Thursday, 31 December 2015

Westerns read during 2015

The amount of westerns read this year is much lower then previous years due to a rekindled interest in one of my other hobbies, photography. This has been taking up a lot of my time meaning the hours I have for reading has become much less. Clicking on a number will take you to the review.


JANUARY READS – 5 books

1. Broken Arrow by Dale Mike Rogers
2. The Revenant by Michael Punke
3. Misty Blue #1: The Last Mountain Man by Tony Masero
4. Death Comes Easy by Will Black
5. Dead Man River by Tyler Hatch


FEBRUARY READS – 5 books

6. The Evil Men Do a Ralph Compton novel by David Robbins
7. The Curly Wolf by M.R. Kayser
8. Wanderlust Creek and other stories by Elisabeth Grace Foley
9. Hanging Day by Rob Hill
10. The Gunsmith #399: Death in the Family by J.R. Roberts


MARCH READS – 6 books

11. Arkansas Bushwhackers by Will DuRey
12. Longarm #436: Longarm and the Model Prisoner by Tabor Evans
13. The Landon Saga #5: Yancy by Tell Cotten
14. All Must Die by I.J. Parnham
15. Rawhide Express by Jake Douglas
16. Sundance #6: The Bronco Trail by John Benteen


APRIL READS – 4 books

17. Lords of an Empty Land by Randy Denmon
18. Outlaw Ranger by James Reasoner
19. Crossroads by Logan Winters
20. The Lightning Kid by James Clay


MAY READS – 4 books

21. .45-Caliber Left to Die by Peter Brandvold
22. The Landon Saga #6: Lee by Tell Cotten
23. Reins of Satan by Lee Clinton
24. Emmett Strong #1: Strong Convictions by GP Hutchinson


JUNE READS – 6 books

25. I Am the Law! By Hank J. Kirby
26. Once More into the Breech by Peter Brandvold
27. The Gun Master by Rory Black
28. The Spanish Bit Saga #22: Track of the Bear by Don Coldsmith
29. Gila Monster by Colin Bainbridge
30. Morgan Kane #12: Storm over Sonora by Louis Masterson


JULY READS – 4 books

31. Shawn O’Brien #2: Manslaughter by William W. Johnstone with J.A. Johnstone
32. Gunn #3: Death’s-Head Trail by Jory Sherman
33. Blind-Sided by Billy Hall
34. Buckshot Ridge by Jake Douglas


AUGUST READS – 3 books

35. The Law and the Lawless a Ralph Compton novel by David Robbins
36. The Iron Horse Chronicles #2: Bear Claws by Robert Lee Murphy
37. Bandit’s Gold by Alex Frew


SEPTEMBER READS – 3 books

38. Jefferson’s Saddle by Will DuRey
39. Desperate Straits by Janet Squires
40. Guns on the Prairie by David Robbins


OCTOBER READS – 4 books

41. The Gamblers of Wasteland by Jim Lawless
42. Bodie meets Brand: Two Guns North by Neil Hunter
43. Coyote Moon by Ralph Hayes
44. Shadow of the Hawk by Ron Honthaner


NOVEMBER READS – 4 books

45. The Smiling Hangman by Owen G. Irons
46. Misfit Lil Rides In by Chap O’Keefe
47. The Landon Saga #7: They Rode Together by Tell Cotten
48. Texas Hills a Ralph Compton novel by David Robbins


DECEMBER READS – 5 books

49. Scattergun Smith by Max Gunn
50. Abilene #5: The Half-Breed by Justin Ladd
51. The Badge #7: The Imposter by Bill Reno
52. Herne the Hunter #14: Death School by John J. McLagen
53. Fire Canoe Finnegan by Denis J. Harrington & Charlie Steel

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Misfit Lil Rides In

By Chap O’Keefe
Black Horse Extra Books, August 2015

Originally published by Hale, July 2006.

A band of Apache bucks led by a charismatic hothead abandons reservation life to go on a bloody rampage. In pursuit with Lieutenant Michael Covington’s cavalry detail is civilian scout Jackson Farraday. But a showdown looms between the pair when Jackson is misled by Lilian Goodnight, a harum-scarum youngster who boasts the handle “Misfit Lil, Princess of Pistoleers.” After a clash with the Apaches and the slaughter of an Army paymaster and his escort, Jackson is fired. But his troubles are only just beginning when he’s framed for murder by crooked Sheriff “Wheezer” Skene. Can Misfit Lil make amends by saving her reluctant hero? 

This is the first in the Misfit Lil series written by Keith Chapman under the pseudonym of Chap O’Keefe, and it introduces the reader to a number of characters that will return in later books.

Even though Misfit Lil is the main character of the series this one features, and follows, Jackson Farraday’s misfortunes as much as it does Lil’s. Her infatuation with Jackson is a joy to read as are his attempts to keep her at arms-length and out of harm’s way.

There’s plenty of action and one or two surprises as Lil attempts to prove Jackson’s innocence and you’ll certainly share her frustrations as Covington always sees the worst in her and would rather slap her in jail than believe anything she has to say.

Keith Chapman also includes moments of humour, particularly evident in the explanation of how Lil got her Misfit name.

Misfit Lil Rides In is a very entertaining read that will make you want to read the rest of the series – there are seven books in total.

Keith Chapman also includes a bonus feature, Heroines of the Wilder West, which makes for a great read too.


Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Scattergun Smith

By Max Gunn
Hale, November 2015

Scattergun Smith is not in the habit of leaving unfinished business. When he sets out after the infamous outlaw Bradley Black, his search leads him across dangerous terrain, and every fibre of his being tells him that he is travelling headfirst into the jaws of trouble. But Smith is like a hunting dog and will not quit tracking his prey.

Black has not only wronged the youngster Smith, but has killed innocent people, and has to pay. Scattergun is determined to catch and end the life of the ruthless outlaw before Black claims fresh victims. It will take every ounce of his renowned expertise to stop Black, and prove why he is called Scattergun Smith.

Scattergun Smith is named after the twin scatterguns he carries, one holstered on each hip, and these weapons see plenty of action as Smith not only has to deal with Black and his companions but a handful of gunmen sent to take him out by a person unknown.

Smith is more than capable to take care of threats to his life in human form but it’s a deadly dust-storm that proves to be his deadliest foe. This storm being the backdrop against which most of this story is played out. The author describing the power and destruction of the storm extremely well.

The author also keeps the reason Smith is hunting Black a secret for much of the book, at times I wondered if this was to remain a mystery completely, but no, all is revealed eventually.

Max Gunn is a new author name to front a Black Horse Western but I reckon I could take an educated guess as to who the writer is behind the name due to how he describes his characters as much as anything else. Let’s just say if you like the Iron Eyes series of westerns by Rory Black you’re sure to enjoy this one.


Sunday, 6 December 2015

Texas Hills

A Ralph Compton novel by David Robbins
Signet, November 2015

Owen Burnett’s needs are small. All he’s ever wanted is his wife’s affection, his children’s health, and a little plot of land to farm. Still, he’s no fool. So when his neighbour Gareth Kurst makes him a business proposition that could leave him richer than he’s ever dreamed, he can’t refuse giving the risky scheme a try.

Rounding up cattle in the Texas hill country is nothing to take lightly. Between the Comanches roaming the countryside and the horns of the beasts he’s hunting down, Owen knows every second he spends out in the wild puts his life in plenty of danger. But the greatest threat to his person is one he never expected: his ruthless and conniving business partner, who has no plans of ever sharing his bounty….

The mix of three very different families trying to work alongside each other without killing each other, an old mountain man, and a band of Comanches on the warpath, makes for many tense situations, especially when the Comanches begin to raid farms where the womenfolk have been left alone. These suspense filled raids being one of highlights of this excellent tale.

Like in much of David Robbins’ work the importance of family bonds plays a major part of the motivations of a lot of the characters. Greed drives some too. There is also a growing romance between an unlikely pair that provides a lot of the humorous moments within the story.

The book begins like a slow burning fuse, fizzing with anticipation, then burning faster with dangerous intent before exploding in a deadly race for life and violent gunplay. 

David Robbins writes in short chapters, ending many with someone in peril but then switches to other characters for the next chapter or so making it almost impossible to put the book down before you discover what happens next to them all.

In Texas Hills David Robbins has certainly written a book that should entertain all fans of westerns. 


Sunday, 29 November 2015

They Rode Together

THE LANDON SAGA #7
By Tell Cotten
Solstice Publishing, November 2015

When a violent attack leaves cowman J.T. Tussle in trouble, the Landons and Lee Mattingly are quick to come to his aid. Tussle must get his yearlings to market, and they embark on a cattle drive to Fort Worth. Along the way, they get caught up in herd cutters, a bounty hunter, relationships, thunderstorms, and each other.

Tell Cotten has once more come up with a very fast moving story in his Landon Saga series. This time the whole book is written in the third person rather than being part third and first as many of the previous books have been. Due to the fact that all the major characters from the series are in this, and the story switches regularly between them and no one person takes centre stage so to speak, I guess it was easier to make the story flow by sticking to the third person.

If you’ve never read one of the Landon books before I’m going to suggest that it might be wise to start from the beginning as this book continues and concludes a number of storylines carried over from the earlier books. Of course Tell Cotten leaves a couple more plot threads hanging for continuation in the next book of the series.

Much of the story is dialogue driven and there’s some great and often tense conversations laced with humour. Tell Cotten’s action scenes make for exciting reading and they come thick and fast throughout the story. During all this there is time for developing romance but I can’t say any more about that as I don’t want to spoil anything for those who are following the series and have yet to read this book.

Tell Cotten also includes a real historical person, John T, Lytle, into the mix.

Top class entertainment from a top class western author. A writer all fans of the western should be reading. Roll on book eight in the series: Warpath, it can’t come soon enough for me.


Sunday, 15 November 2015

The Smiling Hangman

By Owen G. Irons
Hale, October 2015

The town of King’s Creek is in uproar. Young Matthew Lydell has been found guilty of murdering the beautiful Janet Teasdale, daughter of a local banker. Lydell, mute throughout his trial, is to be hanged.

But the town marshal has been delaying proceedings, and he has sent for a hangman from the county seat. The roughs in town try to rush the jail three times; they won’t wait to exact revenge.

When the hangman arrives, he does so quietly and unnoticed. The man in black tours the jail and the town, smiling, always smiling. What secret lies behind that smile and what intentions does he have for the Colt that rides on his hip?

Owen G. Irons blends western and mystery superbly in a tale that defies you to put it down before all the story elements are resolved, and, of course, this doesn’t happen till the end.

Why doesn’t Lydell defend himself? Janet Teasdale may be dead but why hasn’t her corpse been found? And what of the bank robbery that seems to be the perfect crime? Puzzles that will soon have you wondering as to just what is going on and whether these events are linked in some-way. As more questions arise during a savage gunfight to take Lydell from the jail and lynch him, you have to wonder if anyone will be left alive to provide the answers.

Owen G. Irons’ latest story moves forwards at a tremendous pace, mixing frustrations, explosive action and humour – the latter mainly provided by two waitresses methods to fend off unwanted attention. And then there’s Storm Hiller, the smiling hangman of the title. Just who is he and what does he really want? These questions are answered fairly early on but transform into the gripping problems of how he can succeed in his aims. 

Once more Owen G. Irons (a pseudonym used by Paul Lederer) has written a terrific book that again strengthens my belief that he is one of the best writers producing westerns for the Black Horse Western line today.


Thursday, 5 November 2015

Shadow of the Hawk

By Ron Honthaner
July 2015

Mountain-man Mike McCloskey, a run-away slave Thaddeus, and a young orphan Jericho, lives cross paths and they become lifelong friends. As time passes Jericho becomes a sheriff, Thaddeus moves into town, but Mike continues to live and trap with his Indian wife and daughter in the mountains even though the days are numbered for his kind of life.

When Mike heads into town to purchase supplies, he defends an Indian friend’s life from outlaw cowboys and sets in motion a collision of mishaps—a single mistake changes his life and the lives of friends and enemies alike.

Ron Honthaner is a film and TV veteran whose first script for Gunsmoke landed him a job on the series, going on to write other scripts for the show, then working as post production supervisor and later, associate producer. He was the recipient of two Cowboy Hall of Fame awards for his work on the Gunsmoke producing team.

The first half of this fast moving tale includes many flash-back sequences to explain the relationship between the three main characters, although much of the emphasis is on McCloskey’s life working on flat-boats and steamboats. Most of the books other characters have their backstories explained too as a group of very different people find themselves riding in a posse.

Once McCloskey becomes the target of the posse after a bloody and vicious rage driven rampage then the emotional side of hunting a friend becomes a major issue of the story and you can never be sure which way the tale will go next when it comes to who will kill who if the opportunity arises and how much the bond of friendship will dictate the state of play.

Honthaner’s writing is a pure joy to read and his background in writing for TV is very evident in how easily this story paints visual imagery in the mind-eye. Character development is excellent and the action scenes brutal and graphic. What happens to McCloskey to make him go on a killing spree comes as a complete surprise. After that the story is a straight chase tale that may not end how you think it will.

If anymore westerns by Ron Honthaner are published you can be certain I’ll be reading them.


Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Two Guns North

BODIE MEETS BRAND
By Neil Hunter
Piccadilly Publishing, August 2015

Jason Brand’s latest assignment took him into the San Juan Mountains of New Mexico. He was looking for a Deputy US Marshal and a government geologist, both of whom had gone missing. But what should have been a routine assignment turned out to be anything but—with an unexpected surprise for him along the way.

Bodie the Stalker, on a hunt for a brutal killer, rode the same trail. For him it was just another manhunt … until he found himself on the wrong end of the chase.

Then there was the Monk clan … They were a family that had no time for visitors because they had secrets to hide and were more than prepared to kill in order to keep them.

But then Bodie met Brand. And when they joined forces, the Monks found themselves fighting for their lives.

Brand and Bodie—when they teamed up it was like hell had come to the high country.

So who are Bodie and Brand?

Bodie is a bounty hunter known as The Stalker. He appeared in a six book series published in the UK back 1979. Brand’s publishing history is a little more complicated. This series was originally written for Norwegian publisher Bladkompaniet (who put out the Morgan Kane series). Later some of these books appeared in English, published by Linford Western Library and it was rumoured there was a planned book that would see Neil Hunter’s two heroes team up, something fans of these series really wanted to see happen. Sadly it didn’t until now, some 35 years later!

Piccadilly Publishing have recently put out all six Bodie novels as ebooks and have done the same with the nine Brand stories. And now they are pleased to publish as an ebook that long hoped for team-up tale, Two Guns North.

The book offers everything one could have hoped for. A superbly told tale that really is action packed as the Monk clan seem to have a never ending extended family ready to try their luck against Bodie and Brand.

Neil Hunter tells the story more from Brand’s point-of-view than that of Bodie. This was probably necessary due to the unforeseen surprise that’s waiting for Brand early on in this tale, a shock that could be life-changing for him that makes this a must read for followers of the Brand series.

It takes a little while for Bodie to appear but when he does the blood and bullets fly. In fact virtually every time Bodie is featured you are guaranteed gunplay – and lots of it.

