Showing posts with label James Reasoner. Show all posts
Showing posts with label James Reasoner. Show all posts

Monday, March 8, 2021

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 81

On Episode 81 of the Paperback Warrior Podcast, we explain why you sometimes see the name “Book Creations, Inc.” on copyright pages. Also discussed: Lyle Kenyon Engel, James Reasoner, Stephen King, Dana Fuller Ross, Richard Neely, John Ball and more! Listen on your favorite podcast app or or download directly HERE 

You can also donate to the show HERE

Listen to "Episode 81: Lyle Kenyon Engel" on Spreaker.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Wagons West: The Frontier Trilogy #01 - Westward!

Beginning in 1978, author Noel B. Gerson (1914-1988) penned the first of book of the immensely popular western series Wagons West. Set in the early to mid-1800s, the Wagons West series focuses on the fictional Holt family of American frontiersmen. The main character is Michael “Whip” Holt, a wagonmaster who faces danger and seduction in each book's adventure. The plots were created by Lyle Kenyon Engel and published under the house name of Dana Fuller Ross.

Beginning in 1989, another series was introduced under the title The Holts, an American Dynasty. Authored by James Reasoner (Abilene, Stagecoach Station) also under the name Dana Fuller Ross, the series ran for 10 installments and focuses on Whip Holt's sons in the late 1800s. That brings us full-circle to the subject at hand, an exciting Wagons West prequel trilogy titled Wagons West: The Frontier Trilogy.

This three-book series of early American frontier action consists of Westward! (1992), Expedition (1993) and Outpost (1993). James Reasoner wrote the series under the familiar house name of Dana Fuller Ross and Lyle Kenyon Engel's Book Creations, Inc. produced it. Similar to what Louis L'Amour did with his popular Sacketts series, Engel came up with the idea of an “origin” story introducing the Holt family in the early 1800s (prior to Whip Holt and son Toby). I had never read a Wagons West book and found this prequel debut, Westward!, to be the perfect stepping stone into this long and successful American saga.

In Westward!, brothers Jeff and Clay Holt are introduced to readers in the year of 1805. The book's opening pages explains that young Clay is part of the Corps of Discovery, a group of burly adventurers who made up the assorted crew of Lewis and Clark's expedition into America's vastly unexplored far west. Through early action, Clay fights a duo of Native Americans while conversing with the real-life historical figure Sacajawea. In this early exchange, readers learn that Clay is quite the frontiersman and very daft with his flintlock musket, Cheney pistols, hunting knife and tomahawk. Right away, I knew I was in for a real treat.

Westward! proves to be an epic saga of both Clay's struggles in the wild as well as his brother Jeff's farming life in the fertile Ohio Valley. At a whopping 477-pages, Reasoner finds plenty of room to weave in a number of intricate story-lines. The first is Clay's acclimation back into civilization after two years in the rugged wilderness. Second is the book's middle chapters that expand upon a deadly and violent feud between the Holt and Garwood families. Like the famed Hatfields and McCoys, both of these families come to blows with the Garwood brother Zack and Pete proving to be a dangerous threat to Clay and Jeff's parents and siblings. The novel's third act places both brothers into the wild, untamed land of the west as they fight rival trappers, Native Americans and the vengeful Garwoods.

I would place Westward! alongside classic frontier westerns like Zane Grey's Spirit of the Border trilogy and Louis L'Amour's Jubal Sackett and To the Far Blue Mountains. Granted that's a huge accolade, but it is absolutely a valid comparison. Reasoner's writing is just so good and brings to life not only this early Holt generation, but also America's beautiful history. I've always been fascinated by the early 1800s exploration of North America and the Ohio River Valley and Reasoner seems to be writing just for me. He speaks to me so well with these adventures and his descriptions of the rugged, majestic beauty of America's early frontier. If you love this style of western storytelling, Westward! is a must read. I've already purchased the rest of this trilogy as well as the first book of Reasoner's second and last Holt follow-up trilogy, Wagons West: The Empire Trilogy.


I had the pleasure of talking with James Reasoner about this novel and series. He explained that he isn't sure who came up with the idea of the Wagons West prequels, whether it was him or his editor at Book Creations Inc. He told me that his wife half-jokingly said, "What they don't tell you is that it was Lewis and Clark...and Holt." He said everything else just sprang from that. He believes Westward! is not only the longest book he has written but also his best-selling novel. He went on to add that a third trilogy was in the planning that would have been titled Wagons West: The Rogue Trilogy but at the last minute, Bantam changed their mind.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Down in the Valley

With over 19 pseudonyms and over 350 novels, few have rivaled James Reasoner's blueprint on men's adventure fiction. Along with penning a number of adult western titles like 'Longarm' and 'Trailsman', Reasoner wrote a number of short stories for magazines and compilations. One of those, “Down in the Valley”, first appeared in “Mike Shayne's Mystery Magazine” in September, 1979. In 1997 the story was included in the “American Pulp” compilation edited by Ed Gorman, Bill Pronzini and Martin Greenberg. 

“Forty-three men huddled in the back of the truck, cold and afraid. There was no moon and the canvas flaps on the side cut out what little starlight there was. It was pitch black inside and none of the men knew where they were headed.”

Beginning any literary work with that opening paragraph just demands that your audience sit up and pay attention. I was actually thumbing through this compilation and was immediately roped in by simply glancing at those few lines. Who are the men? Where are they headed?

Reasoner's story features a truck driver named Flood driving a truckload of illegal aliens from Mexico to San Antonio. The backstory has Flood, a bitter blue collar laborer, leaving his wife and newborn baby to pursue better money, fancy women and tasty whiskey. While his illegal pipeline work as a human trafficker is lucrative, he's found the women are harder to come by.

