Showing posts with label Ace Double. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ace Double. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Never Forget, Never Forgive

Washington State native Clayton Fox (1920-2008) wrote for the pulp Westerns and then transitioned into paperback original novels. He eventually became a writer for the TV show Rawhide. Two of his non-western novels were published as Ace Doubles, including Never Forget, Never Forgive from 1961.

Our hero is small-town police detective Thaddus Zilch. He lost his previous job for coming down too hard on racketeers, so he’s giving it another shot with a different Sheriff in a different town nestled in Washington State logging country. He’s a good narrator and a pretty excellent cop.

Within 30 minutes of his new job starting, a skeleton is found in the woods, and Zilch is assigned the case. There is a bullet hole in the skull from a .22 caliber rifle. The location of the hole means murder or hunting accident, so Zilch has a cold case to solve.

Meanwhile, Zilch meets Connie, the pretty owner of the local diner. He learns that a decade ago, three men raped Connie and left her pregnant with her now 10 year-old son. She was never able to identify the rapists, and the whole town knows her tragic story. Zilch quickly (a little too quickly, to be honest) falls in love with Connie, who is still dealing with the psychological scars left behind from her attack.

Little by little, evidence seems to mount that the skeleton in the woods may have been one of Connie’s rapists. It’s a pretty interesting mystery for Zilch to solve involving forensic science and a decade-old vendetta. As the romance between Connie and Zilch intensifies, he is forced to face the possibility that Connie has gone full-on Death Wish upon her rapists. This is the central mystery of the novel.

I really liked this book - mostly because the writing and the characters were uniformly terrific. My only criticism was that the murder mystery itself was so, so easy to solve. The author telegraphed the twist ending early in the novel making it the most tepid surprise I can recall. Despite this, I genuinely enjoyed the paperback and will seek out other works by Clayton Fox. Recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Hangman's Territory

Jack M. Bickham (1930-1997) wrote predominantly westerns during his career while also teaching writing at the University of Oklahoma. Hangman’s Territory was half of a 1961 Ace Double later reprinted as a stand-alone paperback.

Our hero is Eck Jackson and he’s on his way to Rimrock, Montana at the request of a friend. The town has been taken over by Ebeneezer Taunt, who is acting as a self-appointed judge, jury and executioner along with a phalanx of gunmen. Taunt has a hard-on for hanging and has erected a six-rope gallows in the center of town to kill a half-dozen men with one lever pull. To bolster the credibility of his fiefdom, Taunt is importing an Ohio lawyer named John Powers to be his public prosecutor.

When we meet Powers, he’s actually an honest and earnest lawyer who accepts the job remotely with a legitimate interest in bringing law and order to a western town. He packs up his wife and heads west to become a public servant to the people of Rimrock. Will he buy-into Taunt’s perverted version of justice or will he stand up for what is right?

Bubbling under the surface of the tensions is a conflict between sheep herders and cattle farmers. Both groups want to use the same public lands for grazing, but the valley upon which the town sits just isn’t big enough to accommodate both the cattle people and the sheep people. In the world of western fiction, this is what is known as a “range war” when things turn violent. For his part, Judge Taunt, his lawman, and his hangman are all siding with the cattlemen.

The comic relief of the novel lies in the character of Boom Boom O’Malley, a redheaded ruffian explosives man who dresses in crazy outfits and is always looking for a fight. The author renamed and rebranded the character later in his career for his Wildcat O’Shea successful series of westerns written under the name Jeff Clinton (Hat Tip to the Six-Gun Justice website for also noticing the same thing).

The author brings all the characters together for an actioned-packed conflict that’s both exciting and violent. Overall, this was a very satisfying, quick-read western and an easy recommendation to fans of the genre. Bickham was a pro whose books deserve to be reprinted and remembered.

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

The Time of Terror

The kidnapping-heist crime novel The Time of Terror by Lionel White (1905-1985) was first published as a hardcover in 1960 and later abridged to fit the page count as an Ace Double paperback in 1961. The original text of the novel has been reprinted by Stark House Press and paired with 1958’s Too Young to Die.

Long Island, New York couple Christian and Elizabeth (“Call me, Bet!”) are living the suburban American dream. Christian has a good job with an electronics business he helped found, and Bet spends her days raising her two little kids with the help of a live-in nanny and housekeeper.

