I've been a reader and collector of western fiction, mainly from series. Sometime ago I was persuaded to write reviews and these are now appearing here. Along with these reviews you'll also find interviews with authors and cover artists.
As thunder booms and lightning flashes and wolves nuzzle the bloody, bullet-ridden corpses of Longarm’s fallen foes out in the wet, muddy streets of a Mexican ghost town, the lawman is warm and cozy inside – and happy to be alive, receiving a sweet reward for rescuing a kidnapped señorita.
Deputy U.S. Marshal Custis Long has technically gone rogue – crossing the border into Mexico to recover a stolen Army payroll. He hadn’t planned on encountering hot-blooded hostage Claudia Cordova, but now he’s sure glad he saved her…
Until he wakes up after a night of passion tied to the four posts of a bed – his seductive siren long gone, her saddlebags bulging with those “gringo greenbacks”…
It’s been a while since I last read a Longarm book and this one proved to be an exciting, fun read. The story is crammed full of action, both of the violent kind and sexual – descriptions of both extremely explicit at times. Longarm is also presented as a tougher, more brutal, man than some of the other writers behind the pseudonym of Tabor Evans depict him, and the lawman, along with other characters, uses some quite crude language at times that some readers may find offensive.
The author (in this case Peter Brandvold) has his tale moving forward at a gallop from the opening scene and the pace never lets up until the final words. As the story progresses Longarm finds himself struggling to make sense of who the real Claudia Cordova is as different people paint her with different colours, all of which add a number of surprising twists and turns which kept me guessing until the end.
Does Longarm retrieve the payroll? Does Cordova get her comeuppance? Does Longarm’s border crossing create a major incident between Mexico and the United Sates? Obviously, I can’t reveal any of that here, but I can certainly say that fans of the Longarm series and Peter Brandvold’s work won’t want to miss this one. This is definitely one of the best adult westerns I’ve read in some time.
Thanks to a tip-off, Sheriff Alec Lawson and his deputies fight and capture the notorious outlaw Saul York. But the trouble doesn’t end there. Alec falls desperately ill and when he recovers, he finds that York’s lawyer has got him out on bail.
Although still weakened by his illness, Alec is determined to get back to work. He soon finds himself in the action again, but fatigue leads to a terrible mistake and he begins to doubt his abilities. Will his frailty endanger his friends? York is still out there somewhere, protected by his ambitious lawyer.
When York becomes his prime suspect in a murderous robbery, Alec Lawson must push himself to close the net on the elusive outlaw. He’ll have to face down a lynch mob, the killer outlaw and his own doubt to get the job done, whatever the cost to himself.
I’ve read a number of Gillian F. Taylor’s Black Horse Westerns and thoroughly enjoyed them all, so was looking forward to reading this, the fourth of her books to feature Sheriff Alec Lawson. The books in this particular series all have the word Express in the title and all involve a train at some point in the storyline.
Each book in the series is a self-contained novel, so you can jump in anywhere. The only real connections the books have to each other are characters and their relationships, and this one finds Alec having to deal with his feelings for and confusion in the way two women react to him now as well as hunting down York and proving that he has done the crimes the sheriff believes he’s committed.
There’s plenty of gunplay as well as battles of words to trick York into admitting his guilt. Alec confronting York’s lawyer, Hart, makes for some fascinating reading too. Alec’s banter with his deputies adds some welcome light-hearted humour to the story. Taylor brings everything together in an exciting, tense, conclusion that brings the book to a brutal ending that leaves me hoping Gillian won’t take too long in writing another story about Sheriff Alec Lawson as I’ve got to know if the lawman will ever work out what is going on with the two women in his life.
Ransom Valley: The Wyoming Territory town of Wind River has gotten so peaceful that some people think it's downright civilized. But they don't know that a gang of outlaws is planning a raid that will clean out the bank. Anyone who gets in their way will be cut down in a hail of bullets. A beautiful young woman finds herself taken prisoner by the outlaws, and it's up to Marshal Cole Tyler and Texas cowboy Lon Rogers to rescue Brenda Durand . . . if they don't wind up on the receiving end of some outlaw lead first!
Outlaw Blood: Outlaw Blade Kendrick's wife runs away from him, taking their two young sons with her. Knowing that he will come after her, she leaves the boys with different families to raise. Kendrick does catch up to her and she dies accidentally during their confrontation. Kendrick is sent to prison for another crime. When he gets out ten years later, he starts tracking down the boys. The older son is with a family that's moved recently to Wind River to start a new church. When Kendrick arrives with his younger son, whom he has found and recruited into his gang, the older brother tries to turn bad in order to save his adopted family, but he can't do it. Instead he ruins his outlaw father's plans, which leads to a showdown between Marshal Cole Tyler and the dangerous gang.
