man hungry woman or two and the Cherokee Lighthorse and you have an explosive mix set to detonate when they all come together at Devil’s Den.

Jon Sharpe is a pseudonym and the author behind the penname for this book is James Reasoner and he provides us with a first class Trailsman story that grips from the opening scenes. Filled with great characters the tale unfolds at an ever-increasing pace that includes plenty of action.

For Trailsman fans this book is a must read. If you’ve never read a book from this series, Devil's Den would be an excellent entry point.

Just a note of warning, if you do decide to search for this book, do so by its number, 269, as there are three books in the series that share the title of Devil’s Den. The other two are numbers 77 and 390, both of these being written by different authors.

Sunday, 16 October 2022

EASY COMPANY AND THE GYPSY RIDERS

EASY COMPANY AND THE GYPSY RIDERS
Number 29 of 31
By John Wesley Howard
Cover art by Samson Pollen
Jove, June 1983

When the roving band of gypsies arrived in the Wyoming Territory, their strange way of life was not welcomed. But “Easy” was sworn to protect them the same as everyone else.

Lt. Matt Kincaid has enough on his hands defending the gypsies. But another stranger invades the territory – an eccentric Englishman – who starts to slaughter buffalo for pleasure. Kincaid knows the Indians will never stand for that, and when the Arapaho launch a savage attack, “Easy” is in deep trouble.

The author of this book has created an excellent mix of characters that cause all kind of problems for Easy Company. To start with it is mainly the gypsies that the soldiers of Outpost Nine have to deal with. Many of these incidents having a touch of humour to them. I felt Captain Conway’s exasperation as each gypsy said his name was John Smith as they won’t divulge their real names to whites. One of the gypsy children also adds a touch of mystery to the tale as he was obviously not born a gypsy, so who is he?

The Englishman, Sir Fletcher, seems harmless enough until it’s revealed that he’s really come to Wyoming to carry out a scientific experiment. What this is both shocking and amusing, but something that will certainly lead to retaliation from the Indians. 

After a brief attack by Indians on the gypsy caravan at the beginning of the book there’s not much gunplay until near the end. Everything in-between builds to an action-packed assault on Outpost Nine by the Arapaho.

The Easy Company books are often referred to as an adult series, so you may be surprised to know that there isn’t any explicit sex to found in this story. Yes, it’s hinted at but that it.

I don’t know who wrote this book, but I found it to be an easy read. I did feel there was a bit too many character tales of their pasts that had nothing to do with the story and due to this they felt like padding. The author utilizes most of Easy Company’s main characters so if you have a favourite, you’ll find them playing a part in this tale. There’s also a new soldier, and like in other books of the series you just know he’s going to be the cause of trouble and his exploits bring about the humorous final lines of the book.

Not one of the best books in the series, but certainly very readable and entertaining. 

Sunday, 9 October 2022

LUCK OF THE DRAW


FARO BLAKE
Number 2 of 31
By Zeke Masters
Pocket Books, June 1980

Between the whores and the hell-raisers in the boomtown of Abilene, Faro Blake’s nightly game at the Texas Rose was thriving. But when a greedy trail boss used the business end of a gun to relieve Faro of his take, it seemed like a good time to hit the trail.

Trouble is, the trail he hit, hit back – dropping him by turns off the back of a moving train, into a camp of Comancheros, under the thumb of a crooked marshal and into a no-holds-barred love tussle with a beautiful, brutal lady jailer.

It would take a tornado to blow Faro out of this one. No problem. Kansas is tornado country, ain’t it?

Zeke Masters’ Faro Blake is another of the many adult western series that came out during the latter 1970’s and the 1980’s. Like the majority of them, the authors’ name is a pseudonym and I believe the person writing behind the pen-name for this book was Donald R. Bensen. 

I found this book to be a fast, easy read. The straight-forward plot sees Blake getting into all kinds of scrapes which eventually lead to him going undercover to try and discover the whereabouts of some stolen gold. Blake seems to have an easy-come, easy-go attitude to life, which is why he is content to accept having his winnings stolen from him at the beginning and having no desire to track down the thief. This outlook on life makes him standout from other western heroes who would be hell-bent on retrieving their stolen property and making the thief pay the hard way. 