We also meet 38 year-old Frank Mace, a downtrodden guy in a downscale New York suburb. Frank is a laid-off factory worker whose family has left him. Frank feels that the only answer to turning his life around is an immediate influx of cash. As such, Frank decides to rob a supermarket without formulating much of a coherent plan.

Upon arrival at the grocery store, Frank encounters an unattended little kid - Bet’s kid - and snatches the boy up concocting a kidnapping-for-ransom scheme on the fly. And away we go with a wild paperback crime yarn.

In the opening chapters of The Time of Terror, the author adopts the conversational narration style employed in Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct novels where the third-person omniscient narrator has personality and provides commentary - even acknowledging that there is a reader to whom he’s speaking. It makes for a fun read, and White has the chops to do it well.

The perspective shifts between the police, the local newspaper, the FBI, the victim family, and our kidnapper are quick and well-executed. The plot developments are of the forehead-slapping, one-damn-thing-after-another variety and you’ll have a hard time looking away from this slow-motion noir trainwreck of a crime story.

Overall, it was a pretty great book. The first half a stronger than the second half, but White never disappoints. If you enjoy heists-gone-wrong paperbacks, you can safely add this one to your reading list.

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Jim Breen #01 - The Knave of Diamonds

Jack Karney (1911-????) was an employee of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office who wrote 11 paperback crime novels in his day, including two Ace Doubles. Insurance Investigator Jim Breen was his two-book “series” character first appearing in 1959’s The Knave of Diamonds. The short novel has been reprinted by Wildside Press as a one-dollar ebook or a ten-dollar paperback

Our narrator is Jim Breen, who grew up among the youthful toughs on New York’s Cherry Street. He’s now the in-house investigator for Bender’s Insurance Company, and working the streets of Manhattan is a good deal for everyone because Breen is well-connected on both sides of the law. 

An insured party had $80,000 in jewelry stolen in a home-invasion robbery. Rather than paying out the whole claim, Breen is hitting the streets with the plan of buying back the hot rocks for $30,000 — no questions asked. In order to make the deal happen, Breen needs to find the burglar to negotiate the deal. 

For Breen, that means canvassing hoodlums that he grew up with on the streets. A particular childhood friend comes to mind who may have actually pulled off the heist, but what kind of reception is Breen likely to get when accusing any local hoodlum of a robbery?

Breen faces plenty of resistance along his unusual quest to give $30,000 away to a robber. The fistfight scenes are top-notch, and Breen really gets to kick some ass. Overall, The Knave of Diamonds was a solid, if unremarkable, hardboiled private eye novel that was perfectly-consistent with the genre output in 1959. If you like that type of thing, you’re bound to enjoy this one just fine. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Homicide Handicap

Florida resident Bob McKnight authored 11 short novels published as Ace Doubles between 1957 and 1963. He also wrote a bunch of non-fiction books on horse race handicapping and didn’t forge into fiction until the ripe old age of 51. Homicide Handicap was his last Ace novel from 1963.

Sox Bradley is a thoroughbred racehorse trainer and our narrator in this 100-page conventional mystery. His wealthy ex-wife, Carla, owns a bunch of racehorses, and Sox still works for her despite the marriage being long over. When Carla’s dead body is found stashed away at her Florida mansion, the cops naturally question Sox for the murder.

Yes, this is another one of those paperbacks where the falsely-accused protagonist needs to solve a murder to save his own hide, and it’s a pretty enjoyable iteration of this trope. Sox is a decent main character despite a lack of charisma, and the setting in the world of thoroughbred horse training was an interesting glimpse behind the curtain of a sports subculture. I learned a thing or two along the way that will make me a hit at cocktail parties when the topic of horse racing arises.

There’s a sweet girl interested in Sox and a handful of likely suspects with motive and opportunity. There’s not much action other than a couple of peripheral murders that narrows the field of suspects. You’ll see the solution coming from a furlong away, but it will only serve to make you feel smart in the final chapter when your suspicions are confirmed.

To be clear, Homicide Handicap isn’t a mystery masterpiece, but it was an enjoyable diversion about as good as a typical long-story from Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. The novel has never been reprinted, but many Ace Double collectors probably have a copy that’s been sitting on their shelves for decades. The other side of the paperback is The Dead and the Deadly by Louis Trimble. It’s a good pairing as both authors knew how to execute a formulaic mystery.

Thursday, June 16, 2022

To Venus! To Venus!

