Monday 1 April 2024

MOLLY AND THE GOLD BARON


MOLLY AND THE GOLD BARON
By Stephen Overholser

Bantam Books, December 1981

Molly Owens is an ace operative for the Fenton Investigative Agency sent undercover to crack the most challenging frontier crimes. When she has to be, Molly is as rough as her .38 calibre Colt double-action Lightning model revolver. When she wants to be, Molly’s woman enough to melt in a man’s arms. In Cripple Creek, Molly is swept up in the West’s richest gold strike trying to expose a blackmailer. Three men are after her. One owes her his life; one is trying to kill her and one is falling in love. And just as the case takes a vicious twist towards murder, Molly is plunged in the middle of a deadly mine war that is primed to explode.

According to the notes in the book, detective and investigative agencies in the second half of the nineteenth century employed quite a few women to work as undercover operatives, so Molly is an authentic western character. The story is set in 1895, and is based very loosely on the miner’s strike of the previous year in Cripple Creek, Colorado.

Molly and the Gold Baron is the first entry in a series of five books, although it is not the first story to feature Molly Owens as Stephen Overholser wrote a book that was published in 1975 called Molly and the Confidence Man.

The story is a western mystery tale. Molly is sent to discover who is behind the blackmail attempt of millionaire miner Winfield Shaw. Molly soon figures this out but this ends in murder and Molly hasn’t uncovered any proof so Shaw’s blackmailer remains free even though she has identified this person. Asked to remain in Cripple Creek to help stop the brewing miners strike and impending violence this will bring Molly agrees as she believes she can find the proof she needs to have the killer blackmailer jailed at the same time. Most of the book follows Molly as she gets involved with various characters and asks her questions in what is a very straight-forward yarn.

Bad language is minimal, and action scenes sparse until the final third of the book. I have seen this series listed as adult westerns but I’d question that. True the book does contain a couple of sex scenes but one is covered in a couple of paragraphs whilst the other is described over two pages and is nowhere near as explicit as would be found in a Longarm book for example.

Molly does get to use all her talents, her female wiles and her excellence in observation, her ability in the art of self-defence, her lock-picking skills and her capability with her gun. Molly is also extremely cool when in danger and never seems to fear for her life.

Overholser tells his tale in an adequate style that kept me turning the pages just to see how everything turned out, but I was never overly gripped by the storyline. I was inspired enough to search out and read about the real Cripple Creek miners’ strike though. Will I read another Molly Owens book? Probably not in the foreseeable future.

Molly series
Molly and the Confidence Man
1. Molly and the Gold Baron
2. Molly on the Outlaw Trail
3. Molly and the Indian Agent
4. Molly and the Railroad Tycoon
5. Molly and the Gambler

Thursday 28 March 2024

THREE CANYONS TO DEATH


THREE CANYONS TO DEATH
By Luke Jones
Consul Books, 1961

The three men had been friends for only a short time, but they had formed a strong bond. When Jed Saunders, youngest of the trio, was brutally murdered, Limey and George swore to have revenge. The trail led them to a town living in fear – a town where only one man, Marshal Gruman, dared to speak his mind; and to Old Man Prescott, cattle-king and law unto himself; his weak and crooked son, Johnny; and the beautiful and unpredictable Elvina, who had inherited all her father’s wildness.

Knowing that Luke Jones is a pseudonym for Peter Watts, an author much better known for his westerns written under two other pennames, Matt Chisholm and Cy James, I was expecting a fast moving, tough tale filled with action and that was exactly what I got.

The story contains some neat twists and turns, the best of which being when Limey finds himself accused of murder. Just who he is said to have killed coming as a great surprise, one that turns the plot on its head and made me wonder just how Limey could prove himself innocent.

The Prescott family, and some of their ranch hands, are memorable characters too and they prove to be great adversaries for Limey and George. The fact that the son is out to ruin his father by stealing his cattle adds even more tension to the story. Jed is killed when he stumbles across this rustling operation in the area known as Three Canyons. There are two strong roles for female characters, with Elvina stirring strong emotions within Limey. Packed with plenty of lively gunplay, fistfights, and beatings there is never a dull moment throughout the story. 