Blake’s anger does rise as the story progresses as he gets battered and bruised, used and abused, before being chained up in a dank underground cell at the mercy of the beautiful jailer mentioned above. How to escape her clutches soon becomes his one-and-only goal. This all leads to one hell of a final battle as all the different sides arrive at the small Inn Blake is being held captive at. I’m not sure why the blurb mentions a tornado as there isn’t one in the story, perhaps it’s referencing the frantic gunfight that brings the story to a close?

Being an adult western series, the book does contain some graphic sex, but this doesn’t take up too much of the story. Although Blake beds most of the women he meets the author only uses one or two paragraphs to describe these scenes. There is one such encounter that takes up more of the story, lasting for a couple pages, so these parts are easy to skip if you so desire.

There are some interesting comparisons to the real-life tale of the Benders as travellers vanish when visiting the inn. The beautiful jailer is called Kate, although her family name is Crakes. The crooked marshal is named Bender, as are the majority of people living in the nearby town of Bendersville. Setting the story in Kansas also provides another link to the family of serial killers.

Overall, a found this to be an entertaining book and I’m sure I will read more of this series somewhere down the line.

Friday, 30 September 2022

THE MASSACRE TRAIL


GUNSLINGER
Number 1 of 10
By Charles C. Garrett
Cover art by Chris Collingwood
Sphere, 1979

John Ryker was a gunsmith. One of the best at a time when speed and skill with a shooting iron were as vital to survival as food in your belly.

Then one day Ryker sold a man a gun – a Deringer – that later killed a President. That incident set Ryker on a vengeance trail of blood and conflict that would test his gun-skill to its farthest limits. And so, the gunsmith became a killer – one whose professional mastery of the West’s armoury of death-dealing firepower made him the deadliest around . . . 

The cover above is from my copy, which is a 1979 reprint. The book was first published in 1977 with cover art by Colin Backhouse – which you can see below. 

The Gunslinger series came from the group of British authors who would later become known as the Piccadilly Cowboys. This series was written by Angus Wells and Laurence James, the latter being the author of this book.

What set this series apart from the others is that each book features a different gun. This time it’s the Deringer and its copies known as Derringers. Each book contains loads of information about the weapons both Ryker and others use, making this series a must read for anyone who has an interest in guns of this time period.

Like the vast majority of the series written by the Piccadilly Cowboys, it’s vengeance that sees Ryker hit the killing trail. At the beginning of the book, Ryker is just a gunsmith, he’s never killed anyone before. He sells a Deringer to a man who gives it to John Wilkes Booth who assassinates President Abraham Lincoln with it. Northerners then seek out anyone who they claim helped Booth achieve his aim, and the gunsmith who sold the Deringer becomes a target. Two men ride to Ryker’s hometown and finding him away, brutally kill his father instead. Ryker now wants revenge.

I always enjoyed seeing how Ryker changes, he’s a quick learner in the art of killing. He makes mistakes that nearly see him killed. He uses information customers gave him to hone his techniques whilst having their guns repaired. People such as John Wesley Hardin and an unknown man who carries a razor in a pouch behind his neck – a man Ryker thanks for giving him an edge.

Killing his father’s murderers isn’t the end of the book by far. Ryker has dealings with a banker named Goldburgh who claims ownership to the gunsmith’s family home and his store. The sheriff of Tucson, Nolan, encourages Ryker to become a bounty hunter to get the money he needs to get out of dept with the bank. The second half of the story sees Ryker head to Desolation, a town taken over by six Confederate deserters. Can Ryker, still learning his new trade, save the town from these savage killers and get the money he needs to payoff Goldburgh?

Laurence James does a superb job in introducing Ryker and some of the support characters who will have parts to play later in the series. James blends the gun information into the story in a natural way so these sections don’t come over like someone lecturing the reader about these weapons. As expected, the book is packed with bloody, descriptive violence and it also includes a little explicit sex. Like in many of James’ books, you’ll also find a character who’s an albino. 

