Wednesday, 18 October 2017

AUTHOR FAVOURITES: BAD DAY FOR THE HANGMAN by JEFF BRELAND

Jeff Breland writes westerns, ghost stories and thrillers – and sometimes hybrids of all three.
He’s another author who likes the first thing he wrote best of his work – in Jeff’s case this is the first in his ‘bounty hunter’ series BAD DAY FOR THE HANGMAN. This features Jake Stone who’s a bounty hunter in everything but name.
In the company of a Mexican girl he pursues a ruthless killer across northern New Mexico.
It’s curious how bounty hunters in western fiction are often ‘good guys’: STEVE McQUEEN bookended his career in westerns as a bounty hunter, starting off in 1958 in the TV series WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE, and, in his very last western in 1980, playing perhaps the west’s most famous bounty hunter – even if no one called him that – TOM HORN.


Steve McQueen as Tom Horn


The real Tom Horn

And both RANDOLPH SCOTT in ‘Ride Lonesome


and CLINT EASTWOOD as ‘the man with no name’ are, at least in theory, on the side of the angels.


Despite the popularity of bounty hunters in western fiction, evidence for historical ones remains scanty. As well as Tom Horn, there’s CHARLIE SIRINGO (1855 – 1928) a Texas cowboy and author who, at the age of 36, joined the Pinkerton’s Detective Agency.


He began operating undercover, a relatively new technique at the time, and infiltrated gangs of robbers and rustlers, making more than 100 arrests. Reluctantly, he went undercover to undermine the Western Federation of Miners in the strike they held in northern Idaho in 1892. In the late 1890s, posing as a gunman on the run from the law for murder, he infiltrated BUTCH CASSIDY’s Wild Bunch.


The Wild Bunch in 1900: Front row 1st left THE SUNDANCE KID; farthest right: BUTCH CASSIDY; Back row, 2nd right: KID CURRY

Several members of the gang were captured or killed as a result of the information he gathered, including KID CURRY, eventually killed in a shoot-out in 1904. So Siringo was a bounty hunter more likely to bring a criminal down by digging away in the background, rather than by a bullet in a face-to-face encounter.


 Kid Curry

Award-winning author JACQUIE ROGERS (who writes for the Prairie Rose Publications stable as I do) has produced a fascinating blog on bounty hunters here: http://jacquierogers.blogspot.co.uk/2007/10/bounty-hunters-in-old-west.html

Reviews for BAD DAY FOR THE HANGMAN:

‘Breland has crafted a great character in Marshal Stone… An action packed book with a good plot…. This book was very exciting with twists and turns… I just kept going way past my bedtime because I couldn't figure out what was going to happen.’ 

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

AUTHOR FAVOURITES: JASON KILKENNY’S GUN by KIT PRATE

Kit Prate (a Sundown Press author like me) tells me her favourite of her westerns is JASON KILKENNY'S GUN, now available on Sundown Press. Kit describes it as ‘a coming of age story; a young boy falls under the spell of a notorious bounty hunter without realizing the consequences for his family.’

In JASON KILKENNY'S GUN the bounty hunter is Rance Savage, still seeking revenge on the man who partially crippled him 20 years earlier; his young admirer is 15 year old Josh Kincaid. But then Savage finds the man he’s been searching for so long…

Historical evidence for Old West bounty hunters is scant, but they’re certainly popular in western fiction, being portrayed by everyone from Randolph Scott (‘Ride Lonesome’)


to James Stewart (‘The Naked Spur’)


to Steve McQueen in the TV series ‘Wanted Dead or Alive.’



The theme of a youngster hero-worshipping a bounty hunter made me think of Henry Fonda (the bounty hunter) and Anthony Perkins in ‘The Tin Star’ (1957.)



Anthony Perkins & Henry Fonda in 'The Tin Star'

Tom Horn 


and Charlie Siringo


are two historical westerners who could almost be described as bounty hunters.
There were of course scalp-hunters in the Old West, men who went after bounty offered for Native American hair. Men like John Johnson, who carried out the infamous 1837 massacre of Apaches at Santa Rita, New Mexico, and James Kirker, an Irishman who operated in Mexico and went after Apache scalps c. 1840.


