Brent Towns' talents as a western aficionado are showcased with his newest novel, a rowdy, rough-and-tumble adventure entitled "The Man Who Burned Hell!". Towns has used a variety of pseudonyms throughout his career, including B.S. Dunn, Jake Henry and Sam Clancy. The Australian author has penned 17 westerns, including a continuation of Ben Bridges' 'Company C' series. “The Man Who Burned Hell!” (using Clancy), is the third installment of the 'Josh Ford' series. Prior books in the series are “Valley of Thunder” and “Even Marshals Hang!”. In talking with the author, Towns advised me that these books were written as stand-alone novels but feature the same protagonist, U.S. Marshal Josh Ford. Fans of the genre know how we systematically sequence, number and label everything, so it only seems fitting that I deem this "Josh Ford #3".
The prologue provides a gritty and violent premonition of the book's fiery ending. In it, the town of Serenity has destructively transformed into a burning ruin. There's very little dialogue in this opening sequence except one remarkable question from U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves to his son Josh Ford - “What the Hell have you done?” Obviously, “The Man Who Burned Hell!” did exactly that, but how did Serenity become Hell?
Reeves receives word that Serenity has been taken over by a cartel of cutthroats. The alliance is led by saloons owner Ike Cordis and includes local mine boss Justus Harper and whorehouse operator Camilla. Reeves, busy with his own town's escalating violence, sends his son Ford to Serenity to investigate. Solo, Ford plans to end the cartel and liberate the town from it's oppressors.
As Ford starts to acquaint himself with Serenity, a loose synopsis of his background is formed. Reeves left both Ford and his mother to join the war. After Reeves fails to return in a timely fashion, Ford rides out to kill his father for abandoning them. In an untold sequence of events, Ford somehow joined Reeves as a U.S. Marshal. I don't sense any hostility between the two, so perhaps it just wasn't a developed story that needed telling. That same approach is taken with Ford and Camilla. They were former lovers, and at some point in their heated relationship Ford was forced to kill Camilla's brother.
In talking with Towns, he advised me these events aren't included or explained in further detail in the two prior books. So, it stands to reason that his “stand-alone” approach is truly that. Nothing more, nothing less. While these books are connected with the same central character, they don't follow any sort of strict continuance.
Towns' writing is reminiscent of William W. Johnstone's early 'Smoke Jensen' tales. It's blunt, well-told and should please fans of the 50s and 60s television western formula. The author's love of that time period is conveyed perfectly – well defined heroes and villains with clear and concise problems. Ford's fight is our fight, the proverbial good versus evil struggle that all of us can relate too. The action comes in waves, sequencing a chain of events that ultimately comes full circle to the book's descriptive post-destruction prologue. It's a fitting conclusion to the “downfall of the bully” narrative.
You can get a copy through the publisher, Black Horse, or Amazon.