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

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

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. 

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Incident at Pegasus Heights

By I.J. Parnham
Crowood Press, March 2017

When fossil-hunter Jim Dragon is on this way to Bear Creek to sell his latest discovery, he goes to the aid of a woman in distress, Elmina Fay. Unfortunately, Pierre Dulaine takes advantage of the situation and steals his fossils.

Jim vows to reclaim his property and Elmina offers to help him, but only if he’ll do something for her. She has heard a tale about the bones of a winged horse being found nearby and she wants Jim to find Pegasus for her.

At first, Jim is sceptical about embarking on such a mission, but before long he discovers that the truth behind the tale is even stranger than he could ever have imagined.

Ian Parnham has created a great set of characters for this story, people who all seem to have secrets, and these along with the mystery of the flying horse make this a hard-to-put-down read.

Even though no-one really seems to know what it is they are trying to find, all sides are determined to discover it first and will do anything to make sure it’s them. As all converge on an outcrop on which sits a wagon which defies all logic as to how it got there – unless a flying horse truly deposited it there – the author has great fun with explanations both true and false and includes plenty of fist fights, before everyone gets involved in a deadly gunfight that will eventually reveal the answers to all the puzzles.

So, once again for me, this author has come up with a very entertaining read that left me hoping one or two of the surviving characters may return another day. In the meantime I’m left looking forward to Ian Parnham’s next book. 

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Coyote Courage

By Scott Harris
December, 2016

Brock Clemons rides into the small town of Dry Springs simply looking for a place to grab a cigar and a good night’s sleep. Instead, he finds a town being strangled by a band of hardened outlaws, a young boy named Huck who is bravely facing challenges far beyond his years, and Sophie, a woman of captivating strength and beauty. Brock decides to stay beyond the one night he had planned, but will his intelligence, courage and unmatched skill with a gun be enough to save the town, help Huck and win Sophie’s heart?

When beginning this book you’d be forgiven for thinking the story is being told in the first person, for it isn’t until fifty-five pages in, and the start of chapter ten, that the author switches to the third person, and from then on alternates between the two.

Scott Harris includes a few mystery elements to hook his readers, such as what is Brock Clemons' backstory and what has really happened to Huck’s father.

Clemons also has an interesting pet, a wolf that has a major role to play when its human companion is wounded and in need of protection.

Well-developed characters, vivid action scenes, visual descriptions and a fast-moving plot, all told in an extremely easy to read style, offer everything a western reader could want from this genre right down to a tense and dramatic final showdown in the streets of Dry Springs.

The cover states that Coyote Courage is a Brock Clemons Western, so I can only assume that there will be more to come, and I for one am looking forward to the next in the series. 

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Red Rock Rampage

BLAZE! #15
By Ben Boulden
Rough Edges Press, February 2017

J.D. and Kate Blaze ride into the settlement of Small Basin, Utah, on the trail of train robbers but soon discover that the town and the surrounding area are ruled by the iron fist of a renegade Mormon patriarch—and he has his eye on two beautiful young women he intends to make unwilling brides. Hired killers, corrupt lawmen, and brutal kidnappers mean a heap of trouble for the Old West's only husband-and-wife gunfighters. Forced to split up, Kate and J.D. have to battle their way back to each other to survive!

This is Ben Boulden’s first entry into this multi-authored series and what a terrific addition it is. Filled with action from the word go the author weaves a twisting plot that sees both J.D. and Kate facing many deadly situations. J.D. in particular when he finds himself captive with little hope of escape, making this part of the story a race against time as Kate attempts to find him.

Ben Boulden’s descriptive writing puts you right there in the thick of the action and his characterization of both good and bad is very well drawn, enabling you to share their emotions.  

The Blaze! series is billed as adult reading but Ben Boulden doesn’t include much of this, just the one detailed scene and he only devotes a few paragraphs to this too, meaning it is very easy to miss this section out and enjoy reading the rest of this fast moving tale that ought to please all fans of westerns.

Hopefully this won’t be the only entry into the series from Ben Boulden.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Taggart's Crossing

By Paul Bedford
Crowood Press, February 2017

John Taggart and Jacob Stuckey are Civil War veterans who operate a ferry on the mighty Arkansas River. When two drifters pick on Jacob, Taggart ruthlessly disarms them and sends them on their way vowing revenge. But there is more trouble to come. Russ Decker and his gang steal a fortune in gold ‘Double Eagles’ from a bank in Wichita. Their escape route into the Indian Territories takes them by way of the ferry crossing. With a posse of Pinkerton Agents on their trail, he decides to stop the pursuit by putting John and Jacob out of business…permanently.

