Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Noteworthy Reads: THE LAST WAR CHIEF (Outlaw Ranger #4) by James Reasoner

I’ve often marveled at the mastery with which James Reasoner sets the “hook” for his stories --- it absolutely *compels* the reader to want to find out what happens next. And what comes next in anything from Reasoner, of course, is never a disappointment. THE LAST WAR CHIEF is yet another fine example of this – on both counts.
The opening passages introduce us to the central figure of this tale. He goes by many names: To the folks of Dinsmore, Texas, he is the pathetic town drunk they call Old Pete or, occasionally, by his translated Indian name of Three Horses. His true Indian name is Pahitti Puuku. But in his mind, liquor-addled though it may be, he is The Last War Chief of the Commanche.
It takes the arrival in Dinsmore of a ruthless gang of killers and bank robbers, led by vicious Clete Fenner, to reawaken the warrior chief who has been all but drowned by the booze Three Horses has been pouring into himself. After the gang robs the Dinsmore bank, kills the town lawmen, shoots up other innocents, and leaves Three Horses lying in the dirt, beaten and publicly humiliated, something angry and determined rises up in the old man. He vows The Last War Chief will ride and fight again.
When the Outlaw Ranger, G.W. Braddock, shows up on the trail of the Fenner gang, Three Horses is fiercely intent on riding with him after the robber/killers. Braddock refuses the offer of help as firmly but delicately as possible, yet Three Horses won’t take no for an answer. Circumstances out on the trail finally unite the pair in a way that Braddock can’t deny and they ultimately close in on the outlaws together.
The conclusion is stirring, bittersweet, and altogether satisfying.
A great Western yarn, with more complexities and emotions than the standard fare, though still delivering plenty of gritty action.
Strongly recommended.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Available Now – The Lawyer: THE RETRIBUTIONERS by Wayne D. Dundee

J.D. Miller, aka The Lawyer, continues to hunt the men that slaughtered his family. His next target is Jules Despare who’s been riding with the Selkirk gang robbing banks. When the town of Emmett, Texas, is marked by the hardcases and the local marshal murdered, The Lawyer is asked by the town’s influential residents to track down the reprehensible outfit. But he has little use for the narrow-minded bigots that won’t stand behind the remaining deputy—a black man named Ernest Tell. After Tell resigns, he suggests a partnership with The Lawyer who refuses. It’s obvious, though, these two avengers are gunning for the same men and will eventually work together to settle old scores in THE RETRIBUTIONERS.
Best-selling, Western hardboiled author Wayne D. Dundee (The Empty Badge, The Guns of Vedauwoo) pens his second Lawyer book that is based on characters created by Edward A. Grainger, author of the Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles series.

WD here: This is the second book I’ve done in ‘The Lawyer’ series based on characters created by David Cranmer (aka Edward A. Grainger). I liked writing about this character again, trying to dig a little deeper into his psyche beyond the obvious quest for revenge that drives him. How could a man so previously immersed in law and justice become such a lethal avenging angel? The answer, I suggest, is that --- other than the matter of a “legal ruling” --- there really isn’t a whole lot of difference between what we call ‘justice’ … or personal vengeance or retribution. They’re all geared toward making someone pay for a wrong committed. It’s just that, when it’s taken on as a personal matter, there is no room for “legal loopholes”.
Which also brings us to the title – THE RETRIBUTIONERS. As I explained to David when I submitted the manuscript, I don’t even know if there is such a word. If there isn’t, there should be. Number One, it conveys clearly what I was aiming for in the story; Number Two, I have personally always loved tales of retribution in books and movies; Number Three, I couldn’t help thinking that it sounded like it might have been the title for an entry in one of my favorite series --- the Matt Helm books by Donald Hamilton. (Not meant to imply my writing is anywhere near the level of Mr. Hamilton’s.)

I hope you give THE RETRIBUTIONERS a try. I think you’ll like it.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Noteworthy Reads: DEVIL YOU KNOW by Richard Prosch

The Peregrine, John Coburn, is back in a pair of stories from Richard Prosch. Any way you cut it, that comes out as good news.
Prosch is one of my favorite authors and Coburn is one of my favorite series characters.

DEVIL YOU KNOW, the lead piece, is the longer (almost novella length) of the two and is a welcome return to the grimmer, tougher Peregrine readers first met in the earliest tales in the series. Prosch’s stylistic flair, an array of colorful characters, and some nice touches of humor are all in evidence but what I really liked was the toughness and the action. In particular, there was a prolonged brawl that was written about as exciting and well as that kind of thing can be done. Throw in a mystery element and some clever twists toward the end and you’ve got just about all you’d want from a story.