James Kirker

One reviewer on Kit Prate generally: ‘…The best in the business -- best plots, best characters, best action, and the unexpected details and gestures that vault the prose right off the page.’

Other reviewers on 
JASON KILKENNY'S GUN:
‘Your jaw will be hanging at the storytelling ability.’

‘Awesome… very enjoyable read.’

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

AUTHOR FAVOURITES: HANGTOWN CREEK by JOHN PUTNAM

John Putnam tells me his favourite of his own novels is his first (something I hear repeatedly from authors.) This is HANGTOWN CREEK, the first Tom Marsh adventure: a story of adventure, romance, and coming of age in the early days of the California gold rush. Here ‘the majestic landscapes of Brett Harte's California unite with Larry McMurtry's epic old west realism.’

14-year old Tom Marsh and his family leave their farm to seek their fortune in the newly discovered gold fields. Meanwhile two ex-soldiers rescue a woman from a villainous saloon keeper, who sets off in pursuit.  Fate brings these characters together, where both opportunity and death will clash.

The California Gold Rush began on January 24th 1848 when James W. Marshall found gold at Sutter’s Mill at Coloma, California. At this point California was in the process of being taken from Mexico after the Mexican War, a home for Mexican residents, American settlers and Native American tribes.
The 1848 gold rush only drew prospectors from California, Oregon, Hawaii and the nearer parts of Latin America. In 1849 gold-seekers from the eastern parts of the United States flooded in, the fabled '’49-ers.'


Goldrush prospectors

An estimated 300,000 people came to California during the gold rush, California became a state without ever being a territory, and many of the Native American population perished through disease, starvation and violence. Meanwhile lawlessness flourished, until countered first by vigilantes and then by conventional law and order bodies.
Originally Dry Diggin’s, Hangtown bore its grim name from 1849-1854, because of the numerous hangings that took place in the area. Later its name was changed to the more welcoming Placerville.   



Hangtown in 1849

The gold rush has only occasionally featured in TV and movies. The fabled Mexican bandit Joaquin Murieta, the so-called ‘Robin Hood of El Dorado’ was played by Ricardo Montalban in the TV movie ‘Desperate Mission’.



The Outcasts of Poker Flat’ is a film based on a Brett Harte gold rush story.


Dale Robertson & Cameron Mitchell in The Outcasts of Poker Flat’ 

The musical ‘Paint Your Wagon’ where Lee Marvin follows his wandering star, also has a gold rush setting.


 The last time I looked at Amazon.com 48 of 64 reviews for HANGTOWN CREEK were 5 star!
REVIEWS:
‘John's writing is so fresh you are always simply in the now with his characters. …The pace, rich characters and smooth writing voice and style carried me along and kept me reading into the wee hours. Wonderful storytelling.’

‘Vividly written, fast-paced novel.’

‘The author has created a suspenseful, dramatic, and rough-hewn fictional tale.’ 

‘Excellent storytelling, memorable characters… a gripping tale.’

Masterfully told… a suspense story with a satisfyingly deep plot…’

https://www.amazon.com/Hangtown-Creek-California-Marsh-Adventure-ebook/dp/B01H2BUHY8

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

In praise of… THE HIGH CHAPARRAL

As a boy growing up in England in the 1960s, TV Westerns were a staple of my viewing. I only caught the tail end of shows like ‘Maverick’ ‘Cheyenne’ and ‘Rawhide,’ and, oddly enough, can’t ever remember watching the longest-running of all TV Westerns, ‘Gunsmoke’ although I’m sure it was shown in the UK. The ones I remember are ‘Bonanza’ and ‘The Virginian’ and some short-lived series like ‘The Loner.’
I would catch these quite often and usually found them entertaining, but not essential viewing. I always thought the TV Western the ‘poor relation’ of western movies. My taste in westerns has always run to the outdoor and the primitive. The production values of TV westerns, many of them being filmed on familiar Hollywood backlots or sound stages, meant they made little of what is a key western element in my opinion – the landscape, and its physical magnificence.
That all changed in 1967 with the appearance of ‘The High Chaparral’ which became a ‘must watch’ show for me. 

Whilst other shows had occasionally ventured to Old Tucson, Arizona, the HC location shooting was mainly there, and in other sites around Southern Arizona. For us Brits, living on an island which is, alas, sometimes rainy and grey, the Arizona we viewed each week was literally dazzling; I knew people who watched the show who didn’t even like westerns but fell in love with the landscapes. All of which gave the HC not only physical beauty but authenticity – the sweat and dust were real!

The premise of the HC is this: ‘Big’ John Cannon brings his family – wife, son Blue, brother Buck – to the Arizona Territory of the early 1870s, to set up a ranch, the High Chaparral. But the country he enters is lawless and riven with conflict, another key element in the show. Bandits – American and Mexican – abound, and hostile Apaches raid, particularly the Chiricahuas under their chief Cochise.
Almost immediately Cannon’s wife is killed by an Apache arrow. Unwilling to fight both the Apaches and a rival Mexican landowner, Don Sebastian Montoya, Cannon comes to terms with Montoya. But to seal the deal, Don Sebastian insists Cannon marries his daughter, Victoria, much younger than him. Cannon reluctantly agrees, and Victoria returns with him to the ranch, along with her brother Manolito.
Whereas ‘Bonanza’ featured a rather idealised family, the HC clan are often more like a family at war, grafted together over a marriage of convenience! That’s because high quality HC scripts gave us leading characters we could like and admire but were also flawed, edgy and vulnerable, cast to perfection.
Ok, a caveat here. It would be nice to say that the HC maintained its high standards over its 4 seasons. Sadly, season 3 fell foul of the trend to ‘tone down’ violence in westerns at the end of the 60s which meant this season was disappointing, with only a scattering of good - mostly light-hearted - episodes. As for season 4… let’s not go there! Whoever was producing this season seemed determined to change everything that made the original show great, from cutting back on location photography to speeding up (and ruining) the wonderful theme tune. Add to that one main character – Blue – left without explanation and was air-brushed out of the series. This was compounded by tragedy when Frank Silvera died in a household accident.
Most of my favourite episodes are from seasons 1 and 2, when the HC was, in my opinion, as good as the TV Western ever got.     
The dominant figure, JOHN CANNON is portrayed by LEIF ERICKSON.

I believe Erickson deserves credit for being unafraid to present Cannon as a sometimes unsympathetic figure. On the plus side he’s a man with a vision for transforming Arizona from a wilderness and living at peace with the Apaches. But at times he’s a ranting bully, initially cold and awkward towards his new wife, and deliberately harsh in his treatment of his 20-year-old son BLUE (MARK SLADE.)

Blue in turn can be petulant and thoughtless, and takes a long time to accept his new mother-in-law. He does a lot of growing up in the course of the show!
BUCK CANNON (CAMERON MITCHELL) is another multi-faceted character. 

He’s often looked down on by his brother for his drinking and irresponsibility. He’s an under-achiever; whilst his brother is clearly intent on making his mark on the land, Buck describes himself simply as ‘a drifter.’ That doesn’t mean he can’t find steely courage when he has to, e.g. when he has to stand up to his old confederate army captain who comes to seize Don Sebastian’s land (‘The Filibusteros’.)
VICTORIA (LINDA CRISTAL) remains one of the strongest female characters in the TV western, 

particularly in episodes like ‘Ghost of Chaparral’ where she not only stands up to a domineering husband but asserts her independence from her father. She often exemplifies poise and grace but ‘North to Tucson’ shows she can hack it outdoors too!
My favourite HC character is MANOLITO (HENRY DARROW) a fascinating study in contradictions.