Robert Silverberg said that Donald A. Wollheim (1914-1990) was one of the most significant figures in 20th century American science-fiction publishing. He was the editor for Avon Books between 1947 through 1951, then left to spearhead the new publisher Ace Books. He invented the adored “Ace Double” and spent 20 years as the publisher's editor-in-chief. He later left Ace to form one of the most instantly recognizable publishers in science-fiction literature, DAW Books (Wollheim's initials). But, Wollheim also wrote a lot of science-fiction stories and books, including To Venus! To Venus!. It was published under his popular pseudonym David Grinnell by Ace in 1970. The flip story of this double is The Jester at Scar by Edwin Charles Tubb. Cover art by John Schoenherr.

The book begins with a U.S. Space Agency's crew, led by protagonist Chet Duncan, navigating a difficult task on the Moon's surface. It is presented as a bit of foreshadowing, eventually culminating later in the narrative as Duncan is forced to navigate more challenging tasks on the surface of Venus. Once the crew is back home in CA, Duncan's senior management discusses the next mission.

Russia (then the Soviet Union) made a transmission from what appears to be a communication station on Venus. This would be unlikely considering that the U.S. and world leaders have established that Venus contains an atmosphere that is over 500 degrees. However, the Reds state that the information is inaccurate and that the atmosphere is similar to Earth's. In an effort to gain credibility, and in the fairness of competition, the Americans want their own people on Venus. A three-man crew led by Duncan will train extensively for the flight to Venus and make the voyage. Thus, a narrative is born.

The flight to Venus is somewhat boring as readers endure daily activities, training exercises, and some flat banter between the characters. The only entertaining aspect is that another group of Russians are en route to Venus as well, so the rivalry between the two space capsules is interesting. The Russians are heavily stereotyped, which made the dialogue unintentionally humorous. But, eventually the Americans land on Venus only to discover that the Russians are in need of medicine and assistance. The mystery on whether Venus is sporting the inner rings of Hell or the atmosphere of Central Park comes to fruition as the story reaches its central apex. Unfortunately, it was like a faulty firework on the 4th of July. A bummer instead of a starburst.

There's nothing about To Venus! To Venus! to recommend. The narrative just plods along with no  real enjoyment beyond simple escapism. The finale, which I thought was surely going to be an entertaining sequence of American/Russian cooperation to escape the fiery doom of Venus turned out to be about a paragraph in length. Just when I was fully invested, I turned the page and found an advertisement for more Ace books before the pages flipped upside down. Needless to say, I was underwhelmed with the ending. To Venus! To Venus! isn't Hall of Shame worthy, but it is certainly in the neighborhood. Take a hard pass. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, January 21, 2022

Dark Planet

John Thomas Phillifent (1916-1976) used the pseudonym John Rackham to author a number of science-fiction and fantasy novels. Under his real name he also wrote three novels related to The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Along with 20 stand-alone novels, he also wrote two series titles, Space Puppet (1954-1955) and Chappie Jones (1960-1963). I recently acquired a crate of Ace Doubles that included a few novels under the Rackham name. Looking for adventure in a galaxy far, far away, I chose to read his 1971 novel Dark Planet.

In the future, war has enveloped the entire galaxy. Earth discovered an inhospitable planet deemed Step Two as a stopping point for vessels to re-supply and re-energize. The planet's atmosphere will eat materials like plastic and metal. Due to the acidic air, a specially designed dome was placed over a portion of the planet that functions as a military installation.

The book's protagonist, Query, has upended his military career and now finds himself doing labor as punishment on the planet of Step Two. Being a rebel at heart, Query continues to wander outside of the dome using a special space suit. In the opening pages, Query sees a figure in the distance and realizes the planet is inhabited by some sort of people.

Captain Evans and his daughter Christine arrive in Step Two and find Query. The war has escalated and their team needs an experienced ship mechanic, one of Query's many skills. The three of them fly out of the dome on an adventure to save the galaxy. But, the ship malfunctions and they free fall from 15-miles up, crash landing in Step Two's far-flung, unexplored reaches. Together, they must learn how to survive in an atmosphere that literally eats everything.

Unfortunately, there's not a lot that really happens in Dark Planet. Inevitably, the three find the bizarre people that live on the planet and they must learn from them how to survive and communicate. It's a fish out of water adventure, complete with giant worms and tree people. The hope that Rackham would write a stirring action novel was quickly dissolved by Query's romantic chemistry with one of the inhabiting females. If long conversations about the purpose of our existence is your thing, then this novel may entertain you. If not, turn the light off on Dark Planet.

