Tuesday 28 February 2023


By William W. Johnstone and J.A. Johnstone
Pinnacle Books, February 2023

Captain Peter Joseph Kellerman was once a promising career soldier who’d proven his mettle in battle time and again. Now he’s fighting a battle with a whiskey bottle. He’s also in charge of Fort Benjamin Grierson, located west of hell, deep in Arizona Territory’s Mohawk Valley on the arid edge of the Yuma Desert. The men under his command aren’t fit to wear the uniform. Killers, thieves, and ravagers condemned to death but who’ve chosen to serve, holding down the hated Fort Misery.

Santiago Lozado, the most wanted bandit on both sides of the border, has set his sights on Fort Misery. He wants vengeance against Kellerman for killing his son and has raised an army of brutal Apache and Comancheros to slaughter every man wearing Union blue – only to encounter a wild bunch of desperate men unafraid of shedding blood and fighting to the death . . . 

Johnstone brings together a captivating bunch of soldiers to face a much larger force of bandits and Apache in a story full of seemingly hopeless situations and disillusioned officers and troopers. Most of these characters imbibe in alcohol to see them through each and every day. When a clerical error sends a fresh-faced officer straight from West Point to the fort, he is aghast at the situation he finds himself in. 

The author switches regularly between his cast of characters, be they soldiers or their enemy. This allows the readers to follow what each side is doing, how they are planning to attack or defend Fort Grierson and this also helps build reader anticipation for the assault on the fort. The bandits, scalpers and Apache all seem set on double-crossing each other too. Other people get involved in this battle as well; a couple of prisoners who’ve escaped from the prison wagon taking them to Yuma, and a marshal looking to track them down. 

Action scenes are described superbly and they are often quite brutal in their depiction. The harsh landscape surrounding Fort Grierson is beautifully portrayed as are feelings of despair, nerve jangling tension, and hatred. Amongst all this the author injects many moments of humour, mostly found in conversation, adding some welcome relief to the deadly situations the soldiers find themselves in. 

It would be unrealistic to expect all your favourite characters to come out of this unscathed. I also liked how the author wasn’t averse to killing off some of them too, making it impossible to predict who would be left alive by the end. 

The last couple of chapters nicely set up what I assume will be the plot for the second book in the series and I’m looking forward to reading that with much anticipation. 

Saturday 25 February 2023


By Peter Brandvold
Wolfpack Publishing, May 2022

When constable Jeremiah Claggett is murdered by Frank Lord, the kill-crazy leader of a dozen wild outlaws, Bloody Joe has to come to grips with the fact that he’s inadvertently to blame. Mannion had turned Frank’s brother, Billy, over to Claggett for safekeeping, setting off the chain of events that end his friend’s life. Mannion is the kill-crazy one now. Not realizing he’s being shadowed by forces unknown, Mannion sets out on his vengeance quest.

In typical Bloody Joe style, he storms Lord’s gang single-handedly, which nearly proves his undoing – until he’s set upon by a mystery ‘Man of the Lord’ and given…something. Whether that something is good or bad Mannion has difficulty discerning.

Peter Brandvold has commented that Bloody Joe Mannion is one of his favourite characters and I’m very much in agreement with that statement. I really like how Mannion allows his anger to determine his actions, how he pushes aside everything else in his life as he relentlessly hunts down his prey. Mannion will suffer both mentally and physically before the conclusion of this tale.

Bloody Joe isn’t the only great character in this series, but the regulars that have had large parts to play in previous books only have small roles this time around. Mannion’s wife, Jane, has some decisions to make when a man she hasn’t seen for many years arrives in town which leads to a powerful scene at the end of the story.

The vast majority of the book follows Mannion’s attempts wipe out the Lord gang. During this Bloody Joe will have to struggle with unsettling changes within his person. Why did he decide to bring in Billy Lord alive instead of just killing him? This seems to be a new side of him that Mannion is not sure he likes, especially as it leads to the death of his friend, Jeremiah Claggett. Mannion isn’t the only one who has to deal with self-blame, there’s Claggett’s daughter too, who also sets out to kill Frank Lord.

