Monday, November 28, 2016

Last Mountain Man #05 - Journey of the Mountain Man

The fifth book for what should be referred to as the "Smoke Jensen" series is "Journey of the Mountain Man". As I alluded to in the last book review, "Revenge of the Mountain Man", the whole idea of "mountain man" is sort of lost by the author. This Colorado rancher is more just a skilled fast-draw gunfighter with the ability to ride, shoot straight and speak the truth. I think I would have liked this series to be more like the first book but based on the state of affairs here it doesn't seem like that will happen. As the series continues, Smoke has become the larger than life six-shooting hero that literally kills everything printed on the page.  

In "Journey of the Mountain Man", Smoke receives word that his cousin Fae, whom he has never met, is stuck in the middle of two range wars in Montana. One side is owned by a crooked rancher named Dooley Hanks, who borders on lunacy with his vile plans to own a robust portion of Montana. The other side is owned by a wealthy land owner named McCorkle, who is really just a nice guy who just wants to peacefully ranch. Fae Jensen is stuck in the middle with portions of her land being infringed upon by Hanks' wranglers. She's on the verge of land rape and she's asking for Smoke's help.

The whole "journey" bit is lost. Smoke really just rides over to his cousin's house and starts shooting. Smoke soon finds himself with allies in both Fae and his cousin Parnell along with McCorkle and his hands. The enemy is a cookie-cutter one and Hanks does the typical house burning, cattle-thieving and staffing to harass both McCorkle and the Jensens. 

Obviously, Smoke handles the issues with both barrels blazing and another obligatory series entry is complete. Dooley Hanks is just cut-and-paste from prior villains in this series and honestly I can't even tell them apart at this point. Potter, Stratton, Richards, Hanks, Yosemite Freakin''s just all the same. However, it was interesting to read more about Smoke's family in Fae and Parnell. The Parnell addition added much needed humor to the tale and hopefully the character will appear again in the series. Overall, this one was violent, gritty and action packed in true Johnstone style. One of the better ones of the first five books even when you consider the utter nonsense of it all.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Last Mountain Man #04 - Revenge of the Mountain Man

The fourth book in the 'Last Mountain Man' series, "Revenge of the Mountain Man", centers on that age old formula - avenging the death or injury of a spouse. Over the course of the first three books, Smoke's reputation as quick draw gun-fighter has caught up with him numerous times. Every fast draw, gambler and adrenaline junkie is gunning for Smoke and wants the gold ticket to Hollywood that comes with a fresh corpse. 

Johnstone's narrative introduces a few unwanted guests at Smoke's Sugarloaf ranch. It's evident they want the fame and fortune from killing the famed gun-slinger (which oddly isn't a mountain man at all). Unfortunately, Smoke is away selling cattle and his wife Sally takes the violent hit. She's shot three times but the doctors patch her up  - with boiling water and rags (important ingredients in western culture!). Smoke sends her back home to her family in the East, but not before learning she is pregnant with the couple's first child. 

Smoke discovers that the killers are from a desert Babylon in the Southwest. Using a bit of detective work, Smoke goes into the barbaric town playing a fool - he dresses like an eccentric artist and takes numerous beatings from the book's bully and outlaw extras. But, dressing like a fool and sacrificing a few ribs allows him the opportunity to scout out the town's cronies. He soon teams up with a US Marshall and the two devise a detailed plan to tree the criminals while liberating hundreds of prisoners held by the town kingpin. 

The author provides another traditional western tale but takes a less common approach by weakening the hero purposefully. The fist fights are inevitable, which just leads to gun battles and a lot of anticipation knowing Smoke will turn the tables and fight back - eventually. The addition of a few allies helped flesh the book out a bit. Plus, the series becomes a little more dynamic by introducing Sally's wealthy family and some of her backstory. 

Overall, the action mirrors events that happened in prior books - Smoke arrives in town, scouts it, attacks everything and then leaves. Plus, the amount of bar fights and their outcomes are easily predictable. Almost every Johnstone scene in a bar is just an excuse for a gunfight or brawl. Why can't a man just get snozzled in the suds without a bunch of grief? 

"Revenge of the Mountain Man" is just another good western, take it or leave it. You can buy a copy of the book HERE

Last Mountain Man #03 - Trail of the Mountain Man

The third book in William W. Johnstone's western series arrived in 1987, proving that the author was delivering a book a year for this series among all the other genre fiction he was writing at the same time. Amazing how much output came from this author in so little time. 

"Trail of the Mountain" finds Smoke and his wife Sally settling into sprawling Sugarloaf ranch in Colorado. They are now raising an adopted son named Ben or Billy (the stable boy from book two). When a vein of gold is found in a little town called No Name, it sets off a furious chain of events for the Jensen family. Hundreds of gold rushers ride into town and start staking claims in the area. With a gold rush comes a boom town and the ill-effects leads to gunfighters, brothels, gambling and reckless abandonment in search for the almighty dollar. With this much action threatening to consume the Jensen property...well it's only a matter of time before the lead is flying.