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Sam Dakkers #01 - Scream Street

Before authoring the successful Pete McGrath mysteries, Mike Brett (1921-2000) wrote a two-book crime series starring a hard-luck bookie named Sam Dakkers for the Ace Doubles imprint. Both books have been reprinted - again as doubles - by Oregon publisher Armchair Fiction. I recall enjoying the second book, The Guilty Bystander, so I figured I’d try the first installment, Scream Street, from 1959.

Sam the bookie is our narrator, and the opening paragraph finds him witnessing a guy bashing a lady’s face on a corner sidewalk. A geyser of blood and the sickening thud of a human skull bouncing off concrete begin the action for both Sam and the reader. Against his better judgement, Sam comes to the lady’s aid by dispatching the thug and bringing the lady back to Sam’s apartment and temporary safety. The girl’s name is Joan and she had been lured to a warehouse by the thug who tried to rape her under some very odd circumstances. Could there be an organized rape ring at work?

Stemming from this encounter, one violent confrontation leads to another for Sam. Dead bodies begin to pile up resulting in Sam running from both the thugs and eventually the police. Yes, this is one of those noir novels where the protagonist needs to solve a mystery to save his own hide from a presumption of guilt. Sam is an unlikely hero who gets his ass kicked, stomped and shot in nearly every chapter. For Sam, this ordeal is less about a quest for justice and more about keeping his bookmaking business intact. Catching bullets and saps to the back of his head is a small price to pay for Sam’s return to normalcy.  

Sam is a very fun character to follow as he bumbles toward a solution. Without question, Scream Street isn’t a crime fiction classic, but it was a light and easy read that never fails to hold the reader’s attention. One quibble: the paperback ends with the obligatory scene with the villain delivering an unbroken monologue explaining the criminal scheme from beginning to end rather than just plugging our hero with a bullet and moving on. Even in 1959, this was a played-out literary trope.

But who cares? You’ll be smiling through every page of this cliche-filled short novel. That counts for something. Check this one out if you want a quick and breezy read. Get the book HERE

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Sam Dakkers #02 - The Guilty Bystander

Michael Brett (1921-2000) was the author of the ten-book Pete McGrath detective series in the 1960s and a regular contributor to Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. It’s a little confusing because there were other mystery writers from the same era who utilized the name Michael Brett as a pseudonym, but the guy who wrote the Pete McGrath books was actually Michael Brett, the genuine article.

Before the success of his flagship series, Brett authored two crime novels starring a bald bookmaker named Sam Dakkers. Both were published in 1959 as Ace Doubles (inconveniently not paired together) under the name Mike Brett. Same guy, I promise. The first was titled Scream Street and the second was The Guilty Bystander, reviewed below.


Sam Dakkers is an sports bookmaker, a convicted felon, and a rather funny first-person narrator. One night he meets a loopy chick in a bar and winds up at her place. Right as he’s closing the deal, her apartment buzzer goes starts frantically buzzing. She says it’s probably her violent mobster boyfriend, and Sam makes for the fire escape. As he’s working his way down to the alley, he hears the gunshots from the girl’s apartment.

So, we’re dealing with a pretty basic and commonplace murder mystery setup here. The cops initially suspect Sam. The real killer is trying to kill Sam. Sam needs to save his hide by solving the case. This dire setup doesn’t prevent the author from thrusting Sam into several comedic set pieces with mistaken identities, sexy babes, and the like. Nothing hilarious, but often amusing. The central mystery is wrapped up tidily in a little more than a hundred pages with no heavy lifting involved for the reader.

Some books are fine dining. Others are cotton candy. The Guilty Bystander was the latter. The writing was simple and straightforward - never flashy but serviceable. The narrator was a lovable oaf surrounded by archetypes you’ve seen before in better novels. Despite its lack of distinction, I genuinely enjoyed the little book. It was an easy read to pass the time between more substantial novels. Sometimes cotton candy does the trick.


Both of the Sam Dakkers novels have been reprinted as trade paperbacks by Armchair Fiction (again, as doubles) for modern audiences. I enjoyed The Guilty Bystander just enough that I ordered Scream Street. Watch this space for a review sometime this decade. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

In a Vanishing Room

I took inventory, and 15 of the 17 novels written by Robert Colby between the years 1956 and 1972 are now available as ebooks for your Kindle. Based on the three Colby novels I’ve read thus far, I’m convinced that the author is an unsung hero of American crime fiction. As such, I was excited to read his lean 1961 novel, In a Vanishing Room, a book originally released as half of an Ace Double paperback.