The action scenes are hard-hitting, brutal at times, as Mannion deals out justice. There are elements of mystery too, such as who is the lone rider shadowing Bloody Joe and why is he doing so? The Man of the Lord makes for a fascinating character too, can he really summon powers unexplained to help him ’feed the beast’ or is there a more rational explanation? All this combines to make a gripping read that left me eager to read the fourth book in the series as soon as possible. 

Sunday 19 February 2023


By John Benteen
Leisure Books, 1973

The Appaloosa horses bred by Chief Joseph’s Nez Perce Indians were the finest anywhere. That’s why the Army wanted to get its hands on the herd—so it could breed up top-quality remounts and ride the Indians down even easier. To do it, they hired a sadistic horse-trader named Luke Drury.

There was just one problem. Jim Sundance had no intention of letting Drury or the Army get their hands on the Appaloosas. Instead, he planned to sell them to an English aristocrat and have them taken out of the country.

But Drury played rough … up to and including cold-blooded murder. So now it became a race against time. Hunted every step of the way, Sundance, and the beautiful Lady Bucknell, had to get the horses to the relative safety of Mormon country, and then get them shipped out to England. But they were going to have a fight on their hands … one that could only end in wholesale slaughter …

Most of the early Sundance books are based on real historical events. This one has some of that in it, but I believe the main storyline about hidden stallions is fictional. The author does include real people, such as Calamity Jane, and gives the reader loads of background about the Nez Perce and their treatment by the white man, the U.S. Army in particular. 

There’s also the question of where this book fits into the series. As you’ll see my copy (pictured above) doesn’t carry a number and I’ve seen it recorded as the seventh book in numerous lists. However, I have seen the exact same cover with a number six printed on it. Figuring its place in the series becomes even more complicated when you read the book as there is a lot of reference to The Battle of the Little Bighorn and Sundance’s involvement in Custer’s death. In fact, the book reveals just what did happen between the two men. None of this has yet turned up in a Sundance book if read in listed order, as the book usually said to be number nine, Taps at Little Big Horn, covers Custer’s last stand. To confuse things even more, my copy of Taps at Little Big Horn has a large number seven printed on it. Many of the Sundance books have been put out by Piccadilly Publishing as ebooks, and they’ve altered the originally order so the books run chronologically by storyline, thus their Taps at Little Big Horn is number five and The Wild Stallions is number seven. I suggest you use Piccadilly Publishing’s order to get the best enjoyment out of the early entries in the series.

John Benteen is a pseudonym for Ben Haas, although later other authors would take over the series. Haas mixes historical fact seamlessly with fiction in an exciting storyline that sees Sundance and Lady Bucknell struggle to get the horses to safety. 

The book starts with Sundance riding into Deadwood to meet Lady Bucknell’s husband so a deal can be made to sell the stallions to the Englishman. Sundance is the only person who knows where the horses are hidden. Things don’t go to plan and soon Sundance and Lady Bucknell are prisoners, held captive by Drury and his gang. I must admit how Sundance and Lady Bucknell escape stretched my belief somewhat as I just couldn’t see how certain elements of the escape could possibly happen. 

Once Sundance and Lady Bucknell head out to retrieve the horses the story really picked up and became a gripping read. Haas introduced some excellent Nez Perce characters and the problems they all faced in getting to the horses and then driving them to Mormon country meant I found the book hard to put down. Haas includes some neat little plot twists; some terrific action scenes and the story had a great ending. All this left me looking forward to reading another Sundance book soon.

And just to mess with your head some more after my thoughts on when this book should be read in the series, I’ll finish with this note. For some reason Leisure published The Wild Stallions again in the series, but under the name of Ride the Man Down, the 22nd book in the series. 

