Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Strong Ambitions

By GP Hutchinson
January, 2018

Tiny, yet prospering Benficklin, Texas, wants a clean, respectable town marshal to safeguard their pristine community from the kind of riffraff that turned neighboring Santa Angela into a raucous string of blood-spattered saloons and bawdy sporting houses. Former Texas Ranger Emmett Strong seems to be just the man Benficklin’s town fathers are looking for, once they’re satisfied that his Chinese wife, Li, is “sufficiently civilized.”

Reputations aside, Benficklin—not Santa Angela—is the town with the next scandal on its hands, when the ravaged body of a young, murdered Mexican girl is found lying in the middle of Main Street.

Initial signs suggest hard-drinking cowboy Quirt Langdon may have done the deed. Emmett, however, senses that things aren’t exactly as they appear. Nearby Fort Concho’s Captain Roderick Prentiss seems peculiarly interested in what is clearly a civilian case. And Santa Angela’s most eccentric resident gambler, Nate Chaffin, gives the impression he knows things he’s not telling. To top it all off, two of Benficklin’s leading citizens end up assassinated in their own backyard.

While local officials pressure Emmett to hastily hang either a suspect or a scapegoat, honor drives the former Ranger to seek true justice for the poor murdered girl, as well as for the two prominent citizens. Ill-tempered townsfolk, pilfered evidence, and somebody taking potshots at him and his wife make Emmett wonder whether he’ll live to unravel the mystery or become the next corpse folks find in the dusty streets of Benficklin.

Like the first two excellent books in this series, this one also sees racial prejudices playing an important part in the story, something the author handles sensitively, yet still reflects the biases of the time the story is set without pulling any punches.

GP Hutchinson has come up with a terrific set of characters and once the murdered Mexican girl is discovered the author manages to place an air of suspicion over the majority making me wonder as to just who did the killing and why. So, this novel is a murder mystery set in the West, yet it never loses the feel of being a western.

The pacing is superb, as Strong has to deal with a series of set-backs and attempts on his life before the story reaches its shocking culmination. There’s plenty of brutal action and plot twists that made this a page-turner. 

You don’t have to have read the previous books to enjoy this one, as like the other two each stands well on its own. I do feel, though, that once you’ve read one of them you’ll be wanting to read the others. 

When the first book came out it was announced there would be two more. Now they have been published I hope it doesn’t mean we’ve seen the last of Emmett Strong as I for one would like to read more, so let’s hope GP Hutchinson has plans for another.

Saturday, 5 May 2018

Return to Vengeance Creek

By Robert J. Randisi
Five Star Publishing, June 2018

Career lawman Daniel Shaye has returned to the town of Vengeance Creek, Arizona with his two sons, Thomas and James, to take on the jobs of sheriff and deputies. Before long, they find themselves embroiled in cases of murder and revenge. When Red Fleming and his gang come to town to break brother, Harry Fleming, out of jail, they kill a jailer in the process. Since it was Thomas who arrested Harry, Sheriff Shaye sends his sons out to bring the Fleming brothers back. It’s the first time the Shaye brothers have gone on a manhunt without their father. Meanwhile Sheriff Daniel Shaye can’t leave town because Cole Doucette has been released from prison and is rumoured to be on his way to Vengeance Creek to gain revenge on the man who sent him to jail – Mayor Snow, formerly a district attorney. With the Shaye brothers trailing one gang, and their father, Daniel, waiting for another to arrive in town, the tension is high for the Shaye men, risking their lives to stand behind the symbol of the law they wear on their chests, the badge.

In 2004, 2005 and 2006 HarperCollins published the first three Sons of Daniel Shaye books and now, through Five Star, Robert Randisi has brought the Shaye’s back. Having only read the first book I did wonder if it would have been beneficial to have read books two and three before starting this new story to fully comprehend their backstory, to understand their reasons for returning to Vengeance Creek. The answer is no, you don’t need to have read those earlier books to fully enjoy the fourth entry into the series as the author includes any information you need to know, and to be honest, that is very little, as this book stands on its own.

Many western readers will be aware that a lot of Robert Randisi’s novels fall into the adult western category but this book doesn’t delve into that area at all, meaning it is a book that all western fans can enjoy.

The story is very fast moving and full of great characters, some of whom will have you wondering just what their role in this tale will be, Tate Kingdom for instance. 

In many ways this book is a combination of two tales, Daniel Shaye’s waiting game for Doucette and his men, and the story of his sons tracking down the Fleming brothers. Robert Randisi regularly switches from one set of characters to another, often leaving them in life or death situations, which will have you eager to keep reading. Deadly action erupts frequently and this sometimes happens off-screen so-to-speak, making you wonder just what the outcome has been, bringing tension to the tale as you share the emotions of those struggling to find out the answers.

