Thursday, 18 July 2019


Stephen Mertz writes thrillers (sometimes with a political tinge) as well as westerns.

He tells me BLAZE! A SON OF A GUN is a favourite of his own works. It’s ninth in a series of westerns with the same leading characters – J.D. and Kate Blaze – written by a variety of different authors. J.D. and Kate are two of the deadliest gunfighters in the Old West. They also happen to be husband and wife.

They set off in pursuit of the Ludlow brothers, a trio of crazed and vicious outlaws wanted by the Pinkertons, and trail them to a deserted Arizona ranch. They’re ready for the unexpected – but not running into a young gunfighter who claims to be J.D.’s son! This same young man has troubles of his own: a ruthless cattle baron and a gang of bloodthirsty nightriders on his trail.

Here’s ALAN PINKERTON, head of the Pinkerton Detective Agency, with President ABRAHAM LINCOLN.

Real outlaw hide-outs included the ranch run by the BASSETT sisters – ANN and JOSIE – at Brown’s Hole (now Brown’s Park) on the Utah/ Colorado border.

Ann Bassett

Others were Robbers Roost in Utah

and Hole-in-the-Wall in Wyoming.

All were frequently used as hide-outs by BUTCH CASSIDY and his Wild Bunch in the 1890s.

Before then, Brown’s Hole was frequented by less well known outlaw bands such as the TIP GAULT Gang, the TOM CROWLEY Gang, the ‘MEXICAN JOE’ HERRERA Gang, the ‘DOC’ BENDER Gang, the MCCARTY  Gang and others. 

Rancho Notorious’ was a 1952 movie featuring a ranch used as a headquarters by outlaws.

Arthur Kennedy, Marlene Dietrich and Mel Ferrer in ‘Rancho Notorious.


‘Pure pulp joy. Its plot is simple, linear and well executed.’

‘Blaze at its best.' 

Wednesday, 10 July 2019


Stephen Mertz writes thrillers (sometimes with a political tinge) as well as westerns. He tells me BLAZE! is a favourite of his own works. It’s the first in a series of westerns with the same leading characters – J.D. and Kate Blaze – written by a variety of different authors.

J.D. and Kate Blaze are two of the deadliest gunfighters in the Old West. They also happen to be husband and wife. J.D. and Kate find themselves facing a deadly ambush by Apaches, then they're hired to track down a gang of outlaws led by the beautiful, ruthless bandit queen Rosa Diablo.

I’ve yet to find an instance of a female gunfighter in the Wild West; although there were a rare few female law officers like FIONA MAE MILLER, the one female Deputy US Marshal in the Indian Nations (what is now Oklahoma.) The ‘Fort Smith Elevator’, in its November 6, 1891 issue, described Fiona as: ‘A dashing brunette of charming manners... an expert shot and a superb horsewoman, and brave to the verge of recklessness.’

There were, however, a number of female outlaws. Some of them resided in Oklahoma between the 1860s and the 1890s, and associated with various members of the Doolin, Dalton and Younger gangs. This included BELLE STARR, (killed in mysterious circumstances in 1889) ROSE DUNN, the ‘Rose of the Cimarron,’ ‘Cattle Annie’ and ‘Little Britches’ (ANNIE MCDOUGAL and JENNIE STEVENS) and FLORENCE QUICK. I’ve blogged about Belle Starr here:

Rose Dunn

There was also ‘Cattle Kate’ (ELLA WATSON) described ‘as a dark devil in the saddle, handy with a 6-shooter and a Winchester, and an expert with a branding iron.’ Accused of cattle-rustling, she was lynched by Wyoming vigilantes in 1889.

And then there was Canadian-born PEARL HART, who carried out the last stage robbery in U.S. history, robbing a stage outside Globe, Arizona in 1899 – and later serving time in Yuma Prison for it.

Back in the heyday of the western, movies and TV shows were lucky enough to have plenty of feisty actresses to portray women handy with a gun, on both sides of the law.

For example, in Roger Corman’s enjoyably bad ‘Gunslingers’ (1956) terrific BEVERLY GARLAND was cast as the widow of a marshal who takes over his job when he’s murdered. She said, ‘I think I was the first woman to play a marshal in a movie western.’

Beverly crossed to the other side of the law when she portrayed Pearl Hart in an episode of ‘Tales of Wells Fargo.’

Other straight-shooting females, good girls and bad, include JANE RUSSELL as Calamity Jane in ‘The Paleface’ with BOB HOPE, JANE FONDA in ‘Cat Ballou,’ JOAN CRAWFORD in ‘Johnny Guitar,’ BARBARA STANWICK in ‘The Maverick Queen’ and RAQUEL WELCH in ‘Hannie Caulder’ (below.)

