Tuesday 31 January 2023


By Scott Connor
A Black Horse Western from The Crowood Press, April 2018

When Sheriff Cornelius Doyle is killed, his estranged son Kane sets out to find the culprit, hoping to reconcile with a family that doesn’t want to know him – but he soon discovers that his father’s apparently honourable life was a lie.

The sheriff had become a legend when he killed the notorious outlaw Jesse Sawyer, but Kane discovers that the facts are at odds with the legend as Jesse is still alive. With the sheriff’s murder apparently being connected to the events of ten years ago, Kane hopes that Jesse can lead him to the killer. Instead, he uncovers a dark secret that will not only put his life in peril, but could make it impossible for his family to ever accept him.

Right from the opening scenes, the author had me hooked into his fast-moving story that is filled with intrigue. Twists and turns come at breakneck speed as Kane’s hunt for his father’s killer brings more mysteries out into the open. How Kane hopes to win his family over into accepting him seems impossible as their hatred for him grows.

Kane’s brother is also a lawman, and he warns Kane off, doesn’t want him looking for their father’s murderer, but that doesn’t stop Kane. This brings the brothers into conflict with each other, as much as Kane tries to avoid this. Kane teams up with a couple of ranch hands who bring their own troubles to the plot, as they owe a large amount of money to someone, and that man wants it back or he’ll kill them. Jesse Sawyer wants to kill Kane too, so the story soon has multiple sides helping, hindering, and fighting each other. There is plenty of action, from well described fist fights to lighting fast gunplay.

I’ve read a number of Scott Connor’s westerns and I’ve always found them enjoyable. His twisting plots always keep me guessing, and like many of his other books, I couldn’t work out what was going on and was often surprised when truths were revealed. Everything built up to a great climax that had some shocks waiting in store for those who had survived to the end. 

Friday 27 January 2023


Number 4 of 4
By Max O’Hara
Pinnacle Books, January 2023

When train robbers hit the Boot Hill Express – so called because of all the people riding it who have ended up dead – with a head full of steam, Wolf Stockburn makes quick work of them. But the gun smoke has barely cleared when a second gang attacks, catching Stockburn by surprise. In a hail of hot lead, he falls from the train and the thieves kill two guards and make off with the cattle the train was hauling.

Now it’s a matter of honor and payback as he trails the outlaws – his only clue a hoofprint showing a faint star shape. Dodging a deadly bushwhacker, Stockburn, hell-on-wheels angry, teams up with a beautiful half-Comanche hellcat and follows a twisted trail of bullet-ridden corpses to a final reckoning in a Mexican ghost town – where bad men end up dead . . . on the wrong side of the tracks.

Right from the start this tale is all action. Sure, there are moments when Stockburn manages to catch his breath, but even then, he’s in constant danger from an unknown sniper who could take a shot at any time. Stockburn soon has many more questions than he does answers, such as who is stealing the cattle and why? Who is the sniper? Can the various lawmen he meets be trusted? One of these officers of the law seems to want to put a hole in Stockburn’s head – can Stockburn talk him out of this? 

Readers of the previous Wolf Stockburn books aren’t going to want to miss this one. If you’ve not read any of the earlier books it doesn’t matter as the author fills you in on any background information you may need, especially as one of the characters that appeared in the first Stockburn novel has an important role to play in this book too.

It isn’t a secret as to the identity of the author writing behind the pseudonym of Max O’Hara, and that man is Peter Brandvold. This book contains all the qualities he is known for – a twisting gritty plot, descriptive prose that places you right in with the action, hard men and equally tough women, and some graphic violence. There is a notable lack of bad language and the book doesn’t contain any explicit sex.

One thing I’d like to highlight is the book’s blurb (which you can read above) which isn’t completely correct as Stockburn isn’t on the train when the second gang strike and none of the part after ‘hell-on-wheels angry’ is part of the storyline. I certainly wasn’t disappointed that these elements weren’t to be found in the book, as what does happen makes for some very exciting and gripping reading.

I’ve seen comments from Peter Brandvold indicating that this is the last Wolf Stockburn book. I think that is a shame as Wolf Stockburn is a great character and I think he deserves a longer run. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed that the publisher contracts some more. 

Tuesday 24 January 2023


Number 3 of 15
By William S. Brady
Cover art by Robert Adams
Fontana, 1979

Jared Hawk rode into Santa Maria on the trail of a Mexican outlaw with a $1,000 bounty on his head.

He didn’t know he was riding into a revenge war between the Mexicans and the Apache Nation – until the people of Santa Maria offered him one thousand dollars American to get them out to safety. Down a trail that was lined with blood-hungry Indians.

Hawk took the money and gave his word – and he wasn’t the kind of man who went back on a promise. Even when it meant losing a woman to the harsh code that demanded blood for blood . . . and a life for a life.

William S. Brady is a shared pseudonym. The two authors writing behind that name are Angus Wells and John B. Harvey. To start with, they alternated books, but later the majority were written by Harvey. This was due to a second series being launched under the William S. Brady name with the same two authors writing the books, although it was Wells who wrote the most of them. 

