Sunday, 20 August 2017

Death's-Head Trail

GUNN #3
By Jory Sherman
Zebra, 1980

After getting a gold claim on Grasshopper Creek, Gunn heads towards Bannock City to stake out his claim. There, he finds plenty of gold, girls and a ruthless, gunslingin’ outlaw called “Bull” Roumal who wants it all for himself.

When Gunn’s life is threatened by a band of Bull’s gunnies, he realizes he’ll have to find Roumal and set him straight. Both hands to his holster, Gunn begins his search in the local saloon. There, he meets the sumptuous Angela Larkin who offers him pleasure, passion and a few wise words that send him off hot … on Bull Roumal’s trail…

The title of this book refers to notes sent to miners threatening their lives if they don’t leave, each marked with a Death’s Head. As expected it isn’t long before Gunn gets one of these messages too but, of course, that isn’t going to set Gunn running scared, just makes him more determined to stay and fight for what’s his.

It’s the death of two girls that really sets Gunn on the warpath in this story that is full of action, be that gunplay or sexual (Gunn is an adult western series), both of which are often described in detail. Knowing that some readers don’t like explicit sex or bad language in their books I feel I must also point out that there is plenty of the latter too.

For those who don’t mind graphic violence, sex and profanities then this book is a terrific read. Jory Sherman has long been a writer whose work is held in high regard and you are pretty much guaranteed a gripping read from him. At times the story presents a dark, bleak take on life and the ending will leave Gunn mentally scared.

I’ve only read the first three Gunn books and on the strength of this, and the two before it, I really do need to find time to read more of this series.


Thursday, 17 August 2017

The Ponderosa War

THE GUNSMITH #30
By J.R. Roberts
Charter Books, July 1984

They called it Battles Mountain, but it belonged more to the bank than to the Battles family. Now, they have to get their timber down the mountain fast enough to stop the bank from reclaiming the land.

Clint Adams is just passing through North Dakota, but when the Battles brothers help him out in a fight, the Gunsmith feels obliged to return the favour – especially since they have a big, good-looking sister. Helping to fend off the unscrupulous “banker,” Clint comes head to head with a gunslinger out to make his reputation – over Clint’s dead body!

Like all Gunsmith books this is a fast paced tale that is dialogue driven. There’s plenty of action but it’s the showdown between Adams and the gunslinger, Wallmann, that provides the tension and anticipation that kept me turning the pages.

The author also manages to include a lot of information about the timber business and the various jobs that have to be done to get the trees down the mountain. None of this comes over as if you’re reading a how-to manual but as a natural part of the story that provides knowledge to the inquisitive Clint Adams.

With this book being part of an adult series there are a few explicit sexual encounters, but these are easily skipped if you don’t like to read this kind of thing and doing so won’t ruin the story. And this is certainly a very enjoyable tale that finishes with a neat ending as Wallmann and Adams come face-to-face.


Friday, 11 August 2017

Gunpowder Empire

By Matt Cole
The Crowood Press, July 2017

Raw hatred ravaged the range land!

Luke Bragg – a man with a dark past – has come to claim the sheep ranch his uncle left for him. Only once he arrives in Preston Gulch, Bragg soon finds himself in the middle of a range war with the valley’s two biggest cattle ranchers. This clash of interests, which Bragg tries to avoid, just escalates and he is the one the town thinks is the reason why. The cattlemen try to bolster their position by claiming that his sheep kill the grass by nibbling it too close and trampling the roots with their sharp hoofs. Then when the daughter of another rancher comes to town after the murder of her father, the truth about his murder sends the valley into chaos and threatens the empires that they had established with gunpowder.

This is Matt Cole’s third Black Horse Western and the first I have read. It is also the first BHW that I have read that begins with two poems. These are both about sheep and written by Arthur Chapman (June 25, 1873 – December 4, 1935). They set the mood for the book perfectly.

Matt Cole has created a great set of characters and surrounds them with mystery, the main one being who killed the rancher Flynn and why. There is also some mystery as to Luke Bragg’s past. All this grabbed my attention and encouraged me to read more.

