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.