Sunday 30 June 2024


By Matthew Harffy
Head of Zeus - an Aries Book, July 2024

A man can flee from everything but his own nature.

1890. Lieutenant Gabriel Stokes of the British Army left behind the horrors of war in Afghanistan for a role in the Metropolitan Police. Though he rose quickly through the ranks, the squalid violence of London’s East End proved as dark and oppressive as the battlefield.

With his life falling apart, and longing for peace and meaning, Gabriel leaves the grime of London behind and heads for the wide-open spaces of the American West.

He soon realises that the wilds of Oregon are far from the idyll he has yearned for. The Blue Mountains may be beautiful, but with the frontier a complex patchwork of feuds and felonies, and ranchers as vicious as any back-alley cut-throat back in London, Gabriel finds himself unable to escape his past and the demons that drive him. Can he find a place for himself on the far edge of the New World?

The story begins with Gabriel already in America. He’s in Huntington to meet an old friend, John Thornford, who owns a sheep ranch. Moments later he witnesses a killing. Turns out the killer, Jed White, works for John and is in town to collect Gabriel. During the ride out to the ranch he learns that John has been killed, supposedly by cattleman Grant who wants John’s land. John’s wife, Mary Ann, asks Gabriel to use his experience as a policeman to find out who killed her husband.

Dark Frontier starts off like your typical land grab tale but soon becomes more of a murder mystery. There’s also a lot for Gabriel to learn about how life differs in the American West compared to London, especially how justice seems to be dealt out at the end of a gun rather than through a court of law. Gabriel’s past also rears its head in memories of fighting alongside John in Afghanistan and of the dark times trying to track down the person known as Jack the Ripper back in London. Both have left terrible scars in his soul and destroyed his marriage too. To say more would ruin Gabriel’s backstory and how he tried to overcome these nightmares. Yet the horrors aren’t just in his past. Gabriel’s investigation will uncover more darkness. The truth behind John’s death is hard hitting and came as a complete surprise. 

Gabriel’s relationship with John’s wife, children, and ranch hands, especially White, are well developed by the author and I was soon caught up in their lives. Action scenes were handled well and the mystery behind the murder of John soon had me trying to guess why he’d been killed and by whom. All these story elements hooked me easily and I found the book difficult to put down as I needed answers as much as Gabriel and Mary Ann. 

Dark Frontier is Matthew Harffy’s first western and it proved to be a great introduction to his writing. Harffy hints in the author’s notes that it probably won’t be his last. I hope that is true as I’d certainly be eager to read another western by this author and would also like to say that I believe most western fans will find this book to be an entertaining and fulfilling read. 

Dark Frontier comes out on July 4th 2024 in both hardback, ebook and audio. It will be released as a paperback in the UK in January 2025 and in America in April 2025.

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

Sunday 23 June 2024


By Steve Hockensmith
Rough Edges Press, December 2023

This is the tenth Holmes on the Range book and the third to contain more than one story. The contents are as follows:

The novella “Black List” sees the Amlingmeyer brothers ride into the Arizona Territory on a quest to unearth a buried secret, coveted by a ruthless cattle baron. Can Old Red's deductive skills, inspired by Sherlock Holmes, solve the mystery and protect them from the cattleman's hired guns?

This is followed by the short story "Expense Report: El Paso," where Big Red embarks on his first solo mission to collect a bandit's head. But what if the head has other plans?

The final, and longest story of the three is "White Death," in which the Amlingmeyer’s investigate mysterious deaths at a tuberculosis sanitarium deep in the Colorado mountains. As they search for clues, a sinister figure lurks in the shadows. When a sudden blizzard traps them with the patients, staff, and the killer, the suspense reaches its peak.

As usual, the stories are told in the first person through Big Red, and his often-humorous observations had me laughing out loud. Each story is full of suspense and Old Red’s talent for noticing overlooked clues help in solving the mysteries they face. Having said that, Old Red doesn’t appear in Expense Report: El Paso and for most of the third story he is hidden away in quarantine leaving Big Red to do his best to unmask a killer. Can he do this alone? That’s not for me to reveal here, so you’ll just have to read the book and find out for yourselves. The three stories are all very different to each other and to any of the previous Holmes on the Range tales. 

Steve Hockensmith’s well thought-out plots had me guessing (wrongly) as to just what was going on. Even when I thought I was on the right track in Black List, I soon found myself proved otherwise. 

After that, I gave up trying to work out how each story would end and whodunnit, and just enjoyed the twisting storylines that I would have found impossible to unravel, especially the plot of White Death. The author though, has answers for all of the Amlingmeyer’s questions and everything makes perfect sense by the end. The short story had me wondering in disbelief, but the way Big Red signed off his report made everything clear…I think. 

Black List, White Death is another excellent addition to the Holmes on the Range series. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys western mysteries. 

