Tuesday, April 14, 2009

For April 2009

The Unforgiven
by Alan LeMay
Leisure Books Reprint

This is not the book form of modern classic starring Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman, and Gene Hackman. Instead, it is the source of the forgotten classic starring Burt Lancaster, Audrey Hepburn, Lillian Gish, and Audie Murphy, and directed by John Huston.

"The Texas Panhandle was a harsh and unforgiving place, but the Zachary family managed to get by. Until their world was upended by an old enemy who started a vicious rumor about the true identity of beautiful seventeen-year-old Rachel Zachary. Now their neighbors want her dead, and a band of Kiowa warriors are out to claim her for their own. There’s only one man who will stand up for her. But in protecting Rachel, he might just be signing his own death warrant."

by Wayne D. Overholser
Center Point Large Print Hardcover

"The Tomahawk Ranch was the biggest outfit in Salt Creek Valley. Kirk's father built it with his own harsh strength and controlled it with a fierce will. And nobody — not even his own sons — ever dared tell him what to do with it. The ranch was the best grazing land in the entire valley, and the Salt Creek settlers were getting desperate. Kirk's father had spent a lifetime running roughshod over the rights and pride of his neighbors, and he held on as the settlers faces grew even more grim. Only Kirk seemed to understand that they were headed straight for a range war. And it would be the worst kind of range war — neighbor against neighbor, and father against son."

Curry: A Western Trio
by Max Brand
Center Point Large Print Hardcover

Sheriff of Hangtown: A Western Duo
by Lauran Paine
Five Star Wester Series Hardcover

"Wesley Potter is the local law. One of his friends in the community is Dick Ruffin, an old-timer who has long raised horses on his small ranch. Ruffin is shot at close range without apparent motive - and there aren't any suspects. Potter can find no clue at Ruffin's ranch when he goes out there to investigate and to bury old Dick. But that night in town Potter's suspicions are raised when a stranger tries to sell Dick Ruffin's guns at the general store. "

Dorn of the Mountains
by Zane Grey
Leisure Books Reprint

"...the next moment he heard quick hoof beats of trotting horses. Peering out, he saw dim moving forms in the darkness, quite close at hand. They had approached against the wind so that sound had been deadened. Five horses with riders Dorn made out - saw them loom up close. Then he heard rough voices."

Guns on the High Mesa
by Arthur Henry Gooden
Center Point Large Print Hardcover

The Man From Laramie
by T. T. Flynn
Leisure Books

Finally! The Man From Laramie (1954) is back in print! Leisure Books (Dorchester Publishing) has begun to reprint books that provided source material for some of the most famous Western movies ever. They have recently reprinted The Searchers (John Wayne's/John Ford's masterpiece), Destry Rides Again (from Hollywood's "Best Year" - 1939 - starring Jimmy Stewart and Marlene Dietrich, The Unforgiven (above), and Stewart/Anthony Mann's classic, Laramie. If ever Leisure were to create a Western companion imprint to its wildly successful Hard Case Crime series, The Man From Laramie would be the first. It's a dark, powerful, tough story with solid characters, action, and not a small mystery.

"The foreman lay in the dust of the street, his face beaten and puffed, his hair matted with sweat and grime. And over him stood Will Lockhart, swaing with a deadening fatigue that barely left him on his feet.

"'Why'd you do it?'" the man asked him.

"'Well,'" Lockhart said, "'you might say on account of some good wagons of mine that burned up. Or you could blame it on a rope that dragged me ways on the ground. But you'd be real close if you asked me about a brother of mine. Yeah, I guess I'd have to tell you. Because he's dead ...'"

For May 2009

Salt-Lick Range
by Lauran Paine
Wheeler Large Print Western

"When Deputy U.S. Marshall Dan Miller arrived in Jefferson, Idaho Territory, the Salt-Lick war was already in the making. After he'd been there a week, U.S. Marshall Fred Clampett was ambushed and nearly killed, leaving Dan the only lawman in the territory. It was Dan's hard logic which prevented bloodshed - 'til the last day when his own blood got spilled."

Pass Creek Valley: A Western Duo
by Wayne D. Overholser
Five Star Western Series Hardcover

In the main story, "Kim Logan has always worked as a gun hand, for the last year as trouble-shooter for the great Clawhammer Ranch owned by Peg Cody. The Clawhammer is now locked in a desperate struggle for mastery of the range with Hank Dunning, owner of the HD. The struggle between these two ranches is further complicated by the fact that Peg Cody wants the smaller ranchers on the mesa to be forced off their land so the Clawhammer can have access to their graze. This is something with which Kim Logan has no sympathy. But his most pressing job is to fetch to the Clawhammer a man named Yuma Bill who is coming in by stage, presumably with a bundle of money to help the local banker. Logan is certain that HD riders will hold up the same stage to get at Yuma Bill, and he intends to beat them to it."

The Cuchillo Plains
by Ray Hogan
Center Point Large Print Hardcover

Chaparral Marauders
by Tom Curry
Wheeler Large Print Western

Maverick Basin
by Dane Coolidge
Five Star Western Series Hardcover

This old timer was originally serialized in four parts in the biweekly The Popular Magazine from July 7 to August 20, 1920.

"Riding on the trail into Maverick Basin, Hall McIvor is waylaid at gunpoint by Isham Scarborough and his brother Red and is taken on foot to a dark room in an abandoned cliff-dwelling to be questioned. The Scarboroughs are convinced the stranger is a gunfighter, riding to join the Bassett clan. If so, they intend to hang him right there. Telling them his name Hall insists he is just riding through, has no knowledge of the Bassetts, and that he is searching for someone. Then things really get rough ... "

Bullet Brand
by Bradford Scott
Wheeler Large Print Western

Leisure often gets its pulp reprints from the large print and/or hardcover library publishers. They've been reprinting a number of the Bradford Scott stand-alone novels as well as his short pulp magazine work with his great Texas Ranger heroes Jim Hatfield and Walt Slade. Bullet Brand is another of Scott's stand alone stories. With luck Leisure will reprint this one, too, so the rest of us can read it.

"Black Pete became Walt Slade's co-partner. Sheriff Trayner tried to warn Slade but wound up fighting for his life. Marshall wrote a will in blood, with Slade the reluctant beneficiary. Undercover Texas Ranger Slade battles six-gun treachery to save his friends and the border country from the vicious terror of a killer-crazy outlaw."

Wilderness #60 - Outcast
by David Thompson
Leisure Books

This venerable series hits a bit of a milestone. The series is based on the true-life journals of Nathaniel King, one of the early mountain men, and his ever-growing mountain family. Thompson's books develop various journal entries and corroborating accounts to build a literary version of the King family. While on the thin side, each entry is packed with plenty of action and plot twists.

Fighting Rawhide
by Lewis B. Patten
Ulverscroft Large Print Hardcover

by Robert B. Parker
Berkley Premiere Paperback Edition
by Robert B. Parker
Berkley Hardcover

The follow-up to Appaloosa, Resolution continues hired gun Everitt Hitch's journey in what Publisher's Weekly calls "...a sparse, bullet-riddled rumination on law and order, friendship and honor." Parker seems enamoured of the western and these themes (or is he just making another bucketful of cash?) because another sequel is also available this month. This third novel, Brimstone, follows Virgil Cole and Everitt Hitch on a journey through New Mexico and Texas to find the love he lost in Appaloosa. Can another movie be far behind?

.45-Caliber Widow Maker
by Peter Brandvold
Berkley Paperbacks

A prison wagon of caged killers means hell on wheels for Cuno Massey...

One of Brandvold's numerous continuing series, this is the fifth in the .45-Caliber entries. His work enjoys a lot of what is good about pulps without all of the fluff and puffery and pretenses of many current western writers.

Excellent Traditional Action-, Character-filled Western

Revenge of the Mountain Man
by William W. Johnstone
Pinnacle Books

This is the fourth in the long-running western-action series, The Last Mountain Man. Actually, there is a new "Last Mountain Man" series, released after Johnstone’s death, with the character Matt Jensen, the adopted son of the actual Last Mountain Man, Smoke Jensen. Be that as it may, Revenge is early in the first series when Johnstone was well and at the height of his writing prowess.

Revenge of the Mountain Man is a fun book. Full of action, gunplay, humor, bad guys that are really bad guys, and good guys that don’t put up with BS.

Among the better scenes are when Smoke’s wife Sally tries to explain to her New Hampshire born-and-bred parents, brothers, sisters, and other kin her love for the West and Smoke’s philosophy of justice and life. For those who haven’t read any of the books in this series, Smoke has a very simple philosophy – one akin to John Wayne’s character in The Shootist, J.B. Books – "I won’t be wronged, I won’t be insulted, and I won’t be laid a hand on. I do not do these things to others and require the same of them."