DEVIL’S BARGAIN, the secondary piece, is more lighthearted and features the return of Coburn’s sometimes sidekick Bandy Murphy, who has roped the Peregrine into a scheme that involves trying to sell a wagonload of fast-rotting eggs. It turns out the eggs aren’t the only thing smelling up the landscape when they run afoul (no pun intended) of some folks trying to work the old badger game on unsuspecting travelers. Good fun and, again, colorful characters with some clever twists and, as always, Prosch’s great writing.

Strongly recommended.

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Emptiness of JULY

Upon reflection I have come to realize that, for me, the month of July no longer holds the attraction of being a time filled with sunny days, carefree outdoor activities, and a sense of summer’s bright heart and the exuberance of youth that it used to call forth.
I guess it started with the dimming of July’s brightest heart --- my late wife Pam, who was born on July 14 but has been gone now for over eight years. It’s awkward and hard to “celebrate” the birthday of someone who has passed, but every year at this time I tell myself that what I’m celebrating is the fact she *was* born and thereby was able to be at my side for 41-plus years, making my time with her the best part of my life … That’s what I tell myself. But the empty place beside me is always there to remind me that she nevertheless is gone.

This year, the awareness of the emptiness surrounding me has only widened and deepened. Others are gone … either permanently or in different ways.
Bear, the little half-blind, partially crippled poodle that was the last of “Pam’s dogs” she left behind for me to care for finally got so weak and sick that in March I had to put him down. Pardon me if it seems silly to include the loss of a dog in this, but Pam’s “babies” were very precious to her (there were three of them – Buttercup and Peanut being the other two) and I took my obligation to care for them in her absence very seriously. Bear may have been her favorite, and losing him was like another part of her that I had to let go of.
July 4th marked the first anniversary of C.J. Henderson’s passing.
In January we lost John Duncklee.
In May we all lost Ron Scheer.
Just this past week we lost Tom Piccirilli and Randy Johnson (not the baseball pitcher).
These last four men I never met in person but knew them only through their work and/or social media. Funny how strong a kinship you can come to feel for some folks you never laid eyes on. And while the emptiness of their passing my not be as profound as the loss of a close relative or loved one, it still adds up.

The real kicker to start off the month was when my only daughter Michelle, son-in-law, grandkids, and great granddaughter decided to pull stakes and move to the state of Washington. When Pam and I moved to Ogallala in 1998, we bought a house that was built like a two-family structure --- i.e. the basement had its own kitchen, bathroom, living room, and four bedrooms. Pam hated to hear it, but I always joked that it was our “fall back” position in case we fell on hard times in our old age and had to rent out either the upstairs or down … Little did I know that “hard times” would come in the form of losing her. After that, I invited Michelle and her family to move in up upstairs. It made a financial break for both of us and, although there were times we intruded on one another, it worked out pretty well. Now that is gone, too.
Bill, my oldest grandson, is sticking with me like he’s done right along. This fall or winter, when it’s cooler, we may move upstairs. But there’ll be no renting out any part of the house. It’s a lot emptier, but we’ll keep it to ourselves.
I can already tell that the holidays are going to be a lot different. The 4th of July, for example, with no family picnic and watching evening fireworks with nobody going “ooohh … ahhh” (something I used to tease Pam and Michelle mercilessly about) just didn’t cut it.

I’m not writing this for anybody to feel sorry for me.
I’m a pretty tough old bird, I’ve made it this far and still have a few more miles to go. And I always know there are a hell of a lot of other people who are far worse off than me.
I’m merely reflecting on the changes life brings as the years pass by, the things and people we are forced to leave behind.
I can’t say strongly enough to be sure and hang on tight to the things you care about while you’ve still got ‘em. You never know …

As for me, somebody once said that the word Lonely was invented for the rest of the world; the word Solitude was invented for writers.
I’ve always enjoyed – treasured, even – my solitude. Pam did, too. There were many evenings, after dinner, when I’d go to my office to do some writing and she’d kick back to watch TV in her easy chair, surrounded by her dogs, and we might only say a handful of words to one another for the rest of the evening. But we knew each other was there. A house *feels* different when there’s another presence in it, even if the other person is nowhere in sight.
Now, with Bill, thankfully, it’s sort of the same thing. After he gets home from work and dinner is over, he generally goes to his room to get online with some video gamer friends and I, as usual, go to my office to do some writing or reading.
Solitude. Not a bad thing.