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

Wednesday 19 June 2024


By Gil Martin
Cover art by W. Francis Phillips
New English Library, January 1976
Originally published by Berkley Publishing, 1973

Lonnie Brice was travelling alone . . . but not for long. Swept into a savage storm of violence brought on by the notorious Nolan gang, Lonnie is faced with a life-and-death decision. Does he become one of them, a murderer and a rapist, or does he resist?

With the help of Charity, a young girl held captive by the gang, Lonnie stages a dangerous struggle to free himself from the ruthless band of outlaws and from the punishment they have planned for him.

Arriving in a town just in time to be mistaken for a bank robber, Lonnie Brice finds himself in jail, which in turn leads to him killing a deputy to stop the lawman beating one of the outlaw gang to death. Brice escapes with the prisoner he saved and finds himself a reluctant member of the Nolan gang. Riding with them he witnesses the atrocities they commit with obvious relish. Brice is sickened by this, especially how they treat women, but is powerless to stop them. He wants to leave the gang but is told the only way this can happen is when he dies. When a young girl is taken captive, Brice does his best to defend her and this leads to a desperate attempt to get away from the outlaws. But the gang aren’t going to let Brice and the girl escape their clutches easily and set out to kill them both.

Bad Times Coming is a brutal story, told in a hard-boiled style that suits the harshness of the tale perfectly. The story is told in the first person through Lonnie Brice. He has a lot of dark thoughts and struggles to accept the outlaw life he’s fallen into by bad luck. Even though he hates the men he now rides with, he cannot see how he can leave them except in death. The author writes Brice’s feelings of despair extremely well and his descriptions of the violent scenes are hard-hitting and graphic. One of the highlights of the tale is a train robbery which doesn’t go as well as the Nolan gang hope, the aftermath of which is captured beautifully by cover artist W. Francis Phillips. The ending of the story wasn’t quite what I expected but perfectly suited the tone of the tale.

There has been a lot of speculation as to the identity of Gil Martin, and I think it’s safe to say it’s a pseudonym as copyright is assigned to Martin Overy. As far as I know only seven westerns came out under the name Gil Martin, and at least one of them was also published as by Martin Overy. I’ve also seen comments stating that Gil was the name of Overy’s wife but whether this is true I have no idea, nor whether the rumour is right that she wrote the books but they were submitted by her husband to publishers as it was easier for male authors to get westerns accepted for publication than women. Whoever Gil Marin really is matters not to me. All I know is that the two books I’ve read so far by this author are great reads if you like your books to have a dark tone to them, and I’m looking forward to reading another very soon.

Friday 14 June 2024


Book 15 of 24
By Bill Reno
Cover art by Shannon Stirnweis
Bantam Books, February 1990

Sheriff Tug Farrell’s put twenty-nine men in their graves, and he’s about to push the count even higher. A vicious bank robber named Devlin has invaded his territory, taking down two banks in Denver County – and killing Farrell’s father. As rage and revenge war with his lawman’s honor, Farrell hits the trail. But Devlin’s not the only killer up ahead. Raven Morrow, a deadly vixen from Farrell’s past, is waiting with gun cocked. But it’s Morrow and her blood-hungry bunch who’d better be prepared to die. For Tug Farrell has just declared war…and he hates to lose.

The Badge series is mainly a collection of stories that are only connected by the fact that one of the main characters in each book wears a badge of some kind. Occasionally the author would bring back one of those lawmen for another tale, and Farrell’s War is one of those cases. I’d suggest you read the earlier book which introduced readers to Tug Farrell before this one, as book 11: Dark Canyon tells of Farrell’s battle to bring down Raven Morrow. Farrell’s War does explain what happened before, in some detail, and certainly contains spoilers that will take away any of the surprises that Dark Canyon contains and it will definitely ruin the ending of that book.

In Farrell’s War, Tug is offered the chance to become an U.S. Marshal, but he turns that position down as his father has come to live with him. Whilst out investigating whether Raven is dead or not, the Devlin gang hit town and kill Farrell’s father. Now Farrell can accept the U.S. Marshal badge but he has to ask himself if he wants it as something to hide behind whilst he carries out his own kind of justice, revenge, or that of the law. As expected, trailing Devlin see’s the outlaw meeting Raven and her gang, but not as I expected. The kidnapping of a young boy brings Farrell into contact with the youngster’s mother and she triggers a very human emotion within Farrell. Could he be falling in love?

Bill Reno is a pseudonym for author Lew A. Lacy, and he once again has written a fast-moving tale packed with action and tense situations. Devlin and Raven, especially the latter, are excellent adversaries for Farrell and at no time could I be sure Farrell would catch up with them, never mind bring them to justice.  Farrell’s War is definitely a worthy follow-up to Dark Canyon and left me eager to read the next book in the series.

Mention must also be made of Shannon Stirnweis’ excellent cover art which illustrates a scene from the story perfectly.