Sunday, 31 May 2009

Time to Kill

by Lee Lejeune
A Black Horse Western from Hale, May 2009

Ten years after the end of the Civil War, Nat Jordan, who fought in the Confederate army, is returning by railroad to his home near Kansas City. When they are held up by so-called Quantrill raiders, led by Captain Coulter with whom Jordan escaped from Union forces during the war, Coulter recognizes Jordan and this soon leads to complications.

A Pinkerton agent called McGill suspects that Jordan is in cahoots with the raiders, and things turn very nasty when tragedy strikes at the Jordan homestead. Who is on the side of the raiders and who is on the side of the law? It is a time to kill, but who will die?

This fast moving, action packed, book is filled with memorable characters: such as Jordan, Coulter, McGill, Preacher Man and Rig. Lejeune keeps you guessing as to which side of the law they are on, and so hooks the reader superbly, and only reveals their true agendas when he wants you to know, thus adding a number of twists and surprises to the story.

The relationship between Jordan and Coulter is explained in a number of flashback sequences that are set during the Civil War, allowing for some savage confrontations between Union and Confederate troops.

Another fascinating relationship is that of Jordan and his father, and it is this one that creates an air of suspicion over Jordan’s loyalties.

Among all the violence and mistrusts there is another relationship, one from Jordan’s past, with a girl he grew up with. Could his renewed friendship with Beth develop into something more? Will his more violent past allow it to?

And what of the end? How does everything work out? Those are questions I’m not going to answer, instead I’ll suggest you buy or borrow a copy of this book and find out for yourselves. What I will say is Lejeune finishes the book with a final line that hints at more to come, and thus ensures this reader will be keeping an eye-out for more of his work.

Time to Kill is out now, its official release date being two days ago – May 29th.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Wild West Monday

The first of June sees the return of Wild West Monday, and as before we are urging you to visit or telephone your local libraries and bookstores to ask about their westerns. Why don’t they carry more? Why don’t they carry a wider selection of authors? Why don’t westerns have their own section? And any other questions you can come up with.

As you can see from the picture below this has also begun. I visited my local library and had a quick chat with the staff, which resulted in this display being set up right opposite the entrance – you cannot fail to see it as you go in. It’s only been up for a couple of days, and as you can see there are already gaps on the centre book display. Yeap, people have already been showing an interest and borrowing westerns. One lady saying she used to read loads of westerns and this display has made her realise how much she used to enjoy them and it’s time she started reading them again.

Please also take a moment of time to sign this petition

More details and information can be found here

Friday, 29 May 2009

The $300 Man

as by Ross Morton
A Black Horse Western from Hale, May 2009

What’s a life worth? $300, maybe.

Half Mexican Corbin Molina lost a hand during the Civil War but he has adapted. Now he’s on a mission to Walkerville. On the way, he prevents a train robbery and finds an old friend. Corbin always carries $300, which is significant, since that’s what he was paid as a substitute soldier for the Union.

When Corbin starts asking questions about Walkerville’s law and administration, he discovers that the Walker family, who seem to have bought and paid for loyalty and position, dominate the townspeople. Inevitably, Corbin’s questions attract plenty of trouble. And his past emerges to confront him during a tense showdown that threatens not only him but also his newfound love.

Ross Morton (real name Nik Morton) presents the reader with a fascinating character in Corbin Molina, not least because his mixed blood cause him problems, but due to him having a hook in place of a hand, and the fact that his reasons for coming to Walkerville are not immediately explained. These aren’t the only plotlines that grab the readers attention, there’s also the other well drawn characters, many of whom may not be who they say they are, such as Tillman who seems to have been hired as a replacement lawman by the Walkers, but is perhaps working to his own agenda, whatever that maybe.

A fair part of story is told in flashbacks, such as how Molina lost his hand. This is explained in one of the highlight sequences of the tale, that of the battle for Fort Fisher in 1864.

Ross Morton also includes plenty of action and a number of twists and turns before everything is resolved satisfactory.

The £300 Man is officially released today.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Interview: Ken Laager

Ken Laager’s artwork stood out to me the first time I saw it gracing the covers of westerns. Having an interest in art and photography I was immediately struck by his use, and understanding, of light and colour. So, for me, it was a great honour when Ken agreed to be interviewed for Western Fiction Review.

How old were you when you first decided you wanted to make painting your career?

My earliest childhood memory is of drawing pictures. There was never any doubt that I would follow the livelihood of artist. The impulse to make pictures is fundamental to my nature. This is not to say that fine picture making comes easily to me -- it does not. I struggle mightily to achieve certain standards of excellence on every picture. Tearing up failed crayon drawings in fury and frustration is something I remember from childhood, too.