Smoke's land retains a sliver of the gold vein. Even though he has staked the land and its minerals for himself...there are still those bad apples that have to break all the rules. Smoke fights for himself and some other homeowners who are too lazy to lift a gun when their rights are infringed upon. With a whole town of thievery and lawlessness, Smoke is backed into a corner and fights his way out with the help of recurring character Preacher and some aging "last" mountain men. 

In many ways this is a more superior novel than it's predecessor and brings in some of the lovable parts of the mountain men. Their antics are humorous and when the bullets start flying they prove they are more than just fat fodder. This is laughable, enjoyable and action packed. It's quite simply just a good western tale and one that cements the early stages of this long running series.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Last Mountain Man #02 - Return of the Mountain Man

William W. Johnstone's 1986 sequel to "The Last Mountain Man" proves to be a little underwhelming considering the raw intensity and power of the first book. Once again the author brings fast-draw protagonist Smoke Jensen into a wild west full of gunpowder and iron fists. "Return of the Mountain Man" is the second installment of the long-running series and marks a turning point for the character. 

After the violent events of the series debut, our hero lays low for a year or two mourning and planning his vengeance. Soon, he straps on the iron and sets out for the town of Bury, Idaho where three outlaws - Potter, Stratton and Richards - are running the town from money stolen from Smoke's father and brother. 

The narrative explores Smoke's fame after events from the debut novel. Due to his notoriety, he changes his name to Buck so he can secretly ease into town. Once there, he settles in as the average citizen while plotting a plan of attack to eliminate the three outlaws. Smoke's mentor, the elderly mountain man Preacher, makes an appearance and readers see a new love life in Smoke's life, a young school teacher named Sally (a mainstay series character). But, this book is about revenge and that's what Johnstone delivers. 

After the "Last Mountain Man's" epic presentation, this successor is fairly simple. Buck hits the town, bangs up the baddies, rides home and settles in with Sally. While traditional, it left me desiring a little more. However, true to Johnstone's style, the book is filled with fast-draw showdowns on the streets of Bury and a cinematic finish. Overall, a decent early entry to a series that can deliver better stories.

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Outrider #01 - The Outrider

This is why I love this genre so much. "The Outrider" is the ultimate example of the post-apocalyptic hero formula done perfectly. Author Richard Harding is actually Robert Tine, a novelist who wrote a ton of movie novelizations in his prime. He absolutely excels in this action yarn that kicks off the 'Outrider' series of books. The series is presented in five books and, according to some online reviews, never officially ended with a good send-off. Nevertheless, based on my experience with this first novel, we are going to get a thrilling five book run. This debut was released by Pinnacle in 1984.  

Harding presents the familiar premise of a nuked America. While he never really elaborates on how far into the future this is, one would assume around 50 to 70 years after the big one hits (at least one full life cycle). The country is separated into districts and rulers. From Ohio through Pennsylvania and Tennessee lie the Firelands, a ruined stretch that saw the coal fields ignite and burn. This is Hell. The Slaverstates consume Washington, DC and run northeast. The southwest is simply known as the Hotstates (the Mississippi river evaporated) and the pacific northwest is known as the Coldstates. Chicago remains a neutral area and an open city, thus our hero Bonner lives there with other loners.  

Bonner gives us a brief rundown of what used to be the Outrider clan. After the bomb, groups of Outriders traveled through the country and provided supplies, support and law to the survivors. They were trusted and generally accepted by the remaining Americans. Somewhere along the way the Outriders stopped and unruly districts popped up. At the beginning of the series Bonner gets attacked by a baddie, a henchman sent by Bonner's enemy Leather, the sadistic ruler of the Slaverstates. The two have history together as Outriders but Leather took a left turn into barbarism. I assume a shortage on outpatient mental health care? He is holding captive Bonner's lover Dara and Bonner wants her back. 

Bonner quickly kills off the hitman and heads to a garage where a super Dodge buggy awaits. It has a .50 caliber gun mounted on it's rollbar, a weapon that Bonner quickly uses to annihilate a small squadron of armed goons right outside of Chicago. Our hero teams up with two guys, Starling (expert archer) and Cooker (expert fuel man) and journeys into the madness to kill Leather in Washington DC. After some shootouts early on the trio of badasses hit New York first to bail out an old friend of Bonner's. This portion of the book reminds me of John Carpenter's 'Escape from New York'. There is a huge prison there that is surrounded and manned by some wild crazies. The two free the coveted Harvey from his cell and pick up two behemoth twins aptly titled the Mean Brothers. This group then heads into Washington DC where they meet up with The Sisters, a commando force of women decked out in fine fashion and combat boots.