Smoke’s philosophy is in full bloom in this book. He is out for revenge, and makes no apologies. While away from his homestead, a number of outlaws arrive and nearly kill Sally. She recovers fairly quickly from her gunshot wounds, all the while watching her husband turn into a caged tiger, wanting to go after the attackers. Smoke knows that such violence will continue until either he is dead or the hardcases responsible for the attacks are six feet under. He gets word that one of the hardcases is named Rex Davidson, and that he has a grudge against Preacher, Smoke’s mentor. With the mountain man Preacher presumably dead, Davidson wants to take out his hate on Smoke. Shooting Sally was nothing more than a calling card to lead Smoke into a trap. Smoke realizes this but goes after Davidson none-the-less.

Pregnant, Sally packs up and leaves their home, the Sugarloaf, to return temporarily to her family in New Hampshire. She fully supports Smoke in what he must do, is proud of him, and understands that there will be a high body count by the time he’s through.

Davidson is holed up in a small valley town that he built and populated with other hardcases and psychopaths. The law has tried to rout the gang, but the valley and town are too well fortified. Smoke devises a plan where he plays a fop named Shirley DeBeers and then uses his natural artistic talents to set up an undercover identity that will put outlaws at ease. The plan works. He meets a tough hombre, stands for the man’s hazing, and is ultimately judged as a harmless sissy. In fact, outlaws enjoy having him around. Not only is he fun to pick on, but his sketch portraits of them become prized.

Unknown to the criminal band, however, Smoke has arranged with a band of Utes friendly to him, and a sheriff and his posse, to attack the criminal stronghold after Smoke has been accepted into the town. The plan works fairly well. Most of the criminals are killed. But Davidson and a handful of his faithful escape the hail of lead and disappear. It becomes clear that they are heading to New Hampshire to kill Sally and the baby.

Along with an old friend and ally, Louis Longmont – gambler, raconteur, and fast gun – and an Arizona Ranger named York, who had been undercover in the valley town, Smoke crosses the country to get to Sally in time.

Johnstone provides several climaxes in this story with many gunfights that produce a very high body count. He also turns his stuffy New England father-in-law into a western-style man who becomes quite capable of defending home and loved ones with fist and six-shooter without relying on an effete legal system.

Johnstone has fun with his characters, wild and unrealistic though they may be. While he may mean for them to be taken with a grain of salt, they illustrate his belief in strong, independent, self-reliant Americans who uphold the law and find true justice by taking the law into their own hands when the legal system either won't take a hand or lets them down.

The series is Strongly Recommended.

A Fun Change of Pace

The Knights of Misery
The Gunsmith, Giant #12
by J.R. Roberts (Robert Randisi)
Jove Books

In an interview with Robert Randisi that I found on the Internet, he is quoted as saying that he realized early on you could write a good western around the sex scenes required in an "adult" western. For the most part, Randisi seems to be doing that in his Gunsmith series, which is currently at monthly issue #327.

I generally like Randisi as a writer. After reading this interview, and coupled with the generally positive talk among western readers about the series and other such westerns, I picked up a few. I noticed on the cover of all the monthly issues is printed "The All Action Western Series." This bode well, too, as did the plot of this year’s annual Giant Gunsmith, The Knights of Misery. It all sounded like a pulp plot in which Jimmy Christopher might have become embroiled. Fun stuff.

And it turned out to be fun, too, even though it appeared that Randisi approached the story a bit tongue in cheek.

Randisi is good at writing Gunsmith (of course he’s had nearly 300 of them on which to perfect this part of his craft). Several elements about this story and its titular main character I found superior to its sordid brethren.

The sex scenes appear to be (you’ll pardon the expression) organic to the plot. There’s a purpose to them; they grow out of the story and characters. Also, Clint Adams – our hero, the renowned shootist reverently nicknamed The Gunsmith – is not involved in every one of them. Yet when he is involved in one, each is different. Like in most of the titles in the series (I’m doing a bit of assuming here), he becomes intimate with a couple of women. In Knights the women are quite dissimilar, each having her own motivation for (and method of) taking Clint to bed.

Another quality I liked is that Clint Adams is not a superman like Smoke Jensen or even the Trailsman. Rigorous activity leaves him tired. He sometimes isn’t sure what to do. He asks for help from others – and not just with his button fly.

This is not to suggest that character development is on par with, say, William Faulkner’s work. But it gives the reader characters that are a touch more rounded than cardboard.

In Knights, Adams is asked by his off camera Secret Service friend James West (you get the reference, of course) to investigate the disappearance of a missing and presumed dead agent who was spying on a gang that has taken over a town in Virginia. The gang is made up of an off-shoot of the Freemasons that calls itself the Knights of Masonry, which is bastardized by the terrorized townspeople into Knights of Misery.

