Friday, October 30, 2020

The Hard Homesteader by Clayton Fox


“There is always country like that,” he said. “The old-timers come in and grab the best land. They fight the Indians and the country until they get the country the way they want it. Then they try to keep it from changing. Just as the Indians tried to keep it from changing. Change is bound to come, but it has to be fought over.”

My first experience with this author but it won’t be my last.

It is, on one hand, a formulaic tale of Stranger in town butting heads with the powers that be, but on the other hand, there are many less than formulaic choices made by the characters that keep one interested.

The people are rich and full-blooded and Fox not allowing them to follow an ABC mode of action makes for a richer than standard reading experience.

It is no classic, but it is also not dispensable fare.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

The Adventurers by Ernest Haycox


A rock-solid later work from a master of the genre.

Haycox’s later novels mark a break with the formulaic tales and settings of the West and see the author exploring less than usual terrain, both geographical and internally. Here we have shipwrecks, logging in the Pacific Northwest, the economics and dynamics of running a sawmill, but…

Where many authors allow such details to be an info dump where they use their research as proof of authenticity, Haycox always places character first.

To my mind he is one of THE top male western authors when it comes to limning female character.

A gorgeous addition to the man’s legacy.

Monday, October 26, 2020

The White Rhino Hotel by Bartle Bull


Your boots carry fresh red dust. Your foolish English trousers are torn. From the British only one thing I have learned: always in Africa to wear shorts. All the rest they have learned from me. In shorts, the thorns do not stop you, and there is less noise when you stalk. Your skin is not important. It will mend itself.”

Not strictly a Western, but most definitely a novel of the Frontier, in this case The African Frontier.

The novel is first in a trilogy set in East Africa spanning from the end of the First World war into the Second Global conflict.

The reader can not help but notice the numerous parallels with novels of the American Westward expansion, the encounters with wildlife, the hazards and blessings of indigenous people’s interactions, the “good men” and the outlaw.

The novel may have a stiff-upper lip tone in places but the intimate knowledge of the land and people as well as the sweep of story, in turns majestic in others outright kinky, the reader is easily swept along with the epic.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Six-Gun Justice Podcast


If you are the sort who reads blogs such as this one, then likely you are also the sort who will listen to two knowledgeable gents dig into the history and background of the Western fiction genre.

Those two savvy gents are Paul Bishop and Richard Prosch.

Each episode is a bit of a deep dive into the offered topic and allows we over-the-top Western readers to still be immersed in the genre even when eyes are not on pages.

Enough yakking from me, have a listen.

FYI-You can find an interview Mr. Bishop did for this very blog in our archives and yet another chat with Mr. Bishop on altogether different topics at my other blog Indigenous Ability [my day job of historical violence.]

Hot Lead: Most Wanted All Review Special Edited by Justin Marriott


I offer no prefacing quote here. We do that to give the flavor of a work of fiction so we can tell if a work may or may not be up our individual taste alley.

Likely if your eyes are on this blog, then you already know that this book is up your alley.

200+ reviews, a handful of essays and background on topics pertaining to the genre.

But what makes this volume a prize is that you’ll find classic Western works alongside more pulpy or formulaic offerings.

You’ll find Owen Wister treated with the same regard as George Gilman.

That leveling of regard is the strength of this volume, it does not pick and choose sides, it merely seeks to say “I read this, here’s what I think.”

For aficionados of the genre, a browser’s paradise.

Texas Outlaw by Richard Jessup


Because he knew how to organize things, Burt Anderson, took over the cleaning up of the main street. The dead numbered six, the wounded eleven. Seven horses, two mules, and five wagons had been destroyed. Seven of the Indians had been killed, and five of their ponies. They removed the wounded to the saloon and the dead to the livery stable because it was the coolest place in town. The Indians were dragged by their heels through the dust at the end of a rope and dumped without comment in a hastily dug communal hole half a mile outside of town. The horses were dragged to the flats, soaked with coal oil, and set afire. Anderson worked tirelessly, and as much of his effort went into consoling the widowed women who had lost husbands and the mothers who had lost sons as into attempting to get Fury back on its feet.

