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.

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