Having read many books written by Peter Watts I’m aware that he sometimes kills off main characters, be they good or bad, so the possibility of this happening to Limey, George or any of the Prescott’s was always in the back of my mind, making the ending of this book just as unpredictable as Elvina.

Peter Watts only wrote one other book as Peter Jones, Brasada, and I hope to read that very soon.

I don’t know much about Consul books, or their printer, Racecourse Press Ltd, but one, or both, could have used better quality control as many words are missing letters making me have to guess what it was supposed to be. Frustrating a little but easy enough to work out when reading the whole sentence. Don’t let this put you off tracking down a copy of Three Canyons to Death though as it is a very entertaining read that I believe will be enjoyed by fans of the western genre.

Wednesday 20 March 2024

CAREY'S VENGEANCE


CAREY’S VENGEANCE
By Irving A. Greenfield
Cover art by Mike Cole
Tandem, 1973 – reprinted April 1975
Originally published by Dell, 1972

Thomas Carey had come a long way for this moment. For nearly a year he had struggled through a ravaged land, his faith in the gun slung low on his hip, and his only passion the revenge that burned in his heart. The tall, lean hard-bitten Texan had shot his way out of prison camp. Ridden with Quantrill’s Raiders as they fought and raped and plundered. Blazed his vengeance trail through a thousand miles of countryside where every man was his enemy.

Carey’s body was scarred, his brain hot with hate, his hands stained with blood as they curled around his pistol butt. Now at last he was closing with the man he was sworn to kill – his own father . . .

This book has 154 pages and they are divided into four chapters. Each chapter is split into different scenes separated by a line drawing of a Colt, so it is easy to find a place to stop reading if you so desire. I think you’ll get more enjoyment out of this book if you read the first Carey book, The Carey Blood, before this one as it will help you understand the hatred that drives Thomas Carey’s craving to kill his father. Irving Greenfield does include some explanation as to the Carey’s backstory, so the book can be read as a standalone title but I’d still urge you to read The Carey Blood first.

Carey’s Vengeance begins only moments after the end of the previous book and is set during the Civil War. Each chapter deals with a different aspect of Thomas’ attempts to head back home to kill his father. Chapter one tells of Carey’s escape from the prison camp. Chapter two covers his recovery from a wound. Chapter three details his time riding with Quantrill during which he will meet many real characters, such as Frank James, and covers the battle of Pleasant Hill and the attack on Lawrence, Kansas. It’s the fourth chapter that sees Thomas arrive home for the reckoning he wants with his father.

Neither of the Carey’s are likeable men. They will stop at nothing to get what they want with little regard to who they will hurt in achieving their aims. It’s these character traits that make them so fascinating though, made me want to keep reading to discover what would happen when father and son faced off against each other. The author doesn’t hold any punches either. The story is brutal, filled with vicious action scenes and tough dialogue. 

Perhaps not as gripping as the first book, or was that just me wanting to get the first three parts out of the way so I could read what would happen when Thomas faced his father? This was the confrontation I was eager to read about. It didn’t let me down either. Bittersweet in its harshness, it left me thoroughly satisfied, and looking forward to reading the third book, The Carey Gun, to see where the storyline will take me next.

UK readers can get a copy here.
American readers can get a copy here.

CAREY series
1. The Carey Blood
2. Carey’s Vengeance
3. The Carey Gun

Thursday 14 March 2024

THE GENERAL

ABILENE
Book 10 of 16
THE GENERAL
By Justin Ladd
Cover art by Gordon Crabb
Pocket Books, October 1989

When former Confederate prison camp commander General Brainard Forsythe arrives in town, marshal Luke Travis and deputy Cody Fisher have their hands full trying to keep the peace. Plenty of folks in Abilene are ready to welcome the “Butcher of Copperhead Mountain” with a noose and a tall gallows. But vicious hardcase McKimson and his gang are after the gold that the general is rumoured to have taken – and no one’s getting in their way. It’s open war on Abilene’s rough streets, and a marshal and his deputy are riding into the thick of it!