Way back in June 1994 the first Wind River book was published and five more entries in this series swiftly followed, the last appearing in November 1995. Then, in November 2012 the authors published a new book in the series, Ransom Valley. Now, that story, revised, has been republished in a double book containing a brand-new tale, Outlaw Blood.
For anyone who followed the original series then these two new stories are a must read, as they are for any fans of James Reasoner and Livia Washburn’s work. You don’t need to have read the previous six books to enjoy these two new tales as the authors include enough backstory to explain Marshal Tyler’s background and that of other characters that appeared in those earlier books.
Both these new tales regularly switch between their various characters as Tyler finds himself dealing with deadly situations once more that will have you wondering how he can possibly achieve his tasks of upholding the law. He also has to deal with town dignitaries that want to scale down the number of lawmen Wind River has as they believe civilization has arrived…boy, are they in for a shock. The first story also sees Cole having to reign in a love-sick cowboy whose rashness could bring about the Marshal’s death.
The second story concentrates more on Kendrick and his sons and is told more from their viewpoint than that of Tyler’s. This tale is quite dark in its themes and it includes some heart-breaking decisions that the older son finds himself forced to make.
Both tales move forward at a tremendous pace. Descriptions are visual, dialogue believable, tense situations aplenty, superb characterization, hard-hitting decisions, and beautifully choreographed violence, combine to make these stories exciting, gripping reading that will defy the reader to put the book down before the end.
The Derby Man, the West’s hardest-hitting, toughest-fighting, fastest-thinking hero, now charges into what threatens to be his most unbeatable challenge: helping the Union Pacific win the great railroad race across the continent. With time running out, the Derby Man must overcome ferocious Sioux and Cheyenne, brutal weather and terrain, the treacherous Missouri River and the toughest collection of men ever assembled to lay track. Then he must face the most dreaded danger of all – sabotage.
As with any fictional story woven into historical events then a number of real people and situations will make an appearance and this quick moving tale contains a fair few of both, such as Thomas Durant and a disastrous attempt by the Cheyenne to halt a train by stretching a rope across the tracks. Gary McCarthy blends reality and fiction seamlessly in this gripping read.
The Derby Man is soon up to his neck in trouble and fighting the Cheyenne is only one of his problems. He also has to deal with a woman, Miranda, who vows to marry him, even though she knows Darby is due to marry his long-time girlfriend, Dolly Beavers, at completion of the railroad. Miranda is a beautiful lady and many men become besotted with her and jealousy rises its ugly head and strikes out at Darby, both face-on or through treacherous deception.
Then there’s a man, Laramie, whose obsession for revenge could see the destruction of the railroad and the deaths of those building it. Darby finds himself fighting alongside this man without realizing what a threat to everyone he really is.
As the race to finish the railroad speeds up then so does the story and you’ll soon be wondering how Darby can possibly survive and escape the attentions of Miranda. Gary McCarthy adds a few twists to the tale that offer surprising solutions to some of these problems, those that a sledgehammer punch from Darby or a bullet don’t solve with a deadly finality.
Even though this story does end with the meeting of the railroads at Promontory Summit, McCarthy dangles a huge plot carrot to ensure readers will search out the next book in the series. Unfortunately for those reading this excellent series when the books were first published there would be a ten-year gap before the next book appeared, how frustrating would that have been? I’m certain I won’t be waiting that long to find out what happens next.
After his last indiscretion, Bass sends Josh Ford to Texas. Let him be someone else’s headache for a while. The marshal there is an old friend and welcomes the badge-toting hellraiser with open arms and a whole wagon load of trouble.
Then word comes that Bass is missing and Ford swears he’ll walk through the fires of Hell itself to find out what has happened to his father.
In the end, he does just that. Shoulder to shoulder with a marshal called Willis and a fast gun named Laramie Davis.
Like the other books I’ve read by this author, Hellraiser! is an action-packed tale that moves forwards at a terrific pace as Ford finds himself involved in two different missions. In fact, the book is divided into two parts, so it’s almost like you are getting two stories for the price of one.
The first part sees Ford taking on the Dent clan, a vicious family that nearly everyone in town is related to in some way and most of them are out to kill Ford. There’s a neat twist as to one of the Dent’s careers that is the cause for even more anger and bloodshed.
The second part covers Ford’s attempt to find his missing father and as the death toll rises it becomes apparent this is a tale of revenge that sees Ford forced into becoming an executioner for those who’ve taken Bass. This of course causes a dilemma for Ford as he has to decide between enforcing the law or committing murder.