As I don’t want to spoil this excellent story for anyone all I’ll say is that if you’ve yet to read a Bodie or Brand tale then this is a great place to start and I’m sure once read you’ll be snapping up the earlier titles. And for those who are already fans of both series there is great news as the end of the book advertises the fact the Mike Linaker (the author behind the pseudonyms of Neil Hunter) will be writing new books, with Bodie #7: Desert Run due for publication on December 1st. Brand #10: The Killing Days and Bodie #8: The High Riders to follow and hopefully there will be many more too.


Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Coyote Moon

By Ralph Hayes
Hale, September 2015

Buffalo hunter O’Brien has made an effort to settle down to a more civilized life in Fort Revenge, in Indian Territory, helping his friend run a stage line there.

However, it isn’t long before trouble comes at O’Brien from two directions: first in the form of an outlaw gang from Tulsa who want to buy his friend’s stagecoach company and won’t take no for an answer, and second from a family of killers who are seeking revenge for the death of their kin at his hands.

O’Brien must respond to these challenges with his own brand of gunsmoke, while he wrestles with two life decisions: whether or not to return to the trail, and whether to take Sarah Carter, the girl he brought to Fort Revenge, with him when he leaves.

Ralph Hayes first wrote about O’Brien back in the early 1970s, bringing him back in 1992. 2011 saw the publication of a Black Horse Western in which O’Brien returned once more, and this is the third BHW to feature him.

The books do mention events from those very first O’Brien westerns, in fact the family gunning for him in this one tangled with him in the 1973 book The Secret of Sulphur Creek (later republished under the title Gunslammer). Hayes gives just enough backstory to understand why they want revenge but not enough to spoil that pervious book should you read it after this one.

O’Brien seems to take all the life and death situations in his stride, in fact provokes some of the gunplay himself and lets rage rule his actions when Sarah’s wellbeing is threatened. It’s Sarah who also provides the biggest battle for O’Brien as he struggles to understand his feelings for her and whether they can possibly compete with the lure of the wild.

Ralph Hayes does tie-up a number of loose threads that have been hanging throughout this series which makes me wonder if this will finally be the last we’ve seen of O’Brien. I certainly hope not as he makes for a great western hero.

For fans of the O’Brien books this is a must read. As a stand-alone novel it proves to be a very entertaining and action packed story that should satisfy most western readers and I’d be surprised if it doesn’t make you want to check out more of Ralph Hayes work.


Tuesday, 13 October 2015

The Gamblers of Wasteland

By Jim Lawless
Hale, September 2015

Convinced that Blackjack Chancer is behind the death of his youngest brother, Lukus Rheingold steals the Saturday night takings from the gambler’s Wasteland Eldorado.

Led by Marshal Jed Crane, the Wasteland posse is outwitted by Lukus’s surviving brother, Kris. The Rheingold brothers head for their home at Nathan’s Ford, where they are followed by a mysterious woman calling herself Lil Lavender, and later by Chancer and his hired gun, Fallon. All three have their own reasons for hunting Lukus Rheingold, and the hunt leads to a final bloody climax in the Rheingold family cemetery.

Jim Lawless is one of a fistful of pseudonyms used by John Paxton Sheriff and if anyone has read any of his previous books you’ll know the story won’t be as straight-forward as the blurb above might indicate, for the author always includes many plot twists and turns, many of which will take the reader completely by surprise. It’s these elements that makes Sheriff’s work such a joy to read.

Even as it becomes obvious Lil Lavender isn’t being exactly truthful we learn that Lukus Rheingold has a past that may become his downfall. In fact the lawmen he encounters seem more interested in arresting him than finding who has kidnapped his brother Kris.

Filled with plenty of action this story gallops towards its deadly finale, one that throws up yet more questions that have to be answered before Sheriff brings his tale to a close. Even then there is another surprise in waiting, and there is also a hint that we haven’t heard the last of some of the characters, that there could well be a sequel further down the line. I certainly hope so.

Hale must be complimented on their excellent cover choice.


Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Guns on the Praire

By David Robbins
Signet, September 2015

Alonzo Pratt, alias Robert Grant has always survived by his wits, working his way up from petty pickpocket to polished con artist. Saddlebags bulging with disguises, he is a master impersonator, whether limping in Civil War uniform or toting a Bible and dressed in black. On occasion, a tin star pinned to his vest is just the ticket to winning the trust of his innocent marks.

When Federal Marshal Jacob Stone happens to come across another lawman while taking in a wounded prisoner, he’s grateful for some assistance. And when he hears tell that Cal Grissom’s gang is roaming these parts, he enlists Deputy Grant to help him track down the thieves. But he does wonder why his new partner seems so…reluctant.

Alonzo never planned to join a manhunt. But now he’s shooting Sioux and rescuing an outlaw’s gorgeous daughter. His disguise may have fooled the marshal, but it won’t stop lead….

David Robbins has come up with a top class western with Guns on the Prairie. Excellent characters on both sides of the law will soon have you laughing with them, fearing for their well-being, hoping they survive or met their demise. Alonzo Pratt’s frustrations, confusions and despair at the situation he finds himself in is superbly described by David Robbins. Fleshing out of characters is to tell their backstories, all which will have a part to play in how they deal with the dangers that face them.

