Friday 31 May 2024



By Tom West

Ace Books, 1965

“This town can always use deputies. It’s the toughest! They planted the marshal last week, lead poisoning. Third this season. Come sundown, the town’s a madhouse, south of the tracks. Abilene ain’t a patch on Prairie City. You might say it’s pure hell with the lid off.”
   “Wal,” the newcomer drawled, “I’m down to my last ten-spot. Just who hires deputies in this hell-raising town?”
   “Drop into the Bull Pen up the street,” rasped the clerk, grinning. “Better leave five bucks with me.”
   “For what?”
   “You’ll need a marker – in boot hill.”

The above conversation sets up the basic plot of this tale and the hard-boiled writing style gives the book a dark tone. The newcomer, a man just known as Tex, immediately questions his appointment, not as a deputy, but as Prairie City’s new marshal. Gamblers are betting on how long he’ll last and his deputies don’t seem to like him. Tex wonders why he should put his life on the line for a town in which he isn’t welcome. As the attempts on his life come, Tex gets close to quitting. Of course, he doesn’t and tension mounts. As the deadline for the bets to be paid on his death the gamblers set Tex up to be killed. Tex survives this but trouble still comes his way, especially when he decides it’s time to enforce the no guns in town law.

Tex also has women problems. He’s attracted to two and he soon has to deal with female jealousy. This could be the distraction that means he drops his guard for it to be the death of him.

The story is well written and the plot moves forwards quickly. It’s packed with tough talk and lively gunplay. The author uses some terms and words that I hardly ever see in westerns, such as having characters refer to each other as hairpins. I was also surprised to see a building called a bungalow. Many of the characters enjoy a smoke and often light up a cigaret, which later on is called a cigarette, then switches back to being a cigaret. Was this an author or publisher mistake? 

Tom West is a pseudonym used by Fred East, and this is only the second book I can remember reading by him. I really enjoyed the first one, Bitter Brand, and The Toughest Town in the Territory started so well, was full of potential, and Tex is an interesting hero. Once Tex has settled into his new job the story is held together by trying to bring law to Prairie City and becomes a series of unrelated incidents that Tex has to tackle. The promise of a showdown between Tex and forty ranch hands had me looking forward to an exciting action-packed finale but I was to be severely let down as the book took a ridiculous turn, making for the worst ending I’ve ever read. In fact, I had to re-read a few paragraphs to make sure I hadn’t imagined what I’d read, but no, this unbelievably stupid ending was real. What on earth was the author thinking?

Bitter Brand left me wanting to read more of Tom West’s work. If I’d read The Toughest Town in the Territory first, I very much doubt I’d have picked up another book by this author. I have three more West books in my collection, so the question now is will I ever read them? Maybe I’ll try one more but it won’t be anytime soon.

My copy of The Toughest Town in the Territory is part an Ace Double, the other story being Guns at Q Cross by Merle Constiner. 

Tuesday 21 May 2024



By Peter Field
Cover art by John Duillo
Pocket Books, February 1976
Originally published by Jefferson House, 1962 

Crusty, outspoken Ma Russell was in deep trouble. Killer Cagle had shot down her foreman in a saloon brawl. Her husband was up north with a busted leg, and Ma wanted to drive a herd of cattle across a thousand miles of wild, strange mountains. Without proper help she’d never make it, so Pat Stevens and his sidekicks Sam and Ezra decided to ride along. But Cagle and his desperadoes had other ideas. They menaced the cattle drive all the rugged way until – in a final action-packed showdown – one of Peter Field’s best Westerns comes to a roaring climax.

This book is part of the long running Powder Valley western series that began in 1934 and finished in 1967 and saw 80+ books published. Originally put out by Morrow before Jefferson House took over, all the books were published as hardbacks. They were later republished as paperbacks.

Peter Field is a pseudonym shared by a number of authors, the first of which was Francis Thayer Hobson. Other authors include Harry S. Drago, Davis Dresser, Fred East, and Robert J. Hogan. From the 35th book all the titles were written by Lucien W. Emerson. Emerson wrote The Outlaw Herd and it was the 76th entry into the series. It is the first Powder Valley western I’ve read.

