Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Riders of the Barren Plains now available on Kindle

Riders of the Barren Plains is now available on Kindle. This was my 17th Black Horse Western and the 5th Cassidy Yates yarn.
This novel heads back to the Barren Plains, a place that has featured in several of my stories. Like many of the Cassidy Yates yarns it has a split narrative alternating between him and another character. In this case the other character is the criminal that Cassidy is after, and writing about both the investigation and the attempt to evade detection was fun as it let me write about the side of the story that I don't usually cover.
It's now available from all good amazon stores.

Jeff Steed rode into Carmon looking for work, but when he got caught up in a bank raid he found himself running from both Sheriff Cassidy Yates and the bank raider Blake Kelly. To escape from the net that was inexorably closing in on him he assumed the identity of a dead man. But as that man was the leader of a supply convoy, he had to undertake a hazardous journey across the Barren Plains to the silver miners at Bleak Point.
With the convoy being escorted by the lawman who had been trying to catch him and the bandit he double-crossed hiding out in the Barren Plains, can Jeff ever hope to survive?

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Paperback version of Six-shooter Bride now available

Slammed in a jail cell after killing a man in a crooked poker game, Ethan Craig’s future looks bleak. Then a witness, Amelia Ash, comes forward and offers Ethan a way out. But there’s a catch. Amelia needs someone to escort her on a treacherous journey across bandit-infested country to her forthcoming wedding.
Ethan agrees to take her, but with raging rivers to cross and Buck Lincoln’s outlaw gang on her tail, it isn’t long before he realizes just how treacherous this journey will be. There’s danger every step of the way in this gripping western.

Available as a paperback and a download from all Amazon stores

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Paperback version of Wanted: McBain now available

Sheriff Cassidy Yates couldn’t believe his eyes when he read the Wanted poster. His ex-deputy, and friend, Nathaniel McBain was both a wanted man and a member of Rodrigo Fernandez’s ruthless outlaw gang.
There’s nothing worse than a lawman gone bad, and Cassidy knows it’s his duty to arrest McBain. But when he finds him, McBain claims the Wanted poster is wrong and his true intention is to infiltrate Fernandez’s gang and bring the outlaw to justice.
Is McBain really working undercover? Only one thing is certain: when Cassidy learns the full truth about McBain’s plan, it will test to the very limit the strength of his friendship and his duty as a lawman.

Available as a paperback and a download from all Amazon stores.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Dad's Army: The Movie

I’ve finally just got round to seeing the film version of the eternally popular 70s sitcom Dad’s Army. The mixed reviews it received meant I wasn’t enthused about seeing it, but in the end it was slightly better than I expected.

The thing I found most interesting was seeing the acting choices that each member of the ensemble cast took, which came down to either trying to play the character or trying to play the actor who originally played the character. The results were a mixed bag.

Of those who tried playing the character, I reckon Captain Mainwaring and Corporal Jones both failed to work. I had thought that Toby Jones would be a good Mainwaring, a man who’s a pompous idiot with an inferiority complex, but who, for all the slapstick, is prepared to lead from the front and die for his men and country. I didn’t get any of that, with Mainwaring just being a fat bald bloke who’s in charge. This was doubly irritating as in the BBC’s Dad’s Army biopic John Sessions was a perfect Arthur Lowe in both looks and mannerisms.

Corporal Jones was even worse bearing in mind that Tom Courtenay is one of the UK’s best actors, but his Jones was just an annoying bloke who couldn’t be bothered to say most of his numerous catchphrases. I think the mistake in casting was that Clive Dunn was a young man playing an old man, so Jones was an amusing caricature who could do all the slapstick nonsense, but getting an old actor to play an old character just falls flat.

