Tuesday 31 May 2022


Number 8 of 16
By Justin Ladd
Cover art by Gordon Crabb
Pocket Books, June 1989

When beautiful Bethany Hale comes to Abilene she turns heads – and stirs up trouble when she starts preaching her anti-alcohol message. Before Deputy Cody Fisher can join the crusade, three of Abilene’s citizens die of poisoned liquor, and Marshal Luke Travis knows he’s got a murderer on his hands. But when he traces the spiked whiskey to a family of moonshiners outside of town the hunt has only begun. Someone is trying to drive the moonshiners out of business – and the greed-fueled struggle is about to explode. A band of gunmen is thundering towards Abilene – and Luke Travis is fighting fire with fire!

Bethany Hale is a great character, that may or may not be who she says. Her one-woman mission to banish liquor from Abilene makes for some exciting, and sometimes humorous reading. Her beauty sees jealous rivalry torment Deputy Cody Fisher, who can’t believe Bethany seems to favour his brother Reverend Judah Fisher over him. There is similar competition as two of the moonshiners fight for the attention of a waitress, which could turn violent at any moment. 

Bethany recruits help to her cause from some of the local woman, who are very keen to help someone sent to Abilene by the Christian Ladies Temperance group. Their first act is to put on a morality play to drive home the evils of alcohol which doesn’t work out as intended. Bethany also tries to shut down saloons singlehandedly which results in a well-written barroom brawl featuring a catfight of epic proportions. 

Mixed in with all this are the three murders. Could Bethany be involved? Someone else? Even as suspicions seem to point to the truth, Travis has a major problem – a complete lack of evidence. Double-cross leads to more deaths and a frantic final showdown in the streets of Abilene. 

Justin Ladd is a pseudonym used by James Reasoner and, for me and many other western readers, his name guarantees a well-crafted tale that will hold your attention from the opening scenes. Characters and storyline and the twists and turns to the plot kept me guessing as to just how the book would finish and left me wanting to read the next entry in the series as soon as I can.

Thursday 26 May 2022


By Kenn Sherwood Roe
Ballantine Books, May 1984

The notorious Osmand gang threatens to take over the town. A lone killer murders again and again to slake a crazed bloodlust. Dirk Landry, the law in the desolate Nevada mining settlement has both hands full.

But he’s sworn to nail that gang and stop that assassin even if it takes twenty years. And even if he’s got to come against the solid citizens of Ingot itself.

I found this book in a box of mixed westerns I bought. The author was a new name to me. A quick search on the internet provided a little information. It would seem that Moonblood was originally written as a stand-alone book, or maybe the author had plans for it to be the first in a series and the publisher didn’t take it up at the time. Eight years later, to the month, a second Marshal Landry book appeared called Dust Devil. Again, there was nothing on the cover indicating it was part of a series. The following year two more books about the lawman were published, these being Death Stalk and Coyote Cry. After that there weren’t anymore. 

Moonblood is traditional western that fans of the genre will feel right at home with. Giving Landry two problems to deal with means the action never lets up. There are some fairly brutal scenes, particularly the opening killings, although they aren’t overly graphic. 

The more interesting plot of the two for me is that of the lone murderer, Moon, a halfbreed who kills for the sheer pleasure of it. A man who seems unstoppable, who can escape any pursuit easily. Can one man wipe out an entire settlement? 

When we first meet Landry, he’s tracking the Osmand gang and the trail leads him to Ingot. Here he gets involved with helping the citizens defend themselves against Moon. It isn’t long before he suspects not everyone is telling him the truth about why they’ve stayed in the dying town, and this storyline adds intrigue to the tale and later provides a couple of plot twists. 

The book held my interest throughout and everything was resolved in a satisfactory way and it finished with a neat epilogue too. 

Friday 20 May 2022


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


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


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.