Wednesday, 5 July 2017

The Half-Breed

ABILENE #5
By Justin Ladd
Pocket Books, December 1988

White Elk, a famous Indian Scout, is searching for his father on the bullet-strewn streets of Abilene. A half-breed, he runs into trouble when a band of Kiowa braves tracks him down, vowing vengeance on the man they call traitor.

The U.S. Cavalry arrives to keep the peace, but it’s up to Marshal Luke Travis and Deputy Cody Fisher to safeguard their hair-trigger town. One cavalry sergeant vows to settle his own score with White Elk – any dirty way he can. Forced to fight for his life, the half-breed becomes a lightning rod for slaughter. As Indians attack the Kansas boomtown, it’s a war to the bloody end!

Although many of the people who have appeared in the previous Abilene books have parts to play in this one too, they become secondary characters to White Elk and those directly involved in his quest to make peace with his father and those who are out to kill the half-breed.

Justin Ladd builds the suspense as to just when the Kiowa will hit town and also includes a secret that could explode at any time – something White Elks father is hiding from his son. And what of the seemingly growing attraction between the half-breed and his father’s new wife? That is something else that can only end in disaster surely? Sergeant Drake and Rita Nevins further complicate matters, the latter’s jealously perhaps about to lead to more deadly trouble for White Elk. So, as you’ll realize, there is plenty to keep the readers interest and to make you want to discover how it will all turn out.

The violence is hard-hitting and brutal at times, leading to a sad death for one of the characters. The final showdown with the Kiowa is a desperate struggle for White-Elk but as to why this is I can’t reveal here without spoiling that part of the story, so I guess you’ll have to read the book yourself to find out.

If you enjoy series westerns, particularly those that revolve around a town and the people who make up its population then I can’t recommend this book, and the series, enough. Of course the fact that the man behind the pseudonym of Justin Ladd is James Reasoner should also tell you that you’ll be in for an excellent read if you can find a copy of this book.


Sunday, 2 July 2017

LeRoy U.S. Marshal

By Neil Hunter
Piccadilly Publishing, May 2017

No matter the odds, U.S. Marshal Alvin LeRoy always completed his assignments. That’s why they sent him after the Reno bunch. LeRoy was single-minded once he was on the trail. He wouldn’t back down and had a fearsome reputation for always finishing what he started.

His pursuit took him across southwest Texas, where he faced up to bushwhackers and the aftermath of a massacre as he relentlessly tracked down and dealt with the worst bunch he had come across in quite a while.

Following a trail of deception and danger, he eventually ended up in New York. Here he faced the menacing top man of the crime syndicate who was behind the whole affair, and didn’t stop until there wasn’t a man left standing.

Neil Hunter has been writing westerns for many years, most notably his Bodie the Stalker series and the Brand series. This, LeRoy U.S. Marshal, is the first in a new series, although readers of the book ten in the Bodie series will have already met LeRoy. Hunter also links Bodie and LeRoy in another way in this story but I can’t reveal the why and how here without spoiling the tale for those who’ve yet to read it.

As expected Neil Hunter has written a gripping story that is filled with action, tough characters and descriptive prose that paints vivid imagery within the mind’s eye. Hunter also includes a little of LeRoy’s backstory to explain what motivates him.

Neil Hunter has also chosen to present this fast paced tale without chapters, instead just relying on scene breaks when changing location or from one character to another.

On the strength of this book I’m hoping LeRoy will return in many more stories and that I won’t have to wait too long between books.


Tuesday, 27 June 2017

To the Death

By Scott Connor
The Crowood Press, February 2017

When Nathan Palmer and Jeff Morgan take up bare-knuckle boxing they soon regret their decision. With the results of the fight having been decided beforehand, they find themselves running from the aggrieved Sheriff Armstrong Beck and the even more aggrieved townsfolk of Lone Gulch.

They seek to make amends, but that leads to them taking part in another fight and this is one where the stakes will be as high as they can get. Unbeknown to them they have become embroiled in a secret world where rich men pay not to watch boxes fight, but to watch them fight to the death.

