If you like thrillers but can’t quite get behind the world-ending apocalyptic plot points–would like something more down-to-earth–you may like westerns. I do and thankfully, Netgalley is happy to feed my addiction with free books. Here are some of the last ones I read:
- Death Rattle — the birth of a Texas Ranger in a time when these lawmen were every criminal’s nightmare
- Captive Justice — a Western boy survives growing up and learns to be a good adult
- Gunpowder Express — an infamous but broke gunslinger agrees to take on a hopeless job that will probably get him killed
- Defenders of the Texas Frontier — watch the birth of the West and the Texas Rangers through the eyes on one who was there
- Shot to Hell–a shootist with the unlikely name of Perley Gates must for the second time save a town that’s being run by gunslingers
- Cottonmouth–a gunslinger is haunted by his past as he tries to turn his life around
by Sean Lynch
Death Rattle (Penguin Random House 2019), Book 1 of The Guns of Samuel Pritchard series, introduces us to Samuel Pritchard and explains how he became the gifted killer of guilty men he becomes by the last page. We meet Pritchard as a teenager in post-Civil War South, where loyalties are divided within towns–and families–and the law is mostly who’s wearing the badge. When he finds out his father has been killed by the town’s lawmen, his family home burned down, instead of fighting for justice as his father taught him, he must leave the only town he’s ever lived in or be killed. Before he can come to terms with the truth that evil often wins even in a good world, he is left for dead more than once, his fiancée is killed in his arms by thugs with a grudge against him, and he discovers his God-given talent for killing. All this comes together to create a bigger than life Texas Ranger with a moral center that can’t be swayed and a soft spot for those who can’t take care of themselves. By the end of the book, Pritchard accepts that avenging evil and upholding justice is what he’s meant to do with his life and to his surprise, it’s what he wants to do.
This is the start of a new series that promises to be powerful and satisfying, living up to all we expect of great Westerns. Highly recommended.
by Sam Scott
In Captive Justice (2019), Book 2 in Sean Scott’s Western Justice series, twelve-year-old Jed Whittier is orphaned when is family is slaughtered by cutthroats who attack their wagon train for nothing more than their scant belongings. He escapes only because he is away from the camp fishing and is rescued by accident when a stranger unexpectedly comes by. From then on, Jed must grow up fast, try to remember the lessons his father taught him about becoming a man, and learn new ones the hard way. His goal becomes to get old enough with enough talent that he can get justice for his family against the outlaws who killed them. That isn’t easy in the 1872 West. He must survive an outlaw camp, being falsely accused of a murder he didn’t commit, all the while struggling to feed himself. But easy doesn’t matter to him anymore. Only justice.
One piece that sets this book apart from other Westerns–other fiction in general–is it includes no profanity. Hard to imagine considering the setting and characters, but true.
by Brett Cogburn
In Brett Cogburn’s Gunpowder Express (Pinnacle 2019), Newt Jones may be famous as the ‘widow maker’ but right now he’s just broke. He agrees to fight the town of Vulture’s local tough guy for a $100 purse–not much but he needs the money. The problem is, when it looks like he’ll win, the bully cheats and Jones ends up battered and still broke. He recovers, barely and still broke and agrees to guard a shipment of gold traveling along the infamous Gunpowder Express which everyone is sure will be robbed. He’d be stupid to do it but his horse is in hock and his horse is his best friend. So, he agrees to the job. That’s when the excitement starts and everything goes to heck.
This story is slower moving than many other westerns I’ve read but with the authentic detail that grabs my old west imagination and a compelling plot with enough twists and turns to keep me reading.
PUBLISHER’S NOTE Following the death of William W. Johnstone, the Johnstone family is working with a carefully selected writer to organize and complete Mr. Johnstone’s outlines and many unfinished manuscripts to create additional novels in all of his series like The Last Gunfighter, Mountain Man, and Eagles, among others. This novel was inspired by Mr. Johnstone’s superb storytelling.
In David Gross’ Defender of the Texas Frontier (iUniverse 2019), John Coffee Hays arrives on the Western frontier with his cousin, both looking for a chance to defend the new republic by fighting the Spanish, the Mexicans, or even the Indians–as long as they can be part of the wild freedom offered in this untamed part of the continent.