There is plenty of action, and Bragg soon proves he’s a capable man when it comes to gunplay. Slowly the truth behind the murder is revealed and desperate men take drastic measures to keep their part in the killing hidden. Bragg has to be silenced, permanently, and a hired gun is brought in to do this which leads to an interesting proposition.

The story builds well to its violent final showdown where the truths are exposed and western justice is served, and all the story threads are tied up neatly. The final lines leaving me grinning and thinking it’s about time I caught up with Matt Cole’s two previous books.


Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Coyote Creek

BROCK CLEMONS #2
By Scott Harris
June, 2017

Brock Clemons leaves Dry Springs – and the people he’s grown to love – in search of his father, but his plans are altered when a brutal and shocking discovery in a creek bed leads him to new adventures, new friends and more than one near-death experience. As Brock navigates a series of eventful encounters with Indians, gunfighters and wealthy landowners, it leads him to evaluate where his heart truly lies. What did Brock find in Coyote Creek, and will he survive where it leads him?

This story is told mainly in the first person, through Brock Clemons, but every so often the author switches to the third person when telling his readers what other people, or animals, are doing. This allows him to introduce new characters to the series, some of whom have major parts to play in this tale, and others, I presume, that will have more significant roles in the third Brock Clemons adventure.

I mentioned animals in the previous paragraph, and as readers of the first book will know Clemons has a wild companion in the form of a Wolf and it’s great to see that this creature is still with him.

There is plenty of action and some tense scenes such as when the captive Clemons is taken into a Ute camp. Author Scott Harris isn’t above killing off some of his main characters either and there is one surprising and shocking death for Clemons and his new friends to deal with.

There is also a lot of soul searching for Clemons to do regarding his quest to find his father and his loyalties to those he’s left behind in Dry Springs and Scott Harris writes these mental battles as well as his action passages.

The story comes to a satisfying conclusion, but in doing so new challenges are set, thus leaving the way open for the third book in the series, one I am certainly looking forward to reading.


Friday, 4 August 2017

Midway

THE LANDON SAGA #10
By Tell Cotten
Solstice Publishing, July 2017

All Yancy Landon wants is to get married. However, there’s always somebody eager to ruin a good day, and several misfortunes occur before the big event. Throughout the day, Yancy and Cooper get tangled up with a drunk, a rebellious youth, someone looking for revenge, a shy wife, a disgruntled cowman, and a disgraceful husband.

Told in the first person through Cooper Landon this book contains the usual mix of excitement and humour, the later mainly appearing during conversation in witty one-liners, that I’ve come to expect from Tell Cotten. Combined with his well-crafted characters and excellent plot-lines makes this a must read series. If you’ve yet to try the Landon Saga books may I suggest you start with the first one and read them in order as story-threads often continue from book to book.

I also find Tell Cotten’s writing very visual, and had a great big grin on my face as I imagined Yancy’s appearance when he arrives at the church for his wedding.

There are some excellent action scenes too, including a tense and violent showdown with the person looking for revenge.

We also get to meet a few new characters, a couple of which I hope there will be more about in future books.

The Landon Saga books aren’t long, meaning they don’t outstay their welcome. In fact I find them hard to put down tales that I usually read in one or two sittings. On finishing this one, like those that have gone before it, I find myself hoping Tell Cotten won’t take too long in writing and publishing the next one.

Tell Cotten is definitely one of the best western writers working today.


Sunday, 30 July 2017

Six Bullets Left

By Barry Cord
Consul Books, 1961
Originally published in 1959

Something was wrong, dead wrong! The Texas Ranger called Solitary felt it before he was ten seconds inside town. Minutes later he knew it for sure – when the honest sheriff who’d sent for him tried to gun him down on sight.

And within the hour Solitary found that almost to a man the whole town hated him, sight unseen . . . even though he was their only chance to survive the terror.

Something was wrong indeed.

And Solitary Jackson was going to find out what it was!