Did you study art at school or is it all self taught?

I learned my craft by independent study of those artists I admired. After I completed a course of study at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, I moved to rural Pennsylvania to immerse myself in the picture making principles of Howard Pyle, the Father of American Illustration. Pyle's turn-of-the-century atelier on the banks of the Brandywine River produced many of the greatest illustrators of the Golden Age including N.C. Wyeth, Frank Schoonover, Stanley Arthurs, Philip R. Goodwin and Harvey Dunn to name a few.

Have any other artists of western themed paintings been an influence on your work?

In addition to Pyle and his exponents, my chief contemporary influence has been Tom Lovell -- a brilliant and towering figure in the fields of illustration and western art. As wonderful as his western fine art painting was, the epic historical paintings he did for National Geographic magazine, and the swashbuckling adventure illustrations he painted for True and Argosy magazines in the 1960s remain unsurpassed. Don Spaulding, a masterful and under appreciated western historical painter (who actually trained under Norman Rockwell) has been a great personal friend and mentor to me. And, every western painter since Frederic Remington and Charlie Russell is indelibly marked by their influence.

Was painting book covers an area you wanted to break into?

Yes, I'd targeted the paperback book publishers and the outdoor/sporting magazines as the primary market for my illustrations. I painted westerns covers for Dell, Warner, New American Library, Bantam, Ballantine, Leisure, Penguin and Zebra. And, I enjoyed a long association with Outdoor Life magazine illustrating covers, interior stories and articles, and the monthly feature "This Happened To Me!" Later on, I furnished Guns of the Old West magazine with a lot of illustration.

Do you find a particular medium reproduces better than another when going through the printing process, for instance oils rather than acrylics?

I've always, and only been an oil painter. I believe that by the time I began illustrating, modern graphic techniques had made such concerns a non-issue.

How do you decide on the content of the covers, do you discuss this with the author, publisher, or are you given free reign?

I read the manuscript or a comprehensive synopsis provided by the publisher, prospecting the story for concepts that might make good covers. I discuss these with the art director -- who serves as liaison between the freelance illustrator and the publishing company's editorial staff. On rare occasions a cover concept may be suggested or assigned by the client. When general agreement is reached about concept, I'll prepare some rough sketches in pencil, charcoal or ink and submit them for consideration. The art director will then present these to the editor (at this point the author may be consulted, as well). When one of the sketches is selected, I'll receive approval to go ahead and begin work on the final painting.

Do you use real models to pose for your painting, either in the studio or via photographs, or is the painting created from your minds-eye once you sit down in front of a blank canvas?

I take great pains to create compelling characters -- this is doubtlessly the Howard Plye influence -- so reference photos are crucial. It is at this stage of the process that the character is born. A suitable model will be carefully dressed in costume and equipped with the right props -- he or she may require make-up, as well. The model will be posed in correct lighting for the scene, and I will direct his or her posture and expressions. If all goes according to plan the character that had existed only in my imagination, comes to life -- it's an exciting moment! This is when we begin taking pictures. The whole production is rather like a movie set.

Most people are astonished at the amount of planning and preliminary work that goes into creating paintings of this sort -- they don't happen by chance! Fully one half of my time is spent in the reading of the manuscript, making conceptual sketches and consultation, factual research, obtaining the necessary costumes and props, booking models, reference photography of characters, animals, landscape and other pictorial elements, preparation of the canvas or board, final design of the pictorial elements, precise preliminary drawing on the canvas or board, color scheme design and color mixing... The point of all of this is to insure, to the extent possible, that painting the final art will go smoothly and efficiently -- and be completed by the publishing deadline.

Are the background locations, be they landscapes or buildings, real or from your imagination?

As with the characters, all buildings, structures, vehicles and animals require photo reference. Landscapes require photo reference as well, though some areas of the background can be successfully faked -- vegetation, rocks, etc. Often backgrounds are a composite of elements from several reference photos. When necessary, an illustrator may build a scale model or clay sculpture to substitute for the real thing. When properly lit and photographed, the results can be magically convincing.

How big is the original artwork for a paperback novel?

The front cover format measures 7 X 4 1/2 inches. I scale those dimensions up three or four times (depending on the content of the picture) resulting in an original that is 12 3/4 X 21 inches or 17 X 28 inches, respectively.

Do you find the vertical compositions needed for a book cover restricting?

On the contrary, I've always found the restricted space stimulating to my creativity, allowing me to focus on the essentials of a picture idea. The best paperback covers are strong, simple, poster-like images.