The novel opens with an odd scene. While waiting to board a flight from Miami to New York, Paul Norris sees a fellow passenger in line abruptly run out of the airport and two other men in the airport pursue the runner on foot. Upon arriving in New York, a woman waiting at the gate (ah, remember when that was a thing?) is clearly waiting for the man who ran away before boarding. She says the man is her lawyer and appears perplexed that he didn’t make the flight.

Norris accepts a ride into Manhattan from the woman - her name is Eileen - and tells her about the odd circumstances surrounding her lawyer’s escape from the airport. Upon arrival into the city, she invited him up to her apartment for a drink, and it becomes a near-certainty that Norris is about to get laid - 1961 style.

Not so fast, Mr. Norris! It seems that Eileen has something else up her sleeve. The seduction routine is just a ploy to get her hands on a shipping receipt for a large crate slipped into Norris pocket before the lawyer took off running at the Miami airport. In any case, Eileen splits fast leaving Norris with the receipt and a case of epididymal hypertension (Google it). This set-up is all rather contrived and tortured but will be worth it if the mysterious crate propel Norris into an exciting and mysterious adventure, right?

Lots of people want the receipt, so they can get the contents of the crate. Some are willing to befriend Norris to get the crate. Some are willing to pay dearly for it. Some are willing to kill for it. Understandably, Norris (and the reader) is uncertain who to trust. As the story winds through additional twists and turns, he pairs up with an attractive female corporate secretary on his mission to recover the crate for a wealthy benefactor.

The second half of the book introduces a fascinating hired killer and a vexing architectural mystery - the titular Vanishing Room - making for the kind of floor-plan mystery often devised by author John Dickson Carr. Unfortunately, the solutions to the Vanishing Room Mystery and the What’s Inside the Crate Affair were both rather ho-hum.

In a Vanishing Room is a difficult book to recommend. There were definitely some cool parts, but none of them fit together nicely into a coherent or particularly enjoyable crime novel. I’m not giving up on Robert Colby because I’ve seen what he can do when he’s firing on all cylinders - check out The Captain Must Die. Unfortunately, this one just isn’t much good. Take a pass. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, January 31, 2020

Mrs. Homicide

Like his contemporaries in Harry Whittington, Gil Brewer, and Talmage Powell, Day Keene (real name Gunnard R. Hjertstedt) was a successful Florida Gulf Coast writer. With over 50 published novels and dozens of short stories, the author's legacy has endured thanks to publishers like Stark House Press. Mrs. Homicide was originally published as a 1953 Ace Double paired with William L. Stuart's Dead Ahead. Now, Mrs. Homicide exists in a three-novel omnibus by Stark House Press.

The novel's conspicuous beginning introduces Manhattan homicide detective Herman Stone. Stone is in a precinct house watching his wife Connie being questioned as a suspect in the murder of a wealthy businessman. Connie was found drunk and half-naked in the victim's apartment. She has no memory of the victim or how she arrived at his apartment. Further evidence suggests that she had sex with the victim, and there's a message on a photo frame that indicates the two were in a relationship. The cops' offer is to waive the death penalty if Connie will confess. She refuses and Stone is left in the proverbial “rock and a hard place” position.

The narrative explores Stone's investigation into the murder with hopes that he can overcome the overwhelming evidence against his wife. Once Stone hooks a racketeer kingpin named Rags Hanlon, the defense begins to take shape. Stone's probe into Hanlon's business dealings and his connections eventually leads to his suspension from the force. Alone, with no allies, Stone's efforts to free Connie becomes a fight against corruption.

Day Keene is one of the most popular authors here at Paperback Warrior for a reason. His storytelling is masterful and his characters skirt the fine line between moral and immoral. While Mrs. Homicide was an okay read, I didn't find it to be of the same caliber as his other works like Joy House, Sleep with the Devil or Death House Doll. They can't all be winners, but Mrs. Homicide fell a bit flat in developing an engaging story. Disappointingly, nothing really happens for two-thirds of the book. Stone's procedural (and non-procedural) investigation didn't have enough twists and turns to really propel the story.