I’ve read quite a few books by Barry Cord and this one was just as enjoyable as any of them. Told in a tough style the story really grabbed my attention from the opening sequence in which a man is killed by a strange arrow that is unrecognized by the townsfolk. So where did this arrow come from? Why was this man killed, after all he was just a tenderfoot Easterner dish washer in the local hotel wasn’t he? What was the note he threw into the Sheriff’s office just before his death? And as the story unfolds these aren’t the only questions that will need answering.

Barry Cord, a pseudonym used by Peter Germano, is a master at writing tense scenes, you share the frustrations, fear, anger and joy of his well-drawn characters who are often hiding their real identities. His pacing is superb as his plots twist their way to their satisfying conclusions. Six Bullets Left contains all these elements and left me wondering if there are any more Barry Cord books featuring Solitary Jackson.

One disappointing thing to note about this particular publication of Six Bullets Left is the amount of typos and the book even has a couple of lines missing in a gunfight that was a little frustrating – although it was possible to work out what had happened by what came next. Of course this isn’t the authors fault but that of the publisher, so you may prefer to find a different pressing to the one shown above and hope it doesn’t contain the typos this one does.

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.


Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Wanted II: A Western Story Collection

By The Western Writers Group
Solstice Publishing, April 2017

A year after the first Wanted short story collection was published the second book in the series from The Western Writers Group has been released. Six of the authors from the first book appear in this one, with the addition of Ken Farmer who replaces Lou Bradshaw.

Like the first book, this collection of authors present the reader with new short stories that feature their own series characters, so you can read about Steve Dancy, Gideon Johann, Lee Mattingly, the McCabes, Jess Williams, Fiona Miller, and Storm Warrior.

Like any anthology this kind of collection is an ideal way to try authors who are new to you, or read new material from some of your favourites. Some of these tales fit in chronologically with the characters own series, some would fit in anywhere, and one of them continues a storyline begun in the first Wanted book. I would like to point out that you don’t need to have read any of the previous tales to enjoy any of the stories found here, but you may well find yourself rushing out to read more about some, or all, of them.

Here you will find stories that range from the traditional approach to western storytelling to one that borders on the mystical. There is plenty of action, some shocks, animal stars, and humour to be found in these fast moving tales, so there should be something to satisfy every western reader.  Me? I’m already looking forward to the third collection.


Contents


Relentless by James D. Best
In a remote wilderness, a band of outlaws chases Steve Dancy. They want his horse. They want his gear. They want his money. And they want his life.

Lady Marshal by Ken Farmer
Deputy US Marshal Fiona Miller isn’t aware that two other groups are after two teenage boys and the $5,000 in loot from a bank robbery. One is a band of outlaws and the other is a posse of vigilantes led by the father of a young girl shot during the holdup. Who gets to the boys first?

What’s Right by Duane Boehm
Gideon Johann and Farting Jack Dolan find that they get more than they bargained for when they cross paths with a runaway girl while chasing a murderer.

Damsel in Distress by Robert J. Thomas
Jess has finally hunted down and killed the notorious Russell Bell and is on his way to the closest town to turn the corpse in for bounty. Along the way, his sometimes partner, Shadow, a huge timber wolf, finds him and leads him to a wagon where a beautiful woman was beaten up during a robbery and her husband shot dead. Jess helps the woman get to the town of Elk Ridge and then hunts down the three men responsible for the robbery and murder. When he does, things aren’t what they seem to be.

Thundering Hooves by Brad Dennison
A prequel to the novel Thunder. A story of the McCabes and their early years in the valley.

The Mirror II by Tell Cotten
Lee Mattingly and Brian Clark find a man bushwhacked and left for dead. Blamed for the crime, they are thrown into prison. However, they won’t go down without a fight. Along the way, they run into corrupt horse traders, a deputy with a grudge, and a woman with bitter memories.

The Legend by WL Cox
Charles Crawford, a man raised in China by Buddhist Monks after his parents were murdered travels to America and is captured by Sioux Indians as he travels west. This is an episode of Charles’ life while living with the Sioux. 