As this is a dark secret these powerful men will go to any lengths to protect, Nathan and Jeff will need to do more than just fight with their fists if they are ever to get out of Lone Gulch alive.

It’s been a while since I read a western that features boxing of any kind as the main storyline so this made for a great change from the more usual plot lines about gunfighters, lawmen or ranchers for instance.

I’ve read a few books by Scott Connor and have always enjoyed them and this book is right up there with the best of his work. Nathan and Jeff may be mentioned in the blurb, giving the impression they are the heroes in this fast moving tale, but they are just two of a number of people the story revolves around, some of whom aren’t all the first appear to be. Scott Connor's stories always have a number of twists and this book has a couple of great ones to take the reader by surprise.

The fight scenes are particularly well written and you can almost feel every punch as it hits home. It’s not all fists though as Scott Connor does include some gunplay too. 

One of the main things I liked about this book was that there was no-way I could predict who would be alive or dead by the end and that was one of the major elements to the story that kept me turning the pages.

Once again Scott Connor has produced a well-written and very entertaining story that has left me eager to read whatever he writes next.


Thursday, 22 June 2017

Rough Justice

GIDEON RYDER #2
By Lyle Brandt
Berkley, November 2014

The Civil War may have ended, but the divisions still remain among its survivors. Some continue to rally for equality. Then there are others, like the Knights of the Rising Sun. They’re a group of vicious vigilantes who want to halt progress in Texas and put an end to bluebellies and carpetbaggers by bullet, fire, and noose.

The Secret Service sends Gideon Ryder to stop the Knights before they grow from a gang into an army. But as Ryder follows the band of villains from Corpus Christi to Jefferson, Texas, his mission proves more difficult than planned, especially when the cowards only surface with sacks over their heads. To learn their identities, Ryder will have to get close enough to see under their hoods. Luckily, Gideon has an army of his own ready to take them down, flanked by his Colt in his left hand and his Henry in his right…

Any story set in this time period of American history has to touch on the politics of the day and Lyle Brandt uses this well to explain the driving force behind his characters. His passages of historical beliefs adding great depth to this violent tale of one man taking on massive odds.

With Ryder facing so many enemies the story features a substantial amount of gunplay which often sees Gideon in a how is he going to get out of that situation. Beating the Knights of the Rising Sun is not the only fight he has to face, he also has to win the trust of those he is attempting to help, and this isn’t easy when no-one seems to have heard of the newly formed Secret Service.

Lyle Brandt is a pseudonym for Michael Newton and his mix of action, historical politics, and some terrific exchanges of dialogue make for a winning combination and, for me at least, make it such a shame that this series fell victim to Berkley ceasing to publish westerns.


Sunday, 18 June 2017

Brolin

By B.S. Dunn
The Crowood Press, December 2016

The Gunfighter known as Brolin was thought to have been dead for the past ten years. That was until Red Mike Stall and his outlaws hijacked the westbound train and attempted to murder everyone on board. Stall recognized Brolin from the old days and left him to burn in the abandoned church with the other passengers.

He should have shot Brolin then and there because the gunfighter managed to escape and now is dogging the bloody trail Stall has left in his wake.

With the help of Emmett King, a greenhorn store owner who lost his son to a stray bullet from the outlaws, the pair eventually catch up to Stall in the town of Miller’s Crossing. In a final bloody showdown, can a dead man win the day? Or will a killer continue his murderous rampage across the high country?

And what is the secret Brolin is hiding?

B.S. Dunn has created a great set of characters and his storytelling will make you want to know happens to them, particularly Brolin and King. The story starts with a prologue that explains the history between Brolin and Stall and then we move forward to the train robbery and the horrific fate that awaits the unlucky passengers. The scenes in the burning church make for suspenseful and compelling reading.