The Gunslinger series has always been one of my favourites to come from the Piccadilly Cowboys and I’d encourage anyone who likes their work to read this series. Whilst the paperbacks aren’t easy to find these days, you’ll be pleased to know that Piccadilly Publishing has just begun to put this series out as ebooks and The Massacre Trail is available now.



Tuesday, 27 September 2022

MARAUDERS' MOON - in pictures


MARAUDERS’ MOON
By Luke Short
Comic Book version

This comic contains two stories bound back-to-back. These are both adaptations of books by well-known authors. Double Western Pictorials were published in Australia by the Junior Readers’ Press and distributed by Gordon and Gotch (A/sia) Ltd. Dell also published Marauder’s Moon in America in October 1957 as a picturized edition too. The Australian version isn’t dated so I can’t tell you when it was published. It measures 18.5cm X 13.5cm and has a colour cover, the interior being black and white. I believe the inks were done by Mike Peppe.

The story was original published under a different title, Silver Horn Breaks, in 1937. It appeared as a seven-part serial in Western Story Magazine and has since been published a number of times in paperback and hardback as Marauders’ Moon.

I’ve never read the full-length book version, so I have no idea how much has been missed out to make it fit the 32 pages of this comic. Each page has five or six panels that are well illustrated, although I did feel that too much dialogue was crammed into some of them. The artist draws people, horses, firearms, buildings and landscapes with equal skill.

The story is fast moving although at times I found it a bit dialogue heavy – perhaps this is a problem with it being adapted into short comic form and too much talk had to be crammed in to explain what was happening? Fistfights and gunfights erupt regularly adding some welcome relief to all the talking.

Luke Short’s tale follows Webb Cousins, who doesn’t take centre stage as other characters are featured as much as him. Cousins has been arrested for train robbery, something he’s innocent of. Held on a ranch he manages to escape only to be captured again by another rancher. Seems the ranchers are at war with each other and one side is determined to wipe the other out. Cousins picks a side but can he save the day? There’s a little more to the range war than is first apparent, and there’s also the beautiful daughter of one of the ranchers who may complicate matters – although she hardly appears in the comic, perhaps there’s more about her in the full-length story?

Overall a fun read, even though it was predictable. It certainly didn’t make me want to search out the original and read that too. Luke Short is a pseudonym for Frederick D. Glidden, an author who is a popular choice for many western readers. 

This comic adaption of Marauders’ Moon is paired with Max Brand’s Silvertip and the Stolen Stallion.

Click on the image below to see a larger version of the opening pages.

Saturday, 24 September 2022

APACHE RAIDERS


POWELL’S ARMY
Book 2 of 8
By Terence Duncan
Cover art by George Wilson
Zebra Books, May 1987

In the blistering heart of the Arizona desert, seventeen Apache maidens have mysteriously disappeared. It is the sinister handiwork of a group of U.S. Army enlisted men led by the notorious Captain Honorius Crawford. As tribal unrest reaches the violent breaking point, Powell’s Army is dispatched on a desperate mission to infiltrate and destroy the fiendish slave ring. A mission that could lead the three troubleshooters into the lethal clutches of vicious Mexican flesh merchants and into a nightmare world south of the border from which death in the only escape.

Like the first book in the series, this story concentrates on one of the three people who make up Powell’s Army. In the first book it was Celia Burnett, this time it is Gerald Glidinghawk. It is through this full blood Omaha that most of the story is told and his character is fleshed out as we find out more about his personality and backstory. Celia, and the third member of the group, Landrum Davis, do have parts to play, but they are mainly kept in the background. 

The story opens in the middle of a deadly situation, but the author soon explains how they came to be surrounded by Apache’s through Glidinghawk’s memories of getting instructions about their mission from Amos Powell. None of Powell’s Army escape unscathed from this confrontation and they find themselves struggling to stay alive in the desert without water. Glidinghawk, who has the worst wounds, is soon left alone whilst the others attempt to find water. It is now that the main emphasis of the story switches to Glidinghawk. 