I’m of two minds regarding this rugged Fawcett Gold Medal offering from 1958.

On the one hand, the action, the internal lives of men and women under stress and duress is ably and admirably played as in the offered paragraph that heads this review.

On the other hand, there is a bit of hampering [to this reader’s mind] and that hampering comes from a shoehorning of soap opera machinations.

A good opening third of the novel is mired in these melodramatic pawns on chessboard maneuverings.

The last two thirds are where this novel comes to life. It is alive with events. Alive with the interiors of people in response to those events. It is here that the novel shines.

If one has a tolerance for the opening shenanigans, a reader is likely to find much to enjoy here.

Monday, July 27, 2020

The Black Wolf's Breed by Harris Dickson

FRANCE—In the old world and in the new! The France of romance and glory under Henry of Navarre; of pride and glitter under Louis XIV, in whose reign was builded, under the silver lilies, that empire—Louisiana—in the vague, dim valley of the Mississippi across the sea: these are the scenes wherein this drama shall be played. Through these times shall run the tale which follows. Times when a man's good sword was ever his truest friend, when he who fought best commanded most respect. It was the era of lusty men——the weak went to the wall.

King and courtier; soldier and diplomat; lass and lady; these are the people with whom this story deals. If, therefore, you find brave fighting and swords hanging too loosely in their sheaths; if honor clings round an empty shadow and the women seem more fair than honest, I pray you remember when these things did happen, who were the actors, and the stage whereon they played.

As we can tell from that opening salvo this novel is different than our standard western fare. If we include Louis Lamour’s lovely designation of “Frontier” novel rather than the more limiting label of “Western” more such intriguing gems from the early days East of the Mississippi come to light.

This 1901 novel bears the full title of The Black Wolf's Breed A Story of France in the Old World and the New, happening in the Reign of Louis XIV. Our hero is a hardy frontiersman of French descent who serves under the governor of the Louisiana Territory, Bienville. We venture into the wilderness of Louisiana and Mississippi just after LaSalle made his voyage down the Mississippi River.

We are treated to woodland warfare with Choctaws by our hero’s side, he is sent on a secret mission to the courts of France, engages in duels, crosses back across the Atlantic aboard a privateer to engage in yet more derring do with battles between the French and Spanish along the Florida Coast all with “painted savages” in the midst.

It is a novel of its time, and its age shows but there is a verve to it.

A few asides from our hero give more of the flavor.

“A still tongue, a clear head and a sharp blade are the tools of Fortune."

The pert little lads who idled about the hall began to make sport of me concerning my dress, and laughed greatly at their own wit. I paid no heed to their foolish gibes, there being no man among them.”

“We men of the forest accustomed to the rough ways of a camp, and looking not for insult, are slow to anger.”

"Spit the thief, run him through," came from one of those behind—for the rear guard, beyond the reach of steel, was ever loud and brave.

Youth and health do not long lie idle.

What say you to an adventure?"

Two fools like ourselves might perchance stumble blindly upon what a wise man would overlook,"

"Ah! a soldier; so interesting in these stupid times, when men are little but women differently dressed.

He approached Madame at the table with a semblance of that swagger affected by the weakling in presence of women.

"M. Jerome has favored us, you know—we have no drones here," she went on pleasantly, "and it is the rule at Sceaux that all must join our merriment."

While not quite as strong as the best of Rafael Sabatini or Dumas in good translation, it was mighty pleasing to this reader to encounter the unsheathed sword derring do of the classic swashbuckler with a hale and hearty frontiersman bearing the blade.

The Hard Homesteader by Clayton Fox

  “There is always country like that,” he said. “The old-timers come in and grab the best land. They fight the Indians and the country until...