Unknown to Decker and his men, a Deputy US Marshal also has his sights on them, but the lawman first has to deliver a particularly unpleasant prisoner to Fort Smith. In addition to all of this, fate decrees that a keelboat full of stolen silver ore will arrive at Taggart’s Crossing just at the right moment to create maximum havoc.

This is Paul Bedford’s eleventh Black Horse Western and what a superb read it is, further strengthening my belief that he is one of the best writers producing books for the BHW line today, perhaps ever.

The story is told at break-neck speed, switching between the many characters regularly as they all converge on the ferry crossing for a showdown between multi-sides none of whom have much of an idea as to the identity of anyone else or why they are shooting at each other.

One thing that quickly becomes apparent is that there is no guarantee as to who will be left alive at the end, if anyone. 

Packed with how are they going to get out of that situations, vivid descriptions of both scenes and action – the latter of which is quite brutal at times and should satisfy the most bloodthirsty of readers – this book should be on every western fans to read list.

After finishing this book I’m already eagerly looking forward to Paul Bedford’s next book, A Hell of a Place to Die which is due out in May.

Monday, 27 February 2017

Better Off Dead

By William W. Johnstone with J.A. Johnstone
Pinnacle Books, March 2016

On the West Texas border a behemoth is bellowing smoke, fire, and death. This monster is the infamous Abaddon Cannon Foundry, whose weapons of war have spread death and destruction around the world – and made a few men in Big Buck, Texas, incredibly rich. Now, a Mexican-born teenager has disappeared into this fortress factory, where men work and sweat as slaves. This boy’s sister wants to learn her brother’s fate, and she happens to know a man named Shawn O’Brien, the Town Tamer.

Shawn rides to Texas to find the missing boy. What he discovers in Big Buck will spark a ferocious, bloody battle with the greatest evil the West has ever known: masters of war who laugh in the face of anyone who defies them. Until Shawn O’Brien raises his six-gun. Then the laughing stops.

The Shawn O’Brien books are a spin-off series from The Brother’s O’Brien series and one of the other brothers will have a major part to play in this book, this being Jacob O’Brien.

Jacob goes undercover into the Foundry and will witness some horrific scenes that illustrate what many imagine Hell to be like. These very descriptive and visual passages bringing to mind the art of painters such as Jacob Isaacsz van Swanenburgh and Pieter Bruegel.

The book also seems to borrow from the steampunk genre too in the clothing that those who support the Foundry wear and the weapons that they are developing. I don’t really want to say any more about those weapons so as not to spoil the story for anyone aiming to read it, but these weapons are of interest to leaders of European countries as it seems conflict there is becoming inevitable.

With the Foundry run by a seemingly madman with an army behind him, never mind weapons of the like the West has never seen before, the odds against the two O’Brien brothers and their small band of allies being able to succeed in their mission is extremely doubtful from the start.

If you want a violent, action packed read where human life is seen as disposable on a madman’s whim, then this very fast paced story should be right at the top of your reading list.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

The Badman's Daughter

By Terry James
The Crowood Press, November 2016

When mysterious stranger Daniel Cliff arrives in Ranch Town, he has no shortage of job offers. But the town is caught in the stranglehold of a brutal tyrant, and Daniel refuses to take sides. That is until the spirited Charlotte 'Charlie' Wells, heir to the Crooked-W ranch, crosses his path. 

When she offers him the chance to help her right the wrongs being rained down on the town, Daniel doesn't have to think twice. After all, she's the reason he's there and he has no qualms about using her troubles to further his own ambitions. 

However, Charlie is no pawn in a man's game. She is the badman's daughter and nobody is going to stand in her way when it comes to delivering revenge on those who have wronged her.

It’s been five years since the last Terry James Black Horse Western appeared, so the question is has it been worth the wait?

The story is told in short chapters, the majority ending in such a way that you’ll have to keep reading to find out what happens next. There is also some mystery elements to the plot, such as who Daniel Cliff is and what it is he really wants.

The pace of the tale is excellent, building towards its action packed final showdown which answers all the questions Terry James has hooked the reader with throughout.

So, to answer my question of has the wait been worth it, then the answer is it certainly has. Terry James (a pseudonym used by Joanne Walpole) still has her excellent ability to craft and gripping tale that holds the readers’ attention from beginning to end. Her writing style making this book a joy to read and one that should satisfy western fans everywhere. Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait a further five years for the next Terry James to appear. 

Saturday, 18 February 2017

The Avenger

By David Robbins
Mad Hornet Publishing, December 2016

Zach King has given up the ways of the warrior. The woman he loves is about to give birth, and he intends to be the best father he can be.