Although raised in a wealthy, cultured family he’s a friend of bandits and a pursuer of saloon girls; somewhere in a past we never find too much about, he’s become a dangerous gunfighter; most intriguingly he’s also knowledgeable, and sympathetic to, Apaches and their ways. He’s a ‘Zorro’ like character (and Henry Darrow later played Zorro) in that he can be an irresponsible drunkard, a source of endless disappointment to his father; but he’s also quietly heroic – he braves torture to rescue a girl captive of the Apaches, (‘Ride the Savage Land’) and saves future-president of Mexico Benito Juarez from assassination (‘The Terrorist’) even though it means killing a good friend.
The casting was rounded off by first-rate supporting players, such as FRANK SILVERA as Don Sebastian,

and RODOLFO ACOSTA as the cook Vaquero.  

And then there were the bunkhouse boys, led by Sam (DON COLLIER)

Sam (DON COLLIER) has Apache trouble
and his brother Joe (BOB HOY.)

And occasional characters re-occurred, such as El Lobo, a bandit who could be villainous and also strangely likable (ANTHONY CARUSO)

and Perlita (MARIE GOMEZ) a saloon girl Manolito pursued in a number of comic adventures.

The HC was a ground-breaking show in that 2 of the 5 main characters were Hispanics – played by Hispanics. This was part of the thrust for authenticity that also had Indians played by Indians, most notably Cochise, who was played by NIÑO COCHISE – who may, or may not, have been his 93-year old grandson! And the HC also dealt with the black man’s place in the American West in the episodes Ride the Savage Land, The Buffalo Soldiers and Sea of Enemies, featuring a memorable performance by PAUL WINFIELD.


PAUL WINFIELD and MARK SLADE
There are too many other outstanding HC episodes to list, but they include ‘Mark of the Turtle’ and ‘The Covey’ where the HC crew do battle with El Lobo, and comic episodes like ‘Champion of the Western World’ and ‘For What We Are About to Receive’ – there was plenty of humour in the HC to leaven the grittiness. I have to mention ‘The Peacemaker’ as my Sundown Press novel is partly based on that, (although you won’t find any HC characters in it) but there’s also ‘Gold is Where You Leave it,’ ‘Bad Day for a Thirst,’ etc., many more. A particular favourite is ‘Shadow of the Wind,’ a strange and brilliant episode bringing in historical figures like Johnny Ringo (a tremendous performance by LUKE ASKEW.)



Finally I’d single out two for special mention: ‘Best Man for the Job’ may have the best 5 minute sequence in any TV western, when Apaches attack a cavalry detail riding out of the ranch.




Action in 'Best Man for the Job'
And ‘Ride the Savage Land’ as, arguably, the very best HC episode and the best TV western episode ever made. In an episode that scores highly on every level, Henry Darrow is particularly impressive. 



Ride the Savage Land’ 

Last word on the High Chaparral is not from me, but a comment I found on the internet: ‘It was the greatest western television series ever made. Its gritty realism, high production values, location shooting and superb cast made it the very best the genre had to offer.’

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

AUTHOR FAVOURITES: THE OVERMOUNTAIN MEN by CAMERON JUDD

Prolific and distinguished author Cameron Judd (whose books tend to focus on the early frontier and Tennessee history) couldn’t pick an absolute favourite of his books (I know it’s a tough question!) but does have a particular fondness for THE OVERMOUNTAIN MEN, the first of his ‘The Tennessee Frontier Trilogy’.
JOSHUA COLTER has been trained to survive on the 18th Century Tennessee frontier by the hunter who adopted him. He enjoys his solitary life in the forests and mountains; but the troubles of the civilized world are encroaching. Conflicts escalate between settlers, Native Americans and the British government. Now Joshua will have to decide what he is willing to fight and die for, as the birth of a new nation breaks on the horizon.
THE OVERMOUNTAIN MEN brings in historical characters and events:  Daniel Boone, John Sevier, Tecumseh and The Boston Tea Party.