Saturday, 27 May 2017

Massacre at Red Rock

By Jack Martin
The Crowood Press, May 2017

Liberty Jones is tired of war – he fought hard in the Civil War, saw great suffering and endured much himself. Now all he wants is to be left in peace, but trouble has a way of finding him. He rides into the town of Red Rock to escape a marauding tribe of Indians, but any hopes of safety he may have held are soon dispelled. For the town is under military command and facing a gathering of great Indian tribes who are determined to drive the people from the town and reclaim their land.

Liberty, along with a rag tag band of townspeople, must face impossible odds and soon blood will run deep in the streets of Red Rock.

Massacre at Red Rocks is a very fast paced book that is more or less filled with non-stop action as the mix of Indian tribes launch attack after attack on the town. There are brief explanations as to why the military won’t give up Red Rocks and why the Indians are so determined to destroy the town.

Jones is at first at odds with Captain Roberts but this soon becomes a grudging respect as the fighting ability of Jones becomes apparent to the soldier. There are one or two lighter moments amidst the carnage, such as when Jones and the English gambler, Sinclair, get arrested. This leads to the pair meeting an old-timer in jail which gives birth to the tales' sub-plot.

There are a couple of tips of the hat towards favourites of the author, such as naming the English gambler Lord Simon Sinclair – a mix of names of two of Roger Moore’s famous television characters, Simon Templar (The Saint) and Lord Brett Sinclair from The Persuaders. Knowing that Jack Martin is also a massive fan of the third Edge book, Apache Death, by George G. Gilman, there are certainly nods of the head to that story too. All of this added to my enjoyment of the story.

Jack Martin is a pseudonym used by Gary Dobbs, and he has certainly come up with a very entertaining tale that should satisfy all of us who like stories packed with action.


Sunday, 21 May 2017

Borrachón

By Kevin Cullen
Ulysses Media, November 2016

Borrachón is a prequel to the Rio Bravo story, a 1959 film directed by Howard Hawks and starring John Wayne as Sherriff John T. Chance, Dean Martin as Dude (Borrachón) and Walter Brennan as Stumpy.

Kevin Cullen first novel fills in the background to the main characters of Rio Bravo in a very entertaining story. John T. Chance doesn’t have a very large role to play in this fast moving tale that revolves around a cattle drive to provide Stumpy with much needed funds to pay his ranch off. Of course someone doesn’t want that to happen and there’s a lot of violent action as hired guns attempt to stop the drive.

The other main thread of the book follows Dude’s fall from grace as a first class deputy and his new dependence on alcohol which leads to his new name of Borrachón.

Cullen also injects some humorous scenes to lighten the darker elements of his story.

If you’re a fan of the film Rio Bravo or just well told western tales then this is certainly a book you should consider reading, and if you do, I think you’ll be joining me in wanting to watch the movie again to remind yourself of what happens next.


Thursday, 18 May 2017

Way of the Lawless

By P. McCormac
The Crowood Press, April 2017

Butch Shilton and Joe Peters are on the run and think to hide out in a quiet township. The sheriff comes across them on a wanted poster and once again they have to hightail it. Trouble seems to follow the pals and they end up in the confines of the brutal Los Pecos penitentiary. Breaking out they flee over the border into Mexico only to fall foul of the notorious bandit Barca.

They recruit a bunch of escaped convicts to fight Barca only to find they have made a pact with one pack of devils to fight another pack of devils. On top of that the prison guards are out scouring the countryside for the escapees. With enemies closing in on all sides there is nowhere to run. Could this be the end of the trail for Butch and Joe?

Since The Crowood Press took over the publication of Black Horse Westerns from Hale I’ve noticed that many of the books now list not only the previous output of the author but also list the books they've written under different pseudonyms and this is one of those. P. McCormac is the author’s real name and I also discovered he’s written under a few different names too. Even more surprising is that I have never read any of his books whatever the name on the cover.

Butch Shilton and Joe Peters are a very likeable couple of lead characters that often squabble with each other. This, along with their descriptions and fighting with their fists as much as their guns, brought to mind that great Spaghetti western duo Trinity and Bambino and that for me was a very welcome. As the story progressed and Shilton and Peters rounded up small group of convicts to take on Barca to help a small Mexican village as much as for their own revenge I started to think this book was going to be another take on The Magnificent Seven, but I needn’t have worried as no sooner did I have this thought than McCormac added a twist and the tale headed off in its own direction.