There’s plenty of action and cliff-hanger chapter endings making this a truly difficult to put down read. You will certainly be wanting to find out what happens next. The pacing is perfect as the tale races towards its gripping final standoff that could end in any one of a number of ways, and I doubt you’ll guess how the book does conclude, as one of the surviving characters says, “This didn’t end as you thought it would, did it?” No it certainly didn’t, but it does finish in fine style making for an extremely unforgettable ending.

If you only read one David Robbins western this year then make sure it’s this one. If you’ve yet to try his work then I urge you to grab a copy of this book, it really is a great read.


Thursday, 24 September 2015

Desperate Straits

By Janet Squires
Whiskey Creek Press, December 2014

Sarah Ryan’s hope for a new life in the Arizona Territory is shattered in an instant by gunfire. Suddenly, she has to rebuild an uncertain future with her orphaned nephew, Will, and take on the challenges of a cattle ranch.

Just when order returns, veteran lawman, L.T. McAllister rides in. He’s a dangerous man determined to do what’s right regardless of the personal loss. L.T. believes himself ready for anything until he meets Sarah. Her ideas about the man he’s become soon pit his lifetime of duty against desire.

L.T.’s and Sarah’s loyalty to Will catapults them into a life for which neither one is prepared. And when L.T. and Sarah defy Sheriff Grant Simpson, they trigger a cataclysm of retaliation that escalates into kidnapping and murder. L.T. and Sarah are forced into a battle for justice…and their lives.

Janet Squires tells her story in visual prose, her descriptions of places make you believe you are right there viewing them first-hand. Her character studies are excellent too, you share their feelings be they happiness, sadness, frustration, anger and fears. Her words flow smoothly making this book a joy to read.

There aren’t that many characters in this story and Squires mainly switches between Sarah and L.T. as they become drawn to each other, yet fear acting on these feelings. But the growing love between them must take second place to the search for stolen gold and the running of the ranch.

The opening chapters deal with Sarah struggling to adjust to her new life in America, but her strong will sees her dealing easily with all the hardships thrown at her. It’s when L.T. arrives on the scene, and the anger he brings with him that attracts violence, that we see cracks appearing in her character.

Although the storyline follows the trail seasoned western readers would expect it does offer some neat surprises, not least what happens to Sarah and L.T. emotionally and physically making for a powerful ending in a tense and exciting final showdown with Sheriff Simpson.

If you like westerns filled with terrific character development and gripping action scenes, believable dialogue and touches of humour, then, like me, I’m sure you’ll enjoy reading this book.


Monday, 14 September 2015

Jefferson's Saddle

By Will DuRey
Hale, August 2015

It is meant to be a day of celebration in Mortimer, Texas, but everything changes when Charlie Jefferson arrives in town. Left for dead after a brutal ambush and robbery, Charlie is intent on finding the man who did this to him.

En route to Mortimer from the wastelands where he was left to perish, Charlie stumbles upon a dying Texas Ranger. Unwittingly, he is drawn into a plot involving the town’s council.

By showing mercy, Charlie becomes part of the plot, whether it ties in with his plans or not. Charlie’s mission in Mortimer is no longer personal. The fate of the whole town rests with him.

Will DuRey returns to Charlie Jefferson who first appeared in his last book, Arkansas Bushwhackers. Charlie is heading for home, and to the girl who is waiting for him, his stake hidden in his saddle. Of course this saddle is one of the things stolen from him, so he must get it back as he needs the money it contains to start his new life. The saddle’s whereabouts is the mystery plotline in this very fast paced story.

DuRey lets the reader in on the con trick being played on the town and seeing how Charlie finds out about this, and deals with it, makes for some gripping reading. This and the missing saddle aren’t the only problems Charlie has to deal with, for there’s an attractive, unattached, girl who takes a shine to him. How can he let her down without hurting her especially after she risks her life to save him?

It’s no surprise that all these story threads become entangled and lead to an exciting final showdown that resolves everything neatly, leaving me hoping that we haven’t seen the last of Charlie Jefferson, because I for one would certainly read another tale about him.


Sunday, 6 September 2015

Bandit's Gold

By Alex Frew
Hale, August 2015

When Joe Flint meets Matt Harper and Pete Brogan, he cannot help but be enticed by their tales of gold and mystery. They tell him of a legendary Mexican leader who reigned during the civil war, funding his leadership through a criminal network.

Drawn by the promise of fortune, he follows his two new friends who are determined to find out the truth about the fort where the Mexican leader lived. But, along the way, they are attacked. Flint learns too late he has put himself in the hands of a madman.

Will he find his fortune? Or has Flint got himself into a situation too dangerous to get out of alive?

This is the second Black Horse Western to be published under the author name of Alex Frew* and the first I’ve read. With fairly small print and chapters beginning a few lines down from the end of the previous one rather than on a new page, this is one of the longer BHWs I’ve read. In fact Hale seem to be publishing westerns of this length much more often these days.

Frew puts his hero into all kinds of danger from the outset. It isn’t long before Flint and his companions find themselves joining a rebel army under a superbly drawn bad-guy whose appearance would fit into any horror novel. Being part of an army that will turn on Flint if he gives his real reason for being there away means he and his two friends are up against far superior odds that they can’t hope to beat in a fight.

