Tuesday, 14 November 2017

A World of Hurt

By Tim Bryant
Pinnacle, December 2017

Wilkie John Liquorish is an outlaw as unusual as his name, facing trial in 1882 Fort Worth for the deaths of sixty people and eight hundred head of cattle. Is he responsible? Not really. Is he guiltless? Not at all …

For a young man of seventeen, Wilkie John Liquorish has lived one sorry life. From his ill-fated stint in the U.S. Army to a back-breaking job as a gravedigger, Wilkie just can’t seem to catch a break. His latest gig – working a cattle drive from Mobeetie, Texas, to Fort Worth – is no exception. The food-poisoning death of a chuckwagon cook has everyone spooked, and fear spreads like a disease. Wilkie barely makes it out alive. But when he shows up in Fort Worth, he has another kind of death waiting for him – in the unlikely form of Gentleman Jack Delaney …

A fancily-dressed bounty hunter from New Orleans, Gentleman Jack is ready to nail and hang young Wilkie as soon as he arrives in town. He claims the boy is the most wanted outlaw in Texas. If Wilkie can manage to outsmart, outrun, or outgun this not-so-gentle man, he just might go down in history. Or swing from a tree. Or both …

Although Tim Bryant has had a number of books published, this, the first western to carry his name, is my introduction to his writing.

The book is written in the first person and is filled with colourful characters. Most of the story follows Wilkie John’s trial but this is broken up by many flashbacks that tell the sorry tale of how Wilkie has ended in this deadly situation. Tim Bryant builds the tension extremely well and you’ll soon be wondering how Wilkie can possibly escape with his life as Gentleman Jack and a preacher argue the points for either taking or saving his life.

Wilkie John’s backstory is one of adventure, love and violence. Wilkie has a wonderful way of getting round people who get in the way of him achieving his goals, yeap he ups and shoots them. So a white-hatted hero he isn’t.

Tim Bryant tells his story with style and includes a lot of dark humour in both Wilkie’s observations and some of the situations Wilkie finds himself in. Bryant’s descriptions are top class too, painting vivid imagery of both characters and surroundings. The author also has a number of surprises waiting in store too, but to say more would ruin the story for those intending to read it and those readers ought to include all fans of the western genre.

A World of Hurt is the first Wilkie John Western and the second, Dead and Buried is due out in June 2018 and I am certainly looking forward to reading it.


Tuesday, 7 November 2017

An Arizona Christmas

By William W. Johnstone with J.A. Johnstone
Pinnacle, November 2017

Like most families, the Jensens gather together to celebrate the holidays. This year, since half the clan is scattered across the American West, they've decided to split the difference and meet up in Tucson. Matt and Luke will be there, for sure, and maybe Ace and Chance, too. That leaves Sally, Preacher, and Smoke Jensen, who've reserved three seats on a westbound stage to make sure they don't miss out on the festivities. What could possibly go wrong? 

Mother Nature is the first to strike, dusting up the trail with a sandstorm as blinding and deadly as any northern blizzard. Then comes an Apache ambush, forcing the passengers and drivers to seek shelter in a cave. Even if Smoke and Preacher manage to shoot their way out of this, they have another big surprise waiting--a ruthless gang of outlaws after the cargo of cash on the stage, happy to slaughter anyone who tries to stop them. If the Jensens hope to save Christmas this year, they'll need to save their own lives first . . .

The seventh Johnstone book set at Christmas and the first one I’ve read. Great to see the author bringing together some of the Johnstone’s greatest characters but as expected the trail to their Christmas rendezvous doesn’t run smoothly.

Most of the story concentrates on the dangers facing Smoke, Sally and Preacher as they journey together first by train and then stagecoach, and it’s whilst travelling on the latter that most of this tale revolves. The stage is also filled with a number of interesting characters too and the author often switches between them as well as those attempting to stop one of them reaching Tucson.

With outlaws, Apaches, and Mother Nature out to destroy the stagecoach and its passengers the book offers plenty of action and there is an impressive body count. Once the travellers are pinned down in a cave the tension mounts as you’ll be wondering just how they can possibly escape.

One thing I particularly enjoyed was the names of some of the characters, Ballard and Tuttle for instance which many long-time readers of westerns will recognize as past authors of the genre. A nod to those old time pulps which is strengthened by the comments in the last part of the story about newspaper reporters and writing for those pulps.

If you’re looking for a fast read that is packed with gunplay then this is certainly worth adding to your ‘want to read’ list. 