Overall, maybe there's a reason that this novel hasn't been reprinted since 1966. You'll find better Keene novels in circulation today. Mrs. Homicide may only appeal to collectors or fans that just need everything.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Catch the Brass Ring

Stephen Marlowe (born Milton Lesser, 1928-2008) is best known for his series of private-eye novels featuring Chester Drum. Along with notable science-fiction work, Lesser authored over 20 stand-alone novels. My introduction to the writer is his first work under the pen name Stephen Marlowe, the 1954 Ace paperback Catch the Brass Ring.

Gideon Frey is an Army veteran fresh off of a violent tour in the Korean War. Fighting side by side, Frey had struck up a close bond with fellow soldier Bert Arthur. Near the end of service, Bert offered Frey a job when they returned stateside. As Catch the Brass Ring opens, readers learn that Frey has just arrived at a Coney Island amusement park called Tolliver's. Only instead of a warm welcome from the owner Bert, he finds police cars, an ambulance...and a body bag.

Marlowe attempts to keep readers engaged by running two plots simultaneously. The first involves Frey's investigation into his friend's murder. His suspects range from two gay massage therapists (readers will need to overlook the historical stereotypes), a bizarre pizzeria owner, a hot female employee and Bert's mourning girlfriend Karen. On the suspect list himself, Frey also must contend with the local cops who are quick to point fingers at a new stranger in town.

The second story-line is a sensual love triangle as Frey falls for a beautiful heiress named Allison. She's worth a fortune thanks to her wealthy, blind husband Gregory (think of Anna Nicole Smith's old sugar daddy). But, Allison is a nympho and demands sex at the most impromptu times. In one hilarious scene, Frey and Allison make love on a small boat with the blind Gregory just a few feet away! Frey is torn between his heated desire for Allison and Bert's grieving girlfriend Karen, who turns to Frey for sexual healing.

For argument's sake, this is really just a romance novel with a crime thrown in. I think the cover speaks volumes and conveys the above sentiment. I'd speculate that most buyers weren't reading only crime-fiction, especially considering the Stephen Marlowe name would have been unfamiliar at this point in time. There's a second-rate murder mystery, but it's just not very interesting. Those plot points are few and far between and are just fodder to keep Frey jumping from Karen to Allison and back again.

Overall, crime-fiction fans can stay clear of this one. I caught the “brass ring” and wasn't terribly impressed.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, December 6, 2019

The Searching Rider

Harry Whittington's talent for storytelling was unmatched even among prolific contemporaries including Gil Brewer and Day Keene. Whether it was a fierce love triangle, bank heist or white knuckle suspense, the Floridian author engaged readers with his masterful literary prose. While his crime-noir is often discussed, Whittington's contribution to the western genre is sometimes overlooked. I thoroughly enjoyed his western titles like A Trap for Sam Dodge, Drygulch TownWild Sky and Desert Stake-Out. Therefore, I was excited to acquire a 1961 Ace double featuring both Hangman's Territory by Jack Bickham and Whittington's The Searching Rider.

Like many Whittington novels, The Searching Rider features a scorned lover, despicable villains and murder. It's a winning trifecta that the author injects with a more psychological edge to the classic frontier revenge formula. In fact, in the opening chapters the pursuit of three villains is a precursor to the real story – main character Matt Logan's quest to find the lone farmer pursuing the three villains. It's an odd reworking of the “owlhoot trail”, but the author keeps it a mystery until Logan's horse is shot out from under him. That's the cue to roll the flashback sequence.

We learn that a farm family living on a scorched trail to Tucson experience a horrific tragedy. Grief stricken, the farmer Kaylor sets out in pursuit of three bitter killers. His wife, in a state of shock, walks to town and asks her scorned lover Logan for help. Logan initially rejects her requests for help, but once he realizes the dire circumstances, Logan races to catch up with Kaylor before it is too late.

While this simple revenge tale could have easily been a toss-off dime western, Whittington makes it a unique and enjoyable read. Never settling for the ordinary prose, the Logan character is developed as the anti-hero, trading the proverbial white hat for a greedy poker hand. Kaylor's situation is compelling, a riveting blend of hot-headed anger combined with a stubborn tenacity. By placing the pursuit and subsequent gun play in a scorching desert, the author traps these characters into the inevitable confrontation. How readers arrive at the finale is the ultimate enjoyment.

The Searching Rider is another top-notch western from an author that rarely misfires. In a perfect world, this novel would receive a new publishing run by Stark House Press. Thus far, its just another tattered old paperback waiting to be found at a rummage sale.

Buy a copy of this book HERE