I’ve never been a massive fan of cattle drive stories, but it had been a while since I’d read one so I decided to give The Outlaw Herd a chance. I needn’t have worried, as the cattle drive takes place over just a few pages with most of the book covering why the cattle drive was needed and where the cattle would come from. Also, there was the added complication of Cagle and his gang. These owlhoots also provided a mystery element to the tale as to the reason they were so interested in the Russell’s Spider ranch.

I got the impression that Stevens, Sam and Ezra are the main characters of the series, although there was little backstory revealed about them, or Powder Valley for that matter. I also noticed that Emerson rarely shares his characters thoughts – I only learned what they were thinking when they decided to explain something to other characters. This allowed the author to spring a couple of surprises without me having any idea they were coming. 

None of the characters really stood out to me. I’m still not sure what to make of Stevens as he seems too good to be true. He certainly never seems to doubt himself. Some of the plot stretched my belief somewhat, such as the acquisition of the outlaw herd. I’m not sure a rustler would hand over a herd on a promise of payment once the cattle had been sold to someone he didn’t know. This did add an extra element to the end of the story where Stevens came over as wearing a whiter than white hat. The story did move forward at a fair clip. It contains lots of dialogue, mainly threats and bluster. There’s not a lot of gunplay or other action. The blurb promised ‘a final action-packed showdown’ but that didn’t seem to happen. Yes, there was a shootout involving rustlers and a posse, but it was over fairly quickly and didn’t bring the story to an end as there were more plot threads to tie up before the close of the tale.

I realize I’ve said quite a few negative things about this book, but none of them put me off reading it. The main plotline was interesting enough to keep me turning the pages, as were a couple of subplots, such as how the relationship between the constantly bickering young cowboy and the Russell’s daughter would turn out, even though it was easy enough to work out. Steven’s plan to sneak off under the noses of Cagle and his gang was well done too.

Would I read another Powder Valley western on the strength of this one? Yes, probably, but maybe not for a while. I do think it would be interesting to read how some of the other authors behind the pseudonym tell their stories about Stevens, Sam and Ezra, especially those written by Robert J. Hogan and Fred East as I’ve always enjoyed their work.

Sunday 12 May 2024


British Edition, Vol. XV, No. 8.
Atlas Publishing, December 1961

This collection of nine tales contains work by eight authors I’d never read before, the exception being Barry Cord, so I was looking forward to trying some new writers to me. Yes, I recognized the names of a few of them but had no idea of what to expect from them when I picked up this issue of Western Story Magazine.

The contents page says none of the stories had been published in Great Britain before, but like all British Editions of western pulps the tales were all previously published in American Pulps. Seven of the stories originally appeared in the December 1940 issue of New Western Magazine, Vol. 2, No. 3. No Law for Die-Hard Cowmen! was taken from Vol. 1, No. 1 of New Western Magazine, March 1940, and Samaritan of Hell’s Half-Acre came from the October 1940 issue of .44 Western Magazine, Vol. 5, No. 4. You can see the covers of these magazines throughout the review.

No Law for Die-Hard Cowmen! by Ed. Earl Repp is the lead story. From what I can gather Repp got other authors to ghost a lot of the work that was published under his own name, and not having read anything by him before means I can’t pick up on any writing styles to help me identify whether it was him or not that wrote this tale. The story follows Clay Anson, who’d turned in his Texas Ranger badge for the chance to deal justice beyond the law and claim his bloody heritage. It was never explained how Anson knew so much about the wrongs he came to set right, and who was behind them. This gave me a few ‘huh?’ moments as I wondered how he knew about certain revelations and made the story somewhat unbelievable. Anson is also a super confident man who never doubts his abilities to take down the badmen. This was probably my least liked story in this magazine.