The Boston Tea Party

DANIEL BOONE (1734-1820) is well known, of course, as the ultimate early frontiersman, the ‘long hunter’ who plunged deep into the wilderness and blazed trails for others to follow, carving ‘D. Boon cilled a bar on this tree,’ pioneering the settlement of Kentucky and risking his scalp countless times.


Fess Parker played him in a long-running TV series.


And TECUMSEH (1768-1813) is regarded as one of the greatest Native American leaders, the Shawnee chief who came closest, perhaps, to forging a mighty alliance of the tribes to stand against white invasion – a dream that ended with Tecumseh’s death at the Battle of Thames River in Ontario in 1813.    


JOHN SEVIER (1745 – 1815) is perhaps less well known outside of Tennessee. 


JOHN SEVIER
He served as a colonel in the Revolutionary Army in the Battle of Kings Mountain in 1780, and commanded frontier militia in dozens of battles against the Cherokee in the 1780s and 1790s. He served as the only governor of the State of Franklin, which briefly existed as a prototype state in what is now eastern Tennessee. Sevier served six two-year terms as Tennessee's governor, between 1796 and 1809. His political career was marked by a rivalry with Andrew Jackson which nearly culminated in a duel in 1803.

Modern day Cherokees in traditional warrior dress
Publishers Weekly on CAMERON JUDD: “A keen observer of the human heart as well as a fine action writer.”
REVIEWS of THE OVERMOUNTAIN MEN:
‘A wonderful, entertaining and enlightening work’
'Amazing historical adventure... I love this book.' 
‘Although I realize these are works of fiction, they are so deftly interlaced with historical facts that I now have a much clearer picture of how my ancestors must have lived in the early years of the migration "over the mountains" to Tennessee, Kentucky and points west and south.’
‘Cameron Judd's ability to present both sides of the clash between Indian and White societies on the Tennessee frontier in the mid to late 18th century is nicely balanced with his depth of description of the natural beauty of the environment and a solid insight into the growth of the human spirit.’
‘A great and believable read!’
'Excellent reading. The history appears to be very accurate, the story very gripping and believable… enjoyed the historical picture of the Cherokee people in my area.’

‘Awesome book!’

Thursday, 14 September 2017

AUTHOR FAVOURITES: LAST STAND by DUANE BOEHM

Duane Boehm is the author of the highly successful Gideon Johann western series, running to 7 books now. He tells me the first of them, LAST STAND is his favourite, something I often find with authors. It’s his favourite story and Duane likes it particularly because the protagonist goes through the most change in it. Readers seem to agree as, the last time I looked, it had a staggering 223 5 star reviews!
Gideon Johann had been long gone from Last Stand, Colorado, seeming to have vanished after the Civil War. 


Colorado

He's a man running from his conscience, leaving both the girl he left behind and his best friend with a chapter of their lives unresolved. But one day in the early 1880s, a stranger is found shot and near death near Last Stand. The realization that this is Gideon, back after 18 years, sets in motion old grudges, love, and a chance for redemption.
The very grabby beginning of LAST STAND, where a wounded man is found, reminded me of THE TALL STRANGER (1957.)


Naturally the scenario of a mysterious stranger appearing in the home of a settler family (man, wife, son) reminded me of SHANE.


But it’s also about someone returning home after many years to find redemption, rather like the Gregory Peck character in THE GUNFIGHTER.


REVIEWS:
‘The stories are a mix of adventure, surprises and human family interaction, very well written.’
‘The humor and excitement of a great western! Read straight through!’
‘A very good author who keeps you in suspense.’
A really good story of redemption. Characters are great and it has the drama that you love in a good western.
‘One of the best western adventures I have read. Plot was very well thought out, action was realistic and plentiful without being over the top. Just the right mix of romance as well, and I loved the way it ended.
‘This is an AWESOME book. I couldn't wait to turn the pages…a passion-filled love story that touched my heart. I CANNOT wait to read Duane Boehms' next book.
https://www.amazon.com/Last-Stand-Gideon-Johann-Western-ebook/dp/B00K60LAH6/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1483695179&sr=1-1&keywords=duane+boehm+last+stand