Monday, September 23, 2019

(A Caleb York Western)
By Mickey Spillane & Max Allan Collins
Kensington Books
224 pgs

It is always fun to see writers known for a particular genre wander off into unknown territories. Which is exactly what transpired with mystery/crime writer Max Allan Collins took it upon himself to novelize a western movie script by the late Mickey Spillane. The result was four cowboy actioners featuring former gunfighter turned sheriff, Caleb York.

We read book one, a few years ago and thought it a very decent western. Having just finished the fourth in the series (yes, we know, we’ll have to find 2 & 3 eventually) we have to say Collins has adapted to the genre like a cowhand to his Stetson.

At the start of this novel, three of Trinidad’as most well known citizens board a stagecoach for Los Vegas from where they plan on catching a train to Denzer. One is Raymond Parker, an influential business man in the little New Mexico community. The others are rancher Willa Carter and saloon owner Rita Filley. Only a few miles out of town, the stagecoach is waylaid by the Hargrave gang, the driver and shotgun guard murdered and the passengers taken hostage. It is the outlaws’ plan to demand a hefty ransom from Parker’s business partners in Denver.

By the time Sheriff York learns of the incident, it is too late for him to successfully track the bandits. Somewhere in the nearby hills exist an old ghost town and a hotel that offers its services solely to outlaws. The Hargrave gang has made their headquarters and where they are holding their prisoners. Such outlaw lairs were not uncommon in the years after the Civil War. In fact there were actual documented histories of actual “outlaw” towns.

Once York does lean of Hell Junction, the rest of the book is focused on his out-thinking Hargrave and finding a way to rescue his friends, the two women especially dear to him. For a story that is somewhat claustrophobic in that it doesn’t cover a lot of ground, Collins manages to keep the narrative moving forward. As ever, just when we readers need some action, Caleb York’s .44 is there to provide it in a seamless fashion. This is solid story-telling with fascinating characters and could easily be transferred to the big screen by some enterprising movie producer. We can only wish. In the meantime we have the books and that in itself is a pleasure.


Now we don’t usually do this, but with this paperback edition we simply could not hide our distaste for the cover. Having grown up in the 50s and 60s, we were treated to western paperbacks that sported painted covers by some of the finest artists in the world, ala Robert McGinnis and many others. Whereas this title looks totally photo-shopped with the supposed hero looking like a Chippendale model from Beverly Hills. If we were female and a devotee of Harlequin romances, then we might it find it appealing. But not for a rough and tumble, old-fashion shootem-up. Publisher…take note.  Please.

Tuesday, September 03, 2019


(A Signal Airship Novel)
By Robyn Bennis
Tor Books
367 pgs

Among the more than fifty novels we read last year, one of our favorites was Robyn Bennis steampunk adventure “The Guns of Above.” Now she has given us its sequel, “By Fire Above” and it not only as good as her first outing, but in many ways far superior. Simply put, it’s a page-turning delight.

We are reunited with the Garnian airship Mistral and its crew of stalwart men and women led by the no-nonsense Captain Josette Dupre; aided by the flamboyant and witty Lord Bernat Hinkal. The same Lord Hinkal who just happens to be her mother’s lover. There’s also recently promoted Ensign Kemper and Sgt. Jutes among others. Believe me, within a few pages of introucing each, Bennis fleshes them out brilliantly.

In the previous novel, Josette’s hometown of Durum had fallen to the enemy forces of Vinzhalia. In the first half of this book, she learns how to gain favor among the Garnian royal court in hopes of persuading the Command Staff to approve the retaking of the town. With the help of Bernat and his older brother, Roland, she miraculously manages to gain an audience with the King and then is stunned to learn he is willing to grant her wish; the army will march on Durum with Mistral flying support.

Bennis’ satirical depiction of court life and politics is both insightful and funny. Yet it is only the prelude to the heart of the adventure. Once the campaign to retake Durum is underway, she pulls out all the stops and the action ramps up to full speed ahead. It is so fast and precise; you’ll have trouble catching your breath from chapter to chapter. Her weaving of multiple, fascinating characters throughout explosive, suspense filled combat is simply amazing.

Bennis is one of the finest writers we’ve ever had the pleasure of discovering and her Mistral adventures exceptional in every way. Think C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower in the sky and you’ll get the idea. If you love imaginative action, adventure and truly remarkable characters, please, do not miss “By Fire Above.”