The second yarn, Barnyard Billy’s Conscript Army by Jim Kjelgaard, was not what I was expecting. This is a tale told from a goat’s point of view and doesn’t contain any humans. Slow starvation awaited the billy goat as he was trapped on top of a barren rock. Below was certain bloody death at the fangs of a huge, snarling dog. Could a second goat help save the day? I was quite surprised at how much I enjoyed this tale, even though I find it hard to accept that animals think like humans. It was well written and the author soon had me wondering if the goat could escape the dog. I’m now curious to find out if Kjelgaard wrote other stories that featured only animals. 

The Broken-M Adopts Trouble by Cliff M. Bisbee uses the age-old plot of the failing ranch that the bank is about to claim if the owners don’t pay off their debt. The Mexican partner decides to steal what they need but he doesn’t pick his victim well, and robs the sheriff. There’s a neat side plot of a missing baby that turns up at the ranch making the owners wonder how it got there. It couldn’t have crawled twenty miles, could it? On the strength of this short story, I’d certainly read more by Bisbee.

Hector Gavin Grey’s There’s Gold in Boothill is next. With a title like that it’ll come as no surprise to discover this is a gold mine tale. An old-timer partners up with a young fast gun who may or may not be who he says he is. They take on a job to get back a mine for a man who has a bad reputation. There’s a couple of plot twists as the characters set to double-cross each other and everything pretty much plays out as expected. Entertaining enough to ensure I’d read another story by this author if I find one, although I wouldn’t go looking specifically.

An Outlaw Town Hires a Badge Toter by H. Charles McDermott. Frontier marshal Bob Fury arrives in town to solves a mysterious series of murders and pilfered caches on the request of Laughing Jake Tilby. This is an action-packed tale involving a gold mine that sees Fury taking on the man who hired him. It has a neat ending which involves an unloaded gun. One of my favourite tales in the magazine making McDermott an author I’ll definitely be keeping an eye-out for more of his stories.

The author of Powdersmoke Quarantine, C. William Harrison, wrote under a few pseudonyms too. This story is about Jim Callert who has the difficult task on making Jan Edwards believe he hadn’t killed her brother whilst upholding a quarantine law that will plunge her ranch into poverty. Callert and Jan were an item at one time, but the death of her brother had changed that. If Callert could prove he was innocent, would they become lovers once again? The was an ok read that had an easy to work out plot and of course involved a cattle stampede. This story didn’t make me want to go and search for more of the author’s work.

Barry Cord is a pseudonym used by Peter B. Germano and he has long been a favourite author of mine and his story in this magazine, The Things Men Die For, was another excellent read by him. It’s about a broken old whiskey-bum to whom a small gold medal meant only another bottle … until the sight of a youngster going out to die fanned to living flame a forgotten spark of manhood. Like in his full-length novels, Cord includes intrigue and a great twist ending to this dark toned tale. Definitely the best story in this publication.

Samaritan of Hell’s Half-Acre by Le Roy Boyd features a plot often found in westerns, that of a lawman and outlaw having to team up to fight off greater odds. Stranded by a waterhole without horses, desperado Lafferty and sheriff Parsons find themselves under attack by a gang of Mexicans. This is packed with action and has a terrific twist ending. This story is my second favourite and I’ll certainly be looking for more work by this author.

The final story is I. L. Thompson’s Doom Waits for Barbwire Rebels. Jeff Mainess, a gunless prison outcast won’t line up with either side in a range war so he becomes fair bullet-bait for both. This is your typical cattleman wants all the range and starts driving out the farmers. Soon people die, and Mainess takes on the job of lawman to try and stop the killings. There’s plenty of action, including a siege and assault on the jail. Mainess is pretty much indestructible, taking a number of bullet wounds but is able to shrug them off and carry on as if nothing has happened. There’s also a delicate girl who will show her strengths by the end of the tale and is the love interest for Mainess. This was a readable story but not very memorable.

Don’t be put off by the incredibly dull cover this magazine has as the stories it contains are all worth a read. I never considered giving up on any of them and found a couple of new authors to me that I’d like to read more of. Overall, this is a fun collection of short stories that kept me entertained for a few hours.