Friday 30 September 2022


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

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


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


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


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.