With this many heroes and firepower the ultimate destination is Leather's fortress. Bonner uses too much bravado and becomes a full-fledged member of the Morons of Pulp Fiction. He gets captured and forced to watch his lover Dara get raped and beaten to death. Let me get you a Shasta to go with that. Thankfully Bonner's crew blows up a nearby building so Leather orders the death blows on Dara instead of the ill-advised gang rape. She still dies. There went a potential backstory that could run for years of publishing checks. Bonner escapes, hacks off Leather's hands before our arch enemy escapes for the next book. A hired killer named Beck sets out to kill off Bonner but has a change of heart at the end. Cue the credits kids as Leather seeks out a wench that will hold his junk to pee. 

This one is absolutely loaded with action, over the top characters and a furious pace from start to finish. I loved the book and huge props to Harding for including three outrageously bad-ass firearms for our heroes to utilize - Ruger Super Redhawk .44, Steyr Aug .556 and the Winchester tactical 12 gauge. Among Bonner's useful skills comes a ton of knife work. He is able to throw combat knives with extreme accuracy and that combined with Starling's ability with the bow and Cooker's flamethrower - well it's like a comic book team of destruction in one fell swoop. In true post-nuke fashion, the book embodies everything we know and love about 'Mad Max', 'Road Warrior' and 'The Warriors'.

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Time Raider #01 - Wartide

Another barrel-chested action hero emerges with John Barnes 'Time Raider' series. "Wartide" is the first of this series and was published in 1992 by Gold Eagle. Barnes is an American writer that has written a lot of science fiction tales in his career, notably the 'Thousand Cultures' line of books. The 'Time Raider' series was short lived with only three books instead of a long line of time traveling entries that could have made up for a lengthy writing endeavor if Barnes chose to pursue it. 

The book introduces us to a Vietnam War vet named Dan Samson. At the start we get a brief backstory on Samson - decorated veteran who is financially strapped selling cars for a dishonest dealer. To obtain some extra cabbage Samson agrees to a lab experiment that has something to do with cables attached to his head for some sort of hidden memory nonsense. Samson agrees to do it for a measly $200 bucks. The lab tech gives specific instructions that Samson cannot move during the two hour procedure. During the experiment, Barnes throws us a curve ball with some really jumbled writing that seems to suggest an AK-47 toting bad guy breaks into the facility and starts stacking up bodies. Samson moves his body and thus becomes Time Raider.

Trapped in his own time Dr. Sam Becket leaps from life to life, striving to put right what once went wrong, hoping that his next leap will be the leap home. - wait that's 'Quantum Leap' and this is something very similar. The time traveling hero awakens to find himself in Nazi occupied Italy during WWII. The author treats the whole thing casually as Samson just simply keeps on living in this world as if it's no big deal. I mean we all do this right, leaping around through time fighting wars from the history books. It turns out Samson is in the body of Private Houston, a pimping US Army hustler that has done some really bad things through the course of the war. Like he's a really bad guy. With very little concern or questions Samson kills off an Army rapist and then annihilates a squad of German goons. To prove he is a changed man he teams up with an Italian rebel to break into a German military base and kill off a few Nazis. The two then go back to camp and decide to break into another facility. They get caught, tortured and inevitably break out. The whole purpose of Samson's trip through time is to defeat the Nazi regime's use of Sarin gas on North America. Or was it to make snow angels? 

The book is really written without a whole lot of explanation or reasoning. Nevertheless Barnes gives us a whole lot of action including a much needed shootout in a wine cellar. Kudos to the author for delivering the goods with a fairly decent pace. Why Samson is a ping-pong ball in the time stream really isn't unveiled here. Instead, a bunch of Asian prophecy crap is laid on us with the Winds of Time fortune cookie. At the end, Samson learns that he can't return home and will be time traveling in lieu of collecting Medicare and playing church bingo in his old age. 

While this is a really interesting concept, it surprisingly isn't that original. A series called 'Casca' is essentially the same thing, debuting in 1979 and running through the 80s. 'Janissaries', 'Lost Regiment' and 'Freedom's Rangers' are similar and released prior to this series. The next entry in 'Time Raider' promises the Mexican-American war. I'll be searching the book caves for the remaining two installments. 

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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Last Mountain Man #01 - Last Mountain Man

William W. Johnstone was an incredible talent that dabbled in a ton of different genres during his 65 years around the sun. From early endeavors in the horror realm to explosive action series' like 'Out of the Ashes', his writing style simply never let up. He loved to write and his passion and enthusiasm poured out on each and every page. Johnstone passed away in 2004 but his legacy lives on. The Johnstone empire continues to grow and expand based on a revolving door of hired authors that have assumed the "house name" of Johnstone. 