I don’t think it’s much of a secret that Sam Clancy is a pseudonym used by author Brent Towns who also writes as B.S. Dunn. Under this latter name he wrote a five book series about Laramie Davis, and it’s great to see him appear in Hellraiser!, the teaming of Ford and Davies making for a terrific partnership in the quest to find and free Bass.
Hellraiser! is the fourth book starring Josh Ford, and even though it ends like it could be the last, I hope it isn’t. Here’s wishing Sam Clancy/Brent Towns will write another soon as I’ve yet to read any work by this author I haven’t enjoyed, and Josh Ford is one of my favourite characters he’s created.
Lou Prophet and the deadly Louisa Bonaventure have torn a bloody swath across Dakota territory in search of the Gritch Hatchley gang. When they finally catch up to them, an epic blizzard threatens to turn the Dakota prairie into a frozen hell. To bag their prey before the storm hits, Prophet and Louisa split up – and take separate paths towards damnation.
Prophet’s course takes him into a town packed to the gills with the deadliest outlaws that roamed the frontier, while Louisa gets caught in Sundown, a one-horse town where a hatchet-wielding maniac threatens to paint Main Street red. When spring’s thaw comes, they’ll find a city of corpses beneath the snow.
And nobody gives a damn about the law…
After a joint and bloody assault on a roadhouse full of outlaws it isn’t long before Prophet and The Vengeance Queen head in different directions to bring in the last of Hatchley’s gang. Peter Brandvold then pretty much splits the tale in two, switching between Prophet and Louisa regularly as they each track down a pair of outlaws. Once cornering, and dealing with, their targets, both Prophet and Lousia become involved in violent incidents that have to be dealt with before they can meet up again. It’s these troubles that make up the bulk of the story and give the book a feel of it being two separate tales combined into one.
As expected from any story written by Peter Brandvold the book is ram-packed with vividly descriptive ferocious violence, especially Louisa’s struggle to identify and deal with the killer who dispatches his victims with a hatchet, although the mystery to discover just who this is gets easier as the corpses pile up.
Prophet finds himself involved with visiting Russians, and a rich man’s jealousy, never mind this man’s arrogance which leads to bloody slaughter. Yes, this book contains a very high death toll and you have to wonder if anyone will be left alive by the end.
It’s no secret that I enjoy Peter Brandvold’s tales and this book is right up there with his best work and I’m now very much looking forward to the next Lou Prophet novel, The Cost of Dying, due to be released in July.
Breck Wallace was turning into a true mountain man on the American frontier. As a teenager in Tennessee he killed in self-defence, then left behind a woman he loved. With a gun and trap lines he is learning how to survive in the Rockies, braving the punishing elements, ruthless outlaws, and forging an uneasy peace with the Indians. But as dangerous as life is, nothing is worse than a powerful man with a murderous grudge. Breckenridge has left two such men in his past – and they both send cold-blooded killers for hire after him. Now the young frontiersman must fight a whole new kind of enemy – armed with his courage, strength, and raw skill with knife and gun…
Although this tale continues storylines begun in the first book you don’t need to have read that earlier publication to enjoy this one. The author includes enough information to fill readers in on what happened before to explain how he met his three fellow trappers and why the killers have been sent after him.
The story is filled with colourful characters such as the two warring men who bring whiskey and women to the rendezvous, which is the major event around which the attempts on Breckenridge’s life will revolve. At first Breck doesn’t realize he is the target and even when he does, he still has to figure out the why. Chapters mainly end on cliff-hangers ensuring the reader will keep turning the pages and they will soon be wondering how Breckenridge can possibly survive with so many people determined to kill him.
There are plenty of savage fights, both with fists and guns, to satisfy all western fans who like their books to be action-packed. The story also contains a few more light-hearted moments mainly in the form of dialogue, especially that of trader Nicodemus Finch.
By books end it does seem as if all the storylines begun in both this novel and the previous one have been tied up neatly and a new future beckons for Breck, but there are more books in this series so it’s doubtful a happy life awaits The Frontiersman, and I for one am looking forward to reading book three as soon as possible.
Fans of Johnstone’s work will be pleased to discover that one of his other long running series heroes appears in this story, but I’ll leave you to read the book and find out who that is yourselves.
Morgan Orr stepped clear as the horse fell. He looked at the dying animal with pity, then he drew his gun and put a bullet into the horse’s head. Then, weary and empty, he turned and stared down at the town.