It was during these first two parts of the story that my acceptance of reality was stretched somewhat. Two incidents that I found hard to believe, yet still made for entertaining moments. The first involves freeing Celia from the Apache’s by using fish, and Glidinghawk’s saviour – a camel. Quite why a solitary camel was wandering around by itself in Arizona was never really explained, but it did add a different element to this story.

For me, the opening sequences did seem to drag on a bit, they lasted for nearly half the book, but once Powell’s Army closes in on the Mexican’s camp the pace, and action, picked up a lot and I was glad I stuck with it. Celia and Landrum are captured and Glidinghawk really has the odds stacked against him as he attempts to free them. This doesn’t work out quite as intended and Powell’s Army find themselves in a deadly situation that seems near impossible to escape from. They also have some very tough decisions to make that not all of them accept as easily as others. These tense scenes more than made up for the slower pace of the first part of the book. 

Apache Raiders wasn’t as gripping as the first novel in the series but I was glad I stuck with it as it got better and better and proved to be a fairly entertaining story. Of course, finding out more about Glidinghawk’s character will only enhance my enjoyment of the next books and I do plan on reading the third entry very soon. 

Terence Duncan is a pseudonym shared by a number of different authors and, like the first book, this one was written by Barbara Puechner. 

Monday, 19 September 2022

THE HORSE MARINES


THE TEXIANS
Book 2 of 5
By Zach Wyatt
Cover art by Bruce Minney
Pinnacle Books, August 1984

Josh Sands was far from his San Antonio station, but the fierce young Texas Ranger had sworn to protect the entire Territory from her enemies – including the Mexican warships unloading arms in the deadly swamplands along the Gulf of Mexico.

The last thing the hard-riding Ranger expected was to be corralled into Captain Isaac Burton’s mad scheme for capturing the warships himself – with a handful of men who had never so much as seen a rowboat.

But Josh had to pursue a private vengeance as well: to hunt down a death-dealing devil known as Cotton Blue; a vicious gunrunner who had killed Josh’s partner in cold blood; killed for the same pleasure other men found in a woman’s arms… 

Like the first book in this series, Zach Wyatt uses a real event for the main part of the plot, the attempt to capture warships that took place in June 1836. Of course, Josh Sands involvement is entirely fictional as is his pursuit of Cotton Blue. Zach Wyatt blends truth and fiction seamlessly, resulting in an exciting read that contains many cliff-hanging moments.

We also learn more about our fictional hero as we witness Sands freeze when looking into the eyes of death. He experiences guilt and struggles to deal with it as he recovers from a life-threatening bullet wound. His fevered belief of being rescued by an angel floating through the swamp made for some very visual and surreal reading which was beautifully told by the author.

Sand’s loss of his fellow Texas Ranger and his final showdown with Cotton Blue sandwich the main part of the story; Captain Burton’s spur-of-the-moment attempt to capture three warships. I don’t want to say anymore about this for fear of ruining this part of the tale for anyone planning to read this book, but I will add that it makes for some gripping reading.

If you like fiction based around real historical events or books about the Texas Rangers then this has to be a must read and I’d also recommend it to all western fans. Zach Wyatt is a pseudonym used by George W. Proctor and this book reinforces my belief that he is an author worth reading. 

I always found The Texians books hard to track down, but it’s much easier now, if you don’t mind reading ebooks, as Piccadilly Publishing has made the whole series available in this form.

Tuesday, 13 September 2022

THE MORGANS


By William W. Johnstone and J.A. Johnstone
Pinnacle Books, October 2018

There’s nothing particularly unusual for a legendary gunman to be summoned to the lawless, bullet-riddled territory of Arizona. But when Frank Morgan, aka The Last Gunfighter, rides into Tucson, he finds himself ambushed and kidnapped by ruthless Mexican bandit Ramirez and his army of thugs. The only way out is for Frank’s son, Conrad Browning, heir to the vast Browning fortune, to ransom his father free. But Conrad isn’t giving up one cent. He’s got a far deadlier currency in mind . . .