There are a number of surprises too, mainly to be found in the storyline revolving around Doucette’s return to Vengeance Creek. I found it very entertaining discovering the different ways Daniel Shaye goes about whittling Doucette’s gang down. I was also intrigued to find out why Doucette didn’t seem to mind losing his men, the answer to which I can’t reveal here.

The book ends very satisfactorily and left me wondering if Robert Randisi will write a fifth book as I would definitely be wanting to read it. In the meantime, I’ll be digging out books two and three to get fully up to date on the adventures of Daniel Shaye and his sons.

Monday, 30 April 2018

The Ramseys

By Will McLennan
Jove, May 1989

Kyle and Matt Ramsey were lucky to return home alive from The War Between the States – Kyle wore his empty left sleeve as a badge of honor. Crossing the Texas border, the fearless brothers expected a heroes’ welcome. Instead, they found that their fight for freedom had only just begun.

War profiteers had taken over the town and plundered the Ramsey homestead. As the family’s future lay in jeopardy, Kyle and Matt squared off for a shoot-out the carpetbaggers would never forget…

Having read a few of the later entries in this eighteen-book series I’ve been keen to go back to the beginning and discover how it all began. The first three entries were written by Gary Clifton Wisler, an author I don’t remember reading anything by before. Three other authors would then write behind the Will McLennan pseudonym, these being, I believe, Ed Gorman, Robert J. Conley and John Legg, the latter writing the lions share.

When Matt and Kyle return home I was surprised to discover how young their younger brothers were but as the book progressed it covered a couple of years so I could see how the brothers would grow if each book continued at this pace.

Like most of those I’ve read Matt is the center character, a man who hoped to find peace when returning home from the horrors of the Civil War. Yet a combination of carpetbaggers, family tragedy and white hooded riders calling themselves the Knights of the Silver Circle soon wipe away happiness and replace it with bitterness. An anger that can only be satisfied by hitting back but will this be enough to cleanse that resentment?

Gary Clifton Wisler has written a very readable book, his study of changing emotions as equally gripping as his action scenes, and some of the latter paint very vivid images in the minds-eye and are extremely hard-hitting. 

The close of the story promises new adventures for the surviving Ramsey’s and on the strength of this opening tale I’d certainly be wanting to read more. 

Monday, 23 April 2018

52 western novel recommendations

By Scott Harris and Paul Bishop
October 2017

The Old West is uniquely American. It is a legend brought to life in sagas of blazing six-gun justice in wide-open towns and across vast ranges. 52 Weeks – 52 Western Novels is a fun guide to some of the best of these Western tales. Step into the Old West. Ride dusty trails, slap leather with outlaws, and get ready to battle Indians and the elements – all from the comfort of your favourite reading spot.

Scott Harris and Paul Bishop, along with a number of guest contributors, have brought together 52 western books that are favourites of theirs. Among them you’ll find old favourites and hopefully discover some new works to add to your collection.

This book is beautifully designed by Kari Kurti and Nerissa Stacey making it a pleasure to browse. Its presentation is well thought out, each entry including clear renditions of covers and film posters, many of which are supported by portraits of the authors too. Every entry is broken down into the same five or six sections depending whether the book in question has been filmed, these being; Book Facts, Author Facts, Beyond the Facts, Fun Fact, Movie Facts and a Favourite Quote. Every now-and-again you’ll come across a double-page spread Celebrating some aspect of the western genre such as the work of Louis L’Amour, the Piccadilly Cowboys and Western Comics. The book closes with profiles of the editors and the guest contributors.

52 Weeks was never intended to be a “Best of” collection, it’s purpose is to bring together some excellent examples of the western, gathered together by fans of the genre. This ensures there is a wide selection that covers all types and eras of these books being written, from 1902 to 2015.

This book offers much in the way of information behind the creation of those novels you love to read and will certainly have you searching for those you don’t yet have in your personal library. The book is intended for dipping into at your leisure, but I’m sure many readers will devour it all as soon as you get hold of a copy like I did and I can guarantee you’ll return to it time-and-again to re-read those entries whilst struggling to choose just which of the many great books to be found within its pages you’ll want to hunt for next.

52 Weeks – 52 Western Novels is a reference book every fan of the western genre should own as it’s a sheer pleasure to read and proves to be a valuable resource for discovering new books and authors that you’ll enjoy adding to your must-read list.


Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Blood Duel

A Ralph Compton novel by David Robbins
Signet, December 2007

Jeeter Frost may look like a mouse, but he’s as murderous as a lion. Now this serial killer has reporters on his tail wanting to know who the “Missouri Man-Killer” really is. Jeeter learns the newshounds are painting him larger than life—literally. To get to the bottom of his newfound fame, he has to tackle his one weakness and learn how to read. But what his teacher, Ernestine, gives him is more than he ever expected… 

Meanwhile, the one-horse town of Coffin Varnish gets the idea to make a buck off Frost’s bloodshed by putting the dead bodies on display. When visitors run dry, they invite more gunslingers to duel it out…for a fee, of course. As far as Jeeter’s concerned, all the funny business takes the shine off of Coffin Varnish—but soon he has a starring role in a show that’s deadlier than anyone bargained for…

This book is filled with great characters, Jeeter Frost, Ernestine, the weary lawman Seamus Glickman, and the leading citizens of Coffin Varnish. None of them are overly admirable people but they are definitely fascinating and their interactions and dealings make for a terrific read.