But the creeping, deepening sense of emptiness can be a bitch …

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Another Look: LAW AND ORDER (1953 Western starring Ronald Reagan)

I caught this flick on cable the other night and was pleasantly surprised by how tough, taut, and entertaining it was (apart from a wholly uninspired title). In the lead role, Ronald Reagan plays Frame Johnson, a “town tamer” type lawman who has already cleaned up several towns and, at the start of this film, has a tight grip on Tombstone. Too tight, some say.
When Johnson brings in yet another fugitive and then has to face down yet another lynch mob, he decides he’s had enough. He hangs up his gun, takes off his badge, and heads for the town of Cottonwood where he’s bought a ranch out in the country where he aims to settle down life his life free from upholding the law and the violence that comes with it. Accompanying him are his two brothers, Lute and Jimmy; he leaves behind his lady love Jeannie, who has been refusing to marry him while he was packing a badge, but they agree she will come as soon as he has his new place ready.
No surprise that, as soon as they hit Cottonwood, the Johnsons quickly find out it is a hellhole of trouble and corruption under the thumb of one of Frame’s old enemies, Kurt Durling, who has a crippled hand and a seething hatred for Frame thanks to their last encounter. Gunfights, murder, lynching, and rustling all seem to be commonplace in and around Cottonwood. But Frame --- despite the pleas of his own brothers and pressure from a group of town elders who want him to take up the badge again and clean up Cottonwood like he has so many places before --- vows to stay out of it and tend strictly to getting his ranch ready so he can send for Jeannie.

Needless to say, the trouble only escalates. Finally, after one of his brothers is shot when *he* puts on a badge to try and make things better, Frame straps on his gun once more, pins on the badge of his fallen brother, and sets out to square things.
The results are violent and ultimately satisfying. The bad guys get theirs, the good guys are left to pursue happier trails.

In addition to some obvious (though very loose) parallels to the real life story of Wyatt Earp and his brothers, this movie is based on a well-regarded book entitled Saint Johnson, written by novelist and famed screen writer W.R. Burnett. A version of the book was previously filmed (and considered a “bigger” picture) in 1932, also under the LAW AND ORDER title, starring Harry Carey and Walter Huston, with a screenplay co-written by John Huston. I watched part of this one on You Tube and it seemed to be very different than the Reagan version. Likely it stuck closer to Burnett’s book. Still, if you have an hour and twenty minutes to spare, the 1953 version with Reagan and company ain’t a bad way to spend it

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Noteworthy Reads: THE SHOTGUN RIDER by Peter Brandvold

Dag Enberg is a troubled man; a big, tough, rawboned Norwegian whose only claim to pride is that he’s the best damned man riding shotgun guard for Logan Cates’ stage line. Otherwise, he only knows bitterness … the bitterness of his past and its failures, the bitterness of knowing he can’t stay away from the bottle, and the bitterness of being in love with the wrong woman.

But a man like that can only be pushed so far. And if he’s pushed *too* far, all that’s left is for the bitterness to eat its way to self-destruction … or self-discovery of the real truth of what lies at his core.  

This is a tough, action-packed, insightful story of man dragged down nearly to the bottom and then fighting his way back --- for himself, for his family honor, and for the woman he truly loves.

This is one of Mean Pete’s best … and that’s saying a lot.
Strongly recommended!

Friday, July 10, 2015


In this sixth entry, by Steve Mertz --- veteran action/adventure writer and concept creator of the BLAZE! series --- ZOMBIES OVER YONDER is a wild, action-packed yarn that takes off like a shot and zips along like a well-aimed bullet.
J.D. and Kate Blaze, the Old West’s only man and wife team of gunfighters, are plying their trade in a traditional manner at the start. When the fugitive they’re bringing in for a reward makes a daring escape attempt with the aid of some hardcases lying in wait at the train station, the attempt fails in a bloody shootout. But before the rabid dog fugitive can be cut down, he ruthlessly blasts an innocent young woman bystander. The Blazes feel a share of the guilt for her death. So, based on a letter found on her body, they head for the remote town of Yonder to make contact with the father she was on her way to visit and inform him of the tragedy.
Once J.D. and Kate get to Yonder, however, all hell --- literally --- breaks loose. They find the father has also died under suspicious circumstances, his mine has been taken over by the mysterious Count Vlad who employs not only has his own small army of trigger-happy gunmen but also has the local U.S. Army colonel in his pocket, and the nearby townsfolk live in cowering fear … not *just* from the count and his gunnies but, more than anything, from the unseen yet terrifying “workers” who toil deep in the mine.
Before the Blazes can work things out and, just incidentally, save their own skins, plenty more bullets will fly, corruption and curses will have to be dealt with … and the dead will walk!
All the Western sweep and excitement you could ask for, plus some spooky twists to spur things along. Saddle up for the ride, you’ll enjoy it.