Conrad heads down to the border and infiltrates the compound. But to prove himself, he has to hold up a train with the rest of the gang. Ramirez catches on to Conrad’s ruse, and the only way out is for Frank to come to the rescue. It’s a wild turn of events for sure, but for the Morgan’s, when it comes to killing their enemies, it’s all in the family.

Both The Last Gunfighter and The Loner series came to an end in 2012 and the many fans of these two series thought that was the last they’d see of Frank Morgan and Conrad Browning, but now they are back, together in a book that is advertised as the first in a new series. 

Throughout the vast majority of this book father and son operate alone. Even as Conrad attempts to free his father, Frank, unaware of his son’s plans, tries to break out of his prison. Nothing works out as expected and the Morgan’s find themselves in more deadly situations.

There are plenty of memorable characters, Ramirez, Kern, Bracken, and Antonia to name but a handful. The story is filled with twists and turns and contains plenty of action. The author includes tense scenes too, such as when Conrad is about to witness his father being shot dead right before his eyes. Everything moves forwards at an ever-increasing pace, culminating in an exciting showdown that finishes the book in blood-drenched style. 

Fans of The Last Gunfighter and The Loner will definitely want to read this. If you haven’t read any of the books in those earlier series then this is a superb way to introduce yourself to Frank Morgan and Conrad Browning. In my opinion this book should be on the reading list of all western fans.

Was there another book in this series? Sadly, there hasn’t been. But in October 2022 Pinnacle Books are releasing Black Hills Blood Hunt, a book featuring Frank Morgan, Conrad Browning and the hero from another Johnstone series, Hunter Buchanon, and that is definitely on my want list. 

Wednesday, 31 August 2022

GUN JUNCTION


By Barry Cord
Cover art by Giorgio Tubaro
Chivers Press, 2001 hardback
Originally published as part of an Ace Double, 1964

Three men rode into Fulton, three loners with one this in common – a way of life built around a gun.

One was a U.S. deputy marshal, one a discredited ex-Ranger, one a hired killer. They had all come to do the same job: avenge the death of one man and restore law to the territory.

Or so they all said.

One of them rode with honor, one with guilt, and one with lies. And, in a short time, two would be dead and one left alone to fight for his life.

Like many books written by Barry Cord, this one has a twisted storyline that moves forwards at a breathless pace. The author gives enough information about the plot to make you think you know what is going on, but will then surprise you with revelations that will make you realize things aren’t as straight-forwards as you think.

The three central characters are all fascinating in their own rights, as are some of the people they come up against. The struggle to discover just who hanged Sheriff Tom Billens and who is blowing up trains makes for a gripping read. Just as I expected really, as I’ve been a fan of this authors work for a long time. However, there was one scene that stretched my belief just a little too much. A horse rescuing its owner from a situation I don’t believe a horse would go anywhere near. Other than that, this book did turn out to be a fun read and I will certainly be reading more of Barry Cord’s books soon.

Barry Cord is a pseudonym used by Peter B. Germano.

As is mentioned above, Gun Junction was originally part of an Ace Double western published in 1964, paired with A Man Called Ragian by John Callahan. You can see the artwork for Gun Junction below which was done by Gerald McConnell.

Saturday, 27 August 2022

THE SILENT KILL


BREED
Book 2 of 22
By James A. Muir
Cover art by Colin Backhouse
Sphere Books, 1977

The cowboy grovelled, pleading for his life.
“Why?” asked the tall man called Matthew Gunn, “why should I let you live?’
He drew his Bowie knife, moving forwards with hate in his soul and death in his eyes. The figure sprawled on the snow began to scream…

The half-breed, Matthew Gunn, had trailed his quarry through the waterless hell of the Nevada desert, up to the snow-covered crags of the high Sierras. In his wake was a trail of blood which tainted his footsteps and marked him as a killer. Now he approached the culmination of his long pursuit – vengeance! Now he would strike his blow without mercy, because he was called Breed – and the name spelled violent death.

