THREE RODE TOGETHER
Jesse Glover was minding his own business when Ulysses S. Grant summoned him to Washington, asking him to quit the life of a cowboy and keep Arizona safe from the likes of Cochise and Geronimo. So Jesse saddled up and headed for Fort Bowie and its Indian-hating commanding officer, Major Nicholas Calloway.
Along the way he saved a beautiful White Mountain Apache girl named Morning Star from a monstrous fate. And when he tangled with a ruthless gang who was determined to start a whole new Indian uprising, he found help in the shape of two unlikely allies -- a Zulu warrior named Sam and a Chiricahua Apache named Goyahkla, who was better known as Geronimo.
Steve Hayes and David Whitehead have written a number of other novels together that have been published by Hale, but this is the first western. Both have had westerns published individually under their own names, and in David Whitehead's case, under a number of pseudonyms too.
The book is well written, as expected, and moves forwards at a great pace. As well as the three main characters, Jesse, Sam, and Geronimo, there are others that are as equally memorable, Morning Star and Cochise being but two of them.
Jesse Glover's mission of peace seems doomed to failure from the start as there are people on both sides who would rather go to war, Geronimo being one of them. This difference of opinion leads to a very visually written fight between Geronimo and Jesse. This isn't the only obstacle they face with each other, for both have strong feelings for Morning Star ...
The story portrays a sense of urgency as time runs out towards the latter part of the tale as the Apaches ride down on the fort intent on wiping it out. This provides some exciting reading as the three men of the title race to halt the impending battle. Are the three successful? Does Jesse or Geronimo win the heart of Morning Star? I guess you'll have to read the book to find out, and I'd suggest you'll be as entertained in finding out as I was.
Steve Myall, Western Fiction Review
SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE QUEEN OF DIAMONDS
Hayes and Whitehead, both authors of western fiction, put a western spin on Victorian London in this entertaining Sherlock Holmes pastiche. When a band of ruffians led by Blackrat Lynch, a notorious gangland figure, attacks Countess Elaina Montague's coach one foggy night in Green Park, a pistol-packing Thomas Howard from "Missoura" comes to her ladyship's rescue. Howard explains that he has come to England in search of his brother, Hank. Anxious to repay him, Elaina takes Howard to see Holmes at Baker Street, but the great detective is at first too busy chasing an audacious jewel thief to take on what appears to be a minor missing persons case. London comes to resemble a western American cattle town with barroom brawling, an impressive lariat display by Howard for Elaina's society guests at Montague Hall, and gun-toting robbers who escape on horseback after hitting a major museum. The story moves at a gallop to an unexpected, if not startling, conclusion.
Amelia Estrich, Publisher's Weekly
When villains hold up Countess Elaina Montague's carriage one night, she thinks robbery and rape are inevitable, but then fellow American Thomas Howard rescues her. He tells her about his missing brother and how he has come to Britain to find him, and she tells him about her friend Sherlock Holmes. Surely this is a way to repay the favor, but Howard is not favorably impressed by what he sees as Holmes' nosiness. Why has Sherlock been frequenting the music halls, and who is stealing jewels from London's society ladies?
The game's afoot! Nobody actually says that in this book, which also manages not to involve Moriarty either, which is refreshing! The two authors have previously been associated with the Western genre and it shows, the result being a nice melding of western and Holmes story and set entirely in London. I would personally have preferred more mystery, as everything in this book is either laid before the reader or is easy to guess, two elements always missing from Conan Doyle's own work. Instead you can expect a fast-paced and intriguing tale with plenty of action and a good feel for the seamy side of Victorian London. It is always good to see what authors come up with to add to the Holmes canon, and this manages to be a bit different.
Rachel A. Hyde, MyShelf
I had my doubts about Sherlock Holmes and the Queen of Diamonds by Steve Hayes and David Whitehead (Robert Hale; www.halebooks.com) as the authors are most noted for their Westerns. In fact it's a rattling good yarn, well-written and thoroughly engaging -- and written in the third person, which is often a wise ploy. A baffling series of jewel robberies is somehow connected with the Music Hall, but Holmes's investigation is interrupted when the beautiful Countess Elaina Montague introduces him to Thomas Howard of Missouri, in London on a deadly mission. Those who know something of the Wild West will easily guess the true identity of 'Mr Howard' ...
Roger Johnson, The Sherlock Holmes Society of London
The two authors of this enjoyable Sherlockian romp are more associated with novels featuring gunslingers, outlaws, saloons and shootouts in OK-type corrals rather than criminal misdemeanours taking place in fog-shrouded Victorian London. However, cunningly, they manage to bring more than a touch of the wild and woolly west to Baker Street. Two of the major characters are from America and one in particular, a gun-toting stranger from 'Missoura' has a surprising and notorious identity.
In a literary scene which is currently awash with Holmes pastiches it is pleasing to encounter one that introduces such interesting and diverting touches as Sherlock Holmes and the Queen of Diamonds. The novel is told in the third person, which benefits the narrative in two ways: we are not lumbered with laboured pseudo Watson reportage which when presented by a modern writer can often ring false and mannered; and it also allows the reader to witness scenes in which Watson and Holmes do not appear, thus adding to the range of drama and suspense. Despite the comparative freshness of this approach, Holmes remains the genius detective of old. While investigating a series of daring and baffling jewel robberies, he is able to dazzle with his remarkable deductions -- some of which do strain credibility.
It has to be said that the characterisation in general is rather sketchy and one dimensional, but the story is told with such dash and verve that this hardly seems to matter. A robbery on horseback on the dark streets of London is just one of the dramatic set pieces. While not by any means a ground-breaking entry into the annals of the Baker Street sleuth, this novel rarely fails to excite and engage attention and as such will more than satisfy the Holmes fans.
David Stuart Davies, SHOTS
UNDER THE KNIFE
Under the Knife is co-written by Steve Hayes and David Whitehead. As the storyline goes; a vicious serial killer is terrifying the bayous of Louisiana, and the only person who can catch him is FBI Agent Kate Palmer. But after years spent thinking like serial killers in order to catch them, Kate is facing burnout. To make matters worse, she's about to rekindle a relationship with the only man she ever loved when the Bayou Butcher strikes again, this time frighteningly close to home. For Kate, that makes it personal. And it might also be just the thing it takes to break her completely.
Kate is one of the best protagonists ever immortalized in print. The book is scary, but it is also a psychological thriller, one that I haven't read since the original Silence of the Lambs. This book is definitely destined for the Big Screen; if not, then there is no more imagination in Hollywood. Hayes and Whitehead place their brains together in a very mystical and dark place, and as the story plays out, I was shocked by the resolution, an ending no one can see happening, until it's right in your lap. The first time I read the book, I read it overnight, and found myself with my mouth hanging wide-open in astonishment.
Characterizations in this book are clear, there are no gray areas for the imagination. It's concisely written, with nonstop action that continues even when you think you have it all figured out. Trust me, you don't have it figured out, and the second time I read it, I found even more nuances that Hayes and Whitehead capture in their enthralling story.
Under the Knife is the new type of fiction, that engages the reader. Whenever you find yourself grinding your teeth and holding yourself in the middle of a story, you know that it's one that is meant to entertain.
Tommy Garrett, Highlight Hollywood
By Matt Logan
I was lucky enough to receive a signed copy of Tanner's Guns from author David Whitehead who publishes under several pseudonyms including Matt Logan, Ben Bridges, Carter West and many others. He is prolific and he's good. He is well known as a veteran Black Horse Western writer for the famed series from Robert Hale Publishers. He also writes mysteries and romance novels. He is currently co-authoring suspense novels with veteran Hollywood screenwriter and novelist Steve Hayes. Every book that David Whitehead has written is a top-flight entertainment.