  

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Pirates of the Desert

By C.J. Sommers
Hale, December 2015

The locals call the sand dunes of the Arizona Territory south-land a white ocean. One man, Barney Shivers, carries the comparison a little further when he decides to monopolize the shipping industry. Ordering his men to attack any freight shipping that he does not control, goods are stolen and held to ransom on the high seas.

No one dares to fight back until one little old lady Lolly Amos, stands up to the bully. When the local law refuses to help, Lolly contacts her nephew, Captain Parthenon Downs of the Arizona Rangers. Restless to leave his desk duty behind, Captain Downs eagerly takes on the challenge. Little does he realize that his decision will draw him into a war between two bands of pirates, and a young woman with a Winchester rifle….

C.J. Sommers has created a wonderful cast of characters that will find themselves taking part in a lethal game, all due to the price of a bag of sugar.

Good, bad, male or female, the author soon has you rooting for or against them. The plot moves forward at an extremely fast pace and there are a few twists to the tale waiting to surprise the reader with the revelations they bring, not least as to the real identity of some of these characters.

It’s fascinating to see how Parth will bring down these land pirates, even though he knows, or believes he knows, who they are, getting the proof to arrest them is the hard part. Proving their guilt leads to plenty of gunplay as this tale weaves its way to its deadly conclusion.

I’ve read quite a few books by the author behind the C.J. Sommers pseudonym, that person being Paul Lederer who also wrote other Black Horse Westerns as Owen G. Irons and Logan Winters, and I’ve yet to come across one that I haven’t thoroughly enjoyed. If you’ve yet to try anything by this author then this book would certainly be a great place to introduce yourself to his writing, and I’m sure after you’ve read it you’ll be hunting for his other books too.


Monday, 30 October 2017

Spanish Gold

BLAZE! #18
By Ben Boulden
Rough Edges Press, October 2017

The only thing Kate and J.D. Blaze had in mind when they rode into the settlement of Unity, Utah, was celebrating their wedding anniversary. But then J.D. is forced to kill a corrupt deputy in order to save a woman’s life, and suddenly the Old West’s only husband-and-wife gunfighters are plunged into a deadly mystery involving a sinister albino, missing men, and a lost treasure in Spanish gold.

This is Ben Boulden’s second entry in this fast moving series and it’s every bit as good as his first (#15: Red Rock Rampage).

The Blaze! books aren’t very long, this one coming in at 140 pages, but Ben Boulden still manages to pack a lot of action and intrigue into his story. His characters are well thought out and all have important parts to play during the search for Emma’s husband - Emma being the young woman J.D. saves from the unwanted advances of the deputy at the beginning.

Kate Blaze is just as tough as her husband and it’s often her that makes the major decisions as to just what trail they will follow in order to solve their current problems. She also has a tender side as we find out when they take a young boy under their wing.

The Blaze! books are marketed as being an adult western series but please don’t let that put you off trying this one if you don’t like explicit sex in your reading material. There is only one short chapter that deals with this aspect of the tale and that can easily be skipped without ruining the rest of the story.

Ben Boulden writes in a very readable style, never letting up on the rapid pace that leads to a gripping final gunfight that answers all the questions that have risen before this deadly confrontation. Once again I’m left looking forward to Ben Boulden’s next entry in this series.


Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Remington 1894

By William W. Johnstone with J.A. Johnstone
Pinnacle, November 2017

As a teenager, John McMasters won the Medal of Honor as a sniper for the Union Army during the Civil War. Thirty years later, McMasters lives a peaceful life in the Arizona Territory, raising a family and running horses. These days, he needs eyeglasses to hit a distant target. But that doesn’t stop his wife and four children from buying him a special present for his fiftieth birthday: a beautiful new Remington shotgun. Turns out, he’s going to need it . . .

The Butcher gang has come to town. By the time McMasters learns of their arrival, they’ve invaded his ranch and slaughtered his family, hightailing it out of the country. McMasters wants revenge, using his new shotgun to hunt down those butchers like the animals they are, but he can’t do it alone. His friend, Deputy U.S. Marshal Daniel Kilpatrick, is hauling six of the deadliest criminals in the country to a prison in Yuma. They’re cutthroat killers, every bit as ruthless as the Butchers. But when McMasters points his Remington at their heads, they will become his killers . . .

A stand-alone novel from the Johnstone’s, which is a straight-forward tale of revenge. This story rattles along at a great pace, switching from one person to another regularly, as well as jumping back in time to fill in some of the backstory of a number of characters. These past events told in passages presented in italics.

The author has created a terrific bunch of characters on all sides. The change in McMasters is fascinating to read, as he goes from a man at peace with the world to one consumed by hatred and the lust for vengeance that will see him become a wanted man alongside those he frees to help him in his deadly mission.