The story is filled with action, excellent dialogue and terrific descriptions – particularly of fist fights, so I’ll finish by saying this has to be a book that I believe most fans of westerns should enjoy. 


Sunday, 30 April 2017

Hang Them Slowly

By William W. Johnstone with J.A. Johnstone
Pinnacle, November 2016

Vance Brewster is a hardworking young cowboy. Stovepipe Stewart and Wilbur Coleman are two new ranch hands working at his side. And all three are caught up in a brewing, trigger-happy Montana range war between the Rafter M and Three Rivers. Then the fury suddenly explodes – in a hail of gunfire the three men must show their hands; they’re all hiding their true identities. 

With Vance falling in love with the daughter of the Three Rivers manager, and Stovepipe and Wilbur paid by a tycoon who needs the violence to stop, all three are in mortal danger.
Their real enemies are hiding true identities of their own – and they’re not nice men. The body count is about to go sky high . . . and Stovepipe and Wilbur would prefer not to be on top of the pile.

This is the second book in the new Range Detectives series from the Johnstone’s that follows the undercover work of two cowboys who get paid to find trouble – and to risk their lives to stomp it out. By any means necessary. I’ve not read the first as this series isn’t available in the UK yet, a friend bought this copy for me whilst on a trip to America.

Stovepipe and Wilbur make for an engaging pair of heroes. Stovepipe seems to be the thinker of the two and keeps most of his thoughts to himself until he’s sure he’s right about his assumptions. This causes a bit of friction as Wilbur doesn’t like to be kept in the dark. But the true strength of their friendship comes to the fore when it’s believed Stovepipe has been killed.

Trying to stop a brewing range war isn’t easy when one side is led by a man who believes the only answer is to deal with things by force. Seeing how Stovepipe and Wilbur tackle this problem makes for fascinating reading, and when it’s backed by the mystery of who Vance Brewster really is the book becomes impossible to put down.

Filled with great characters, a gripping storyline that offers plenty of surprise and lots of action, I’d say this book should be enjoyed by all western fans. Me? I’m looking forward to the day I can get hold of others in this series as I’d like to read more about the Range Detectives.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

From the Vineyards of Hell

By Harry Jay Thorn
The Crowood Press, April 2017

When ex lawman Captain Joshua Beaufort, late of Hood’s Texas Brigade, marches clear of the hell that was Gettysburg he has no intention whatsoever of any further engagement in the Civil War; he has, in his own words, killed enough Yankees. But the war has not finished with the Confederate captain and, captured by Union troops, he is given a choice – help to end the war on their terms or spend the rest of it in a prisoner-of-war camp. Colonel Horatio Vallance and the mysterious E.J. Allen persuade him it is in his best interests to cooperate with the North. So, in company with and under the watchful eye of young Corporal Benbow, Beaufort returns to his home state of Texas to old loves, old friends and old enemies. His task, to bring back the head of Buford Post, a notorious warmonger and gunrunner who is in possession of 300 stolen Henry repeating rifles….

A book that is mainly told in the first person, occasionally switching to the third when dealing with events that don’t include the main character, is not that common in Black Horse Westerns. Even less so is the fact that this story is set during the American Civil War and the opening sequences feature the horrors of Manassas and Gettysburg.

Like many books that deal with war this one throws up a few questions about the futility of it all. This includes the mission Beaufort finds himself on, that of trying to retrieve the stolen rifles so the Confederates can’t kill Union soldiers with them so they can then be used by the latter to kill the former. Whichever way round it is it’ll all lead to a waste of life, as is said in a discussion about what will happen to the rifles if Beaufort succeeds in getting them back from the gunrunners, “Does it really matter that much who gets the rifles, the North or the South? They will still kill hundreds of men.”

Harry Jay Thorn tells his tale at a great pace, his descriptions of battle quite graphic at times. Beaufort is not a man without faults, and we even begin to wonder about his motives through a suggestion by a secondary character. Beaufort is also a likeable lead which is good as I’ve seen comment that this book is the first in a new series to feature Joshua Beaufort and if the future books are as good as this one than that is one series I’m looking forward to reading.