On better ground was Bill Nighy, who made no effort to be either Sergeant Wilson or John Le Mesurier, which was the right thing to do as only one man could ever master Wilson’s affable ennui, and instead he did what he does in every film role I’ve ever seen him in and was just Bill Nighy wandering around in a daze. Personally I think they missed a trick, though, in not getting Ian Lavender to play Wilson, which would have cemented one of the original sitcom’s best running jokes. Bill Paterson was also acceptable as Private Frazer, although he had little to do, playing a dour Scotsman rather than attempting to be John Laurie although, again, I reckon Ralph Riach in the BBC biopic was a better Laurie.

The actors who decided to play the original actors feared much better. Michael Gambon pretty much stole the show as Private Godfrey with all the best lines and a perfect mimic of Arnold Ridley’s mannerisms and way of moving. Daniel Mays was a fine James Beck, both looking and sounding like Private Walker, and I was most surprised by whoever they got to be Private Pike. I don’t who that actor was, but I quickly started to think of him as being Ian Lavender.

Having got together such a large ensemble cast, with most of the cast being acceptable enough to make the reboot work, the strange thing was the decision to ignore them for lengthy sections and instead waste time on telling a story. The sitcom always worked perfectly when it was just the platoon standing in the church hall listening to Mainwaring explain a perfectly simple mission to find German parachutists disguised as nuns, while Wilson yawns and questions whether Mainwaring is being wise, Godfrey gets told off for being awkward and asks to be excused, Frazer pours scorn on Godfrey for being senile, Jones tells a rambling story about the Sudan while waving his bayonet and getting slapped down for going off in the realms of fantasy, Stupid boy Pike says his mum won’t let him stay out late, and Walker offers to get his hands on some nuns’ habits cheaply.

Frankly, ninety minutes of that would have kept me amused because that’s what the show is: a group of blokes coping with the boredom of waiting for something bad to happen by irritating each other, but being always ready to go into battle or at least extract Jones out of a combine harvester. Instead too much time was taken up with the war, spies, romance, and other uninteresting nonsense, which often made me think I was watching a comedy war film instead of Dad’s Army, which is a character comedy set during the war.

On the other hand the decision to spend more time with the usually underused female characters worked well. Giving Mrs Fox and Godfrey’s sisters something to do was fun, even though I was irritated to see Godfrey lived in town, and Mavis having a role other than being Pike’s mum was entertaining. Strangest of all was the decision to have Mainwaring’s wife on screen, which at first felt like sacrilege, but is a good example of when it’s best to ignore canon. Maintaining the running joke that we never see her wouldn’t work well in a one-off film, so it was better to make her into a female version of Mainwaring.

I'd guess the inspiration for the story came from one of the sitcom's best episodes Mum's Army, in which Mainwaring decides to use the womenfolk to help out, which leads to him falling for one of the recruits. In half-an-hour that episode managed more laughs than the film managed, and the romance plot was more believable. Despite that, on the whole, the film was a decent revival that works best if you’re in a good mood, although I’d have still liked a few more jokes and a few more scenes where the cast are standing together in the church hall trading catchphrases and rambling on pointlessly.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Incident at Pegasus Heights now published

My 36th Black Horse Western is now available.

This is the second book to feature fossil-hunter Jim Dragon, except this time he's the main character. As with last month's Devine's Mission this book previously appeared as a Kindle title, which is still available.

This time Jim gets a sidekick in Elmina Fay, and I enjoyed writing her scenes so much I reckon she might just appear with Jim again one day . . .

When fossil-hunter Jim Dragon is on his way to Bear Creek to sell his latest discovery, he goes to the aid of a woman in distress, Elmina Fay. Unfortunately, Pierre Dulaine takes advantage of the situation and steals his fossils. Jim vows to reclaim his property and Elmina offers to help him, but only if he'll do something for her. She has heard a tale about the bones of a winged horse being found nearby and she wants Jim to find Pegasus' remains for her. At first, Jim is sceptical about embarking on such a mission, but before long he discovers that the truth behind the tale is even stranger than he could ever have imagined.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Paperback version of The Last Rider from Hell now available

Staked out under the baking heat of the desert sun by Frank Chapel’s riders from hell is no way for any man to die. Only someone as resilient as Matt Travis had the courage to endure the heat and the vultures and survive. When finally he manages to escape a gruesome death only one thing is on his mind – revenge.
But his memory has been blasted to oblivion and he is even unsure of his own name. All he knows is that everyone wants him dead!
Justice must be done and Matt will be judge, jury and hangman. First, though, he must face up to the truth of his past and, that accomplished, lead begins to fly.