The story's second character displays the same determination, yet reaches for a different goal – working anywhere other than hot fields. Ramon has a lover in Mexico named Elena and he's pursing the American dream – regardless of which color the collar is. Exhausted from laboring in the hot sun, Ramon wants to escape to America to achieve his own goals and has paid Flood hard-earned money to deliver him to San Antonio. 

The night-time dash across the boarder evolves into hot-pursuit. Reasoner conveniently places a sting operation into the mix with state patrol officers coordinating a roadblock. Flood's off road driving will be put to the test as Ramon simply awaits his fate. As the story reaches a crescendo, we realize just how closely paralleled the two characters are and how far they will go to achieve success. 

At under 10-pages, Reasoner orchestrates a quick and overly entertaining short story. “Down in the Valley” should appeal to action fans but the heart of the story is providing insight on both Flood and Ramon. The author proves that we all may be headed to the same destination, sometimes on the same path, but the measures we use to reach success varies substantially.

Buy a copy of this compilation HERE

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Death and the Dancing Shadows

The March 1980 edition of ‘Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine’ (MSMM) featured a “New Novelette” by reliably great Texas writer James Reasoner called “Death and The Dancing Shadows.” The story was later reprinted in the essential 1987 collection, “The Black Lizard Anthology of Crime Fiction,” and it’s also now available as a stand-alone story on Kindle for a buck. Since I count myself as a Reasoner superfan, I was excited to read it.

This was one of five “Markham P.I.” stories that Reasoner wrote during the 1980s. Markham is a Hollywood-based private eye who serves as a troubleshooter for clients - mostly in the entertainment industry. This time around, Markham’s client is aging movie cowboy Lucky Tremaine who’s being blackmailed by an unknown adversary. The blackmailer has a sex tape starring Lucky’s beloved 18 year-old granddaughter, and he wants $10,000 or he’ll release the tape to the world. (Evidently this story was written before sex tapes were a door to wealth and fame as a reality TV star.)

The more Markham learns about the situation, the more cause for concern arises. The granddaughter is a student at USC, but she’s been missing for three days. Markham endeavors to find the missing girl and identify and neutralize the blackmailers. All of this eventually leads to a murder that Markham is also obliged to solve. He’s a P.I. with a lot to do, and only a handful of “Novelette” pages to get it all done.

An average reader of private eye stories will probably see the first big plot twist coming, but the subsequent twists were legitimately surprising and made for an exciting read. This is a testament to Reasoner’s writing talents as he clearly has been both a student and a practitioner of pulp fiction mystery writing for his entire life.

“Death and The Dancing Shadows” ends with a satisfying conclusion answering the one remaining mystery left unsolved in the story. As a hero, Markham is a decent character but is largely indistinguishable from many other fictional American private eyes. This could have just as easily been a Mike Shayne, Peter Chambers, or Johnny Liddell story, and if you’re a fan of that type of thing, there’s a lot to enjoy here as well.

Mostly, it’s cool that this “Novelette” has stood the test of time and is still available for purchase at a reasonable price 38 years after its original publication. There’s nothing revolutionary or groundbreaking here, but it’s a solid private eye mystery and an easy recommendation.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Tractor Girl

In the 1950s and beyond, Fawcett Gold Medal produced some of the most tightly-wound 180-page crime novels by authors including Harry Whittington, Gil Brewer, Dan Marlowe, and Day Keene. The books often starred ambitious criminals, sexy femme fatales, double-crosses, and twist endings.

In 2011, James Reasoner published his own homage to the Gold Medal crime novels of the 1950s, “Tractor Girl”.

A small-time hood is left for dead by the local gangsters on the side of a Texas road. He is rescued and brought home by a sexy farmer's daughter who begins nursing him back to health. As we learn more about the girl and her family's secrets, the tension mounts. Criminal opportunities arise, double-crosses happen, and 1950s-style eroticism abounds. The first-person narrative is hard-boiled. The characters are vivid, and the plot is tightly-wound.

This is a terrific short novel that would have been a natural fit in the Gold Medal collection. The upside is that we can enjoy it today for a couple bucks on Kindle or ordering a hard-copy online. Strongest recommendation, here. I can't get enough of this crime sub-genre, and I'm glad guys like Reasoner are keeping it alive. 

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Trailsman #256 - High Country Horror

This ‘Trailsman’ adventure, “High Country Horror” (James Reasoner as Jon Sharpe), starts out being a wilderness survival story, as Skye Fargo meets a wagon train of settlers in serious trouble. They’ve been deceived by their guide, who steered them into the mountains far from the Oregon Trail before robbing and abandoning them just as the first blizzard of winter arrives. These opening chapters are superb, and they were so promising that I was a little disappointed that the book soon changes course. 

Instead of a Donner Party drama of hunger and slow death, we find Fargo leading the settlers to the shelter of an abandoned fort, where the crooked guide re-appears with his well-armed outlaw gang and terrorizes them all over again, though Fargo does his best to help. Amid this action are interludes with a death-dealing Sasquatch-like figure known as the Lost River Lurker, who appears from time to time to attack people before mysteriously disappearing. 

These narrative pieces don’t necessarily fit together perfectly, but the author’s gifts for atmosphere and suspense make it all work. The story concludes with a strong confrontation scene and then, as if to place a cherry atop the sundae, there’s a surprise twist. But that twist didn’t make much sense to me. I won’t give anything away, but the revelation we get is a bit hard to believe. Sometimes a sundae doesn’t need a cherry, and I think the novel would have been better had it ended half a page sooner. But overall, this was a gripping novel and the Lurker really helps it stand apart from the roughly 400 other ‘Trailsman’ stories.