Monday, April 19, 2021

SHOOT-OUT AT SUGAR CREEK


 SHOOT-OUT AT SUGAR CREEK

A Caleb York Western

By Mickey Spillane & Max Allan Collins

Kensington Books

Available April 27 - 2021

222 pages

 The sixth chapter in the Caleb York series picks where the fifth ended, with the people of Trinidad New Mexico dealing with the aftermath of the worst winter recorded in the west. Many of the local ranchers, having lost most of their stock, have packed up and left the territory, while Willa Cullen, owner of the big Bar-O, is struggling with a decimated herd and a lack of clean running water to support them. The only unfouled source is Sugar Creek which sits on neighboring Circle G land.

As the story opens, the once abandoned ranch is bought by a beautiful widow named Victoria Hammond, who entertains grandiose plans to become the richest, most powerful figure in the county. Events get off on less than desirable footing when Sheriff Caleb York is forced to shoot and kill Victoria’s youngest of three sons for raping and savagely beating a local working girl. Upon meeting the woman to respectfully report the circumstances of the shooting, York discovers that she has no intentions of allowing any other ranchers access to Sugar Creek. She is also planning on buying out Willa for pennies on the dollar. No stranger to past range wars, York finds himself in the precarious role of peace-keeper, between the woman he loves and the ambitious widow Hammond. 

Along about this time, we found ourselves musing over Collins’ ingenuous plot with its echoes of a several classic television settings. Thus far the adventures of Caleb York and Trinidad have seemed much like Matt Dillon in the popular Gunsmoke series. Whereas with this book, he offers up a dark-mirror image of another well known oater, The Big Valley; what with Victoria Barclay (note the same first name) and her three boys. That the two, York and Victoria Hammond are on a collision course is obvious from their first scene together. Then, in his usual masterful touch, Collins ups the ante and violence erupts quickly towards the tale’s second half leaving blisters on our fingers. We simply could not put it down. The end was so Mickey Spillane, it was eerie.

We’ve enjoyed all the Caleb York books but this one clearly stands out as a high mark. Nobody spins a yarn like Max Collins. Nobody.

 

Monday, March 29, 2021

BENEDICT & BRAZOS #2 - A Badge For Brazos

 

BENEDICT & BRAZOS

# 2  Badge For Brazos

By E. Jefferson Clay

Bold Venture Press

Yank Duke Benedict and Reb Hank Brazos need a stake to continue their hunt for outlaw Bo Rangle who knows the whereabouts of $200,000 dollars stolen at the end of the Civil War. To that end they come to the small town of Harmony run by a loud-mouthed, over-sized Madam named Dutch Amy. She and her partners have discovered that the silver mine in the nearby hills actually has new, richer veins of the ore as yet untapped. Whereas the local mining camp of Whipple Creek believes the mine to have been played.

Fearing the miners will learn of the undug riches, she and her men begin a campaign of terror in hopes of forcing them to abandon the territory. This in turn creates several gun battles between the cowboys and miners that threaten the entire township. Upon seeing Brazos fighting skills, Dutch Amy appoints him Sheriff thinking him a stupid yokel she can easily manipulate. Alas, much to her chagrin, Brazos takes the job seriously and soon, along with Benedict’s assistance, he begins to investigate the recent rash of killings.

All of which leads to a violent gun-blasting confrontation between the two saddle partners versus Dutch Amy’s small army of hired gun. Once again Jefferson Clay demonstrates his flair for writing fast paced, colorful western action that moves across the pages like a runaway stampede of Texas Longhorns. This is Wild West at its Wildest!! Not to be missed.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

EVOLUTION MAN

 

EVOLUTION MAN

By Charles E. Millhouse

Stormgate Press

265 pgs

Young Caidin Wells is thrill seeker. Anything from fast cars to skydiving, he willing signs regardless of the risk. Only in his twenties, he thinks himself invulnerable. Then one day his hand slips off a mountain face and Caidin plunges hundreds of feet to the earth. He awakens in a hospital miraculously alive thanks to his mother, Carol Wells, a microbiologist working on human nananites. Nananites are tiny little robots capable of traveling through a person’s blood and repairing any bodily harm done no matter how severe the injury. Although not given the green light by her employer for human testing, Carol realizes the only chance her son has to survive is by injecting him with the nanobots. He does survive and soon discovers his body is a whole lot more than just healthy, it’s on the cusp of being supercharged.

Now if this sounds all familiar, author Millhouse never hides the fact that his hero is in fact his version of the sixties television series “Six Million Dollar Man.” In fact his use of the Christian name Caidin is a respectful tip of the pulp fedora to writer Martin Caidin, the writer who created Steve Austin, the test pilot virtually rebuilt by science.

Millhouse’s use of nanonites is not at all that far-fetched as modern science and medicine are actually testing these microscopic agents today in research labs around the country. Once having accepted this familiar tale, we’re left with two primary plot objectives. The first is how will our young hero adapt to his brand new body? That’s a foray into the character’s personality, his strengths and his vulnerabilities and is extremely well handled throughout. The dynamics between Caidin and his mother, plus other supporting figures is believable on so many levels.

Whereas this is a pulp adventure, we have a second plot; that of the billionaire villain, Armand Devereux, Carol’s employer. He wants to control her discoveries and ultimately build a private army of nano-charged super mercenaries. Devereux, like all good villains, yearns not for cash, but for power. All the power in the world. 

In the end, we thoroughly enjoyed this novel and recommend it highly. Millhouse is a more than capable writer and his actions sequences precisely laid out. But there remains an unsatisfying finale. Sure we knew going in this would be the first of a series, but of the two objectives we mentioned earlier, the only one comprehensively dealt with in this opening chapter was that of Caidin’s adjustment; which will obviously continue in subsequent volumes. Whereas the second is left way too much unresolved. Really?

Friday, March 19, 2021

BARSTORMERS Book Two

 

BARNSTORMERS  Book Two

By Matthew Bieniek

Available at Amazon

207 pgs

College grads Kristina “Kiki” Hansen and Bridget Doyle continue their adventures as high flying barnstormers while continuing their undercover work as agents for the international police agency known as ICPO. In this volume the girls find themselves in gangster-ridden Chicago still chasing after the mysterious villain known as the Belgian. Frustrated with their constant interference in his schemes, he wants nothing more than to see the girls eliminated permanently.

Along the way Kiki finds romance in a handsome young man and ends up crossing paths with Al Capone’s chief assassin, Frank Nitti. Managing to survive their stay in the Windy City the girls then travel to St. Louis to find work with another Flying Circus and this time encounter an aviator named Charles Lindbergh.

Once again Matthew Bieniek offers up a wonderful look back into America’s past when daring young men and women saw aviation as the nation’s future with boundless economic potential. They were the pioneers of the clouds and living large was their way of life. None more exciting and colorful than Kiki and Bridget.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

THE BLOODY SPUR - A Caleb York Western

 

THE BLOODY SPUR

A Caleb York Western

By Mickey Spillane & Max Allan Collins

Pinnacle Books

270 pgs

This is the third of Max Collins’ five Caleb York adventures. York was a western character created by the late Mickey Spillane in a movie script possibly intended for his pal John Wayne. Collins adapted that script into “The Legend of Caleb York” and had it published. Happily the editors were taken with the book’s reception and asked him to do more featuring this new cowboy hero. Collins obliged by writing another four books. Obviously we’d have preferred to read them in the order in which they appeared but that not being possible, we were still determined to obtain all five books; read and review them.

Having settled comfortably in Trinidad, New Mexico, Sheriff Caleb York senses trouble brewing when an odd series of events transpire with days of each other. The first being the arrival into town of Alver Hollis, a notorious gunfighter named the Preacherman and his two saddle pals. Familiar with the man’s deadly history, York believes him to be a paid assassin who disguises his killings under the label of “self-defense.” The question plaguing York is exactly who is the Preacherman’s target in Trinidad. The second affair is the public hue and cry in regards to the Sante Fe Railroad proposing to build a spur line from Los Vegas to Trinidad. Whereas most of the towns leading merchants see the spur as an economic boon to the community, blind rancher George Cullen disagrees. This poses a serious hindrance as Cullen’s spread is the largest in the territory on which the railroad needs to cross to build their new spur. Naturally Cullen makes it known he is not about to grant them that right-of-way. It also doesn’t help that the stubborn old man is the father of Willa Cullen, the young woman York is smitten with.

 

Things begin to heat up and before Willa can convince her father to change his mind, the old man is found dead with evidence indicating he was murdered. What we truly loved about this particular entry in the series is how Collins skillfully shaped it into a western detective story and York proves to be as capable an investigator as he is a peace keeper. The clues are there, as Collins always plays fair, and we happily admit by the book’s finale, he’d smoothly misdirected us. That doesn’t happen often. Thus “The Bloody Spur” is another winner in this series. So, what do you say, Max Collins, got a sixth brewing in that wonderful imagination of yours? We really hope so.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

DIAMONDBACK - It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time

 

DIAMONDBACK

It Seemed Like a Good Idea At The Time

By Derrick Ferguson

Pro Se Press

165 pgs

There is absolutely nothing subtle about this book. It is a powerful, gang-blasting, take-no-prisoners crime thriller from start to finish. The setting is the fictional city of Denbrook, a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah filled to top of its highest skyscrapers with sin and depravity run by gang bosses that would have made ancient samurai warlords look like Boy Scouts. Into this hellhole of concrete and steel comes a notorious gangster named Diamondback Vogel who comes across like a mythological John Henry badass.

Of course the various bosses are immediately aware of his presence and all of them curious as to his agenda. There questions are quickly answered when, after only a few hours of his arrival, Diamondback is involved in a bloody shoot-out in one of the swankiest night clubs in the city. Later that same day he takes a meeting with as yet a second crime boss, this one known as the Magician because of his interest in arcane mysticism. A caravan of four 18 wheelers filled with illegal weapons is on its way to Denbrook. The Magician wants Diamondback to destroy three of the trucks and their cargo and bring him the fourth. Diamondback accepts the assignment well aware every other criminal organization in Denbrook will be at the designated locale with similar intentions.

Hours later, at one of the many abandoned warehouses in the area known as the Barrens, Diamondback single-handedly wages combat with all these other factions and by the time he escapes with the only remaining truck, several acres of real estate have been blown to smithereens. The political powers that be, local and federal police agencies are enraged and quickly began their own machinations to find and eliminate Diamondback use whatever means possible. Thus within a twenty-hour period he becomes the most wanted man in Denbrook.

To say we liked this book would be an understatement. One should note, Ferguson is a movie buff and the subtitle to this first Diamondback tale is taken from the classic western film, The Magnificent Seven. Whereas it was a particular Clint Eastwood oater that kept surfacing in our thoughts as we read the book. That one about the Nameless gunfighter who rides into the sleepy border town and soon begins playing one outlaw gang against the other for his own gains. Finally, a needed word of caution here. Like the abundance of graphic violence throughout this book, there are also a few scenes of adult sex that leave very little to the imagination…or rather implicitly fire the imagination. If readers find that objectionable, don’t say we didn’t warn you. Remember the first line of this review. Nuff said.

Tuesday, March 09, 2021

BENEDICT & BRAZOS # 1 Aces Wild

 

BENEDICT & BRAZOS

# 1 Aces Wild

By E. Jefferson Clay

Bold Venture Press

Writer Paul Wheelahan was born in 1930 in Bombala, New South Wales Australia the son of a mounted policeman. He grew up in the Great Depression and in 1947 moved Sydney, to work for his idol, comic creator Stan Pitt. At first Pitt employed him as an inker and eventually Wheelahan moved to doing covers. Ultimately he would write and produce short fillers for American outfits such as Sheena, Queen of the Jungle and his own creations like the sci-fi hero Space Hawk.

When original Australian comics work dried out in 1963, Wheelahan turned to writing western novels writing more than 500 novels under various pseudonyms to include the Benedict & Brazos series as E. Jefferson Clay. These fast paced, action heavy books follow the adventures of two colorful Civil War veterans.

Nearing the end of the war, Confederate Sgt. Hank Brazos and his unit are ordered to guard a shipment of gold valued at over $200,000 dollars and transport it to New Mexico and Gen. Nathan Bedford Forest so that he may use it to fund a second Confederacy. As luck would have it, Brazos’ company encounters a Yankee patrol led by Captain Duke Benedict and a bloody battle ensues in which most of the combatants are slain. At which point a third force arrives on the scene led by mercenary outlaw raider, Bo Rangle. Forced to join forces, Benedict and Brazos, put up a valiant effort but in the end Rangle and his men succeed and ride off with the loot. Benedict and Brazos shake hands and go their separate ways believing they will never see each other again.

Less than a year after Appomattox, the two cross paths in the sleepy little Kansas town of Daybreak. Things are hopping in Daybreak, what with a new two story brick bordello going up much to the chagrin of the local Christian Ladies Auxiliary and a trio of outlaws has begun operating in the nearby valley. Before long, and after a few knuckle busting dust-ups and shoot-outs, Brazos begins to suspect Benedict has stumbled on to a clue as to the whereabouts of Bo Rangle and the missing gold shipment. To that end, he makes it a point of becoming the Yank’s shadow, having his own personal interest in recovering the lost treasure.

Like most non-American writers of pulp westerns, Wheelahan’s prose is purple as a summer twilight, rife with twangy cowboy slang, larger than life characters bordering on the cartoonish and yet still managing to deliver solid adult action. The pacing is as fast as a longhorn stampede from first page to last. Now this rip-roaring series is available to American pulp fans via Piccadilly Publishing’s association with Bold Venture, for which we can only say, “Thanks, Pilgrim.”