If you like thrillers but can’t quite get behind the world-ending apocalyptic plot points–would like something a little more down-to-earth–you very well 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:
- Frontier America — Preacher, the most famous mountain man in Western fiction, has another adventure you don’t want to miss
- Too Soon to Die — Smoke Jensen (part of the Jensen family Universe) does what he does best–win; Johnstone at the top of his game
- Preacher’s Frenzy — another story about Preacher, the first mountain man
- Hired Guns — another Old West saga starring Luke Jensen (part of the Jensen family Universe), who unexpectedly becomes a hired gun for as rich man
- Riding Shotgun — the dangerous life of riding shotgun for a stagecoach line
- Burning Daylight — the ongoing saga of Luke Jensen, son of the infamous mountain man Preacher and yes, he gets into another worst-possible scrape
- Cutthroat — two outlaws find extricating themselves from the owlhoot trail isn’t as easy as it sounds
by William Johnstone and J.A. Johnstone
William Johnstone’s next in the Jensen Universe, Too Soon to Die, (Pinnacle Books 2019) is Johnstone at his best. This book deals with Smoke Jensen as a mature gunslinger, a rancher and family man:
“Youngsters organized games or just chased each other around, squealing happily, while the grown-ups sat at the tables or stood in the shade under the trees as they caught up with their friends on everything that had happened since the last time they had seen each other. Births, deaths, other marriages, good roundups and bad, all were topics of great interest.”
“…ranch hands under Cal’s direction began hanging lanterns from tree limbs and along the awning over the porch that ran around three sides of the main house. Fiddle players rosined up their bows, and guitar pickers tuned and tightened strings.”
Smoke has left his dangerous days of fighting outlaws behind and now, his son is getting married–just like so many other parents in the world. He wants to give him a wonderful wedding and take care of his new wife’s son for a few weeks while the newly weds go on a honeymoon. Is that too much to ask?
Maybe. Complications start innocently enough when his daughter is rescued on a runaway horse by a silver-tongued cowboy who’s passing through. Smoke offers him a job which seems to work out. His daughter even reluctantly is attracted to him. Then they run into cattle rustlers, horse thieves, kidnappers, and a bunch of outlaws who just want Smoke and everyone close to him dead.
This is Johnstone at the top of his game. An excellent read for both Jensen fans and lovers of the Western genre.
by William Johnstone
The Jensen Family ecosystem includes Preacher the Mountain Man, Smoke the Last Mountain Man, Those Jensen Boys, and Luke Jensen Bounty Hunter. Each character has his own series, filled with stories that highlight their life back in the late 1800’s. Together, these series make up the broad and varied world of the Old West as seen through the eyes of William Johnstone.
This book, Preacher’s Frenzy (Pinnacle 2019) is unusual in the Preacher series in that most of it doesn’t take place in the mountains. Preacher and friend Charlie spent the summer collecting pelts in the gloriously beautiful Rocky Mountains and are now delivering them to St. Louis. The money they get is to fund their next year of trapping. When Charlie gets stabbed and robbed, Preacher promises to get the boy’s money back. This takes Preacher down the Mississippi to New Orleans where he runs afoul of a powerful criminal. He ends up kidnapped and thrown on a pirate boat where he is to be delivered to an island as slave labor on a plantation. But Preacher isn’t easily controlled and things don’t work out as the criminals planned.
This is a good story, as usual. My only complaint is that Preacher had to leave Dog and Horse, two wonderful characters in earlier books, out of the chase because it started on a paddle boat rather than dry land. Aside from that, I cannot get enough of Preacher, his world, and his take on surviving.
by William Johnstone
In Hired Guns, next in William Johnstone’s Luke Jensen series, itself part of the Jensen Family Universe, Luke Jensen takes a job for a wealthy man who wants to avenge the killer of his son. When Jensen goes to the isolated mining town where this happened, he is greeted with gunfire from a pack of owl hoots who ‘don’t want to kill him just capture him’. He escapes only because the Indian Sheriff (and alleged murderer of innocent people) rescues him from sure death. When he talks with him, he finds out there is a lot more to the story than he’s been told, starting with that the wealthy man’s son is still alive. To unravel this mystery, Jensen gets involved in a complicated plot to drive an entire town out of existence. Jensen is a lot more dangerous than one man should be and always has creative solutions to impossible problems.