I've noticed that some of your paintings have appeared on more than one book, presumably you sell the rights of reproduction for a set period of time to one publisher and are then free to sell the painting to another publisher?

Yes, that's exactly right. The publisher who commissions the cover illustration customarily purchases first right of reproduction. When the book upon which it appears goes out of print, his right to reproduce the art expires, freeing it up for resale.

Your work first caught my eye on western books but I've recently seen your work on three of the Hard Case Crime novels. Do prefer painting any particular genre to others?

While it has been necessary to specialize, I prefer handling a wide range of subjects. The Hard Case Crime series with its dark, brooding, sexy imagery, provides me with an exciting and refreshing opportunity to satisfy my desire for artistic diversity.

Did you have an interest in westerns before you started painting western covers or was it a case of, ‘Ill paint anything as I need the money’?

Westerns were my primary interest -- making up the lion's share of a genre that one might call outdoor adventure or masculine adventure, which includes hunting/sporting, historical and perhaps some, military or law enforcement subjects... The western had matured by the time my career began in the early 1970s. A greater existential depth was evident in it's fine art, film and literature. Former illustrators like Tom Lovell, John Clymer and Frank McCarthy were exploring themes that lay much deeper in the history of the frontier, and the mythology of the western. Their work exhilarated and inspired me. I therefore resolved to follow in their footsteps.

Do you wish more book publishers would include the name of the artist whose work appears on the cover?

I can see no practical reason to deny any artist credit for his or her work.

Finally, are there any books available of your artwork, or are there any in the pipeline?

Not yet, but perhaps one day ... who knows?

If you'd like to find out more about Ken, and view more of his work, then you might like to visit his website

Sunday, 24 May 2009

On the Wrong Track

by Steve Hockensmith
St. Martin’s Minotaur paperback edition, January 2008
(the second Holmes on the Range Mystery)

It’s 1893, the modern world is in full swing, and Gustav “Old Red” Amlingmeyer is determined to take a stab at professional “detectifying,” just like his hero Sherlock Holmes. So Old Red and his brother, Otto (a.k.a. “Big Red”), take the only positions that come close – guarding jobs for the railroad.

Soon, Big Red and Old Red find themselves trapped on a thousand tons of steam-driven steel, summiting the Sierras en route to San Francisco with a gang of outlaws somewhere around the next bend, a baggage car jam-packed with deadly secrets, and a vicious killer hidden somewhere amongst the colourful passengers. And things aren’t going to get any easier any time soon.

Steve Hockensmith has come up with a superb mix of a western and detective story with this, the second book in his Holmes on the Range series. Old Red’s dream of being an investigator like his idol Sherlock Holmes, with help from his somewhat reluctant brother, makes for some very exciting reading, laced with many humorous situations, observations, and comments.

Along with the two “Red’s” the book is filled with engaging characters, such as Dr. Chan, Kip, the Give-‘em-Hell Boys, Miss Caveo, and Burl Lockhart, many who may or may not be who they say they are, thus making for a long list of suspects. And it’s not just people who add captivating intrigue to the story, there’s the strange variety of the baggage car’s contents. Not forgetting the trackside discoveries, such as a china cup and toupee that could be the clues that Old Red needs to solve the mysterious events aboard the train.

It’s not just Old Red’s “deducifying” attempts that pull the reader into the story, there’s the exciting action sequences too, such as that involving a snake, the train robbery that isn’t, and the final showdown.

On the Wrong Track has got to be up there with the best books I’ve ever read and has me very eager to read the third one, The Black Dove and get a copy of the first one: Holmes on the Range. The fourth book The Crack in the Lens, will be available at the end of July.

An entertaining and informative interview with Steve Hockensmith can be found here: part-1 and part-2


Anybody who'd like to now a little more about me and my love of westerns may like to go here and read an interview I did for Joanne Walpole (aka Terry James - a review I did of her first Black Horse Western can be found here - or just look at the post below this one)

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Long Shadows

as by Terry James
A Black Horse Western from Hale, May 2009

When Jake Rudd is saved from a brutal beating, he can’t believe his luck. Not only is his saviour an attractive redhead, she’s an old flame. Suddenly his plans to settle down seem a real possibility. Unfortunately, Ros West has no memory of him, and with trouble following her, no reason to trust him. Only when family and friends are threatened by a power-hungry businessman, do the long shadows of the past bring events full circle.

Now, side by side, Jake and Ros must deal with the past to secure the future. But when the smoke clears, will old scores be settled or will the truth prove more dangerous than a smoking gun?

From the very beginning Terry James hooks the reader with the fact that Rudd knows his saviour, seems to have had a past with her, yet she has no recollection of him. It’s the question of how this can be that snares the reader, and Terry James makes sure you stay firmly hooked by hinting at, and half explaining, Ros and Rudd’s previous relationship.

It’s not only Ros and Rudd’s past that provides all the captivating intrigue to this fast moving, action packed, story. There’s other characters who might not be all they seem. And as the tale progresses Terry James expertly adds more twists and surprises that make sure this book very difficult to put down before you reach the end. An end that ties up all the threads of the storyline neatly and satisfactory.

Terry James – real name Joanne Walpole – is a new writer to the Black Horse stable, and, on the strength of this book, I hope it isn’t long before she writes another.

Long Shadows has a release date on May 29th, but is available from internet book sellers now.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Western Movie News

Following on from my guest review of spaghetti western, A Genius, Two Partners and a Dupe over at The Tainted Archive - which can be found here - does anyone know anything about Terence Hill's 2009 western Doc West and it's mentioned sequel? Here's the trailer on YouTube Hill doesn't look bad when you consider he must be around 70 years old now.

Quite a few other western films being made for 2009/2010 releases include a new version of True Grit, the remake of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, a new Lone Ranger film, a Jonah Hex movie, Shadowheart (which should be out anytime, although I'm not sure if this will be in the cinema or straight to DVD), a new version of Angel and the Badman, and The Legend of Hell Gate.

It seems that the producer of TV's Deadwood is also planning a new series about two youngsters who try to get into movies in the early days and meet many western stars including John Wayne and John Ford.

Shame so many of the above are remakes, there are so many great western books that could be made into films, but even so we must be glad that people are still willing to make westerns of any kind, thus keeping the genre alive.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

The Texians #1

as by Zach Wyatt
Pinnacle, May 1984

They were young, proud – and they were all that stood between defenceless settlers and the warring Comanche. They were the Texas Rangers, struggling to bring law and order to the infant Republic of Texas.

Josh Sands is only twenty-two years old but has been with the Rangers for ten years. Ever since he was orphaned. Ever since he saw his family slaughtered by a Comanche raiding party. He has committed himself to ride with the Rangers until he can no longer sit astride a horse … or until a Comanche arrow stops him.

Captain Jack Hays is a veteran, the greatest Indian fighter in the West. He knows that the only way to fight the Comanche is with their own brutal means, with Indian cunning.

Zach Wyatt is a pseudonym used by George W. Proctor and this first book in the Texicans series is based around many events that really happened, so features many people from the history of the West, the main real person being Captain John “Jack” Coffee Hays.

To include these historical events the book reads as a number of different incidents linked by the Texas Rangers and Proctor’s fictional character Josh Sands. After saving an escaped woman Sands begins to fall in love with her – being an orphan has left a yearning of wanting to be close to someone, a feeling he didn’t know was there until he saves Marion Hammer. Even so he has to fight feelings of revulsion towards her as she has been taken by the Comanche and, like many others, he sees her as unclean. So it’s this emotional struggle that ties the other events together.

Proctor bases the rest of the story around three true incidents in the history of the Texas Rangers and San Antonio. The first being the introduction to the Rangers of a multi-shot pistol – the Colt .36 calibre “Texas” Patterson revolver – in which Sands and his fellow Rangers have no interest, until it’s worth is proved in battle.

The second major event of the story is the killing of many of the peace delegation of Comanches on March 19th, 1840. This took place under a truce in San Antonio, which is now known as the Council House Fight. Proctor finishes the book with the Plum Creek confrontations during the beginning of August, 1840.

Proctor does a great job in combining real events with a fictional storyline, which has me eager to read the second book in the series to see if he continues to mix historical facts in as major parts of the coming stories.

Thursday, 14 May 2009


as by Ethan Wall
A Black Horse Western from Hale, 1991

With the Civil War in progress, travel across the United States was difficult and dangerous. Amongst the refugees seeking to escape the hostilities were four: a gold-hunter, an army deserter, a cat-house madam and an English gentleman, four whose paths were destined to cross at the railhead. Strangers to each other, each hoping to make the last train out of Charlesburg, each with a secret.

However, boarding the train was not to be the lucky break it seemed – for ahead lay confrontation with the most infamous military unit under the Southern flag – the Special Confederate Force – and gang of renegades better known as Quantrell’s Raiders who followed no rules and answered to no one in pursit of their objective.

This book doesn’t have the most eye-catching of covers - or titles for that matter - and I’d have probably passed it by had I not known that Ethan Wall is one of the pseudonyms used by one of my favourite BHW writers, B.J. Holmes.