The story is fast moving, action packed, and contains many moments of humour. The dying town of Coffin Varnish is wonderfully described and you can feel the despair of those who live there. Greed and dreams of greatness fuel the motives of many of the characters. The mayors’ disenchantment with Dodge City – and all who live there – allows for some wonderful dialogue exchanges.

Blood Duel is a well-plotted and beautifully paced book that is virtually impossible to put down as everyone is drawn to Coffin Varnish for the final violent showdown.

Blood Duel is a book that I believe should be enjoyed by all fans of western fiction. 

Monday, 2 April 2018


By Ray Hogan
Piccadilly Publishing, March 2018

THREE CROSS - Shawn Starbuck had covered thousands of rugged miles through the wild Southwest, in search of his lost brother Ben. Now at last, he had a real clue. The end seemed almost in sight... Then Starbuck met up with Jim Kelso, a man who desperately needed his help. Kelso’s ranch, Three Cross, was besieged by ruthless marauders who would stop at nothing until the ranch was theirs. What were they after? What was the priceless secret of Three Cross? Starbuck swore to find out, though it might mean losing the trail to Ben—and his own neck.

DEPUTY OF VIOLENCE - For years Starbuck had searched the gruelling trails and blistering deserts for his brother Ben. Just when it seemed that the long search had ended, Starbuck stumbled through the gates of a hidden valley. Its inhabitants were being held captive in the clutches of a gang of ruthless renegades. And they weren't about to let a man like Starbuck go about his business - the only way they'd let him leave the valley was in a pine box …

Having enjoyed the first two books in the Shawn Starbuck series so much, I just had to read these as soon as Piccadilly Publishing made them available as ebooks. Three Cross was originally published in 1970 and Deputy of Violence in 1971. I didn’t intend to read them one after the other but just couldn’t help myself as Ray Hogan once again captured my imagination with his superb storytelling.

Both tales move forward at a rapid pace, contain lots of action, including fist fights which one would expect when you find out Starbuck is a trained boxer. They are both filled with excellent characterization and include plenty of twists and turns, many of which I didn’t see coming.  

Three Cross pulled me into the story with its mystery elements of why someone is out to kill Jim Kelso and what they hoped to gain from doing so. Then there is the question of how Starbuck will win over Kelso's daughter who has taken an instant dislike to him. My need to find out the answers to these questions and more kept me turning the pages and I read this story in one sitting.

Deputy of Violence starts exceptionally well with an extremely gripping sequence telling of Starbuck’s ride into a seemingly deserted town. This scene filled with atmosphere that takes on a creepy tone when Starbuck meets the man running the hotel. As well as battling a gang of outlaws single-handedly Starbuck will also have to deal with his feelings towards a young woman who wants him to take her away from the hidden valley where the town is located. Of the four Shawn Starbuck books I’ve read so far, this one is my favourite.

Roll-on May, when Piccadilly Publishing will release the next two books in the series.

Sunday, 18 March 2018

The Man Who Burned Hell!

By Sam Clancy
The Crowood Press, February 2018

The little town was Serenity: in name and nature. Then the railroad and miners came, dragging violence and death behind them. Renamed Hell, the sleepy town changed under the rule of Ike Cordis.

Known as The Devil, Cordis controlled The Three Horsemen, the fastest guns in town.

Long forgotten was the fourth horseman – a man riding a blue roan. A man determined to make The Devil burn in Hell!

The third book from Sam Clancy once more features United States Deputy Marshal Josh Ford, son of Bass Reeves. You don’t need to have read either of the previous novels as this is pretty much a stand-alone story. 

Sam Clancy is a pseudonym used by Brent Towns and he starts this book with a prologue that lasts a couple of pages and ends with the line, ‘What the hell have you done?’ Combined with the fiery scene that Bass finds himself riding in to, which leads to him uttering those quoted words, how can any reader not want to find out too?

The author knows how to pace a story well, has created a terrific cast of characters of both sexes and has come up with a hard-hitting plot that demands you keep reading. There is also a further complication for Ford as he finds his former lover in town. Action comes thick and fast, meaning there is never a dull moment in this excellent tale before it ends in a dramatic and superbly told final showdown.

I never got around to reading the earlier Josh Ford books, Valley of Thunder and Even Marshals Hang! but on the strength of this entry into the series I must rectify that oversight as soon as possible.