This book starts shortly after the previous one ended and Matthew Gunn, also known as Breed and Azul, continues to track the three remaining scalp hunters who slaughtered his family. He’s cold and merciless in his pursuit and nothing will stand in his way as he tracks his quarry. The author, Angus Wells writing as James A Muir, portrays this grim determination so well that you can feel the hate rising from the pages. 

Like many of the westerns written by the group of authors later to become known as the Piccadilly Cowboys, this also references other authors and/or characters from western movies. Breed signs on with a man called Ezra Culpepper, who owns the Culpepper Cattle Company to guide a cattle drive. Later he’ll help a man called Terry Harknett who is leading a group of travellers through the snow-covered mountains.

It's in this book that Wells introduces words of advice and sayings that Azul remembers being given to him by old Sees-Both-Ways, a Chiricahua shaman. Something that will continue throughout the series. A nodded to the television series Kung Fu perhaps as that series saw Kwai Chang Caine remembering advice from Master Po. 

Wells also reveals more of Nolan’s background. Explaining how the leader of the scalp hunters knows Breed. Nolan is an engaging character, a cold-blooded killer who seems to be one step ahead of Azul and uses the fact that Breed is a wanted man to his advantage.

This is a brutal book. Killings are described in all their gory glory. One death in particular being particularly inventive. There is plenty of blood and graphic detail as bullets pierce flesh and knives slash fragile flesh. Gallows humour occasionally lightens the tone in groan-worthy puns.

If you’ve read the first book in this series, The Lonely Hunt, you’ll definitely want to read this. Be warned though, as the end will certainly make you want to track down a copy of book three, Cry For Vengeance. 

These old paperbacks can be hard to find these days at sensible prices but the good news is that Piccadilly Publishing is now making this series, and the others Angus Wells had a part in writing, available a ebooks so you’ve no excuse for missing out on this excellent series.

Wednesday, 24 August 2022

DISTURBING THE PEACE


JEREMIAH HALSTEAD 2
By Terrence McCauley
Pinnacle Books, August 2022

Deputy U.S. Marshal Jeremiah Halstead keeps the peace in the mining town of Silver Cloud, Montana. But an old enemy has declared war against him.

Ruthless and clever, Ed Zimmerman would have become the leader of one of the west’s deadliest and hell-bent outlaw gangs. Zimmerman has offered a generous bounty to every desperado willing to put a bullet through the U.S. Marshal’s heart.

A death sentence won’t stop Halstead from enforcing the law. The sheriff of Battle Brook needs a hand dealing with some hell-raising badmen in the surrounding hills, threatening to take over the frontier town. Joined by Deputy Sandborne, Halstead rides hard for Battle Brook only to discover manhunters, aware of the price on his head, are in town, guns cocked and ready to collect the reward.

And Zimmerman has joined the outlaws in the hills, waiting to catch Halstead in his sights . . . 

Jeremiah Halstead first appeared in Terrence McCauley’s previous Pinnacle series about Sheriff Aaron Mackey, and now he has his own series. Mackey has a small part to play in this one as it is he who sends Halstead and Sandborne to Battle Brook. Events from the first Halstead book and from the Mackey series are referenced throughout this story but the author uses enough detail in these parts of the tale so that new readers will understand what has gone before.

Zimmerman is an excellent adversary for Halstead, and the outlaw’s plan for empire begins with a series of mine robberies. There’s also a bank heist that leads to a neat twist. As Halstead tries to figure out just what is going on in Battle Brook and its neighbouring town, Hard Scrabble, he has to deal with numerous attempts on his life as those eager to claim Zimmerman’s bounty try to kill the lawman. 

There is never a dull moment as the story builds in pace and tension. There are several plot twists that made me wonder how Halstead could ever defeat Zimmerman and his gang as the outlaw leader seemed to be one step ahead of the lawman at all times. During all the action, Halstead meets a woman, Abigail Newman, who may or may not have a part to play in his future.

Once again, Terrence McCauley has written a gripping tale that should be on all western fans books to read list. The story is filled with fascinating characters, plenty of gunplay, and has a gripping plot. The book has an excellent ending that left me very much looking forward to the next book, The Revengers, which will be released in March 2023. 