As expected, Adams ferrets out the evil doers and saves the town. There isn’t much more to say about the plot. It’s really not worth mentioning.

While I enjoyed the read, the book is a bit of fluff, and ultimately disappointing. More than 140 pages go by before we get any real action (sex scenes notwithstanding). This belies the proud cover statement on each issue of Gunsmith, "The All Action Western Series." The plot and writing reminded me of a 1950s TV Western (again, sex scenes notwithstanding) where the characters move from one simple set piece to another and talk. There are precious few outdoor scenes (and almost nothing that couldn’t be shot on a minimally dressed soundstage). No chases or barroom brawls or midnight ambushes. There is one truncated shootout at the very end, but it is clean enough for family viewing.

In fact, I got the sense that a lot of this tale was truncated; that Randisi spent so much time on his characters – trying to keep them close to being real and not have them jumping to wild conclusions that would have sped along the plot and made room for more action – that he ran out of the proscribed number of pages and had to rush the ending. We are left hanging on several key issues, not the least of which is the promised assassination attempt of Grover Cleveland, which never materializes and, after page 16 is never mentioned again. Clearly here we have the deepest connection to the old pulps, many of which left forgotten plot threads dangling to the consternation of faithful readers.

I cannot recommend this book, and yet I won’t pan it. It was a fun read. And sometimes, that’s what it is all about.

Gun-play Action and Mystery Satisfies

Guns at Q Cross
Ace Double M-118
by Merle Constiner

"He took a hand in a game whose only rule was fire first!"

As with all Ace doubles, Constiner’s Guns at Q Cross is a short, rapid-fire yarn that would be quite at home in Thrilling Westerns magazine if it hadn’t been a paperback original written in 1965.

According to material I found on the Internet, Constiner was happier with this length of story rather than novel length. In fact, he wrote very few full length novels. His modest pulp output tended to short stories and novellas. When the pulps died out he moved quickly and fairly easily into the original paperback market.

In Guns at Q Cross Stiles Gilmore is a man trying to mind his own business who is swept up into the middle of deadly schemes and cattle rustling. Gilmore arrives from Texas in the small town of Prentiss Creek, Idaho, to oversee the final sale of his horse herd, which is several days behind him on the trail, to a local rancher named Le Queux, the heavy-handed owner of the Q Cross. Gilmore is renowned for the quality of his horse stock, and the animals are much sought after.

As often happens in such stories, there is tension in the town that affects the newcomer. Gilmore tries to ignore it, but between having to dodge wild shots and trade punches with cowhands, he finds himself at the center of a pressure cooker getting ready to explode.

The valley is suffering badly from rustlers. The working theory is that the cow thieves are in cahoots with ranchers far to the north on the other side of a mountain range. It is also believed that the rustlers have an ally within the valley. This news concerns Gilmore, fearful that his herd might be stolen before they arrive and he can sell them. His concern increases when he stops receiving telegrams from his drive foreman.

Gilmore is befriended by a local wiseman who is outside the ruling circle, but is aware of all that is going on. The two men start to investigate, which stirs up more trouble. And then Le Queux does something that surprises both Gilmore and the reader: he offers to buy Gilmore’s horse herd sight unseen, even though it’s still on the trail and vulnerable to rustlers.

Reviews of Constiner’s work talk about his attention to detail and his ability to create unusual characters and situations. In Guns he effectively manages both. He also creates a fairly compelling mystery – another of his literary devices. In his lengthy discussion of Constiner on Pulprack.com, Peter Ruber says that most of Constiner’s works "– whether detective yarns, historical adventures or Westerns – were essentially mysteries of one kind or another." His mystery in Guns plays out well to the end.

Ruber also discusses the motivation of Constiner’s heroes. "No matter [the occupation of] his heroes – whether saloon owner, rancher, cattleman or drifter – all have a sense of justice in a land often without law. They track the killers and badmen with relentless determination." This is also true of the character Gilmore. While he’s concerned with the fate of his own herd, his sense of justice is strong. He’s compelled to end rustling in the valley and see that badmen are sent to jail. No matter how many bullets he has to dodge, Gilmore relentlessly pursues the truth.

The reason Le Queux wants to buy Gilmore's vulnerable herd of horses, the fate of the rustlers, and the identity of the criminal spy are all revealed by the end of this short but exciting tale. As with many of these Ace Doubles the writing seems a bit condensed, yet Guns is easier to read than other such stories having seemingly been fitted with a master tailor's skill specifically to the format. Guns of Q Cross is a fast-moving, engaging story that entertains and is well worth the read.