Tanner's Guns is set in Mexico in 1913 during the revolution. Jake Tanner is a tough guy with the task of helping Elliot Blaze sell is arsenal of weapons. This large-print edition makes for a fun western. Whitehead has done his homework and the historical backdrop is accurate and adds depth to this exciting tale. Now, I despise reviews and blurbs by publishers and reviewers who say insane things like "He writes as good as Louis L'Amour" because such hyperbole is generally inaccurate and reflects an ignorance of literary history. But I will say that David Whitehead is equally as entertaining as Louis L'Amour, Mickey Spillane, David Morrell or any other writer of masculine adventures that I so admire. David Whitehead is his own man. Tanner's Guns is the type of story where "The deep, unsociable roar of a carbine cut across the night." (p. 93). This is no-holds barred, full-contact writing. No sissies allowed. Kudos to David Whitehead for keeping that tradition alive during an era where bookstores are filled with pantywaist chick lit.
By Matt Logan, Bookends Books at www.lulu.com, 181pp
Pancho Villa needed guns before he could march on Mexico City. Elliott Blaze had a whole damn' arsenal for sale. All he needed was someone to deliver the weapons to the bandit general -- and that was where Jake Tanner came into it, and in next to no time he was up to his shell-belt in trouble: dodging outlaws, swapping lead with the armies of two countries and, in a final, terrifying showdown, pitting his wits against the federales' awesome secret weapon!
TANNER'S GUNS is a fast-paced, gripping, well-told story, that has two great main characters, that of Tanner himself and his sidekick, Englishman Harry Stanford-Brown. Matt Logan's descriptions of locations and action come over as very visual reading.
Matt Logan also includes some interesting background information to the Mexican Revolution that seems to be a natural part of the story rather than an added history lesson.
There's a great twist to the tale when the lost guns turn up again, and the federales' secret weapon makes for an exciting final battle.
This is the first book I've read by Matt Logan (writer David Whitehead) and I found it impossible to put down once started. Now I'm eager to hunt through my collection for the other books I have by this author.
NORTH OF THE BORDER
By Ben Bridges, Robert Hale, 160pp, ISBN 0-7090-4038-5
I visited my brother last weekend and paid a visit to his local library, which has a good selection of Linford and Thorndyke Large print westerns, so I picked up a couple of second-generation Black Horse Westerns (if a BHW is the first generation, I figure the Large Print edition is the second). As a result, I just finished up the second Ben Bridges novel I've read, NORTH OF THE BORDER (the first was COLD STEEL).
Interestingly enough, both novels -- Carter O'Brien stories -- take place in snow storms. What are the odds?
Anyway, like the first I read, this one is a good action western, nicely handled characterizations -- you can always tell that by knowing you'd like to read more about the characters in the story -- and a cameo by some characters from another Whitehead series, The Wilde Boys. In a way, I felt this novel was too short -- because of the length limitations of the BHW, I think Hale's writers sometimes must focus more on moving the plot than developing incidents or showing more interplay among characters. The author rides the balance well, and NORTH OF THE BORDER doesn't suffer, but it's one of those novels -- or perhaps it's the author's handling of his material -- that makes you wish there were more scenes or longer, more developed scenes among its characters. But David gives the reader plenty of action scenes, including some you might not expect to see in a western -- need I say more than "river pirates"?
If you find this on the shelves, give it a read. I give it a thumbs' up recommendation.
HELL FOR LEATHER
By Ben Bridges, Robert Hale, 160pp, ISBN 0-7090-4751-2
Hell for Leather, another novel in the continuing story of Carter O'Brien, is the latest offering from British western writer David Whitehead.
Bullets and fists fly once again in this rough-and-tumble, yet poignant, tale. O'Brien is placed in the position of helping a dying friend, Ben Leyland, get his large herd of horses across the desolate Llano Estacado so Leyland's widow will have a means of support after his death. To accomplish this, O'Brien has to battle hostile Comanches and a rebellious group of trail drivers that are determined to sell the herd and keep the money for themselves.
With this latest story, David Whitehead proves once again that he knows how to write a good, action western. Whitehead is rapidly becoming the Louis L'Amour of England. And it would be a pleasant surprise indeed, to see his novels hit the American book markets.
Hell for Leather is danged good, action western reading at its best. Combined with the colourful, attractive covers provided by publisher Robert Hale Limited, it's a package well worth the buying and reading. Robert Hale's list of "Black Horse Westerns" certainly deserves more international attention.
HELLER IN THE ROCKIES
By David Whitehead, Robert Hale, 160pp, ISBN 0-7090-4837-8
Talk about your dream job! Luke Heller and his partner Mai Lin are looking forward to spending some quality time together at a luxury resort in the Colorado Rockies, where Heller will earn his keep as security manager. It looks like an easy ride for the one-time Pinkerton, so what a gyp when, shortly after he arrives, there is a violent robbery that ends in murder. Heller soon has his work cut out handling both the murder investigation and his alcoholic fellow security manager Jim Nodeen
Heller in the Rockies is wonderfully-written, action-packed, full of original incident and memorable settings. David Whitehead is fast becoming one of my all-time favourite writers, and Heller in the Rockies shows why. There's no need to do anything but sit back and enjoy the ride. And very enjoyable it is.
My only gripe is the disappearance of Nodeen about halfway through the novel. The alcoholic pugilist was shaping up to be a very interesting match for Heller, but he didn't quite pay off in the end. But Whitehead more than makes up for the omission by providing thirty pages of wall-to-wall action leading up to the finale. So, to quote that famous American Alfred E Neuman, "What, me worry?"
Terrific stuff. Fun, fast-paced, very well written. Preceded chronologically by Heller, but Heller in the Rockies is a stand-alone story.
MEAN AS HELL
By Ben Bridges, Robert Hale, 160pp, ISBN 0-7090-6557-4
The ageing marshal of Eagle Creek has lost his nerve, and with it has gone his control over the town. The Ginnane family, ruthless stockmen from Australia, have stepped into the power vacuum and brought the town under the law of their guns. But the Ginnanes are fugitives from the law in their old country and untried criminals in their new, so Carter O'Brien has returned to Eagle Creek, his home town, to break their stranglehold. To precipitate a confrontation with the family, he has arrested Bob Ginnane, and the marshal reluctantly agrees to keep the prisoner in jail. But Big Vince Ginnane and his sons have other ideas about how the law should operate.
While an entertaining read, Mean as Hell does have some sections that are less successful than others. For instance, the under-the-gun town of Eagle Creek seems a little too lifeless, too insignificant for the big ambitions of the Ginnanes. On the other hand, it's vividly described, and the relationship between the long-absent O'Brien and his mother is very tenderly handled. And when O'Brien fronts up to the Ginnance ranch, we get the kind of heart-in-mouth action that Ben Bridges (David Whitehead) excels at. Ultimately, though, I wanted the Ginnanes to be a bit more assertive and organised. They are a menacing bunch, to be sure, but as a unit -- and I expected the family to be a solid, purposeful monster of a menace -- they are a little insubstatntial.
Mean as Hell is worth picking up at the library, but other Ben Bridges titles may prove more rewarding overall.
RIDE FOR THE RIO!
By Glenn Lockwood, Robert Hale, 160pp, ISBN 0-7090-6736-4
When farmer Will Hooper's wife is raped by Alesandro Larraya de Benedictus, the sadistic son of a Mexican cattle baron, Will tries to find support among local cowpunchers for a crusade to bring Alesandro to justice. But Alesandro's father Don Miguel is respected and feared in equal measure by the locals, who also hate "sod busters" like Will.
Only one offers to help, a young man named Lee Earl. Together he and Will Hooper ride for Mexico to bring Alesandro back to Texas for trial.
Ride for the Rio! is an object lesson in how to write a Black Horse Western. It has frequent, exciting, natural action; a clever, twisting plot; fully drawn characters, and plenty of suspense. Glenn Lockwood delves into the sadistic psyche of the rapist Alesandro with relish and to brilliant effect. Psychologic explorations are prominent in the three Lockwood novels published to date, and the approach is welcome and extremely effective here. Will Hooper is just as well realised as Alesandro, and likewise Alesandro's servant, Rafael Ugarte, and the cattle baron Don Miguel Larraya de Benedictus.
Frankly there's not a weak link in the whole affair. Will Hooper's righteousness is perfectly counterbalanced by Rafael Ugarte's and the story never gives itself away. At no point are Will and Lee guaranteed success; they are always running and fighting for their lives, having in essence illegally invaded a foreign country to commit a capital crime.
All in all, a thrilling piece of work, brilliantly conceived and expertly executed.
BACK WITH A VENGEANCE
By Glenn Lockwood, Robert Hale, 160pp, ISBN 9-780709-068495
After being shot in a bungled bank robbery, Arch Bowman, infamous rapist and killer, has a 'moment of clarity' and resolves to devote the balance of his life to settling a piece of unfinished business. The unlucky target of his vigour for justice Bowman-style is mild-mannered farmer Walt Canaday. On the day Bowman and his gang ride into Freedom Rock, the town near Walt's farm, Walt has come in to meet his potential new bride, Ellie. She has travelled from Minnesota to meet Walt, with a view to marriage if they get along in person as well as they did in correspondence. But Walt, Ellie and Freedom Rock are soon plunged into hell at the hands of Bowman and his gang.
Back With A Vengeance is the kind of masterfully-written western that would have fit perfectly alongside westerns of the Golden Age; and indeed would have enjoyed numerous reprints since. Glenn Lockwood (David Whitehead) maintains a steady hand on the reins, generating a tension-filled story that barrels along with impressive fluency. The value of a genuine page-turner may seem a trifling thing to point out, but I think we've all read our share of westerns where we struggle to keep up with the story, to bring some kind of meaning to what is going on. This is never so of Back With A Vengeance; the fact it is a thrilling page-turner should be considered the strongest commendation.
Moreover, Lockwood pitches the novel perfectly in relation to its sub-genre -- it is basically a traditional western -- while imbuing it with a clear and welcome contemporary flavour. Quite what this flavour is, I'm not sure; it may be a certain visuality to the storytelling, which is perhaps an effect of our predominantly visual era. At any rate, Back With A Vengeance earns its place in that great corpus of rock-solid, thrilling westerns one always bears in mind when seeking "more books like that."
BLAZE OF GLORY
By David Whitehead, Robert Hale, 160pp, ISBN 0-7090-6993-6
In New Mexico territory, Ben Crawford is one of the best marshals in the business. The trouble is, he's too good and his reputation proceeds him when he is hired by Conrad Kane to keep the peace in Kane's Crossing. As a result, the bad guys stay away from day one, and Crawford spends 12 years waiting for something to do. Finally he is declared obsolute and pensioned off by the town's council, but on his last day, violence comes to town. Three outsiders have come to kill a man in Kane's Crossing, and separately, jailed rapist Jared Parsons is due to be released and will doubtless seek revenge on Crawford for his internment. Crawford is the only one who thinks Kane's Crossing still needs a marshal, but is he the man for the job? Can an ageing, arthritic man uphold the law against younger, faster adversaries? Does he even want to live, if he's just going to sink into anonymous retirement and old age?
There's something different going on in the novels that David Whitehead writes under the Glenn Lockwood banner. While the Ben Bridges novels I have read tend to be rip-roaring, gun-toting westerns, the Lockwood stories employ a less violent, psychological suspense to generate their action -- and this works very well indeed. I'm put in mind of Hitchcock ... sort of. Lockwood's suspense in Blaze of Gloryisn't as dark or creepy, but the character of Ben Crawford reminds me of James Stewart's character L.B. Jeffries in Rear Window. Both are ageing men of action, forced to deal psychologically with the consequences of physical decay and occupational obsolescence. They can't do the same jobs they used to, but at the same time they aren't ready to leave their youth behind. It's an interesting cunnundrum.
If I were to nit-pick, I would say Blaze of Glory might have benefitted from Crawford being even less capable, even more conflicted, even more -- to put it bluntly -- old. But then again, I don't want to protest too much, because I enjoyed the story immensely as it is. It's a fast-paced, exciting read, and the characters are very compelling. Lockwood has created a story of considerable depth within the limitations of the Black Horse Western model.
At present the Lockwood novels number three: Ride for the Rio!, Back with a Vengence and Blaze of Glory. I'd recommend them without hestitation.
DRAW DOWN THE LIGHTNING
By Ben Bridges, Robert Hale, 160pp, ISBN 978-0-7090-8340-5
Highly recommended. Masterfully written and a very original variation on a classic Western storyline.
Carter O'Brien must wonder sometimes if he's too inquisitive for his own good. After saving greenhorn Roy Collins from a hold-up on the road to Skeeter Creek, O'Brien finds himself saving Collins' life again that evening in town. Collins is so impressed, and scared for his safety, that he hires O'Brien to protect him en route to his destination -- though where he's headed, and from whom he needs protection, he won't say, having been sworn to secrecy. O'Brien agrees to tag along, if only to find out what the heck is going on with Collins ...
... and that's about all I can tell you! The plot of Draw Down the Lightning is a very original variation on a classic Western storyline, so I wouldn't dream of spoiling it. What I can say is that Ben Bridges is an impressively creative and skilful writer, and in Draw Down the Lightning he's at his best.
This is not 'just' a Western; no cliched storytelling or by-the-numbers work here. Draw Down the Lightning deals as much in the action and intrigue of Westerns as it does in the relationships, the fears and hopes and love, that built the American west. It is in this sense a very full and human novel, yet told with the economy typical of great Black Horse Westerns.
Moreover, Bridges runs his characters across a landscape that is beautifully evoked. I hesitate to describe the prose rather blandly as 'cinematic'; but certain passages have that quality. I must say, I admire Bridges' storytelling style immensely. He is a wonderful writer by the standards of any genre.
Among the many westerns under an assortment of aliases that David Whitehead has produced, the Carter O'Brien series holds special appeal as his first novel featured this character way back in 1986. This book is Carter's latest outing and from the first sentence it doesn't disappoint.
Carter survived thirteen other adventures because he was greased lightning with a gun and the best freelance fighting man in the business. But now he's keen on having a rest. Unfortunately, trouble has a tendency to find him. He interrupts two men menacing a greenhorn on a buggy. A fight ensues and the two men get away, but at least he saves the victim, Roy Collins. Oddly, Collins isn't particularly forthcoming with information. It seems that Collins was purposefully targeted for the hold-up. But why? Collins is working for the Long Branch ranch, which is run by two sisters, Lyn Merrick and widowed Jane Farrow, who also has a son, Clay. They're helped by old-timer Abel Spark.
The Long Branch is suffering from hoof-and-mouth and times are desperate. Worse, Carter's old enemy, Tom Grandee, has joined up with a gang of gunslingers and is working against them. Carter was told not to interfere and to leave the county. Carter feels disinclined to listen to threats, especially when women are in jeopardy. Inevitably, blood is going to be spilt and lightning will be unleashed.
Description, motivation, characterisation, a sense of place, believable action; they're here in plenty. You almost smell the gunsmoke and feel the ache of bruises and the loss of a friend. At turns action-packed, humorous, poignant and dramatic, the story never lets go. Sure, we know the hero must survive, but Carter comes close to oblivion more than once. Our concerns are for the other characters pressed hard by single-minded arrogant villains. Carter is one of the old school, a man who can take a beating yet still stand up, bloodied but unbowed, to fight for what is right.
A story well told by a very accomplished professional. And it's a great title, too.
If you'd like to read a really Great western with a capital G, read Draw Down the Lightning by Ben Bridges. You heard it from me first -- Draw Down the Lightning by Ben Bridges makes Robert B. Parker look like an amateur.