Ten long years and this is what it came to. Ten years of violence while the name of Morgan Orr became whispered from one end of the frontier to the other, while his gun became a legend told in a thousand saloons. Ten years of watchfulness etched in his bony face, of wildness and caution stamped in his long, lean stride.
And this is what it came to. A ragged, hungry man, limping down the slope of the mountains – tired of killing, sick of his life, heading back to his home at last. Back to a place called Arapaho Wells – the last town in the world that would let him hang up his gun….
This book has a fairly dark tone throughout. Patten excels in his writing of despair, frustration and empty hope. The surprise that greets Orr when he meets Tena again – the woman he left behind but never stopped loving – causes more grief to rise within him, all written so well the reader will share the pain Orr feels.
Even though Orr tries to lay down his gun (he even sells the weapon) and step away from fights, you just know he won’t be able to do so forever. One man cannot control his own destiny it seems.
Orr is an interesting, and troubled man, and Patten doesn’t give him an easy ride, even having a childhood friend wanting to draw on him, to be the man who kills fast gun Morgan Orr. This is a confrontation Orr does his best to avoid.
All this mixed into a plot that includes mistaken identity, a crime that will completely destroy the town that can only be kept secret by killing, and you have a twisting storyline that you can never be sure of where it will go next, thus providing a gripping and exciting read.
I’ve only read a handful of Lewis B. Patten’s work and they always leave me hungry for more and this book has reinforced that desire.
If it wasn’t for a bunch of renegade Pawnee, Clay Torn might have made it to Lonesome Pine sooner and avoided the wild shootout that left three men and Sheriff Logan dead. All because Miss Chancey Lane stirred up a ruckus and chose jail and justice over outlaw suitor Ash Wheeler. Ready to strike again, Wheeler doesn’t care who he has to kill to get her back.
Now Torn wants something, too – to see Ash Wheeler behind bars. Using the pretty, deadly Chancey as bait, Torn rides across the meanest country in Nebraska to smoke out the infamous Blue River Gang and nail the most wanted man on the western frontier.
Book twelve is the last of The Judge series. Would it bring the run to a satisfactory end or just be another fast-paced action-packed entry in this enjoyable series by Hank Edwards and vanish from the shelves with no indication that this would be the final book?
You don’t need to have read any of the other books to enjoy this one, as it is a self-contained tale like all the rest in the series, only linked by a single story thread that runs through the entire series, that of Clay Torn’s hopes of finding his missing fiancée as he travels the west dealing out his kind of justice as a federal judge. Would he finally discover what had happened to her in this book? We do discover that Torn is now beginning to think he may never find her, and in Chancey Lane there might just be a woman to replace his intended.
Hank Edwards is a pseudonym, ten of the books written by Jason Manning. Robert W. Broomall writing books two and four. Like all the other entries in this series it is a very entertaining read that sees Torn having to make some tough decisions and deal with some brutal outlaws by using his gun rather than a gavel.
For me, and other fans of The Judge books, it's a shame it doesn’t bring the series to a close. Presumably the publisher decided to bring the series to an end after this book had been written so that the author couldn’t make it obvious this was the last one.
Overall, this series has provided me with hours of reading pleasure and I believe many other western readers will have enjoyed it too.
Hot Lead is a beautifully produced fanzine and this, the third, concentrates on the rise of the adult western. This issue contains 52 pages of fascinating articles backed-up by many reproductions of book covers and associated artwork, all illustrated in full colour.
The main feature, Sex and Six Guns by Paul Bishop, delves into series adult westerns, looking at a variety of them in well researched detail. This section of the fanzine taking up sixteen pages and is essential reading for anyone who enjoys this kind of western.
Three western series get their own sections, Cimarron and Ruff Justice, both written about by editor Justin Marriott and The Trailsman by Steve Myall. All three providing some great insights into why these contributors liked these books so much.
Then there’s a terrific article by Andreas Decker that looks at how the American series Lassiter by Jack Slade took Germany by storm. Starting with some of the original novels, the German publisher then continued the series and the number of books that have been put out featuring Lassiter is just staggering. Those long running American series like Longarm and The Gunsmith, don’t even come close!
The final article by Ian Millsted moves away from adult westerns and is a personal look at his top ten western comics and it offers a couple of surprise entries in the countdown. One especially bringing back fond memories for me, that of El Mestizo in Battle Picture Weekly, a comic I read without fail and it now has me wanting to track down a copy of the mentioned hardback book of this comic strip.
This issue of Hot Lead, is a must read for any fan of adult westerns. It, and the two previous fanzines, provide a lot of informative and entertaining reading that fans of this genre will find themselves returning to time and again.