Available as a paperback and a download from all Amazon stores

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

The Return of Elmer Drake

It always amuses me when characters that have appeared in the cover art of one of my books make a guest appearance on the cover of someone else's novel, so I was pleased to see the return of Elmer Drake in the latest batch of Black Horse Westerns.

Elmer appeared in the Linford Western version of Beyond Redemption, and I was delighted with that picture as Elmer is a religious nutjob and the cover had him lurking in bottom left hand corner appropriately brandishing both a gun and a cross.

Now he's appeared in Sam Clancy's Valley of Thunder where he's got a star pinned on his chest, presumably because he's given up on the cross and got hold of another gun.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Paperback version of The Ten Per Cent Gang now available

Sheriff Wes Creed has suffered yet another disastrous day. Earlier, Clayton Bell’s bandit gang raided a cash shipment bound for Lincoln’s bank. And while Creed fruitlessly pursued the bandits, the vigilante organization, the Ten Per Cent gang, calmly tracked and reclaimed the stolen cash. And for their trouble, the vigilantes retained their usual fee – ten per cent of the cash.
With the Ten Per Cent gang now threatening to enforce all justice in Lincoln, Creed realizes he has to slap them in jail, even if it means riding roughshod over every law in the land.
So Creed has no choice but to forge an alliance with the only man who hates the Ten Per Cent gang as much as he does – Clayton Bell.

Available as a paperback and a download from all Amazon stores

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Devine's Mission now published.

My 35th Black Horse Western is now available.

This book is the third to feature Marshal Jake T. Devine as the central character, and he's still using his traditional approach to law-enforcement of killing anyone who makes the mistake of threatening him.

I'd previously published this book as a Kindle title and it's still available now that the book has gone to hardback.

When Lachlan McKinley raided Fairmount Town's bank, the four-thousand dollar bounty that was posted on his head attracted plenty of manhunters, but everyone that went after him ended up dead. Bounty hunter Jonathon Lynch reckoned he could do better. Lachlan was Jonathon's step-brother and his mission was personal, but when he joined the hunt he soon discovered that all was not as it seemed and Lachlan may, in fact, be innocent. Worse, U.S. Marshal Jake Devine was also after Lachlan. Devine is more likely to destroy the peace than to keep it, and so can Jonathon bring the guilty to justice before Devine does his worst?

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Paperback version of Death or Bounty now available

Spenser O'Connor's luck has finally run out. After years of riding with Kirk Morton's outlaw gang, he's been caught and slammed in Beaver Ridge jail. The noose beckons. Then two bounty hunters, Nat McBain and Clifford Trantor, offer him a choice – die at dawn or help them track down Kirk Morton. Not surprisingly, Spenser chooses to help them. But this unlikely team soon discovers that Kirk is an ornery and ruthless quarry. Worse, they're not the only ones after him and the other bounty hunters will stop at nothing to capture Kirk. When the bullets start flying from all directions, it isn't long before Spenser wonders if the noose might have been the better choice.

Available as a paperback and download from all good Amazon stores.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

The demise of the British Library

February is that time of year when British authors get a welcome payment from those nice PLR people. Every time a book is loaned out of a library in the UK authors get a small credit and those credits mount up nicely, and they also give authors confirmation that somebody out there is actually reading our books, or not . . .

