Frank Leslie is really Peter Brandvold, one of the best writers of traditional action Westerns in the business right now. He’s very prolific — THE THUNDER RIDERS is the fourth or fifth book he’s published this year – and he may have concocted this pseudonym so he could saddle up with a new publisher.
I’d like to think he chose the name of an Old West gunman as an homage to Fred Glidden, who wrote under the byline Luke Short. “Buckskin” Frank Leslie is the man who shot Billy Claiborne – an OK Corral survivor – when Claiborne got pissed off because Leslie refused to refer to him as “Billy the Kid.”
End of lecture. Now close your books. There will be a test.
This is Leslie’s second novel about a half-breed prospector/adventurer named Yakima Henry. It begins with an older Arizona Ranger working with a younger one to track down an outlaw gang known at The Thunder Riders. They’re bad guys. Very bad. Rape-your-women-shoot-your-horse-torture-you-to-death-just-for-the-hell-of-it bad.
Yakima gets involved with these cutthroats through a series of mistaken assumptions. When the Rangers get themselves killed a U.S. Marshal named Patchen wants to arrest Yakima for the crime because, well, he is half-Indian and you know what that means. Yakima opens a can of whup-ass on Patchen and later, in town, gets himself in trouble with Sheriff Speares for showing too much interest in the lawman’s gal, Anjanette.
But the worst happens when The Thunder Riders – led by a sociopathic hard case named Considine – sweep through town, kidnap Anjanette and steal Yakima’s horse. Patchen has come to town and thrown Yakima in jail. Now, the marshal and the sheriff form a nervous posse and light out after the villains, Yakima stages a jailbreak and takes off after the posse.
From here on – and all this occurs quickly and early in the story – the book is all about the chase. It reminded me a lot of that wonderful 1966 Western movie THE PROFESSIONALS, as the useless members of the posse peel away and the real deals are left behind to track down the evildoers and rescue the gal. And, of course, the horse.
Leslie’s dialogue is excellent. He writes characters that talk like real human beings and not cardboard cutouts. The action is rapid and believeable. By that, I mean that when guns start firing, people can end up getting shot in places they don’t usually suffer in books and movies like this: Neck wounds, cheek wounds (the cheeks positioned just north of the neck), thigh wounds abound. Not all of these guys are dead shots. Close, but not perfect.
And Leslie lightens the load with some quiet humor. At one point, Patchen and Speares are rescued by Yakima, which they hate almost as much as they hate the guys who made them need to be rescued in the first place. Leslie writes, “Patchen absently fingered a raw buzzard peck on his right cheek. Of course, he was as much a fool as Speares, but Patchen had been a fool before, so he didn’t take it as hard.”
I’ve made the plot sound pretty straightforward, but it contains some nice twisty places so don’t think you can see around every corner. The surprises are well-timed.
THE THUNDER RIDERS is fun and fast. I’m glad I found it. –Doug Bentin