There are some tense scenes, not least when Flint finds himself flung into a pit containing a mad bear. How he escapes is probably the highlight of this story and makes for some very gripping reading.

Flint also finds himself having to deal with the advances of two women, both of whom he is attracted too, both having agendas of their own, so getting involved with either could have a deadly outcome.

Frew builds his story well, its conclusion seeing a violent battle taking place as Flint attempts to steal the stolen gold from the rebel leader and his army. Frew also has a surprise twist waiting for the end that I didn’t see coming that brings the story to a satisfying close.

*The book I have shows the author’s name as Alex Frew yet those on Amazon etc have the cover showing him as Alexander Frew and that is how he is listed too if you want to search for his books. He has another BHW out in December and that cover shows his name as Alex Frew.


Thursday, 3 September 2015

Bear Claws

THE IRON HORSE CHRONICLES #2
By Robert Lee Murphy
Five Star, 2015

Will Braddock, fifteen years old, continues as a hunter for his uncle’s survey team, as the transcontinental railroad builds across Wyoming in 1868. Paddy O’Hannigan, whose vendetta to kill Will, his uncle, and the former black slave Homer Garcon, grows more sinister and involves the theft of nitro-glycerine and an attempt to blow up presidential candidate Ulysses S. Grant.

Will remains fascinated with Jenny McNabb but it’s her sister Elspeth who will cause the biggest trouble for him as she becomes a part of a plot to steal from a German aristocrat whom Will is guiding on a hunting expedition.

After a vicious bear attack Elspeth falls into the clutches of Paddy O’Hannigan and Will must attempt to free her. Can he save Elspeth and perhaps rid the world of O’Hannigan at the same time?

This story begins shortly after the events of the first book in this trilogy, Eagle Talons. All the characters that survived that first tale are back and Robert Lee Murphy introduces us to more, another neat mix of fictional and real people. Like the previous book, Murphy seamlessly blends historical fact and fiction into a fast paced read that will keep you wanting to turn the pages.

The book is a series of different adventures linked by the people and the quest to build the transcontinental railroad. As well as edge-of-seat action scenes there are also lighter moment too, such as the growing teenage romance between Will and Jenny. And it’s not just Will who could be finding love, his friend Lone Eagle succumbs too, bringing some happiness into his life after the heartache of losing his father, Bullfrog Charlie Munro.

The final part of the story, which sees Will guiding Count von Schroeder in a quest to kill a white buffalo presents a dangerous set of problems for Will, for the shooting of this animal will bring the wrath of the Shoshone down on them and creates some tense reading.

Robert Lee Murphy brings everything to an exciting conclusion that leaves some openings for certain storylines to be continued in the third book, one I am very much looking forward to reading in the future.

Bear Claws is set to be released in November but can be pre-ordered now. 


Thursday, 27 August 2015

The Law and the Lawless

A Ralph Compton novel by David Robbins
Signet, August 2015

When a bunch of ruffians robs a bank in the sleepy town of Alpine, it’s only natural for the locals to be alarmed. But this gang and its leader, Cestus Calloway, are not common criminals. In fact, Cestus, known as the Robin Hood of the Rockies, distributes his loot to those less fortunate and rains stolen money down on the townsfolk. As if that isn’t too good to be true, this gang holds to one important rule: Steal but don’t kill….

All Alpine’s marshal, Boyd Cooper, wants is peace and quiet, not to get a posse together to track outlaws. However, when an altercation leads to the exchange of gunfire and the spilling of outlaw blood, he doesn’t have much of a choice. The outlaws fear their reputation might be at stake, so they declare revenge on the tin stars of Alpine. They’re mad enough to break their own no-kill rule, and Boyd Cooper knows things could end as bloody as they started….

David Robbins has created a bunch of memorable characters on both sides of the law in this extremely fast moving tale. In fact I hoped some of the lawless would escape death so they could return in another book, but in a David Robbins story it is not predictable as to who will be living by the end on either side.

With the killing of some of their own, Calloway has difficulty keeping control of his vengeance hungry gang members, and David Robbins creates some fine tension as they argue about the best way to take out the posse. And it’s not only Cestus who has problems keeping a tight rein on his band of outlaws, because Boyd Cooper has to struggle to keep his posse together, particularly when a turn of events makes it evident that Cooper no longer wants to bring the outlaws in for trial but wants to see them all dead.

The story is filled with twists and turns and lots of gripping action, and it isn’t long before the posse are played for fools and find themselves, unknowingly, being lead into a death-trap from which there can be no escape.

So who is victorious in the end? Of course I can’t reveal that here but I would suggest anyone who decides to read this book is going to enjoy finding out.


Monday, 3 August 2015

Buckshot Ridge

By Jake Douglas
Hale, July 2015

Clint’s only wish is to transform the Delta Ranch where he lives into a home, so that he can settle down peacefully with his wife-to-be, Belle Camden.

All is going smoothly until Clint witnesses a brutal murder. The killer tries to lie his way out of it, but Clint is not the lying type. When threats don’t work, the killer takes Belle hostage. All Clint must do is admit he’s made a mistake – forget what he’s seen, move on – and his fiancĂ©e will be returned to him unharmed.

In a situation that goes against Clint’s every moral code, in the end the choice can only be decided by gunsmoke – and blood.