Wednesday, 19 April 2017

The Legend of Roxy Doyle

LADY GUNSMITH #1
By J.R. Roberts
Speaking Volumes, February 2017

Roxanne Louise Doyle, is Lady Gunsmith, the daughter of Gavin Doyle. The early legend of Roxy Doyle begins when her mother is killed on a wagon train, leaving her father to raise and care for his little girl. Before her father disappears, he leaves his daughter to be raised by a Mormon family. At age fifteen, Roxy leaves her foster family to find her father. In time she learns the hard truth that her father has become a famed bounty hunter who is now thought to be dead.

Roxy continues her relentless search and at age twenty she meets the famous Gunsmith, Clint Adams, who trains her as a gunfighter. Still searching for her father, Roxy meets the notorious Belle Starr and her handsome husband, Sam. Together they fall into an intrigue involving other legends of the West. Does Lady Gunsmith find her father? Does she live up to her legend with a gun in the final draw?

With over four hundred books published in The Gunsmith series it would be hard to believe that there aren’t any fans of the western genre that have not come across the author name of J.R. Roberts, or don’t know that it’s a pseudonym used by Robert J. Randisi who has authored more than five hundred published books. Now he turns his attention to a series featuring a heroine, Roxy Doyle.

Fans of the already mention Gunsmith series will have to add this book to their reading list as Clint Adams features quite prominently in this book, and it’s due to the tag of Lady Gunsmith that Adams decides to teach Roxy the art of using a handgun effectively. The story starts earlier than this though, and like any origin tale, often jumps back in time to tell of Roxy’s mother being killed and her troubled upbringing, and rise to legend.

Lady Gunsmith is classed as an adult series, and yes, it does contain a fair amount of explicit sex. What I found interesting is how Roxy soon learns that her beauty makes men crave for her and how this can be used to her advantage from an early age. This has a downside too, in that her stunning looks lead to a lot of unwanted attention that it turn leads to a number of deadly situations that are often resolved by gunplay.

Right from the start of The Gunsmith series, Robert Randisi, included many real life characters on both sides of the law, and this book continues that trend. I’m not going to mention who Roxy comes into contact with (other than those mentioned in the above blurb) so as not to spoil the surprise that is revealed at the end of the book.

If you’ve never read any of Robert Randisi’s other westerns you get what you’d expect from him, a very fast moving, dialogue driven tale that combines real and fictional characters in a plot that contains a touch of mystery that will keep you turning the pages and will leave you entertained and, like me, looking forward to the publication of the second Lady Gunsmith book, The Three Graves of Roxy Doyle, in May.


Friday, 14 April 2017

Bothers in Blood

By Lee Lejeune
Crowood Press, March 2017

As young Stubbs ‘Sunshine’ Shining is riding West, he hears shooting, and sees four gunmen firing at a homestead. He fires a couple of shots to scare them off, and discovers that the person defending the property is a middle-aged woman named Bethany Bartok. She invites Sunshine in and gives him food and drink. He learns that her husband has died, her son Bart has gone off in search of his fortune, and her daughter Elspeth has travelled East to be educated. Sunshine decides to stay on at the farm for a short spell. But soon things get complicated. Bart has been kidnapped and the local Cutaway brothers are determined to get their hands on the property for some reason. Then Sunshine becomes even more deeply involved in the fate of the Bartok homestead when Bethany’s daughter Elspeth returns.

Sunshine soon gets a reputation as a gunfighter, but that’s only the beginning. Why do the Cutaway brothers want the farm? Who is holding young Bart captive? And where is he being held? Sunshine starts to untangle the thread that leads him into very dangerous territory.

As you’ll realize from the above blurb there’s a lot going on in this book and the author includes a few mystery elements to hook the reader right from the very start. As the story develops so more questions are raised that need answers and most of these will only be revealed towards the end of this very fast moving tale. I took a few guesses at who was holding Bart and was only partly right in my assumptions, as I was to why the Cutaway brothers want the farm, so the writer had a few surprises in store for me.