Holmes creates some very memorable characters in this tale of four very different people. Each struggling to better their lives in what is becoming a desperate fight to stay alive. This writer knows how to build a story that will grip the reader from the very first page.

The confrontations with both North and South armies makes for fascinating reading and when the train carrying the four is taken over by Quantrell’s Raiders the story moves up a notch, into breath taking scenes of brutality and questions of how any of the civilians can possibly survive.

Well worth taking the time to find.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Davy Crockett #7

as by David Thompson
Leisure, May 1998

When Davy Crockett and his old friend Flavius led a small party of settlers into San Antonio, all he expected was a sleepy Texican town. He didn’t realize San Antonio lived in terror of the vicious freebooters who pillaged the countryside and laughed even at the Spanish Army.

When the bandits kidnapped one of Davy’s party, they may have taken on more than they could handle. Davy’s tracking and fighting abilities were legendary throughout the West, and he would use every ounce of skill he had to hunt his human quarry through the Texas badlands – along a trail that could lead only to death.

Crockett, Flavius and the small group of people who survived the previous book arrive in San Antonio, and, as romance blossoms for two of the party, Crockett gets his first look at Texas. He likes what he sees until he finds that San Antonio is living in fear.

Another hit story in this great series. Another book of none stop action that is one of the trademarks of David Thompson. Brutal at times, funny at others, as the well-drawn characters struggle to survive.

The leader of the freebooters, ex-pirate Tar, is a worthy adversary for Crockett. I particularly liked his first appearance with head a-fire. Right from then you just know Davy is in for the fight of his life.

All the threads in the tale are tied up neatly by the end, as is to be expected of author David Robbins – writing as David Thompson.

And Davy’s promise to Flavius that they’ll definitely head for home after the terrors experienced in Texas just means I’ve got to read the last book in the series right away to find out if Flavius’ wish will come true.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

The Spanish Bit Saga #15

by Don Coldsmith
Bantam, July 1991
original Doubleday, Sept. 1989

Choosing the eerie Medicine Rock as the location for his vision quest, White Fox seeks guidance for the destiny of the People through the ancient practices of fasting and meditation – and receives a strange omen of evil instead. On the way back to his tribe he discovers the corpse of a warrior laid out for burial, and when he stops to investigate he is set upon by a beautiful female attacker who disappears without a trace. Haunted by her memory and his own dark visions, White Fox finds himself strangely drawn back to Medicine Rock – and to the aid of his mysterious enemy, who battles a greater evil than his people have ever known.

Don Coldsmith presents the reader with a beautifully written book. A story that starts gently but has enough subtle hooks to snag the readers imagination to ensure they read further. The vision quest brings more questions and then the discovery of the body will have you well and truly caught up in the storyline.

Coldsmith’s characters are well drawn, particularly the mysterious female, and when you find out about her past, her childlike innocence, she’ll touch your heart.

If you like romance then the growing admiration, attraction, between the two main characters will be a pleasure to read.

But it’s the main thread of the story that makes this gripping reading, and Coldsmith sure knows how to involve the reader emotionally with his use of the written word and by using a theme that all of us have created within our own minds at sometime; something we can all relate to with a fascinating and compelling horror.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Morgan Kane #25

as by Louis Masterson
Corgi 1974
originally published in Norway in 1969

Life in Dakota territory was tough. The only people who wanted to live there were the fur trappers and the Indians. For ten years there had been peace – no Indians had been shot and no white men had been scalped. Then somebody decided they didn’t like it that way. Strange ‘accidents’ began to happen to the Indians – like the body of Three Crew (or what the wolves had left of it) being found several miles from his burnt out hut.

U.S. Marshal Morgan Kane was sent to investigate. He hired himself the best guide in the area, an old timer name of ‘Skinny’ MacSween, and started out on the bloody trail of the killers who didn’t shoot their victims, but left them to die in the cruel Dakota snow…

This book finds Kane taken out of his usual stamping grounds of deserts and heat and sent to a state gripped in winter, having to face the risk of freezing to death. Kane discovers that near the frozen solid bodies of each dead Indian are tracks of a sledge and two men, and then, after the horror of a massacred Indian camp, the hunt is on.

Somehow I didn’t feel that Masterson (Kjell Hallbing) was as confident writing this book of a land of cold and snow as he was writing about heat and desert landscapes. Kane was his usual self, tough, brutal and relentless in his pursuit of the killers and in finding out the reasons for these strange deaths.

Masterson also didn’t put Kane through any of the cruel heartache that he usually does either. The story almost having a happy ending for Kane this time around.

I found Hell Below Zero entertaining enough but would place it with the weaker entries in the series. Maybe it’s the translation that failed to convey the true atmosphere of this book.