Death’s Bounty was written by Wells and it has all his trademarks. Tough, brutal characters fighting to stay alive in a hostile environment. Here’s it’s the cold and snow. The story takes place over Christmas. Hawk is a heartless anti-hero, a man who looks out only for himself, but here he seems to mellow a little when around a certain young lady. Could he be falling in love? He even considers ending his career as a hired gun and settling down with her. His infatuation with Manuela Ortiz leads to more trouble though, for she has a protective brother who soon swears he will kill Hawk. Juan Ortiz and Hawk put their differences aside, promising to face each other once the people of Santa Maria have been led to safety. Trouble is there’s a hell of a lot of Apache’s out to stop them.

Wells describes the many violent deaths in as much gory detail as he can. As followers of this series know, Hawk carries a sawn-down Meteor single barrelled shotgun in a special belt holster. This weapon gets used numerous times and Wells relishes describing what happens when its charge tears through the human body. This story has a massive death toll and it isn’t long before you’ll be wondering just who will be alive by the end.

Hawk doesn’t know about the massacre that starts this tale or why this was done. Even when he does know, he doesn’t really care. All he wants is to stay alive and collect his pay, perhaps start a new life with Manuela. 

Wells also includes memories that explain why Hawk is the man he is, why he wears a black glove on his left hand and why he carries that Meteor shotgun. 

Like many of the books that come from this group of authors, these days known as the Piccadilly Cowboys, this story contains plenty of gallows humour and also mentions characters from other series, for instance a man who carries a razor in a pouch behind his neck gets a name-check.

For me, this has always been one of my favourite books in the Hawk series and I really enjoyed re-reading it after all this time. It must be some 30 years or more since I last read it. The Hawk books can still be found in used book stores but they can take some searching out. If you don’t want to take time hunting for them at sensible prices, you’ll be pleased to know that Piccadilly Publishing are currently putting the series out as ebooks. For me, it’s a shame they haven’t managed to secure the rights to use the original artwork as I always thought Robert Adams captured the likeness of Hawk perfectly.

Saturday 21 January 2023


Number 13 of 16
By Terry C. Johnston
St. Martin’s Paperbacks, May 1998

They came from the fires of the Civil War, from the rolling hills of the Eastern states, and some from out of the West’s rugged mountains. For two decades they fought for an open land, and earned the name The Plainsmen.

The U.S. Army’s goal: wipe out the remnants of scattered starving people on the frontier’s Northern Plain. But before Colonel Nelson A. Miles, the Bear Coat, launched his Spring campaign into the heart of Indian country, the commander took one last stab at negotiations – and called on a Cheyenne woman and the famous half-breed pony scout named Johnny Bruguier. Together, they travelled to the valley of the upper Rosebud River to urge the Sioux to surrender. But a personal grudge exploded in the ranks of the U.S. Army. Now, as a man and a woman risk their lives for peace, the culmination of the great Sioux War is set in motion, as the Bear Coat takes on the last of the fierce Lakota warriors…

This series is billed as historical fiction, and reading these books certainly makes you admire the amount of time Terry C. Johnston put into researching his novels. They are packed with historical detail and most of the characters are real people. There are a handful of fictional characters, and in this book, we get Seamus Donegan, his wife Samantha and their son Colin Teig – the latter being extremely young and this book features his christening. Seamus is Johnston’s linking character in most of the Plainsmen books.

The vast majority of this book deals with peace talks as Miles tries to convince the Indians to lay down their arms and surrender. The various bands of Indians discussing their options means a lot of the story is told through them. Their conversations are fascinating, but also became a little tedious as the author includes so many different bands of Indians having almost the same deliberations, with pretty much the same outcome. 

Johnston starts many of the chapters with historical telegraph messages telling of events happening in the West, mainly to do with the attempts to get the Indians to surrender, but also includes other interesting news such as what was happening in Deadwood. These notes help give a period flavour to the book.

Johnston adds many footnotes at the bottom of a lot of pages that explain the meaning of Indian terms and names, along with notes as to which Plainsmen books earlier events can be found in. In fact, there is quite of lot of past reflection in the story as both Indian and white men remember previous battles and struggles.

It takes around three hundred pages before we get to the Lame Deer Fight which took place on May 7th, 1877 which marked the end of the Great Sioux War. I’ve always thought Johnston described his battles in excellent prose and the Lame Deer Fight certainly fits with my belief. The descriptions of panic, fear, bravery and cowardly acts, are grippingly told and you can clearly visualize the horrors of combat. 

If you’ve been reading this series, this book is certainly one not to miss as it does draw some kind of conclusion to the Sioux War that has been taking place over the entire series so far. 

One observation I will add, is that the book contains maps and lists of characters at the beginning. I’d advise against reading the character lists as they highlight those who die, both Indian and white man, and could spoil some of the tense life and death scenes if you have no prior knowledge as to who lived or died. I’ve always wondered why such list aren’t added to the end of the book rather than the beginning. 

If you have an interest in true events, in this case the struggles between white man and Indian, then I can’t recommend this series enough.