Thursday, 18 August 2022

INTO THE UNKNOWN


WILDERNESS
Number 55 of 71 + 7 Giant Editions to date.
By David Thompson
Leisure, March 2008

Robert Parker ventures into the vast unknown to study new species of plant and animals in the name of science. He’s thrilled when a young half-breed named Zach King invites him back to his family’s secluded valley in the Rocky Mountains. But Parker’s about to find out he’s not the only newcomer. Three murderous prospectors have heard there’s a fortune in gold on the King’s land, and they’ll do anything to get it. They’ve heard how tough the King’s are, and they’re well prepared for that. But they haven’t counted on the grit of one determined greenhorn…

This is the second book in the Wilderness series to be written in the first person and it works extremely well. The story is told through the eyes of Robert Parker, a man who almost refuses to see danger in both man and beast, therefore putting him in many perilous situations. 

It was very interesting to see how Parker reacted and related to both Zach King and Blue Water Woman. In fact, it was great to see the latter taking such a central role. Even though Parker and Blue Water Woman come from very different backgrounds and cultures it soon became very apparent that they shared a common trait, that of their enjoyment of the natural world and a respect for the animals that inhabit it.

Of course, the story isn’t all about admiration for the wilderness it is also a story of greed and the lengths some people will go to in their quest to find gold, no matter who has to suffer in their hunt to find it. Something Parker struggles to accept and comprehend. It was fascinating to read that it wasn’t Zach King who teaches Parker the reality of this aspect of life but Blue Water Woman.

Into the Unknown has everything, touching moments of gentleness, savage moments of violence, and moments of humour. All this combines in a beautifully balanced and well written story that was a joy to read.

David Thompson is a pseudonym used by David Robbins and he still puts out books in this series today under his own name.

In October 2022, Piccadilly Publishing made Into the Unknown available as an ebook together with book 56 in series, In Darkest Depths, the cover of which you can see below.




Tuesday, 9 August 2022

THE LAWMEN

By Robert W. Broomall
Cover art by Gabriele
Fawcett Gold Medal, December 1993

When ex-Confederate officer Clay Chandler applied for the sheriff job in Topaz, Arizona, the average lifespan for the position was three weeks tops. It got a little shorter when Clay arrested one of the notorious Hopkins brothers for killing a black man.

Ringleader Wes Hopkins gave Clay twenty-four hours to release his brother Vance – or else. Hell got a little hotter when Clay found out that Hopkins had the judge and the mayor under his thumb, and everyone else too scared to do anything but hide.

Until, that is, freed slave Essex Johnson showed up looking to be deputy. An ex-slave and an ex-reb wouldn’t seem to have a lot in common – but if they didn’t survive the next bloody, bullet-ridden five days together, it wouldn’t much matter….

The new lawman up against a powerful criminal who has the town council, and townsfolk too scared to do anything but what he says is an often-used plot in westerns. It’s a classic one man against many story that I never tire of. Here though, author Robert W. Broomall adds spice by bringing in a black deputy, a man no-one in town can respect, and neither does the sheriff. 

Both lawmen have some very derogatory views of each other and I’m not sure some of the terms used would be included in books published today as many people will find them offensive. These racist comments make it hard to like either lawman, but do reflect people’s thoughts of the time period the book is set in I’d imagine. 

The book is extremely well paced with plenty of fast-and-furious action, including a bloody fist-fight between the two lawmen. Packed with tense scenes, such as when the lawmen get out of town taking their prisoner with them and the time running out to Wes Hopkins’ deadline. 

The author also includes a number of plot twists, some of which took me by surprise and they added to my enjoyment of the book. The tale concludes with a vicious bloody shootout and finishes with a humorous comment. 

One word of warning though, don’t read the taster page of content included at the beginning of the book as it’s too much of a spoiler for something that happen towards the end of the book. Why publishers aren’t a little more selective in their choice for what they use for these sample pages is beyond me. 

This is only the second book I’ve read by Robert Broomall, and it’s made me wonder why I don’t read his work more often.