I’ve read a couple of Lee Lejeune’s other Black Horse Westerns and noted that they have strong female characters and this book also contains major roles for equally tough women who aren’t afraid of taking up arms against their enemies.

Brothers in Blood is a story that mixes gunplay, mystery, and memorable characters in a thoroughly entertaining read that left me eager to read another Lee Lejeune western very soon.


Monday, 3 April 2017

Golden Spike

THE IRON HORSE CHRONICLES #3
By Robert Lee Murphy
Five Star, July 2017

The driving of the Golden Spike at Promontory Summit in Utah on May 10, 1869, almost didn’t happen. None of the history books mention this crucial event. Only five people were aware of the incident. Will Braddock knew. He was one of those five.

Paddy O’Hannigan is still seeking revenge and kidnaps Jenny McNabb in an attempt to lure Will to his gun and also to fill his pockets with dollars. The kidnapping doesn’t work out as intended and Will escapes with Jenny and O’Hannigan is broke again.

A desperate O’Hannigan sees an opportunity to get rich by stealing the Golden Spike and does so, stabbing Will’s friend Homer in the process and races away on Will’s horse. Will must pursue O’Hannigan again and regain the spike before the railroad officials discover it missing. If he fails, Jenny, Homer, and Will stand to be accused of being the thieves.

Golden Spike is the concluding book in Robert Lee Murphy’s Iron Horse Chronicles trilogy and thus ties up all the loose ends that have continued from book to book. As the fictional parts of the series take place during real events there are many people who lived at this time included in the stories and Murphy mixes both truth and fiction with believable ease.

As well as dealing with O’Hannigan, Will and his friends, face uncertainty with their futures as the building of the transcontinental railroad is completed. What will they do next? Will must also examine his feelings for Jenny, and she for him.

Like the previous books this is a very fast moving story full of deadly situations that make for some gripping scenes. Most of the characters, both real and imagined, that have survived the first two tales, have roles to play in this monumental part of American history.

Robert Lee Murphy brings everything to a satisfying conclusion and closes the book with some historical notes that make fascinating reading in their own right.

The Iron Horse Chronicles is a trilogy that should be on everyone’s reading list that enjoys stories set against the backdrop of the building of the transcontinental railroad, books that combine fiction and truth, or just those who seek fast-paced action-packed tales set in the American West.

As you’ll see from the publishing date above this book has not been released yet but it is now available for pre-order.


Thursday, 30 March 2017

Cotton's Inferno

By Phil Dunlap
Berkley, February 2014

No one within fifty miles of Whiskey Crossing, Texas, could match Carp Varner’s skill with a sidearm. No one could match his murderous temper either. But when his half-cocked bid for mayor yielded only one vote in his favour – his own – his fury razed the tiny town to the ground in a blaze of flames and hot lead.

Showing up in Apache Springs to offer his services as a gunsmith, Varner even gets on the good side of Sheriff Cotton Burke. But when Burke learns of Varner’s true nature – and past crimes – he unleashes an inferno of his own to see justice done.

Cotton’s Inferno is the fourth and final book in the Sheriff Cotton Burke series.

Phil Dunlap writes fairly short chapters and these are split into a number scenes. Often switching between the main characters in each of these scenes, as all converge on Apache Springs.

If you’ve read any of the previous books you’ll have already met a number of Apache Springs’ citizens and like before a number of them have leading roles in this one. Then there’s the evil Varner and the youngster, Johnny Monk, tracking Varner from the destroyed town of Whiskey Crossing, aiming to kill him for his horrific deed. Johnny will meet a young girl on his journey and she joins him on his vengeance hunt.

There’s plenty of action and some moments of humour too as the story races to its conclusion that could just see Apache Springs fall to the same fate as Whiskey Crossing and, as the flames begin to devour Apache Springs, it becomes a question of whether Burke can save the town, stop Johnny from being killed and take down Varner at the same time.

Cotton’s Inferno is a traditional western that should be enjoyed by all fans of the genre. On finishing the book I was left feeling disappointed that there aren’t any more in the series.