One of Johnstone's enduring legacies is the Jensen family. This lengthy and all-consuming mythology of Johnstone books (both under William and J.A.) began in 1984 with this first book, "The Last Mountain Man", published by Zebra. The book introduces us to two characters that will remain a part of the Johnstone collaboration for over 30 years - Preacher and Smoke. 

The debut book begins with young Smoke Jensen working on the family farm in Missouri. Conditions are abysmally bad at this point in the 1800s, just after the end of the Civil War. Smoke's mother has passed away from illness, his brother has been killed in the war and his father, Emmett, is just coming home from years of fighting the Union. After a quick reunion, the two decide on a fresh start and abandon the farm. Emmett wants the two of them to push westward into the mountains. Unfortunately, neither of them are aware of the dangers in exploring the far west. 

As the narrative progresses, the two quickly find they don't possess the skills for living in the wild. Thankfully, an old mountain man named Preacher finds them in the wilderness and begins a close-knit relationship with young Smoke Jensen. They all find themselves in a tangle with Native Americans and Smoke quickly reaches manhood in the battles. Preacher is impressed with the man and senses that Smoke's father may have a different reason for heading west. Preacher promises to teach Smoke how to live off the land and fight for a living in the high mountains. 

After some skirmishes Emmett confesses to Preacher that there is another agenda for the push west. After the war Smoke's brother was killed by Union soldiers in an attempt to steal Confederate money. They had planned on taking the money and heading west and had killed the Jensen boy and shot Emmett in a firefight. Smoke's father was dying but wanted to ride on and kill the outlaws and get back some of the stolen money. Preacher promises to raise Smoke as Emmett rides off to fight the outlaws.

Preacher spends a winter teaching Smoke how to draw fast, fight with his feet and hands and how to survive in the forest hunting and trapping. The character Preacher is extremely funny and Johnstone presents him in a warmhearted way. In true pulp western style, Emmett is killed and Smoke needs revenge. After Emmett is buried both Smoke and Preacher head into the towns of the west to hunt the outlaws.

In a shock and awe ending, Johnstone promises that Smoke will never be able to rest with a graphic finale. It paints a gritty, horrific scene that will catapult the future of the series into the revenge mold - at least for the first few books. Personally, I felt Johnstone rushed the ending a bit but this closes a very busy and exciting first chapter in a series that will last for years. Preacher turns out to be a popular character, so Johnstone decided to tell his origin and how he came to be a mountain man in his own series aptly named 'The First Mountain Man' or sometimes just 'Preacher'. 

This book was discussed on the seventh episode of the Paperback Warrior Podcast: Link

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Monday, November 21, 2016

Last Ranger #05 - War Weapons

The doomsday epic from Jan Stacy rolls on as Martin Stone continues his pursuit of that raving lunatic General Patton III. But Hell, it's doomsday and anything goes. After Stone saved the world in book four, 'The Rabid Brigadier', he sets out on a path to crush Patton. After a rather lifeless fourth entry, 'The War Weapons' gets back on track with what we love about the series.

This one picks up as Stone and his rag-tag clan of overnight heroes pursue Patton in Bradley tanks across the desert. Sargent does his best detailing the Bradley machines and their positioning and pursuit of the baddies. I think he's probably a bit off with the tank mechanics and technical prowess, but who cares when he is providing this much explosive firepower. Right? Right. And what's the deal with this superpooch dog Stone has been carrying around through the wasteland? You are telling me Excalibur has lived through maniacal rapers and apocalyptic raiders? I call bologna.

After a hot pursuit through the desert the gang gets obliterated, wreck the tanks and Stone ends up being captured by Patton. In scenes that can only be a bi-product of the 80s, Patton and his savages go to work in the torture chapter ("Rambo 2"). Stone gets annihilated by beatings and then staked out on a massive wooden X after being dipped in some sort of sweet sticky substance that attracts massive ants. Soon Stone is a Golden Corral buffet as the ants swarm onto him and start chewing up the baby fat like a rat on a cheeto....or a mutant ant on honey dipped man-candy. Left to die in the wasteland doesn't last long though. A Cheyenne warrior named Meyra shows up for the rescue and fodder for the lovemaking. Before Stone begins to bone, the Cheyenne warrior princess rubs "healing paste" all over our hero and makes him good as new. Goldbond powder? After a miracle healing and a good lay, Stone joins the Cheyenne warriors on an all-out assault on the General and his goons. 

'The War Weapons' provided a ton of action, from the climatic assault, escaping torture and battling back to back with Native Americans. It was predictable, and maybe even a little short on plot, but the end result is another classic 80s action yarn in what has been a really good post-apocalypse series thus far. In terms of re-reading the series, I would pull only select titles including this one. The author nailed it.