For the first twelve years that I received payments, it was good to see that my total number of loans were rising. This was entirely down to the fact that I was writing more books, but it was still good to see that every year more people were reading my stuff. Then three years ago that all changed. Dodgy Dave needed to pay for all those bankers' bonuses somehow and one of the ways was to destroy the library system. So libraries started closed and that's reflected in the number of loans.

Since that peak three years ago my loans have dropped by 35%, and that's despite more books coming out suggesting I've actually dropped, book for book, by around 50%. Back at the peak I had several books getting borrowed around two thousand times each year, but this time nothing was borrowed more than a thousand times.

Saddest of all was The Outlawed Deputy was loaned out zero times. That book was my first, published in 2001, and even last year it mustered some loans, but now it would no longer seem to be out there. Sob.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Paperback version of Bunty the Bounty Hunter now available

Fergal O’Brien and Randolph McDougal have suffered bad times before, but when they walk into Paradise they are at their worst. Footsore and hungry, they don’t have a cent to their names, but when Fergal hears about a contest between the old and new parts of town, he sees an opportunity to rebuild their fortunes. The only trouble is, the contest is a cricket match and Fergal has no idea what cricket is. Worse is to follow when Fergal and Randolph are victims of mistaken identity leading to Sheriff Merryweather suspecting they are outlaws. Then the fearsome gunslinger Tex Porter sets out to raid Paradise’s bank, which claims to be unbreakable. If Fergal is going to complete his plan to make a lot of money quickly and then leave town, he’ll have to find a way to appease Sheriff Merryweather, defeat Tex Porter and, hardest of all, learn the laws of cricket.

Available as a paperback and a download from amazon.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Star Trek: Beyond

I’ve just got round to watching Star Trek: Beyond, the latest Trek movie, and I was mildly disappointed.

I thoroughly enjoyed the first of the re-boot movies despite the fact that most long-time fans are dismissive of it. And I thought the second one wasn’t that bad even though die-hard fans tend to spit blood and start screaming abuse about magic blood at the mention of the film. But this one had the approval of the fans, so I was expecting to be entertained and yet I wasn’t.

Maybe on repeat viewings I might grow to enjoy it. Heck, I’ve learnt to find the good in the Final Frontier and even the Motion Picture, but right now I’m at a loss to find anything good to say about it. Yes, it was nice that Nimoy’s passing was acknowledged. Yes, there are some scenes with McCoy and Spock bickering. Yes, it was good that a main character was revealed to be gay, even though I thought this supposed taboo was broken by Jadzia Dax and Garak’s interest in Dr. Bashir over 20 years ago. But having more character moments when, for instance, they involve McCoy flying spaceships, doesn’t get to the heart of why these characters worked in the first place.

The main problem, though, is the flaming CGI, which saps the life out of every action scene and even the quieter scenes. A good example is the now obligatory Enterprise crashing scene. When it happened in Into Darkness it was over-the-top, but there was at least some feeling of peril and of it furthering the plot. Either way, it was vastly inferior to the previous time the Enterprise crashed in Nemesis, or the time before that in Generations. And they were all considerably less interesting than the first time the Enterprise crashed in the Search for Spock. Back then, the scene had only a few seconds of special effects and so relied on tension and plot development and great dialogue so that even the access codes are memorable, along with an iconic shot of the crew watching the ship go down. Less is more, every time.

This time round it took what felt like several hours for the ship to go down with the camera swooping around all over the place running along the walls, ceilings and floors before finally standing still for a millisecond to give us a hint of what’s supposed to be happening, and by the time you’ve figured out that something could be happening in engineering involving someone in a uniform and an alien, the camera swoops off to confuse us somewhere else.

Once stuff has stopped swirling around the screen we reached the point in the story that most Trek reaches before the opening title credits have rolled, and the story that followed could have been a good one if we hadn’t have had to wait for an explanation of what that story was until about five minutes from the end. An old MACO soldier from season 3 of Enterprise getting disillusioned with Federation policy and fighting back is a decent premise, but there’s no reason to keep that a mystery until it’s too late to actually deal with the implications.