Highly recommended to those who love atmospheric westerns that put you right there in the Old West.
by William Johnstone and J.A. Johnstone
In Johnstone’s Riding Shotgun (Penguin Random House 2019), first in a new Red Ryan Western series by the king of Westerns, the free-spirited, quick-thinking Red Ryan is one of the best stage coach guards in the West, especially when teamed with his favorite driver, Buttons Muldoon. As a team they have a better chance than any other team to drive a stage from Point A to Point B but when they are hired to protect a stage going to Fort Bliss–carrying three women and one obnoxious Easterner–even they declare it too dangerous. One of the women convinces Red to throw caution to the wind so that she can be with her Army husband in his time of need. What she doesn’t tell him is that her reason for making the journey despite the danger has nothing to do with love. They haven’t traveled far before they find the Army platoon that was tasked to protect them on the long trip has been slaughtered by renegade Apache. When they decide to proceed anyway, those same Apaches zero in on the stagecoach.
Indians are only the beginning. Before Red and Buttons finally free themselves of their passengers, they will face outlaws, traitors, near-death experiences, and more death-defying events you’ll have to read the book to find out about.
This is a fun read that celebrates the men and women who settled the West. Red embodies that breed of maverick early American who thrived in this wide-open law-challenged land and were rewarded for their hard work with a good life lived to the hilt. I suspect that the hardships that were part and parcel of surviving this world couldn’t have been done without a large dose of humility and a relentless sense of humor.
by William W. Johnstone and J.A. Johnstone
In William W. Johnstone’s Burning Daylight (Pinnacle 2019), Book 7 in the Luke Jensen Bounty Hunter series, Luke Jensen is not your usual bounty hunter. He comes from a loving family, the members of which make up the Jensen Universe of fiction written by Johnstone. It includes three famous mountain men–Matt Jensen, Smoke Jensen, and Preacher (my favorite of all)–and two reckless twin nephews (from the series, Those Jensen Boys!).
Becoming a bounty hunter wasn’t how Luke saw his life unfolding but he’s satisfied with it. In this episode, he ends up in a small Western town to turn in several dead outlaws for the bounty and comes across a homemade poster offering $1.47 and a almost new harmonica as bounty for anyone who will bring in Three-fingered Jack McKinney. When Luke investigates, he finds it’s offered by a young boy and applies to his father who deserted the family some time ago, followed now by the seventeen-year-old son. The remaining mother and preteen boy are destitute and desperate. Luke is persuaded to take up the hunt with the promise that he will bring the older son back home but the father can be dead or alive or not there at all.
This like most Johnstone Westerns is excellent. I know when I’m reading a Johnstone Western because like good Arbuckles coffee, I just can’t stop.
“Saw-toothed ridges jutted up and formed sheer canyon walls on either side of the winding trail. It was dangerous country,”
“People used to say you could load a Henry on Sunday and shoot it all week.”
The settings are so richly drawn, the characters so intimate, it’s like chatting with friends. If Johnstone keeps writing, I’ll keep reading.
by William Johnstone
Cutthroat (Pinnacle 2019) is William Johnstone’s latest Western and the first of a new series, Slash and Pecos Westerns. In this Johnstone Western, two outlaws, Slash and Pecos, are thrown out of their gang, barely managing to escape with their lives, and end up in the safest place they know–the hidden home of the widow of one of the gang members. They decide to pull one last job, designed to give them seed money to buy a freight business and live out their lives on the straight side of the law. That plan is interrupted when bounty hunters track them down, burn them out, and leave them living in a cave–though not before Pecos and Slash kill most of them. With what seems to be their usual bad luck, the effort to go straight doesn’t work any better than their escape and they end up in jail waiting to be hanged. To free themselves will require they do something they never would have thought they would.
This is a fast moving story with lots of detail on life and culture of the old west. A good addition to the plethora of other westerns out by William Johnstone et al.
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, an Amazon Vine Voice, a columnist for NEA Today, and a freelance journalist. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Against All Odds, Fall 2020. You can find her tech ed books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning