Although the bulk of Mike Linaker's fiction has appeared in the action-adventure genre, where he regularly chronicles the adventures of Gold Eagle's Mack Bolan, he remains one of Britain's most accomplished and collectible western writers. He is also a very, very nice guy.
Michael Robert Linaker was born in Lancashire on 7th February 1940, and educated at Anglo-Chinese schools in Malaysia, where his father served as a non-commissioned officer in the British Army. Returning to England in the mid-1950s and settling in Derbyshire, he eventually married Marlene Ward in 1967.
Mike's main interest in adolescence was science fiction. "The western influence came from film and television," he later explained. "I read SF books by the dozen, but few if any westerns because that Max Brand/Zane Grey stuff just didn't do anything for me.
"Then one day I happened across a Fawcett Gold Medal western called Tough Hombre by Dudley Dean. Something about the cover just hooked me, and after I finished reading it I'd become a western fan in no uncertain terms. Western paperbacks were being imported in great quantities at that time, so I was spoilt for choice."
Mike very quickly came to admire the western in its traditional form. "Not that I don't like the current output, which is now coyly called Frontier Fiction," he's quick to add. "But I feel there's still an audience for the westerns of the past. When I talk of 'traditional' westerns, it brings to mind the writers who influenced me when I read their stories. Frank Castle, Lewis B. Patten, Gordon Shirreffs, Richard Jessup and many others. And of course Louis L'Amour. They wrote about tough, honest, self-sufficient heroes, gunfights in dusty streets and conflicts played out against the spectacular terrain of the old Southwest. It was the stuff of high adventure, a time when America was still creating its own history and its heroes. In the West we're dealing with, though the stories painted vivid images of tough men in a harsh land, the prose perhaps strayed from the absolute truth, but in the hands of those craftsmen who wrote the stories, there was an allowance for a little artistic bending of the rules. No different, in truth, of any fictional genre, where too much reality could not only tarnish the storyline, but might easily detract from the reason for the piece -- to entertain the reader."
He continues, "In the western I found an escape. The situations, the dialogue, the attitude of the main characters, all these things helped to make up that place we came to know as the 'West'.
Two for Texas: Mike (right) rubs shoulders with another western giant, J T Edson
At school, English was the only subject that Mike really enjoyed, and inevitably he soon began to entertain dreams of becoming a writer himself. "I purchased my first typewriter and hammered away, and for long, frustrating months I slowly produced my first western epic, Two For Texas, a tale about a couple of wanderers who team up and get into all kinds of scrapes. I sent it to an agent who took me on and was very patient. He read the script, then wrote me a long, four-page letter explaining why the book would never, ever get published. It was the best thing he could have done for me, and those four pages became my bible on how not to write a western. So I wrote my next one, following his advice, sent it off and then set to work on book three. After the obligatory long silence I received a letter saying that he had sold both books to Avon Publications. As far as I was concerned that was it. I was made. I would never have to do anything else but write."
Mike's first published western was Incident at Butler's Station (1967), a neat variation on the "group of people under siege" theme, in this case a soldier, a band of outlaws en route to jail and a strong-willed woman, all of them trapped in a Wells Fargo way-station surrounded by Apaches. This book, and its successor, were both issued under the pseudonym "Richard Wyler".
That second book was a pursuit story entitled Savage Journey (1967). The hero here is Luke Kennick, a former soldier whose last patrol was wiped out by marauding Comanches. Tensions rise when Kennick -- now a rancher -- agrees to escort the Indian chief who led the ambush across country for trial. Kennick's task is complicated when he finds and rescues a woman in the desert.
His next book, High Kill (1975) was through no fault of his own one of his most disappointing. It was bought by Norden Publications, and entirely without Mike's knowledge or permission, turned into an entry into the then-popular Sundance series, where it appeared under the title Bounty Killer. The result is a heavily-cut and often confusing story that Mike later reworked to much greater success as Travis (1985), again as by "Richard Wyler".
The next four westerns all appeared in hardcover in 1976. While Talman's War is a fairly standard range war story, however, Savage Gun is a considerably more memorable yarn. Here, Mike employed one of his favourite themes, that of the maverick lawman. The book was originally planned as the first book in a series which never materialised. Both of these books appeared as by "Dan Stewart".
I think the two hardcovers which appeared as by "Matt Jordan" represent some of his best work. The first, Brigham's Way, introduces the three Tyler brothers, who come to America from Lancashire in order to make their fortunes. Brigham becomes a cattleman, Seth becomes a town marshal and Jacob -- whose adventures are told in Jacob's Road -- ends up falling foul of the law when his restless nature leads him to make a new life for himself elsewhere. The proposed third novel, Seth's Law, was never written, but Mike remains hopeful that it will eventually see publication.
The "maverick lawman" theme surfaced again in Mike's Jason Brand series, written as "Neil Hunter" and originally published in Norway by Morgan Kane publisher Bladkompaniet. Brand is a former US Marshal turned gun-for-hire, and the series contains several of Mike's most intriguing plots, such as in Devil's Gold where -- in its original form -- a trail of Confederate gold leads Brand to Jamaica, where he locks horns with a Chinese renegade and teams up with a British secret agent!
Mike also ghost-wrote five Frank Angel westerns for his friend Frederick H Christian. These were originally published in Germany, but eventually found their way into Robert Hale's line of Black Horse Westerns under such titles as Ride Clear of Daranga and Long Ride Into Hell.
However, probably his best-known western series to date is that featuring Bodie the Stalker, again written as "Neil Hunter". Bodie is a bounty hunter, and with its violent and often intense plots, this six-book series successfully recreates the mood of the old Spaghetti westerns.
Mike Linaker is a big advocate of realism in writing. "The depiction of violence has never worried me, as long as it evolves as part of the story. My only concession to it, from my own writing, is that it is depicted as realistically as possible and not just dropped in casually and in too great a quantity. I've tried to do that as much as possible, and when I have someone shot I try to show it as it really is. Being shot is not very pleasant, nor is being involved in a brawl. So those things should be presented in a way that makes the reader understand that they really are unpleasant things."
In the 1980s Mike wrote three "nasty" horror novels which were all published by New English Library -- Scorpion (1980), The Touch of Hell (1981) and Scorpion II -- Second Generation (1982).
Mike demonstrates his own unique way of dealing with the competition -- in this case, western writer B J Holmes
Sadly for the many fans of his western fiction, Mike's time has been taken up with the action-adventure genre since 1988's Missile Menace, written as "Gar Wilson". Although many of his earlier westerns have since been reprinted, however, his most recent western, as of this writing (September 2008) was the excellent High Mountain Stand-Off (2006) as by "John C Danner".
Like many writers, Mike has a poor opinion of publishing today. "At the moment here in the UK there is very little in the way of genre fiction. Now it all has to be high-profile, guaranteed bestsellers by a restricted group of names you see over and over again. I find that a little stifling. Publishers now seem to be drawing in their horns. There are no smaller houses willing to go to the edge. That's why I stay with my Canadian/US publisher, Gold Eagle. In the US there are still markets for genre fiction. Some might call it downmarket. But so what? It has its place. Sometimes all a reader wants is simply to be entertained. He or she wants to enjoy a good read without too much deep thought being thrown at them. And that's what I try to give them."