The author easily hooked me from the very beginning when it became obvious that the general, his daughter, Marelda, and their friend Varden, were desperate to keep their identities hidden by using false names. Why? It seems that it’s the general’s past that they want to keep concealed, but there’s the extra mystery of whether he really did what he’s rumoured to have done, and if there really is any gold.

Arriving in Abilene their attempts to keep their true identities concealed seems to be working, but one or two people, including marshal Travis, have suspicions about the newcomers. It will take an ex-union army officer, Nicholas Allard, who lost an arm in the Civil War and now runs a stable in Abilene, to unmask them. Hatred drives Allard’s actions and he acts without thinking of the consequences for others, and ruins his chance for romance with Marelda. It’s the growing affection between these two that plays a major part in the storyline and the heartache that the revelation of who the general really is grabbed my attention and made me want to keep turning the pages to see how this shattering news would play out for these likeable characters. 

It’s the discovery of the general’s real name that sees McKimson and his men hatch a plan to steal the gold that Forsythe supposedly has secreted away. Allard has already had a couple of run ins with McKimson when he saved Marelda from him. McKimson would like nothing better than to kill Allard for this and it looks like he’s about to get his chance as he makes his play for the gold. 

The final showdown, played out on the streets of Abilene, is both frantic, desperate and brutal. This bloody gunfight involves all the book’s main characters. Throughout most of the story, Travis and Fisher have remained in the background, but they’ll be needed to bring a close to this latest chapter of Abilene’s history. 

Justin Ladd is a pseudonym used by one of the best western authors still writing today, that author being James Reasoner. As I expected, the book is fast moving, full of terrific characters that will have you wanting to know what happens to them, and has many exciting action scenes. The question of whether the gold exists or is just a fable adds a neat touch of mystery to the tale. 

ABILENE series
1. The Peacemaker
2. The Sharpshooter
3. The Pursuers
4. The Night Riders
5. The Half-Breed
6. The Hangman
7. The Prizefighter
8. The Whiskey Runners
9. The Tracker
10. The General
11. The Hellion
12. The Cattle Baron
13. The Pistoleer
14. The Lawman
15. The Barlow Brides
16. The Deputy

Thursday 7 March 2024

TO MAKE A MAN

BLOODY JOE MANNION
Book 4 of 9
TO MAKE A MAN
By Peter Brandvold
Wolfpack Publishing, August 2022

Del Norte Town Marshal “Bloody” Joe Mannion and his junior deputy, Henry “Stringbean” McCallister, run down an especially violent as well as beguiling outlaw in the pretty form of Mathilda Calderon. The senorita is just one pretty girl, but she fights like a leg-trapped puma, leaving Mannion with an arm full of buckshot and Stringbean hurting where a man just shouldn’t be attacked, gallblastit! 

Senorita Calderon is wanted for aiding and abetting the commission of a federal crime and to testify against her boyfriend, the notorious border bandito and revolutionario, Diego Hidalgo, who stole three Gatling guns from the U.S. Army, slaughtering a dozen soldiers in the process. U.S. marshals are sent to retrieve the senorita and escort her to Tucson. Bloody Joe believes she will identify Hidalgo as the leader of the gang who stole the Gatling guns and also testify as to the guns’ whereabouts.

Arresting and holding onto Mathilda Calderon is just one of the problems Bloody Joe will have to deal with in this fast moving read. Peter Brandvold sure doesn’t believe in giving his characters an easy time of it and Mannion will not only have to suffer physically, but mentally too, as will Stringbean. As well as defending themselves from people trying to kill them, both have affairs of the heart to deal with. 

As the story unfolds, Stringbean finds himself escorting Mathilda “La Stiletta” Calderon to Tucson alone and there are plenty of dangers for him to face whilst doing so, from both men and animals. The relationship between prisoner and deputy is fascinating to watch unfold, especially as La Stiletta seems ready to kill Stringbean at the first chance she gets. The title of the book, To Make a Man, refers to Stringbean, as Joe believes his deputy will only be successful if he acts like a man, not as the kid he is.