The thing that makes the story telling in Trek work is that the moral dilemma comes very quickly in the story and the tale then deals with an attempt to find a solution that in bad Trek involves creating a subspace inversion field in the positronic matrix, in good Trek involves everyone agreeing that tolerance and finding common ground between divergent species is the only way forward, and in excellent Trek has Kirk punching a man in a monster suit and showing a green-skinned woman what pressing the lips means.

Beyond didn’t manage any of that because for most of its length there was no moral dilemma other than how do the main characters find their way off a planet, while being repeatedly interrupted by interminable CGI scenes where yet again I hadn’t got a clue what was going on.

For me escaping from a planet isn’t a great hook for a Trek story. Voyager did the very same plot at the end of season 2, except they had a moral dilemma, had redshirts getting chomped by dinosaurs, Ensign Suder’s redemption, Seska’s demise, with plenty of time left over for the Trek message of tolerance and common understanding. In short, when I watch a Trek movie and I start thinking to myself that Voyager did this better, something’s wrong.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Marshal of the Barren Plains now published

My 34th Black Horse Western has now been published by Crowood.

This story returns to a location that I've used several times before of the harsh lands beyond the town of Redemption where few men would ever go if it wasn't for the silver mine at Bleak Point. The mine has been mentioned many times in previous books and several characters have set off for it, but this was the first time anyone has ever got there.

On first draft the story was called Walker of the Barren Plains as it revolved around a mysterious man known as the Walker who is sometimes seen out on the plains, but who is thought by many to be a ghost. As with many of my stories when I started writing I had no idea who the Walker was, what he wanted, or why he was doing what he did, but thankfully all the clues were there and by the time I got to the end he told me who he was.

Amusingly, while I was somewhat surprised by the solution to the mystery, since sending the book to the publisher this solution has cropped up several times in news reports from all around the world, so I guess it was nice to be topical for once . . .

When Marshal Rattigan Fletcher failed to stop Jasper Minx raiding the town bank, the angry townsfolk forced him to leave Ash Valley in disgrace. Rattigan went west in pursuit of Jasper, and in the inhospitable Barren Plains he got a chance to put right his mistake.
Rattigan is hired to find out why men from the Bleak Point silver mine have been disappearing in mysterious circumstances. As Jasper now works at the mine, Rattigan doesn't have to look far for a culprit, but Jasper claims he's not responsible. With the miners siding with Jasper, Rattigan will need to rediscover his tarnished instincts as a lawman if he is ever to solve the mystery and bring his Nemesis to justice.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Paperback version of More Six-shooter Tales now available

Six western short stories featuring familiar characters in unfamiliar situations: A Leap of Faith (Nat McBain), Truth is the Final Victim (Sheriff Cassidy Yates), Lucky Tooth (Jim Dragon), Don’t Look Back (Ethan Craig), Devine’s Justice (US Marshal Jake T. Devine), A Taste of Your Own Medicine (Fergal O’Brien).

Available as a paperback and download from amazon.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Paperback version of Six-shooter-Tales now available

Six western short stories with a sting in the tail: Once Upon a Time in Mirage, Last Throw of the Bones, Return to Purgatory, Five Hundred Dollars for a Dead Man, The Finest Deputy in the West & The Man Who Shot Garfield Delany.

Available as a paperback and a download from Amazon.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

My annual moan about Sherlock

I reckon that I always have a moan here about the TV series Sherlock whenever it returns and I am feeling an urge to whinge again, but this year I’ll cut it a bit of slack. After another episode featuring the usual mixture of clever dialogue, flashy direction and only vague hints of a story, I’ve come to the conclusion that the show hasn’t lost its way, after all. It’s just the same as it’s always been; it’s just that everything else on television has got a whole lot better.