Jake Douglas is one of a handful of pseudonyms used by Keith Hetherington for his Black Horse Westerns and this one confirms why he’s had such a long career writing for this line and other publishers, having around a thousand westerns published to date. You can read an interview I did with him here.

As for this book, it is a very fast moving read full of action – fistfights, gunfights, and duels of words. In fact the tense exchanges of dialogue provide most of the ‘how-can-they-get-out-of-that situations, as any plan Clint and lawman Si McLaren have seems to be bettered by the man they are attempting to bring to justice at every turn.

The taking of Belle hostage, a dangerous situation in itself is made even more deadly when there’s a disagreement between the killer, Forbes, and his right-hand man Hank, a man who wants nothing more than to kill both Clint and Belle, and it soon looks like he’s going to achieve his aim.

The story ends with a breath-taking struggle that brings everything to a neat and satisfying conclusion that left me eager to pick up another Keith Hetherington book straight-away.

Mention must also be made of the excellent cover Hale have selected to front this book.


Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Blind-Sided

By Billy Hall
Hale, July 2015

He could see the tip of the hat brim in the doorway of the balcony across the street. Just over the top of the ridge of the mercantile store’s roof, he caught a glimpse of another hat. That meant at least two men were waiting to kill him in cold blood.

Ike Murdo knows that awaiting him upon his arrival are several people who want him dead. The risks were clear when he chose to interfere with the gang’s plans. He’d had no choice: when the son of the woman he loved was kidnapped, Ike followed his heart.

Now, he must pay the price and confront the gunmen.

He swallowed his fear and called out to the gunfighter. ‘Cadwall! Come out and face me.’

Billy Hall begins his story in an almost gentle fashion as we witness Murdo search for and secure a job that sees him doubling as a cowboy and a farmhand. It’s the latter that provides some fascinating reading as Murdo gets to grips with new methods of ploughing and Hall’s descriptions of this put you right there to witness Murdo’s determination to master these new techniques.

During this time Murdo finds himself become more and more attracted to the ranch’s owner and he bonds with her children. But all the time Hall allows the threat of danger to simmer below the surface and throws a few questions into the mix, such as why Murdo doesn’t carry a belt gun.

Later Murdo sends a telegraph when danger threatens, but who to? Neither characters nor readers are let in on this secret which adds a touch of mystery to the storyline and this turns out to be a great surprise when the author reveals the answer.

As well as fistfights and gunfights there are some excellent confrontations in a court of law that should see off any threat of danger but, of course, they just make things worse and lead to the kidnapping mentioned in the blurb.

The rescue attempt gives birth to a legend which put a huge grin on my face and brings the book to an excellent ending that left me eager to read more of Billy Hall’s work.




Sadly, it has recently been reported that Bill Hallsted (Billy Hall’s full name) passed away in May 2015, so I would like to take this opportunity to offer my condolences to his family and friends and to let them know that for me, and his many fans, Bill will live on in the words of the many westerns he wrote and will continue to bring us pleasure for a long, long time to come. 


Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Manslaughter

SHAWN O’BRIEN #2
By William W. Johnstone with J.A. Johnstone
Pinnacle, March 2015

In Broken Bridle, Wyoming, Jeremiah Purdy, the town’s tinhorn sheriff is a college kid who wants to become governor some day. But outlaw Burt Becker couldn’t care less about anyone else’s ambitions. With Becker holding Broken Bridle in a bloody grip of terror, Purdy sends a desperate cry for help – to Shawn O’Brien, town tamer. Shawn’s mission: ride to Wyoming and pry Broken Bridle loose from Becker’s reign of fear. What Shawn finds is that something even more evil than Becker is haunting Broken Bridle. Now, in a storm of bullets and blood, in a deal with the devil, Shawn O’Brien can only tame this town by entering hell itself…

You want plenty of action? An involving plot that charges forward at the speed of a galloping horse? A storyline full of twists and turns, one of which that could be as equally at home in a horror novel? Demented bad guys with an army of killers? Draw-fighters aplenty? Good-guys escaping their own demons? Fear? Lies? How-they-gonna-get-outta-that situations? Fistfights? Gunfights? Gritty writing that demands your attention? Then this book is a must read!

The author brings together an excellent cast of characters, many of whom I hoped just might, somehow, escape the grip of terror, and high death-toll that plagues Broken Bridle, to perhaps appear in future Johnstone books. Who can forget the twins, assassins who’ve never failed to take out their target? And Becker’s gunman, Caradas? Deputy United States Marshal Brown with his bullish ways? The Chinese? The women? Thomas Clouston riding his massive horse whilst wielding a battle-axe like someone from a Frank Frazetta painting? And the strawmen – I still shudder whilst thinking about them.

Like the previous Shawn O’Brien book, Town Tamer, this delves into the darker side of humanity, where greed is all that matters and life is cheap. Where madness is the driving force and death feeds well. It seems Broken Bridle is destined to become a ghost town and that O’Brien cannot possibly stop this from happening. Does he? I guess you’re going to have to read the book to find out because I can’t answer that here and thus spoil the book for those who are yet to read it. What I will say is that I’m really looking forward to discovering just what horrors await Shawn O’Brien in the third book of the series, Better Off Dead, which I believe is scheduled for release next February.


Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Storm over Sonora

MORGAN KANE #12
By Louis Masterson
Corgi, 1971

Originally published in Norway, 1967

‘General Garranza has stated officially that the revolt will be crushed if every tree in Sonora has to bear a bandit’….

In Sonora, Mexico, a revolution was taking place. It started in a small way – and then it gathered speed. Villages were plundered and troop trains ambushed. The rebels, it was rumoured, were being supplied with arms smuggled across the border. And this is where Morgan Kane was called in. In a dusty one-horse-town in Arizona, he discovered one of the main sources of the contraband ammunition – in the charge of a wicked, greedy old man….

When we first meet Kane he is suffering, trying to drown the pain that tears at his soul in alcohol. Hurt and anguish that have battered his being during his last two assignments in particular. Louis Masterson seems to enjoy tormenting his hero, but in this story he doesn’t add to Kane’s mental distress – although he does take some physical blows from both friend and foe. This tale is much more of a straight-forward western that is packed with bloody action and sees Kane struggle with where his loyalties lie.

One of Masterson’s strengths is describing landscapes, he paints such vivid imagery with his choice of words and these place the reader right there with his characters, sharing the beauty, heat and harshness of Sonora.

The story contains a couple of neat twists too that will see Kane riding towards certain death without a weapon to defend himself against hopeless odds. Something that will have you wondering how he can possibly emerge from this deadly situation in one piece. Kane’s fear and near panic is written so well you can almost see his sweat oozing from the pages.

The book concludes with a terrific battle as the rebel army launch an attack on a fort, which brings this tale to a violent end. The final lines of the story will definitely have readers wanting to find a copy of the next book in the series to discover just what horrors Kane will have to face next.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Track of the Bear

THE SPANISH BIT SAGA #22
By Don Coldsmith
Bantam, January 1995
First published by Doubleday, May 1994

For as long as anyone can remember, the People have had a sacred Covenant with their brother Bear. Now, without warning, the bond has been shattered as a bear stalks the People on their annual trip to summer council. Fearing the bear is an evil spirit in disguise, Singing Wolf knows he must take matters into his own hands – even if it means breaking the Covenant, wresting power from his father, holy man Walks in the Sun, and alienating his beloved Rain. But as Singing Wolf and Walks in the Sun each struggle to understand the broken Covenant, their crisis foretells an even greater challenge facing the People – both from within and without.

Once again Don Coldsmith’s exceptional ability to write a gripping tale shines through in this story of the struggle to understand spiritual beliefs. The question of why the bear has begun killing the People needs an answer before they can begin to plan how to stop the animal without destroying it and thus giving a death sentence to the creatures’ killer.

Amid the beautiful described landscapes and seasonal change Coldsmith really does capture the frustrations of lack of understanding that twists the soul of Singing Wolf and those he confides in. You’ll share those torments with the People as Coldsmith’s words captivate your imagination, you’ll feel their sorrow as the death count mounts, you’ll find yourself wondering just how this bear, that never shows itself except to those it kills, can possibly be stopped without bringing even greater tragedy down on the People.

Coldsmith solves the problem in an obvious yet unpredictable way that both shocks and surprises. Followers of the series will definitely feel the pain that this conclusion brings to the People, making this book a not to be missed read in the series.

It’s been a while since I read a Spanish Bit novel and this one has left me very eager to read the next in the series as soon as possible.


Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Gila Monster

By Colin Bainbridge
Hale, June 2015

A stagecoach is winding its way towards the small town of Medicine Bend when it is attacked by outlaws. However the coach’s passengers manage to beat them off. This unusual array of characters – the new town marshal Wade Calvin, insurance salesman Taber, and Miss Jowett, on her way to care for her relatives – thus find their lives intertwined.

As the new arrivals settle in, the outlaws’ vicious leader ‘Gila’ Goad hears news of the botched robbery from his base in a disused silver mining camp in the surrounding hills. Named after the deadly Gila lizard he keeps as a pet, Goad is brutal and unpredictable. He learns of Calvin’s presence in town and believes he is the same man who once imprisoned him. Goad is determined to get his revenge.

When Miss Jowett’s young relatives are kidnapped, Calvin knows the race to find the outlaws is on. He must take the fight into the hills as he searches for Goad and his camp, and the stolen children – before it is too late.

Like other books I’ve read by Colin Bainbridge this one features a creature, so I’m guessing that Mr Bainbridge must be an animal lover. As Goad keeps his Gila lizard in his coat pocket I’d say it’s a youngster as an adult would be far too large to be kept this way. Goad’s habit of discussing his problems with the Gila are both entertaining and strange at the same time.

Bainbridge brings together a very different set of characters for this novel, and each will have a vital role to play in freeing the kidnapped children and bringing an end to the outlaws’ plans, for Goad has a much bigger prize in his grasp than just robbing stagecoaches and banks.

Bainbridge breaks each of the six chapters into a series of scenes that switch from character to character regularly. He includes plenty of action as the story builds smoothly to its bloody conclusion.

On finishing the book I’m again left looking forward to Colin Bainbridge’s next, not least to discover just what kind of animal will have a starring role.