Tuesday 30 April 2024


William W. Johnstone and J.A. Johnstone
Pinnacle Books, April 2024

As hardworking families and ambitious dreamers set down roots across the American West, others swooped down to prey upon them. After the smoke cleared, those who lived by the gun found themselves facing justice – and vengeance . . . 

It was supposed to be a simple robbery. A fortune in gold for the taking. What Hack Long and his outlaws hadn’t figured on was the Texas Rangers pouncing on them. Desperate to escape, Long led his men south of the Rio Grande where they ran afoul of Mexican Rurales and were imprisoned.

Unwilling to die behind the bars of the hellish prison where life is worth less than a peso, Long’s band of desperadoes break out of jail and split up to escape. Now, Two-Horses, Luke Fischer, Gabriel Santana, Billy Lightning, and Long are scrabbling along a desolate landscape, heading for Texas to reclaim their ill-gotten gains, hunted by dogged lawmen, merciless Comanche, and a violent gang of bandits who also want the stolen gold.

The story of Hack Long and his outlaw gang starts with them in the Mexican prison plotting their escape. I don’t know why, but I found this part of the tale to be a bit on the slow side, but never-fear, as soon as they are free, the story really picked up and I found the book difficult to put down.

The chapters are short, some being only a couple of pages long. The author often switches between the various members of the Long gang and the different groups of people hunting them. Most of the chapters involve a killing or two as each gang members meets danger on the trail to Texas. Having sixty-four chapters the book therefore contains a high death toll.

The author also fleshes out his main characters, and Billy Lightning’s backstory as to how he got his name was both scary and amusing at the same time. All the characters held my attention and I soon wanted to know what would happen to them, be they good, bad, or somewhere in between. 

As they near the town of Barlow, where the gold was hidden, Long begins to wonder if they’ll be able to find their loot again as it becomes apparent the town has grown whilst he and his gang were locked up in Mexico. This is where the author has a neat twist waiting which will really challenge the gang.

Other than the slightly sluggish start, I found The Wicked and the Dead to be a very entertaining read that’s filled with tough violent action. It’s also great to see the Johnstone’s put out another non-series western as this book just has to be a stand-alone title, doesn’t it? 

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

Sunday 21 April 2024


Book 136 of 398 plus 7 Giant Editions
By Jon Sharpe
Cover art by Hiram Richardson
Signet, April 1993

The four cowpunchers that Skye Fargo ran into on the Texas trail were well-hung in the worst way. Their bullet-ridden bodies swung in the wind at the end of ropes. That was the Trailsman’s first hint of what to expect when he hit Deadwood…a town where the sheriff laid down the law of the gun…where men massed for all-out war against a cattle king who ruled the range in a tyranny of terror…where his wickedly beautiful wife was a dangerous as she was desirable…and where Skye Fargo had to choose sides in a fight where the only thing he could trust was his own trigger finger….

The opening scene where Fargo discovers the four hanging men has the Trailsman asking questions, and before he has the answers, he finds himself in more situations that add to the intrigue of just what is going on. Then there’s the message Fargo has been asked to deliver to the cattle king, Owen Tate, and no-one else – a message that doesn’t seem to make any sense. Contacting the man becomes a problem of its own as he hasn’t been seen by anyone for a while. There is a surprise for the Trailsman when finds out he has met the cattle king’s wife, Faith, before. Faith promises Fargo that he’ll get his meeting with Tate as soon as possible, but the Trailsman begins to suspect she is stalling. Why would she be doing this adds to the puzzles Fargo has to solve.

As I’d expect from a Trailsman book, Texas Triggers is full of violent action, tough characters and deadly situations. There’s a couple of explicit sex scenes too. The plot moves forwards at terrific speed and is full of twists and turns, making this a hard to put down read. There was one incident that stretched my belief a little involving Fargo’s horse as I’m not sure it would have done what it did, but it didn’t spoil my enjoyment of this book.

I’m not sure who wrote this entertaining entry into the long-running series but would suggest it is either Jon Messmann or J.B. Keller.  

If you’re looking to read this book, then please be aware that a later entry into The Trailsman series, book 328, has the same title. They are both completely different stories.

Monday 1 April 2024


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