Little does he know that he is being stalked. From out of his recent past comes an avenger. A man who has vowed to make Zach pay for killing his brother.

A new birth should be a time of joy. Instead, Zach and his family find themselves ensnared in a web of deception and peril.

The avenger lives by one rule. ‘Eyes for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.’ EXODUS 21:24

It’s been a while coming, but at last David Robbins has given us a new Wilderness book. Over the last few entries of this long running series Louisa, Zach’s wife, has been pregnant and now is the time for her to give birth. The Avenger isn’t the only deadly problem facing Zach at this time, there is also a female grizzly with cubs, and it’s the bear that will create some of the most breath-taking scenes in the book.

Like in many of David Robbins’ books the more horrific scenes are balanced with humour and that is certainly the case with this story. Shakespeare as usual having most of the best lines, indeed his comments making me laugh out loud at times. Seeing Zach trying to adapt from the ways of the warrior to being a father also bringing a smile to my face.

David Robbins lets us in on the Avengers plans and it’s the anticipation of discovering how Zach will deal with him once this vengeance driven man plays his hand that makes this book such a difficult to put down read. You don’t need to have read any of the earlier books to understand why The Avenger is set on killing Zach as David Robbins includes enough background information to explain this.

The Avenger is a book that should be enjoyed by all fans of this genre and it is definitely a must read for all followers of the Wilderness series.

Some people seem a little confused that the Wilderness series is now coming out with a new author name, rather than David Thompson, so I’d just like to add that Thompson and David Robbins are one and the same, the former being a pseudonym used by the latter.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Outlaw Express

By Gillian F. Taylor
The Crowood Press, January 2017

Sheriff Alec Lawson had never robbed a train before. He’d infiltrated a band of outlaws to help capture them, but when they kidnapped Lacey Fry from the Leadville express, he had no choice but to try and rescue the young woman alone. Alec Lawson didn’t know the territory and he didn’t know the girl. He had to fight his way through the snowy mountains, trying to stay one step ahead of the pursuing outlaws.

Bill Alcott, the gang’s leader, felt he had been fooled and then betrayed by Lawson. He had to kill him to avenge his brother and keep the respect of his men.

Lacey Fry had to ride as she’d never ridden before, and travel with a man she didn’t know, who was her only hope of escaping a fate worse than death.

So the chase was on, through snow and bloodshed, until one of them could run no further and hunter and hunted finally came face to face.

This is the third book to feature Sheriff Alec Lawson, the previous two begin Silver Express and Dynamite Express. You don’t need to read the earlier books as Gillian F. Taylor includes enough background information in Outlaw Express to fill a new reader in on Lawson’s back story.

This tale is pretty much a straight chase story, but with the twist that it is a lawman being hunted by outlaws rather than the other way round as is the case with many books. The fact Lawson isn’t familiar with his surroundings means there are plenty of obstacles to overcome if he wants to stay one step ahead of the outlaws.

I’ve read a number of Gillian F. Taylor’s books before and have always enjoyed them, and Outlaw Express proved to be another very entertaining read. I can only hope she doesn’t keep us waiting another three years for her next book.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Deception Creek

By Ned Oaks
The Crowood Press, December 2016

A masked killer is stalking the small town of Oakridge. Known only as The Phantom, he strikes at night, attacking sleeping couples in their beds, raping and murdering with impunity. Despite the best efforts of the local deputy, he manages to elude capture, and finally former marshal Ed Burton is brought in to assist the investigation.

Burton is an experienced lawman, having solved many murder cases before his retirement, but never before has he hunted a predator as dangerous as this one. Working closely with Deputy Maynard Blayloch, he becomes obsessed with his quarry, and soon they close in on a suspect. But nothing is what it seems, and suddenly Burton finds himself the target of The Phantom.

A note on the back of the book tells us that this tale of terror and justice is based on a true story.

Ned Oaks builds his story extremely well, showing how The Phantom goes from just beating and raping to finally killing his victims. Who is The Phantom? What drives him? Why was there such a long gap between his first attacks and those that Burton finds himself investigating? All this combines to make this a very difficult to put down tale that will keep you reading until the answers are revealed.

Ned Oaks has also had fun with his character names, many of them being pseudonyms for westerns writers such as Tyler Hatch, Hank Kirby, Emerson Dodge and George G. Gilman. All these putting a big grin on my face as I read.

This is the third Ned Oaks western I have read, and like the previous two, I found it to be a very entertaining read that left me looking forward to his next book.