Wednesday 15 February 2023


Number 139 of 398 plus 7 Giant Editions
By Jon Sharpe
Cover art by Jerome Podwil
Signet, July 1993

Skye Fargo came to western Kansas to find that vast sea of grass drenched with blood. Kiowa and Cheyenne were at each other’s throats, enraged by savage killings of their braves. No whites were safe, from the beautiful madam of a legendary house of pleasure to a trader grown too rich for his own good. And looming over the carnage was the king of the buffalo hunters, Duke Manning, a man-mountain whose brain was as awesome as his brawn, and whose ambition was bigger still. Only Fargo could rip apart the veil of mystery, and stand up to a titan of terror…as the roar of guns drowned out the thunder of buffalo hooves…. 

This is a very fast paced story that revolves around a great set of characters, be they white, Cheyenne or Kiowa. Fargo has to discover why the two tribes have begun killing each other after living peacefully for years. This adds some mystery to the tale, although most readers will probably work this part of the book out easily. It doesn’t take Fargo long either, but then there’s the problem of proving what is happening.

There are many terrific action scenes involving fists and guns. The subplots all combine, such as that of the girl kept behind walls, who eventually escapes to become the bride of the king, Duke Manning. Now Fargo has to save her too, whist trying to stop a mass Indian battle that will also see many whites fall victim during the war. 

Being an adult western series there are a few graphic sex scenes, but these don’t take up many pages and can be skipped easily if you don’t like this kind of explicit writing in your westerns. It would be a shame if you passed this book by because of them as it turned out to be an exciting fun read.

I’m not sure who was behind the pseudonym of Jon Sharpe this time, although I have seen it credited to J.B. Keller. There has always been some confusion as to which books she wrote, some naming series originator Jon Messmann as being the author of some of the books credited to her and vice-versa. 

One thing I’ve always liked about the Trailsman series is that the cover art depicts actual scenes from the story and Jerome Podwil has illustrated them superbly.

Thursday 9 February 2023


Book 2 of 18
By Will McLennan
Cover art by Bill Dodge
Jove, September 1989

The War Between the States was long over. But the fighting spirit lived on in Matt Ramsey – and kept him roaming for five restless years. So, when his old friend Knox Wapley signed him on as a ranchero, Matt was glad of the chance to stay in one place for a while and keep out of trouble.

But trouble is something that just can’t leave a Ramsey alone – and Matt soon finds himself dodging bullets in a full-blown range war. Only this war is one that Matt Ramsey isn’t going to lose!

The first three books in this series were written by Gary Clifton Wisler. Three other authors then wrote behind the pseudonym of Will McLennan, these being Ed Gorman, Robert J. Conley and John Legg – the latter writing most of the books. 

This story takes place over a number of months and sees Matt enjoying being in one place, becoming friends with Wapley’s family. Matt invites one of his younger brothers, Bucky, to join him and the Wapley’s. Life seems peaceful but Matt senses that there is something Knox hasn’t told him. It soon becomes clear that a neighbouring rancher, Nash Emery, is trying to buy the Wapley ranch and various mishaps are causing problems. Matt also gets on the wrong side of a gambler known as the Kansan. 

It isn’t long before the bullets begin to fly, fired by snipers mainly. Even though Matt knows who is behind the attacks he can’t prove it, as Emery is always seen elsewhere when the shooting takes place. It isn’t long before Knox is killed, and Matt decides to stay and protect Wapley’s wife, Gail, her children, and Knox’s father. But can two men, a woman, and a bunch of children take on Emery and his riders, especially when he hires himself some gunfighters? 

Wisler’s tale begins on a slow burn, the tension mounting as the pace increases, building towards the inevitable showdown. There are some hard-hitting action scenes and some surprising victims, but other than that this is a traditional range war western – and there’s nothing wrong with that. I find Wisler’s writing to be very readable and I’m enjoying seeing the character development of the Ramsey brothers. On finishing the book, I was left looking forward to reading the next one as soon as I can.