Back in Del Norte, Bloody Joe has to deal with a mystery someone who has sent hired killers after him. Why? Getting to the bottom of this gives plenty of opportunities for Joe to live up to his nickname. To further complicate things his wife wants a divorce. Will Joe agree to this or can they work things out? 

There’s not one dull moment to be found in this story. Peter Brandvold paces the book superbly and fills it with interesting characters and plotlines. Amidst all the violent action there are gentler moments too, and some laugh-out-loud humour. All the story threads are tied up neatly, although not all of them ended as I expected and I was left looking forward to reading the next Bloody Joe Mannion book as soon as I can.

Mention must also be made of Wolfpack Publishing’s attention to their cover illustrations to highlight how they make sure the covers of their books depict a scene from the story and this one shows a particularly suspenseful part of the tale.


UK readers can buy the book here.
American readers can buy the book here.


BLOODY JOE MANNION series
1. Bloody Joe
2. Revenge at Burial Rock
3. Saints and Sinners
4. To Make a Man
5. All My Sins Remembered
6. Kicked Out with a Cold Shovel
7. Drawn and Quartered
8. Battle Mountain
9. Bloody Joe’s Last Dance

Thursday 29 February 2024

KILLERS NEVER SLEEP

BUCK TRAMMEL
Book 6 of 6
KILLERS NEVER SLEEP
By William W. Johnstone and J.A. Johnstone
Pinnacle Books, January 2024

Ben Washington and his gang of murdering prairie rats have been terrorizing Wyoming Territory for quite a spell: rustling cattle, robbing stagecoaches and railroads, and slaughtering settlers. When Sheriff Buck Trammel of Laramie learns that Washington and his killers have been terrorizing an innocent family, he and his deputy ride out and bring Washington in the hard way – at the barrel of a gun.

When word spreads fast of Washington’s capture, gambler Adam Hagen begins taking wagers on the outlaw’s fate and quickly finds himself sitting atop a mountain of cash. Hearing of the large sums being bet on Washington’s fate, the LeBlanc Brothers come to town posing as cattlemen. Gorged with greed, the LeBlanc Brothers team up with Washington’s gang of cutthroats. It’s up to Buck Trammel to not only defend the town from hell bursting loose, but to also keep Ben Washington right where he belongs – at the end of a rope.

With the majority of Buck Trammel’s problems in Laramie tied up at the close of the previous book, This Man Must Die, it seems life could get easier for the lawman. That is not to be, as a new gang of outlaws or two are about to pose a serious threat to a peaceful life in Laramie. There is also nowhere near as much political wrangling in this story as there has been in the pervious books, but you don’t need that as there is more than enough trouble for Trammel to deal with in this story. 

The main plot revolves around Washington, but he is more or less a background character as he spends most of his time locked in a cell. It’s his gang, and the LeBlanc Brothers, that are going to cause the perils that Trammel will have to face. The LeBlanc Brothers being responsible for a massive death toll that sees Laramie shaken to its foundations, that will also change the life of some of the main characters in the series. Trammel also gets some news that will alter his life too.

The author really piles the pressure on to Trammel and his deputies. There’s a powerplay as the lawmen argue over how best to defend Laramie against these new threats. Adam Hagen has a part to play in both causing one of the disasters that befalls the town and in trying to stop the outlaw gang achieving their aims.

Trammel and the outlaws try to bluff and counterbluff each other, which leads to plenty of violent exchanges of gunplay. Tension mounts as Trammel has to decide whether to let Washington go and save the town or hang onto the outlaw and see Laramie destroyed and many of its citizens killed. How Trammel solves these problems provides a gripping climax to the story.

Once again, the author has written another excellent story that keeps the Buck Trammel series going from strength to strength. I can only hope there will be another one soon, but as there hasn’t been another book announced by the Johnstone’s, I will just have to keep my fingers crossed that one may appear eventually. 