His posse of prisoners include a broad mix of personalities, and more than one of these people would like nothing better than to kill one or two of their traveling companions, and of course most want to be free of McMasters too. How McMasters manages to keep himself awake so they don’t jump him during the night is both gruesome and ingenious. A neat touch is that one of these prisoners is a woman who seems to have a personal grudge against the Butchers too.

The book begins mid gunfight and then goes back to before the massacre of McMasters’ family and it takes nearly all the rest of the story to get back to that opening point. The pace is breathless, the action vicious and graphic. Part of the fun for me was wondering just who would be alive at the end, and that included McMasters. Of course I can’t answer that here but I will say that everyone who enjoys violent westerns full of brutal characters will find this to be a thoroughly entertaining read. This book certainly confirms why the Johnstone books are so popular with readers today and left me eager to pick up another as soon as I can.


Saturday, 21 October 2017

Days of Evil

MAGGIE O’BANNEN 1
By Joe Slade
Piccadilly Publishing, Nov. 2017

Kidnapped at the age of sixteen, Maggie has survived the fickle temper of notorious outlaw Mad Dog Frank O’Bannen for seven years. Now he is dead and she is about to find out that there are worse ways to live and die than as the wife of a wanted man.

Frank had prepared her as best he could for what would follow and when she leaves her prison in the hills. She has the blood of three men on her hands and knows the feel of hot lead. Soon her hard-won freedom is in doubt and she finds herself pursued by Frank’s old partner, a man with a vicious reputation and more than one score to settle.

Maggie has Frank’s gun, her keen wits and new friends to help her, but will they be enough to save her from the brutality of a maniac bent on revenge?

As well as bringing past western series back in the electronic format, Piccadilly Publishing also produces new works and Days of Evil is one of the latter. It is also the first to appear with the author name of Joe Slade.

It’s no secret that the name Joe Slade is a pseudonym and that the author behind it is Joanne Walpole who has had a number of excellent westerns published under another pen-name, that of Terry James and I’m sure that fans of those books will be eagerly looking forward to this one when it is released in a couple of weeks.

So is this new book similar to those put out under the Terry James name? The answer is both yes and no. Yes, because it is told in the same gripping, easy to read, style that this author is known for, and that the story is well constructed and filled with excellent characters – both good and bad. No, due to the fact that this tale is much grittier than Jo’s previous works and contains hard hitting graphic violence.

Maggie O’Bannen is a fascinating character, a victim that has the chance to rise up and take control of her destiny. But this is no easy task for she will have to face some savage hardships to gain her freedom. The opening sequence of Maggie digging a grave really sets the tone of this book well and it isn’t long before Maggie finds herself confronting a killer who likes nothing better than murdering women with his bare hands.

Maggie isn’t alone in her fight as she soon finds herself sided with a terrific cast of misfits. Events escalate quickly to a final savage showdown and before the end the author certainly makes Maggie suffer. Maggie also has a tough decision to make regarding her past and future.

This book is definitely a page-turner that I couldn’t put down. Jo has created a superb new western heroine in Maggie O’Bannen and I’ve been left hungry for the second book in the series and can only hope it isn’t too long before it appears.


Wednesday, 18 October 2017

The Holmbury County Seat War

By K.S. Stanley
The Crowood Press, September 2017

Who really was involved in the brutal massacre of a small village at the start of the American Civil War and what became of them? In this bitter tale, the truth doesn’t finally emerge until 1887 when good men turned bad fight ruthlessly to ensure that their town is elected as the Holmbury County Seat.

This is the second Black Horse Western to carry the author name of K.S. Stanley and the first I’ve read by this writer.

There’s a fair amount of action as people getting close to the truth of that long ago massacre end up with a bullet through their forehead, put there by an unknown assassin whose identity is one of the mysteries that make up this plot. Mostly this is a tale of political intrigue and hidden secrets that finally become a race against time to stop vote fixing through intimidation that sees some unusual items being used to halt the bullies crossing a river.

Lots of terrific characters, many seemingly not being completely truthful about who they really are or what they are really after, meant there were lots of plotlines to hold my attention in this well-crafted tale. There was one little mistake, when it was said that some messages would be sent via the pony express which wasn’t around at the time this story takes place, but this small slip-up didn’t spoil my enjoyment of this book.

K.S. Stanley’s writing is extremely readable, the story being told in 19 chapters, each of which is broken down into many different scenes which in turn often sees a change in who is the featured character. 

The Holmbury County Seat War is one of the longer Black Horse Westerns so you certainly get value for your money.