Actresses like MARIE WINDSOR, JEAN WILLES and ISABEL JEWELL also gave spirited performances as western women on both sides of the law.

Mexican bandit women tended to be played by such actresses as BARBARA LUNA and MARIE GOMEZ (pictured below in ‘Barquero.’)

SARA VARDI gave a tremendous performance as the girlfriend of bandit El Lobo in ‘The High Chaparral’ episode ‘The Covey.’

Henry Darrow and Sara Vardi in ‘The High Chaparral

More recently we’ve had women-led western such as ‘Bad Girls’ and the Netflix TV series ‘Godless.’

Drew Barrymore, Mary Stuart Masterson, Andie MacDowell and Madeleine Stowe in ‘Bad Girls’ (1994)

And SHARON STONE portrayed a female gun fighter in a pastiche of Clint Eastwood in ‘The Quick and the Dead (1995.)’


‘A terrific kick-off to the series. Mertz… writes action scenes like nobody's business … It's a real gem. If you like gritty, fast-paced Westerns seasoned with sexy romps, don't miss this one.’

‘Packaging well-developed characters with a perfect mix of tangled action, burning passion, subtle humor, and, always a surprise around the corner.’

‘A grand finale written with cinematic crispness.’

‘Great read, fantastic pace.’ 

Wednesday, 3 July 2019


Devorah Fox writes historical epic fantasy, sci-fi fantasy and thrillers. She tells me a favourite of her own novels is THE LOST KING (The Bewildering Adventures of King Bewilliam Book 1.)

Devorah has described THE LOST KING as ‘a once-upon-a-time fairy-tale type story for grown-ups. Although there are dragons, wizards, and other mythical elements, it's a literary fantasy, an allegory for contemporary challenges rather than a tale of sword-and-sorcery.’

King Bewilliam is, in an alternative Middle Ages, master of the Chalklands, lord of Bell Castle, and also a part-time dragon slayer. He wakes himself to find a penniless vagrant, reduced to being a humble barbers’ assistant. In his quest to uncover and break the curse that has left him destitute, and regain his kingdom, he journeys to strange lands where he finds adventure, danger, romance... and himself.

Other medieval literary fantasies include, of course, the Lord of the Rings/ Hobbit cycle by J. R. R. Tolkien, T.H. White’s ‘Sword in the Stone’, the Chronicles of Narnia stories by C.S. Lewis and George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones books. Many of these have been developed into TV series and films.

Man and monster in ‘Game of Thrones

The king reduced to peasant status amongst his subjects reminded me of ‘A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.’

William Bendix, Sir Cedric Hardwicke and Bing Crosby ‘busy doing nothing’ in the film of ‘A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court’ (1949)

I thought I’d take a quick look at a perennial favourite among human fantasy animals: the dragon (with the help of Wikipedia.)
Dragon-like creatures appear in virtually all cultures around the globe, which would indicate either the human imagination creates similar ‘monsters’ regardless of where you are in the world, or that dragons are a folk-memory of real creatures. Or both!
Some anthropologists believe that dragons were created out of a near-universal human fear of snakes.
Others claim that early man conjured up dragons in response to the mysterious fossils/ bones he found littering his world, the remains of dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals. But scholars have pointed out that Scandinavia has many stories of dragons and sea monsters, but has long ‘been considered barren of large fossils.’

The earliest attested dragons resemble giant snakes. Dragon-like creatures are first described in the mythologies of the ancient Near East and appear in ancient Mesopotamian art and literature. Dragons in eastern cultures are usually depicted as wingless, four-legged, serpentine creatures with above-average intelligence.

The word ‘dragon’ comes from the ancient Greek word ‘draconta,’ meaning ‘to watch,’ suggesting that the beast guards treasure, such as mountains of gold coins or gems.
Among many famous dragons are the Hydra that Jason and his Argonauts encountered in Greek mythology; the red and white dragons (representing the British and Saxon populations of 5th Century Britain) that did battle before King Vortigern and the young Merlin in early British legend; the dragon that slew Beowulf, the great legendary hero who has his origins in 6th Century Sweden; and the one that gave St. George such trouble.

The mythical Hydra

Whilst dragons in early legends have wings and could fly, the earliest mention of the ‘fire-breathing’ dragon is unclear. It was certainly a feature of them in European lore of the Middle Ages, when the dragon was given satanic attributes.
It would seem obvious that dragon legends were partly based based on folk knowledge or exaggerations of living reptiles, such as monitor lizards, iguanas, Gila monsters, alligators and crocodiles. 

A monitor lizard
In a scenario straight out of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘The Lost World,’ sailors visiting a cluster of remote islands in The Dutch East Indies (what is now Indonesia) c. 1910 reported seeing a monstrous ‘land crocodile.’ Lieutenant Jacques van Steyn van Hensbroek of the Dutch colonial administration investigated. On a volcanic island, wreathed in jungle and mist, he encountered a terrifying sight – a lizard 6 feet long. He killed this creature and sent the skin and several photographs to the Zoological Museum and Botanical Garden at Bogor, Java. It was eventually determined that this was a large species of monitor lizard. But, based on the island where it was discovered, it was soon better known as The Komodo Dragon.

(If that scenario sounds familiar, the Van Hensbroek expedition was an inspiration for the classic 1933 monster movie ‘King Kong,’ pictured below.)

We now know Komodo Dragons reside on the tiny islands of Komodo, Rinca, Flores and Gili Motang, east of Java. Males average 8.5 ft, although the largest verified wild specimen was 10.3 ft long and weighed 166 kg (366 lb), including undigested food. The Komodo dragon has a tail as long as its body, as well as about 60 frequently replaced, serrated teeth that can measure up to 2.5 cm (1 in) in length.

Although this creature is largely shy, there have been rare documented cases of Komodo Dragons attacking, killing and eating humans.

The idea that medieval maps contained the phrase ‘Here be dragons,’ marking unknown and dangerous regions, seems to be a fiction. The Latin ‘Hc Svnt Dracones’ ('here are dragons') does appear on the Hunt-Lennox Globe which dates from c. 1510. This dragon zone is placed on the east coast of Asia, and is possibly a reference to the Komodo Dragon.


‘Delightful summer reading.’

‘This is a unique story--not the typical medieval heroic fantasy--that is fun to read but also makes you think.’

‘A very gripping novel… most entertaining book… for everyone of all ages.’

‘A terrific story’




‘Absorbing and compelling.'

Wednesday, 26 June 2019


USA Today bestselling author Amy M. Reade writes women's contemporary and gothic fiction. Her books have been compared to authors such as DAPHNE DU MAURIER, PHYLLIS WHITNEY and VICTORIA HOLT. Most recently, she’s been working on The Malice series, set in the United Kingdom.

Amy tells me her favourite of her own novels is THE HOUSE ON CANDLEWICK LANE.

Art historian Dr. Greer Dobbins is a Scot living in the USA when she experiences every parent's worst nightmare. Her daughter has been kidnapped by her ex-husband and spirited across the Atlantic to a hiding place in Edinburgh, Scotland. Greer follows but the medieval alleys of Edinburgh hide a thousand secrets. At the centre of things is the dark and forbidding house on Candlewick Lane. As the nightmare deepens, Greer herself will become a target, along with everyone she holds dear.


In locating her story in Edinburgh, Amy is following in the tradition of writers as diverse as Robert Louis Stephenson (Kidnapped, Catriona) Muriel Spark (The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie) Irving Welch (Trainspotting) and Ian Rankin in his Inspector Rebus novels.

Movies viewing different aspects of Edinburgh:

John Laurie and James MacArthur in ‘Kidnapped’ (1960)

Maggie Smith in ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’ (1969)

Ewan McGregor in ‘Trainspotting’ (1996)

And whilst Edinburgh is rightly celebrated as a place of vibrancy and culture, with its famous festival every August, there’s also been darkness in the city’s underbelly dating back to the sinister ‘body snatcher’ murderers William Burke and William Hare.

They committed 16 murders over a period of about ten months in 1828, then sold the corpses to Doctor Robert Knox for dissection at his anatomy lectures.

Burke was caught and hung in 1829. Hare escaped justice and the date of both his birth and death are unknown.

William Burke (1792-1829) and William Hare

Naturally the mysterious house and the fact that Amy has been compared to Daphne du Maurier made me think of the gothic fiction staple Rebecca and the movie ALFRED HITCHCOCK made of it in 1940.

Joan Fontaine and Dame Judith Anderson in ‘Rebecca’ (1940)

Manderley, the brooding house at the centre of ‘Rebecca


‘I really can't say enough good things about the book. The characters are unique and well developed and I quickly came to care about them, especially the main character, Greer… If ever a book deserved five stars, this is it!’

‘Will meet the needs of any reader who enjoys suspense.’

Incredible book that captures you from the start! Although I read an advanced copy, I had to purchase it because I enjoyed it so much. Don't start until you have the time to read straight through! It will captivate you.’

‘A thoroughly delightful and intelligent mystery that moves along briskly. The plot has enough false leads and surprises to hold the reader’s attention.’

‘The haunting beauty of Scotland, and the customs and cuisine of its people, are intricately woven into this well-paced mystery.’

‘With a cast of interesting and well-developed characters, the author had me suspecting just about everyone, and she did a fabulous job of keeping me on the edge of my seat from start to finish.’

‘A satisfying read with everything a reader requires in a great mystery.’

Wednesday, 12 June 2019


Devorah Fox writes historical epic fantasy, sci-fi fantasy and thrillers.

She tells me a favourite of her own novels is THE ZEN DETECTIVE, because ‘it so differs from everything else that I write, so noir, I often can't believe that I wrote it.’ THE ZEN DETECTIVE was a finalist in the Golden Books Award Contest.

Burned-out cop Will Mansion is on sick leave and seeks relief from post-traumatic stress disorder through Zen meditation. But then he responds to Sister Clyde’s plea to find a man missing from her soup kitchen. Will finds himself on the trail of the vicious drug dealer who nearly killed him… and battling his own drug addiction.

This reminded me of Gene Hackman’s plight in FRENCH CONNECTION TWO.

The strangeness, black humour and noir-elements of the tale reminded me of the recent movie THE BLACK DAHLIA.

 SCARLETT JOHANSSON in 'The Black Dahlia' (2006) 

AGNES OF GOD is a film where nuns are involved in a criminal investigation.

ANNE BANCROFT and MEG TILLY in 'Agnes of God' (1985)
Zen is a school of Mahayana Buddhism that originated in China during the 7th-10th Centuries A.D. It emphasizes rigorous self-control and meditation-practice.


‘A beautifully executed mystery.’

‘Excellent and engulfing tale… a plentiful cast of well-developed characters. Great job!’

‘It may seem strange to rate a murder mystery funny and fun, but this one was for me… The story gallops along, with wonderful descriptions of places and characters, until it reached a satisfactory ending. Devorah Fox is a prolific writer and this book may just be the entrĂ©e you need to explore her other works.’

‘This novel was enjoyable and definitely fun! I adored the intricacies of the plot and entangled mysteries within.’

The prose is both silky and muscular and carries the story along masterfully. Sharply drawn characters and settings support the involving storyline. A wonderful, challenging story, well told.’

Totally engaging... I learned some things too about other life styles that made this book interesting and enlightening. Devorah continues to amaze me with her ability to write books in a wide variety of settings and situations.’ and

Wednesday, 5 June 2019


Devorah Fox writes historical epic fantasy, sci-fi fantasy and thrillers.

She tells me a favourite of her own novels is DETOUR, ranked in the Top 10 Thrillers in Preditor/ Editors Readers’ Choice Poll.

When trucker Archie “Super Man” Harlanson visits his girlfriend Debbie’s New York State home he expects the hardest part will be surviving the family celebrations over the birth of her nephew. But then Archie stumbles on a deadly plot against the U.S. President who’s visiting nearby, and finds himself dodging the would-be assassins who now have him in their sights.

Here’s a Kenworth W900L, the sort of truck Archie drives.

‘CONVOY’ (1978) was one of a number of movies to celebrate truckers.

But in ‘DUEL’ (1971) – directed by STEVEN SPIELBERG – the trucker is a villain. The truck itself represents a chilling and inhuman menace that Spielberg would next depict in the form of a shark in ‘JAWS’ (although I personally think ‘DUEL’ is a better piece of work and is sometimes held to be the greatest TV movie ever made.)

A homicidal truck driver

stalks DENNIS WEAVER (giving a virtuoso performance) in ‘Duel.

A presidential assassination plot in a small town reminded me of the 1954 movie SUDDENLY.

FRANK SINATRA as the assassin in ‘Suddenly.’

Political assassinations have featured in innumerable movies, from JULIUS CAESAR to THE TALL TARGET (a plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln) to THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (the brilliant 1962 movie and what I felt was an inferior 2004 remake.)

Frank Sinatra features again in ‘The Manchurian Candidate’ (1962) but here he's trying to foil a pair of assassins

 ANGELA LANSBURY and  LAURENCE HARVEY, both giving outstanding performances IMHO.

Reviews of DETOUR:

A Gem from a Versatile Author. Highly entertaining story with memorable characters, sparkling dialogue and a storyline with one surprise after another. … Fox is a master of words and she shines in this modern genre as much as she has in her medieval fantasy King Bewilliam series.’

‘A trucker's tale, complete with adventure and derring-do.’

A great ride… It is refreshing to read a fun book.’

 ‘Excellent and earthy characters centred around the story of a big rig truck driver.’

‘Fox is a really great story teller.’

‘Even though some of the things that were happening were very serious, I still found myself giggling and smiling throughout most of the book.’