BUCK TRAMMEL series
1. North of Laramie
2. Bury the Hatchet
3. The Intruders
4. The Fires of Blackstone
5. This Man Must Die
6. Killers Never Sleep

Sunday 25 February 2024

ON THE DODGE


BANNISTER
ON THE DODGE
By D.B. Newton
Cover art by Jerome Podwil
Berkley Medallion, 1962

Jim Bannister hoped he wouldn’t be recognized when he rode into the tiny town of Antelope, Colorado, but he had to take the risk. His life depended on Syndicate Agent Boyd Selden whom he hoped to find there . . . 

A few months earlier he had busted out of a jail in New Mexico, and there was a $12,000 price tag on his head . . .

Things were going smoothly enough – until he accidentally got pulled into a fight over Kelsey Harbord, daughter of the murdered ex-foreman of the powerful Buckhorn Ranch . . .

Jim knew that he was getting involved in a potential range war – but he couldn’t help feeling that this was his only chance to convince Selden that he had murdered in self-defence . . . 

I have a few books by Dwight Bennett Newton and a handful of short stories in my collection. I think I’ve only read one of them though, and that was a long, long time ago, so I had no real recollection of reading him before I decided to read On the Dodge. I’d never wanted to start this series until I owned all 11 books, and I’ve still got four to find, but having given up on finding those absent books at a sensible price, I thought I’d give the first one a try. 

Newton doesn’t tell the reader why Bannister is wanted for murder straight-away, or why he’s intent on tracking down Seldon who works for the syndicate that has placed the bounty on his head. This adds an air of mystery to the story which pulled me in and kept me turning the pages. Newton does eventually reveal why Bannister is on the dodge but I was still left wondering whether Seldon would help him or have him arrested and their meeting didn’t turn out as I expected. 

The story is fairly straight-forward, and mixes plots that have turned up in many westerns, such as helping a damsel in distress and getting involved in a fight that isn’t one of the heroes making. Newton manages to make it all feel fresh and new though with his strong storytelling and believable characters that are flawed – Bannister often makes mistakes that could see him arrested or killed. Newton’s dialogue is well done and the whole tale has a tough edge to it. The story moves forward at a great pace and never had a dull moment.

On the Dodge is a very well told traditional western that easily held my interest, and left me looking forward to reading the second book (which I have) as soon as I can. 

BANNISTER series
1. On the Dodge
2. The Savage Hills
3. Bullets on the Wind
4. The Manhunters
5. Hideout Valley
6. The Wolf Pack
7. The Judas Horse
8. Syndicate Gun
9. Range Tramp
10. Bounty on Bannister
11. Broken Spur

Wednesday 14 February 2024

PARTNERS IN CRIME


HOLMES ON THE RANGE 8
PARTNERS IN CRIME
By Steve Hockensmith
Rough Edges Press, November 2023

Saddle up for adventure with the eccentric cowboy detectives, Big Red and Old Red Amlingmeyer, as they embark on a thrilling journey to establish their dream detective agency in the Wild West.

In this action-packed collection of five stories, join the brothers as they navigate disastrous homecoming trips, strange newspaper feuds, supernatural kidnappings, deadly Christmas celebrations, and a high-stakes conspiracy threatening to tarnish their budding careers.

With their Sherlock Holmes-inspired wit and determination, can they crack the cases and outsmart the culprits?

Contents:
Partners in Crime
My Christmas Story
Curious Incidents
Bad News
Can the Cat Catch the Rat?

This is the second collection of short stories featuring the Amlingmeyer brothers, the first collection being Dear Mr. Holmes. Four of the tales were originally published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, with the other being a brand-new story. Like before, each tale is told through a letter written mainly to Big Red’s editor Mr. Smythe of Smythe & Associates Publishing, Ltd., who publish the Amlingmeyer stories in Smythe’s Frontier Detective Magazine. 

One of the greatest draws for me in this series is Big Red’s humorous observations in his narration of the brothers’ latest cases and the words he speaks during these events, which had me laughing out loud often. 

The title story takes us back to their hometown in Kansas and readers are filled in a little more about their past, before they became cowboys, which in turn lead to them becoming detectives. 

Each of the five tales offers a very different storyline, one changing quite dramatically mid-way through. Not all their cases involve murder either, which helps keep the stories fresh and individual. I don’t really want to say anything more about the stories as I don’t want to spoil what happens in them, other than to say there are some great twists to some of the plots. There are also lots of references to Sherlock Holmes and his methods of investigating a crime, with Old Red trying to use Holmes’ approaches to solve their own mysteries. 

Partners in Crime is another extremely entertaining read from Steve Hockensmith, and I can only hope he has many more adventures lined up for his fans. 

Thursday 8 February 2024

TEACHER WITH A TIN STAR


TEACHER WITH A TIN STAR
By Harriet Cade
Hale, March 2015

Mark Brown is hoping to become a minister of the church, but for now he is teaching the elementary school in the little town of Barker’s Crossing in Wyoming.

When a local landowner begins to terrorize the homesteaders around Barker’s Crossing, Brown realizes that it is time to act. He has not always been a teacher; in fact, he was a lawman for over ten years.

Now, before he can fulfil his ambition of becoming a minister, he must take up his gun one last time and fight to defend the helpless.

This is the first book I’ve read written under the penname of Harriet Cade, but it’s not the first I’ve read by the author behind that nom de plume, whose real name is Simon Webb. Webb wrote for the Black Horse line of westerns under 10 pseudonyms plus his own name, which I’ll list at the end of this review.

Simon Webb’s plots move forward at a fast clip and usually contain a twist or two. This book is no exception and in this one it’s how some of the main characters die that took me by surprise. Overall, though, the storyline is very straightforward and it’s easy to predict how everything will turn out – except for one or two of the deaths as I’ve already mentioned. 

Brown’s mask of being a teacher and wannabe minister is easily seen through by his elderly landlady, and it’s through her urging that he straps on his gun again. Brown finds that the majority of the men in Barker’s Crossing won’t stand by him as he faces the rancher and his hired guns. Brown is only backed by a young kid and an old-timer, which is typical of many westerns. Everything comes to a neat ending, if predictable, and even offers a nick-of-time rescue.

Webb does have a writing style of his own, which can take a little getting used to. This is mainly in the speech. Here’s an example: “I see a mort of dust being kicked up over yonder. Less’n I’m greatly mistook.” 

Simon Webb’s Black Horse Westerns aren’t those I pick out that often to read from the many I’ve got. But if I want a quick easy to read traditional western then he is someone I’ll consider.

Here's the list of pseudonyms Simon Webb wrote Black Horse Westerns as:

Clyde Baker
Harriet Cade
Bill Cartwright
Jay Clanton
Ethan Harker
Jethro Kyle
Brent Larssen
Ed Roberts
Fenton Sadler
Jack Tregarth

He also wrote BHW’s under his own name.

Wednesday 31 January 2024

ASSASSIN'S TRAIL

CANYON O’GRADY
Number 13 of 25
ASSASSIN’S TRAIL
By Jon Sharpe
Cover art by Jerome Podwil
Signet, May 1991

Canyon O’Grady had a long way to go to get his man. The big redheaded U.S. special agent had to catch up with the kingpin of an assassination ring making tracks for Oregon – and the trail cut through Blackfoot land. Canyon was ready to handle both assassins’ bullets and Blackfoot arrows – but not a blonde built for trouble, a pair of greenhorns dead set on sure-fire suicide, and a tangle of treachery and deceit that left Canyon wondering whom to save, whom to kill, and how not to make the dead wrong choice…

After a run of books written by Chester Cunningham, we have a new author writing behind the pseudonym of Jon Sharpe. I’ve seen two different authors suggested as being the writer of this book but haven’t read enough of either to make a guess as to which it could be, Jon Messmann or Will C. Knott. Perhaps neither?

The author’s prose is very readable and the plot doesn’t offer much in the way of surprises or gun action – of course there is some gunplay but not as much as I’d expect from a book carrying the name of Jon Sharpe. The storyline did hold my attention though and introduced some great characters, such as Jake Gettis, bodyguard to Judge Langley who O’Grady has been sent after. 

I found it strange that O’Grady would allow himself to be talked into babysitting some greenhorns, even though they are travelling in the same direction as he, instead of racing ahead to track down a man assumed to be planning to assassinate the President. Somehow, I’d have thought this would have been the special agents’ number one concern and nothing would get in the way of taking down the judge before the President could be killed.

A lot of the book is taken up with O’Grady’s attempts to stop the spread of cholera, which is wreaking havoc among the people of a wagon train that the judge is travelling with. 

The book contains an exciting duel with a Blackfoot warrior who is determined to kill O’Grady and part of the story follows this warrior and his band as they discuss how to wipe the encroaching whites from their country, none of which had much baring on the story other than filling pages. One of these scenes contains some gruesome descriptions of what happens to a couple of prisoners.

There is also a glaring error that will annoy purists. Each of the O’Grady books contain a page at the front that outlines the time and setting the story takes place, which I believe is written by the author, and this one announces that the book is set in 1859. Throughout the story O’Grady uses a Henry rifle, which were not introduced until 1960.

After Cunningham’s entries into the series, this one did feel like a let down if I’m honest. It was still an ok read and I would read more by whoever wrote this book, which is a good job as there is another coming from this author in a couple of books time I believe.

Cover artist Jerome Podwil has once again produced a superb cover, each of the illustrations capturing a scene from the story. He must also have been told about O’Grady’s switch of horses as Canyon is depicted on the animal he rides for much of this tale instead of his usual mount.

Assassin’s Trail is one for the completist, not a book to judge the whole series on. 

Thursday 18 January 2024

A NEED FOR VIOLENCE


THE BATTLING HARRIGANS OF THE FRONTIER
A NEED FOR VIOLENCE
By Dusty Richards and Matthew P. Mayo
Pinnacle Books, December 2023

Spring, 1850. After a brutally long winter in the Rockies, Mack Harrigan and his growing family have learned to manage the harsh realities of frontier life. Their new friends, the Shoshone, have taught them the skills they need to survive in this rugged land, from tracking and hunting to fishing and foraging. But the skills they need most are those of the Shoshone warrior, when their camp is attacked by an enemy tribe…. 

Sometimes there is a need for violence. This is one of those times.

The attackers are merciless. They crush the skulls of their victims. Slice off their scalps. And kidnap children as prisoners of war. The Harrigans are horrified by the bloodshed and brutality of the attack – and are determined to fight back alongside the Shoshone. But their mission to save the children will ultimately send the battling Harrigans even deeper into the wild frontier. Farther west than most dare travel. And closer to finding the American dream – if they survive…. 

After only a handful of pages, Matthew P. Mayo plunges the reader into the midst of a vicious battle for survival as the Shoshone camp comes under attack. The Harrigan’s are split up and the author keeps switching between them as they fight frantically to save themselves, each other, and their Shoshone friends. Most of the combat is hand-to-hand, knife-to-knife, club-to-head, and is described graphically. This has to be one of the longest opening battles I’ve read in a western as it continues for around 80 pages, yet never outstays its welcome. Then it’s straight into a desperate chase to track down and rescue the stolen children.

The second part of the book sees the Harrigan’s continue on their journey, heading towards California. As expected, there is plenty of deadly danger waiting to pounce on them. One of my favourite characters from the first book, Bearpaw Jones, makes a very welcome return and it’s through him that one of the Harrigan’s will meet a famous person and get a job offer that is difficult to turn down, but will it be taken? It’s not just humans that pose a threat to the Harrigan’s as a bear has a large part to play and Mayo writes some nail-biting sequences involving this animal. 

The seeds for possible future storylines are also planted, and I can only hope that we don’t have to wait too long before a third book appears.