book reviews

3 Westerns by One of the Greatest

johnstone westernsI’ve been a fan of William W. Johnstone since I discovered his 24-volume Mountain Man, Preacher series. There is no writer who puts you more in the era of the Old West’s mountain men, those honest, hardworking, and rough men who survived by trapping and selling pelts from the majesty of the Rocky Mountains. They loved the beauty and isolation of the Rockies despite the freezing weather, untamed Indians, lack of support, and all the other hardships that befell those men (and a few women) willing to open the West to settlers. I learned from the most iconic of all mountain men, Preacher (from the comfort of my armchair), how to survive with nothing but a homemade knife, how to live off the land, how to read other two-legged animals in a blink, and the importance of respecting the culture and wisdom of the land’s first inhabitants, the Indians.

Let me back up a moment and tell you about the author, William Johnstone. If you think of Westerns as ‘light entertainment’, it may surprise you to know that Johnstone is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of over 300 books, predominantly on the Old West. He is one of the pre-eminent writers in that genre (in my estimation, on a par with Louis L’Amour–which I know will get pushback from many!), in part because his passion is sharing accurate facts through the lens of an old-fashioned storyteller. When William Johnstone stopped writing about Preacher, I turned to his other 276 books. When he passed his pen onto his nephew, J.A. Johnstone, I found much to my surprise J.A. had a similar knack for authentic details and a good story.

Recently, NetGalley offered several of his books so I grabbed five. Here are reviews of the first three:

  • Sawbones  — being a skilled doctor isn’t worth much in the post-Civil War South
  • Right Between the Eyes — a sharpshooting sheriff uses all of his skills, even those he wishes he could forget, to protect his town from a range-war-gone-wild
  • Behind the Iron — a former deputy US Marshall, now paroled prisoner, tries to bring those who killed his family to justice while making a life for himself after prison

View all my reviews


by William W. Johnstone


Sawbones by William Johnstone (Pinnacle 2018) is the often sad but not uncommon tale of a Confederate soldier returning after the Civil War to a Union-controlled South in search of the life he left behind. Instead, he finds his wife remarried, his house absconded by carpetbaggers, and his town cowed into submission. Before the war, he was a well-respected surgeon. He took those skills to the battlefield but was captured and lived out the war in a Union prison. When the war ended, his captors released in Georgia, forcing him to walk back to Texas (he wasn’t given a horse, train ticket, or any money). Each step, he lost weight and hope. In his desperation to simply survive, he got on the wrong side of both the law and the cavalry, and ended up joining a gang of similar former Confederate soldiers as their doctor. It was there he discovered two things about himself. One, he was a crack shot, few faster, and two, he didn’t like the outlaw life.

In typical Johnstone fashion, this story is filled with details about Yankee prisons, the South after the Civil War, and life in western towns. It’s a fascinating read where the facts are exquisitely woven into the plot and characters. This is highly recommended not just for those who love Westerns but for those who are interested in survival against all odds.

–received free from NetGalley in return for an honest review

Right Between the Eyes

by William Johnstone


Though William Johnstone is famous for series like The Mountain Main, Preacher, The First Mountain Man, Maccallister, Luke Jensen, Bounty Hunter, Flintlock, and Those Jensen Boys, he is also well-loved for the many stand-alone Westerns (and short series) he wrote. Right Between the Eyes (Pinnacle 2018) is the third in the Rattlesnake Wells Wyoming trilogy but a stand-alone story that can be read without having read the first two. We meet Sheriff Bob Hatfield, a Wyoming sheriff who is honest, hard-working, remarried after the death of his wife, and wants nothing more than to live in peace, doing a good job, keeping the citizens of his town safe. But he has a secret past that threatens to be exposed. Wen two ranches come to blows over rustling, one hires a gunslinger who remembers Hatfield when he had a different name and a wilder job, one that might explain why this law-abiding sheriff has a faster gun than most guns-for-hire.

Every good western I’ve read includes elements of good vs evil, damsels in distress, valued horses, bad guys trying to cause trouble, survival based on wits, a range war, gunfights, a wild untamed saloon that is the town’s gossip center, working girls, someone who’s greased lightning with his gun, and lots of trouble. This book covers about two-thirds of those (the rest can easily be found in other Johnstone novels) and introduces the town newspaper, a piece I don’t see in many other Westerns.

All in all, this is a highly-satisfying book with a great ending. If you like Westerns and haven’t read Johnstone before, go get this one!

–received free from NetGalley in return for an honest review

Behind the Iron

by William Johnstone


In William Johnstone’s Behind the Iron (Penguin Random House 2018), Harry ‘Hank’ Fallon, former deputy US Marshall and paroled prisoner, has a difficult background that is complicated by a rich mix of law and disorder. He was released from prison early for saving the lives of several guards and ended up working for the American Detective Agency, a wannabe Pinkerton Detective Agency who would never live up to that sort of stellar reputation. He knows they’re using him but it doesn’t bother him much, because he’s using them, too.

Harry Fallon had been at the Illinois State Penitentiary in Joliet, saving the lives of a few guards during a bloody riot, and that act of bravery, kindness, humanity—just a spur-of-the-moment decision, truthfully—had led to a parole for Harry Fallon, former deputy United States marshal for Judge Isaac Parker’s court in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Fallon had been given a job at Werner’s Wheelwright in Chicago and a place to live at Missus Ketchum’s Boarding House near Lake Michigan. And then this small man had changed Fallon’s life.

While he was in prison, his family was killed. Now, he will take any job that allows him to find the killers and bring justice to them, even if it’s of the Wild West variety. Luckily, he is well-suited for fighting bad guys. He is a fast thinker, quick with his guns, and about as powerful as anyone he might run into.  Like most westerns, things don’t go quite as planned, but as a reader, that only makes it more exciting.

The story is set in the late 1800’s with a well-developed plot peopled by vibrant and busy characters. While it’s not the typical Wild West with small towns, horses, range wars, and untamed people who went West for freedom, it’s definitely a look into a long-gone era where the rule of law meant something only if enforced with a gun.

This is the second in the Hank Fallon Westerns series. I couldn’t be happier. BTW, the tagline is right. It is quite violent.

–received free from NetGalley in return for an honest review

More Westerns

4 Great Western Reads from NetGalley

3 Great Westerns

6 Tips for Western Fiction Writers

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and Born in a Treacherous Timefirst in the Man vs. Nature saga. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, blog webmaster, an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for TeachHUB and NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Survival of the Fittest, Spring 2019. You can find her tech ed books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning

34 thoughts on “3 Westerns by One of the Greatest

  1. I don’t recall ever reading a Western. My father loved watching them, so I didn’t have a choice in that! My curiosity is piqued too, though I’m a little worried that I might get sucked in and I’ll disappear into the wild west for a good long while!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. 24 Volumes. Wowza. The series sounds great, Jacqui, and I can tell you’re a fan. I haven’t heard of Johnstone, but I’m going to need to pick up one of his books now. Right Between the Eyes sounds like a good one to try since its a stand-alone. Thanks for the recommendation. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Hi Jacqui – I hadn’t heard of him … but I did like a lot Louis L’Amour’s The Walking Drum … so was delighted to read this intro of Johnstone … in Wiki it says JA is his niece … but obviously the legacy has been carried on. I’ll check in on him … cheers Hilary

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is amazing. I think some writers are such natural storytellers, these books just roll of their pens. I follow another author who publishes a new book every month–and they’re all great! Not deep o soul-searching but satisfying.

      Liked by 1 person

    • These western heros are much like thriller heros or even Medal of Honor winner heros because nothing stops them from justice. Of course, their guns are single shot and a few other differences but I enjoy their spirit!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. O boy, do I remember Louis L’Amour! As I was reading your post I was trying to remember his name and thankfully you gave it! This was zillions of years ago. The elder Johnstone has been pretty prolific and I’m glad his talents have been passed on to his nephew. Your description of these books has certainly piqued my interest thank you! Have a great weekend 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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