When the show first started it was a breath of fresh air. TV detective shows were still trying to find the new Inspector Morse with their glum heroes battling inner demons and drink while listening to opera and solving routine mystery plots that went from A to B to C. I still enjoy those sorts of shows, but Sherlock showed that there was a different way with its story arcs and good yarns told in a fun way. As a result it created some must-see TV.

But that was seven years ago and now the viewer is spoilt for choice when it comes to the detective / thriller / mystery genre. Every show now has ambition to become the latest Internet chatroom sensation with eight part series constructed with compelling plots and all the narrative tricks to keep you tuning in to find out what the heck is going on.

In the last year shows like Marcella, which at the time I thought could well be the worst thing I’d ever watched, kept me interested to the end because the story was well-constructed, and I’ll probably watch series 2 while still wondering why. Even Paranoid, which probably was the worst thing I’ve ever seen, still kept me watching for several episodes before I had to admit I was wasting my time. The most recent DCI Banks, one of the few old-fashioned detective shows, even managed a compelling six episode arc story, and these are probably at the bottom of the pile as regards what’s now available.

Over the holiday period I binge-watched The Missing, Line of Duty and Happy Valley, and frankly they all far surpass Sherlock in every single aspect of story-telling.

Sherlock may pride itself on its clever hints of what’s to come, with details like Toby Jones’s face appearing on a poster, but plot points likes this, that once were great to spot, just don’t wash it any more. When compared to how The Missing deals with foreshadowing where a character will be happily pottering around their shop before a jump cut to the future reveals that they’ve had all their teeth knocked out. From then on every time that person is on the screen the tension is gut-wrenching as you wait to find out what hideous calamity will befall them. A face appearing on a poster just isn’t in the same league as regards building suspense.

Then there’s the matter of constructing a whole episode around killing off a main character, which in the old, pre-Sherlock days was always a big deal, except these days other shows do it so much better. Sherlock really can’t compete with Line of Duty for shocking plot twists where characters can get killed off no matter how important they are, and they stay dead. Jumping in front of a bullet is an uninspired and lazy cliché when compared to Tony Gates stepping in front of a lorry after his epic redemption, or DC Trotman getting thrown out of a window, or Lindsay Denton defiantly proclaiming her own murder scene as a forensic ground zero for the Big Bad and then cracking the case with her last dying finger twitch.

And then there's the clever dialogue in Sherlock that zings along so fast you miss more great lines than you hear, but which for all the craft just can’t compare with Happy Valley. In that show people talk and act like real people do and that draws you in to care about them as people so that when the hideous stuff happens you’re worried about them, rather than just sitting back and admiring the acting and writing talent on display but never once feeling that any of it matters.

So, yeah, these days Sherlock does as Sherlock does, but I find it hard to care about the rest of the series or whether it’ll ever come back. This week alone there are five detective shows starting up their new run, and sadly for me Sherlock is in fifth place by a big margin. I’m looking forward to giving No Offence a go even though I doubt it’s my sort of thing, Death in Paradise has better jokes, Endeavour has better characters, and Unforgotten is just light years better in every single capacity.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Paperback version of Clementine now available

When snake-oil seller Fergal O’Brien sells a bottle of his universal remedy to the dying Leland Crawford, Leland makes a miraculous recovery, for several minutes. Then he drops dead. In the few minutes before he dies, Leland bequeaths to Fergal everything he owns. Unfortunately, Leland’s only asset is his beloved Clementine, a 250-foot sidewheeler that once ruled the Big Muddy, until it sank. Worse, Leland is heavily in debt and now the creditors expect Fergal to pay up. With Fergal having no money, minstrel Dayton Hyde offers him a way out, but only if he kills Rivertown’s popular lawman Marshal Swift. To avoid carrying out Dayton’s unwelcome task, Fergal will need to use all his legendary cunning or like as not in this wet weather, he’ll share the fate of Clementine.

Available as a paperback and a download from all Amazon stores