The writer then ups the pace as the book becomes a chase tale fuelled by revenge. There is plenty of action which includes an exciting encounter with some Blackfeet. Brolin also tries to keep King away from deadly gunfights but you just know that isn’t going to happen, even knocking the greenhorn out isn’t enough to stop the storekeeper riding into a situation he isn’t experienced enough to handle efficiently.

The end  shootout is dramatic and brutal, which in turn leads to a solution to past events that made me grin, as did the future for Brolin.

B.S. Dunn is a pseudonym used by Brent Towns, and he is already building up a fast growing posse of fans. If you’ve not read anything by him, then this book is a perfect introduction to his work and I’m sure, like me, you’ll then be eager to read more from him.



Tuesday, 13 June 2017

The Mountain of the Wolf

By Elisabeth Grace Foley
March 2017

In the shadow of the mountain, Rosa Jean Kennedy lives alone, waiting. Vengeance for her brother’s death is the only object left in her life, the one thing that steels her resolve to continue in a solitary, sometimes perilous existence.

When mustanger Quincy Burnett arrives on the mountain, he finds himself strangely drawn to the silent, lonely girl who seems to rebuff all attempts at friendship. But Rosa Jean is determined not to let anyone—even Quincy—stand in the way of her revenge, and her determination may lead them both toward disaster…for there are other dangers lurking in the mountains besides the wolves whose howls are heard at night.

This novella is billed as a Western re-imagining of Little Red Riding Hood in which a girl is willing to walk into the wolf’s den—but will she really find what she is seeking? 

One of Elisabeth Grace Foley’s strengths is creating characters you can believe in, care about their wellbeing and hope they are successful in their aims. Another of Foley’s fortes is her ability to describe situations and places that make you feel you are there with her characters, experience their emotions, be they happiness or fear, and for the most part of this terrific tale there doesn’t seem to be much of the former.

Like the majority of fairytales this story has a dark tone, and to begin with you won’t see much of a connection with the Red Riding Hood tale as the novella reads much like any western and has a storyline that throws suspicion on Quincy Burnett – is he who he says he is? Later, as Rosa sets off with picnic basket in an attempt to fulfil her desire for revenge the parallels with Red Riding Hood become terrifyingly real and Foley builds the suspense superbly. To say anymore would spoil this beautifully written tale.

I’ve read a couple of Elisabeth Grace Foley’s other western works, and this one has to be the best yet. 




Mountain of the Wolf is the third of Elisabeth Grace Foley’s series of fairytale-retelling novellas set in different historical eras.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

To the Far Sierras

By Will DuRey
The Crowood Press, May 2017

Tom Belman has been drifting west since the end of the civil war, lured by tales of wealth and verdant valleys in the territory beyond the far sierras. In the Texas panhandle, however, close to the Canadian River, his progress is interrupted when his horse is stolen. His pursuit of the young thief leads to an unfriendly reunion with a former soldier in Tom’s unit, Lou Currier, who is now sheriff of a small town called Ortega Point. A subsequent lynching compels Tom to find and return to her home an unknown girl who is also being sought by Currier’s posse. But the girl is not easily dissuaded from her investigation into the affairs of businessman Andrew Willis and when she returns to Ortega Point she puts herself and Tom Belman into a deadly situation.

Will DuRey hooks his readers right from the beginning of this fast paced story with a number of questions that you’ll be eager to find out the answers to, such as why does the young man try to steal Belman’s horse? Why is Currier’s posse so desperate to see that same young man hang and why are they chasing the young girl? What does she suspect Willis of doing? 

Belman could easily ride away from these troubles but a hint of guilt sees him stay the distance, and in doing so gets himself involved in all kinds of deadly situations that result in a lot of gunplay. The backstory of Belman and Currier seem to be leading to a confrontation too, that might or might not have something to do with Ortega Point and the secrets some of its citizens hide. I’m not going to reveal the outcome here, but I will say everything resolves satisfactorily if not with some kind of poetic justice.

I’ve read a number of books by Will DuRey and this one is equal in quality and entertainment value with any of those and I will certainly be looking out for more of his work.