“…looking for action to satisfy our need for an adrenalin rush. We appeared to be anything but a disciplined militia unit. Each one of us was dressed in his own style…”
Before they finish, they are molded into a seminal part of the original fearless Texas Rangers., the toughest lawmen in American history and the scourge of criminals everywhere. Through the life of Hays, we learn authentic details about what went into making the west a lawful part of the young United States. Here are some examples of the detail and research Gross includes in his tale:
“…One of the most notorious Comanche war chiefs was known as Cuerno Verde, or Green Horn, of the Kotosoteka band. De Ansa gathered an army of nearly 350 regulars and about 250 Indian allies and then set off to find Green Horn.”
“President Sam Houston faced a continuous financial crisis. He disbanded the militia and allowed funding for the ranging companies to lapse. He was doing his best to keep the Republic solvent.”
“Another skill, imitating the tactics of the Comanche, was to learn to hang from the side of a mount and fire a pistol under the horse’s neck with accuracy.”
If I had to rename the genre of this story. I’d call it very creative nonfiction. Though using fictional characters to tell the overall story of building the West, there is more history than the traditional western with more in-depth detail, sometimes multiple pages detailing the historic backstory. This is a must-read for anyone with a real interest in the 1830-40’s, a period of history when America was extremely new and not sure it could survive, when our enemies were on our own continent and we didn’t always beat them. Enjoyable and informative.
by William and J.A. Johnstone
In William and J.A. Johnstone’s latest in the Perley Gates Western series, Shot to Hell (Pinncacle Books 2020), young Perley Gates must again use his spectacular shootist skills to save friends and maybe a whole town. He’s not a gunslinger. He’s a rancher but when friends he hasn’t seen in a while have trouble with a local rancher named Ned Stark, Perley and his sidekick Possum return to the town they at one point helped clean up, worried they may have to do the same thing again. The Marshall is weak and easily manipulated by Stark and the Mayor is reluctant to organize a vigilante committee to help the Marshall, hoping things will fix themselves. When Perley comes to town to visit his old friends, he kicks off the war by killing two of Stark’s gunslingers in fair fights. Perley only uses his gun after he’s tried everything else but that happens far too often in this town. When Stark sees how fast Perley is and how willing he is to stand up for justice, he knows he must either kill Perley Gates or watch his empire collapse.
This is another action-packed old-time Western by the Johnstones. Perley Gates is an excellent character with skill, morals, and grit enough to take care of trouble when it slaps him in the face. I highly recommend it to anyone who loves Old West fiction as much as I do.
by Sean Lynch
In Sean Lynch’s Cottonmouth, next in the Guns of Samuel Pritchard series (Pinnacle 2020), Samuel Pritchard, aka Joe Atherton, aka Smokin’ Joe, has settled back into his hometown of Atherton Missouri as Marshal and Acting Sheriff, trying to get past the murder of his parents. He is preparing for re-election when a gunslinger shows up challenging ‘Joe Atherton’ to a gunfight, wanting to claim the huge bounty and the title as the man who beat Smokin’ Joe. Pritchard no longer goes by that name but he must kill the man or lose his own life. When more show up with the same goal, Pritchard finds out that someone has placed a bounty of $10,000 on his head, no questions asked, dead or alive. When a young girl gets caught in the crossfire, Pritchard resigns as Sheriff and sets to find whoever has brought all of these gun-toting lawless people to his town and stop them.
This is the sequel to Book 1 in the series but a stand-alone with enough background on the prequel to make this story easy to follow. One part I particularly like is the detail this Western has about the weapons used in the Old West by Lawmen, bounty hunters, and regular folk and how they evolved over time:
“Pritchard preferred his venerable Remingtons, which had a feature allowing the hammer to rest on a notch milled between the cylinder holes. This permitted safe carry while fully loaded with six cartridges.”
Scott is an excellent storyteller with a good balance of atmosphere and pacing that make this an excellent read. I highly recommend it for those who love the old west.
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 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 NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Against All Odds, Summer 2020. You can find her tech ed books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning