The Last Notch

THE LAST NOTCH was originally published in in the late 1950s under the name Matthew Gant, one of Arnold Hano’s several pen names. This new edition from Black Gat Books, the mass paperback division of Stark House Press, is the first publication using Hano’s real name. More importantly it is a superb example of how the characteristics of noir – usually associated with crime fiction and mysteries – can be used in a Western novel.

Ben Slattery is well known as a hired gun. But after so many years, and so many killings, he’s grown tired of it all. Then a man named Fallon approaches Slattery with a job that pays more money than he’s ever earned before. Slattery accepts the job, and sees it as his last – the last notch on his gun before he puts it away and retires for good.

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Trouble Rides Tall / Cross the Red Creek / Desert Stake-Out

troubleridesWestern novels aren’t usually considered noir. The dark, moody characteristics that distinguish noir fiction seem better suited for the mean streets of urban settings, rather than the unpaved dirt roads of the old west. Yet the prolific Harry Whittington demonstrated that noir works just as well in western novels as it does in urban mysteries, as evidenced in this trio of western novels republished by Stark House Press.

In TROUBLE RIDES TALL (1958), Bryant Shafter, the town marshal, feels his responsibilities are at an end. But then a young prostitute is found murdered and several related complications force Shafter to stay longer. Jim Gilmore, in CROSS THE RED CREEK (1964), is thought by many to be a bank robber. He is proven innocent, but the accusations continue to follow him. Then Gilmore discovers he’s being framed.

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Paradise Sky

paradiseskyThe legend of Nat Love, the African-American cowboy also known as Deadwood Dick, has fascinated author Joe R. Lansdale for a long time. He appeared in two Lansdale short stories (“Soldierin” and “Hides and Horns”) and now his life and career is recalled in Lansdale’s latest novel, PARADISE SKY.

Willie, a young black boy, lives with his father on a small farm in East Texas in the days shortly after the Civil War has ended. One afternoon, while Willie is walking home from a visit to the local general store, he sees the backside of Sam Ruggert’s wife outside of their house. Ruggert, an intensely prejudiced man, immediately takes personal offence and sets out to lynch Willie.

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The Legend of Caleb York

calebyorkA Mickey Spillane Western? When did the creator of the phenomenally popular hard-boiled Mike Hammer PI novels trade his fedora for a Stetson and venture from the mean streets of the big city to the dusty trails of the legendary American West?

Well, as Max Allan Collins, the late Spillane’s literary partner and executor explains in his introductory note, THE LEGEND OF CALEB YORK began as one of several unproduced screenplays Spillane wrote before his death in 2006. This particular work was written for Spillane’s close friend and Hollywood legend, John Wayne. But Wayne’s production company, Batjac, closed down before the script could be produced. Years later Collins found the screenplay among the many finished and unfinished works in Spillane’s files and adapted it into the resulting western novel.

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Dead Man’s Hand: An Anthology of the Weird West

deadmanshandIn the introduction to DEAD MAN’S HAND, his latest anthology of all-new short fiction, editor John Joseph Adams defines “Weird West Stories” as “stories of the Old West infused with elements of science fiction, fantasy, or horror, and often with a little counterfactual twist thrown into the mix.” 

In a contemporary era that has seen such popular literary mash-ups as Jane Austen’s characters interacting with zombies and Abraham Lincoln killing vampires, the Weird West sounds like a logical but ultimately new idea (with some unexpected similarities to steampunk).

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BULLETS, BROADS, BLACKMAIL & BOMBS >> Mexicali Blues

Fargobullets broads blackmail and bombsIt’s time once again to saddle up and ride into the Old West. This trip to the frontier will be a little different, since the first two books covered are ebooks from the fine folks of Piccadilly Publishing, who have been putting out some solid reissues. I figured it was damn time to cover a few. The third book is from a long-running series that a friend of mine who is not a fan of the genre swears by.

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Guns of Seneca 6

gunsseneca6Bernard Schaffer’s GUNS OF SENECA 6 is a science-fiction Western, and anybody who enjoyed the short-lived and much-mourned television series FIREFLY can tell you, those are two great tastes that taste great together.

But as undoubtedly enjoyable as GUNS is, it isn’t a perfect blend of the two genres. For one thing, it tilts much heavier toward the Western than the sci-fi. This isn’t a problem on its own, but it does create secondary problems that crop up now and then, which did jar me out of pure enjoyment.

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Rio Bravo

riobravoThe men of Fort Bellew have had a tough go of it. They have asked for reinforcements multiple times to no avail. Now they come back from a treacherous expedition only to come face-to-face with their new commanding officer, Capt. Boysen, a no-nonsense type who believes his way and command are the only thing keeping people in line.

Boysen soon learns that his iron ways are just problematic, but he will not bend. Add to the fact that his wife, who has arrived, years ago had a relationship with one of his officers, and Boysen’s not having the best of times. That is only small thread to this quilt of storylines, which also includes an AWOL soldier and, of course, the much larger problem of the Indians.

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Deadman’s Road

deadmanroadAmong the few recurring characters in the fictional universe of Joe R. Lansdale is the Rev. Jebediah Mercer, a Bible- and gun-toting hard man who fights some of evil’s most terrifying creations, as well as his own faith, in the Old West. After first appearing in the novella DEAD IN THE WEST, Rev. Mercer was featured in short stories published throughout the early 2000s. In 2010, these were gathered together in a limited-edition collection published by Subterranean Press.

Now, Tachyon Publications has reissued that collection, DEADMAN’S ROAD, as a trade paperback. That means everyone can enjoy these wonderful Western/horror stories from one of the country’s finest authors, regardless of genre.

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The Gila Wars

gilawarsAll good things must come to an end. That’s how I’m going to look at THE GILA WARS, Larry D. Sweazy’s final entry in the Josiah Wolfe series. What has been some of the most solid Western writing to come down the pike these past few years goes out on top.

For those who have been reading this series from the start, yes, Sweazy ties up the loose ends. While that is great and all, things just don’t end the way you’d might like. Here’s a spoiler: Wolfe lives. But he does have to deal with some unexpected turns.

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