Showing posts with label Jon Sharpe. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jon Sharpe. Show all posts

Monday, July 11, 2022

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 97

On Episode 97, Eric and Tom collaborate for a comprehensive feature on Jon Messmann, the prolific author and creator of The Trailsman series, The Revenger, The Handyman, and numerous Nick Carter: Killmaster novels. Eric also reviews Messmann's stand-alone action-adventure novel, Bullet for the Bride. Tom reviews a vintage crime-fiction paperback called The Mob Says Murder by author Marvin Albert and Eric offers insight on his new projects with Brash Books and Cutting Edge. Listen on any podcast app, or download directly HERE.

Listen to "Episode 97: Jon Messmann" on Spreaker.

Monday, December 2, 2019

The Trailsman #01 - Seven Wagons West

Author Jon Messman had a very busy schedule in the 1970s. Authoring novels in the Hotline, Revenger, Handyman and Nick Carter: Killmaster series titles, Messman was a bright spot on the vigilante and espionage radar. It makes sense that by the time 1980 rolled around, the author was ready for a change of pace. Beginning with Seven Wagons West, Messman wrote a majority of the first 200 installments of The Trailsman adult western series for Signet using house name Jon Sharpe. Astonishingly, that was only half the series. The Trailsman ran through 397 novels from 1980 through 2014, the last half written by a rotating blend of authors. These books can be read in any order, but my first experience is the debut.

Seven Wagons West introduces readers to Skye Fargo, a gruff frontiersman who rides an unnamed horse, fires a Remington .44 the title suggests...escorts clients on the winding trails of the untamed west. The character's backstory is fairly simple. His father was a road agent for Wells Fargo. While young Skye was away on chores, his parents and kid brother were murdered by three bank robbers. Skye took “Fargo” as his last name as an ode to his father's profession. He now searches the Western Frontier for his family's killers while working his day job as a trailsman.

In this installment, Reverend Rogers and his wife Constance have learned of a silver mine in Wisconsin territory. They hire Fargo to guide the congregation on a month long journey through Sioux country. The goal is to establish a church in the wilderness and Fargo is being paid well – in women. On board the wagon train is a single babe named Julia, the reverend's sexy wife and third pickings, a weathered woman named Dulcy. It's an adult western series, so Fargo slips in a number of timely lays on the outskirts of campsites. Wagons ho!

In terms of gun action, which is primarily the second reason why anyone reads these things, Fargo tangles with a few bandits that attempt to rob the caravan. There's also a Sioux raiding party to contend with and of course, outlaws who are privy to the location of the silver mine. Fargo is established as an intelligent hero, often out-cunning enemies before firing a round. As a seasoned traveler, his skills are showcased in triumphant fashion.

Whether it's fixing busted axles, mending wounded horses or caring for neglected wives, Fargo proves to be the capable long-term paperback hero. Whether that remained fresh for nearly 400 books remains to be seen. But, based on the number of readers, books sold and the quality of writers, the story became a tremendously successful cookie cutter formula for the demanding publisher. As a series debut, Seven Wagons West doesn't move the needle in terms of originality or innovation, but it's thoroughly enjoyable and recommended for new fans of the series like myself.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, January 11, 2019

Canyon O'Grady #05 - The Lincoln Assignment

Because the series order really doesn’t matter, my next foray into the world of adult western hero Canyon O’Grady is the fifth book in the series, “The Lincoln Assignment.” For this 1989 installment, veteran author Chet Cunningham serves as the writer behind the Jon Sharpe house name.

Someone is trying to kill U.S. Representative Abraham Lincoln before a scheduled series of debates with U.S. Senator Stephen A. Douglas as both men compete for the Senate seat currently held by Douglas. Meanwhile, a team of deadly assassins is also targeting Senator Douglas who has his eye on winning the White House in two years. The current U.S. President is James Buchanan, and he is concerned about this threat to the democratic process and dispatches his best man - Special Agent Canyon O’Grady - to Illinois to investigate and neutralize this threat. O’Grady’s presidential orders? “Stop the ruffians!”

Early in the paperback, O’Grady learns the identities of the assassins and the agenda of the puppet masters engaging their services. I won’t give it away, but the rationale was not too outlandish. The owlhoots hired to kill the politicians are a great set of villains that includes a sexy redheaded female, and this being an adult western, you can imagine where that leads. There’s also a female U.S. Government Agent thrown into the mix of this investigation which ads an interesting wrinkle to the story.

Mostly what we have here is a pretty exciting, sexy and violent action novel starring a U.S. Government Agent trying to prevent a pair of political assassinations. The fact that it takes place in August 1858 is almost inconsequential to the story. It’s a western because the hero rides a horse, but there are no Apache attacks of settlers in “The Lincoln Assignment.”

I’ve always preferred Chet Cunningham’s work in the western genre to his contemporary action paperbacks (“Spur” is better than “The Penetrator,” for example), and this Canyon O’Grady book is no exception. Cunningham was a talented literary entertainer who focused on solid plotting rather than flowery prose. He tackles his mandatory graphic sex scenes with real gusto, and they are well-woven into the plot. Moreover, the characters of Lincoln and Douglas are well-written and infused with human personalities. 

Canyon O’Grady is shaping up to be one of my favorite series characters in this genre. If you like adult westerns and historical fiction, you’ll probably enjoy this one as much as I did.

Buy a copy of the book HERE

Friday, November 2, 2018

Canyon O'Grady #01 - Dead Men's Trails

Writing as Jon Sharpe, author Jon Messman was the primary architect and ghostwriter behind the popular adult western series, ‘The Trailsman.’ In 1989, Signet Books launched a new series called ‘Canyon O’Grady’ also using the Jon Sharpe house name, so it only made sense to have Messman pen the inaugural installment.

The premise of the Canyon O’Grady books is pretty interesting, and it’s quite similar in structure to Longarm. Canyon is a “U.S. Government Agent” who gets his investigative assignments directly from U.S. President James Buchanan. For instance, in Book 2, POTUS asks Canyon to protect the man working on a new invention called “the machine gun” before the device falls into the wrong hands. Book 5 finds Canyon working double duty to protect political rivals Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln from terrorists seeking to disrupt the next U.S. presidential election.

When asked the difference between a federal marshal and a U.S. Government agent, Canyon explains: “A federal marshal arrests people and brings them in. Sometimes he does some law-keeping. Mostly, though, he’s the arresting arm of the federal government. A government agent tracks down trouble and troublemakers anywhere and everywhere. Federal marshals have a territory. I go anywhere the trail takes me.”

The first book in the series takes place along the wild and lawless Kentucky-Tennessee border in 1859 where Canyon is undercover on a special assignment from the President involving the mysterious death of Meriwether Lewis of Lewis & Clark fame 50 years earlier - a cold-case homicide that becomes a manhunt and a treasure hunt.

Shortly after his arrival into a small Kentucky town, Canyon witnesses a targeted murder of a man who might have some answers regarding Lewis’ death. It turns out that the victim is one of several close associates suffering assassinations at the hands of hired hit squads because of a shared secret in their past. Only one of the group has survived and his comely daughter wants Canyon to find her reclusive and hidden father before it’s too late.

Because this is an adult western, you can count on regular breaks in the action for some mandatory graphic sex scenes. It took 37 pages for Canyon to get laid in the debut, so you know the author was really committed to the main plot. However, never fear - there’s also a substantial amount of cinematic and grizzly violence to keep the pages flying by.

Messman includes lots of details and backstory regarding our hero. Canyon was conceived in Ireland and born in the U.S. His father was an Irish revolutionary fleeing British rule with a price on his head. Canyon was classically educated by wise and learned Catholic friars and often quotes ancient Greek poets and sings Irish folk songs. He rides a beautiful palomino horse named Cormac after the Irish king of the 8th Century.

A fair amount of the novel is Canyon traveling through the wilderness accompanied by a beautiful girl in search of her father. They encounter many obstacles along the way requiring Canyon to save the girl’s bacon from mountain lions and rapey fur trappers. At times, the intensity of the violence approaches the level of the Edge series when the bullets begin to fly and the blood starts to flow. Meanwhile, the central mystery regarding the assassinations is remarkably compelling for a pulpy paperback.

The Canyon O’Grady series lasted for 25 books before folding in 1993. The authors changed hands with Chet Cunningham writing several and Robert Randisi delivering the final eight books. Canyon O’Grady and Skye “Trailsman” Fargo actually team up in Trailsman #100. As for this first episode, it’s an outstanding debut that makes the reader want to dig deeper into this fascinating hero. Recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Sunday, March 4, 2018

The Trailsman #205 - Mountain Mankillers

'The Trailsman' was a very long-running series (398 novels!), employing multiple authors writing under the house name Jon Sharpe. Almost inevitably, the level of quality varies from book to book, sometimes markedly. 

David Robbins was one of the better writers in the Trailsman stable, so I selected one of his books to read, since I’m already a big fan of his 'Wilderness' series. (He actually wrote more Trailsmans than Wilderness novels.) 

“Mountain Mankillers” is set in the Rockies, where a minor gold rush is underway and a bustling tent city has been established. Skye Fargo stops by, and is very soon caught up in violence and mystery. A number of miners have disappeared, including the father of two sexy sisters, and Fargo helps them out by investigating. It’s pretty clear that the town’s corrupt establishment has something to do with it all, but pulling the strings is an unknown Mr. Big. Who could it be?

Well, a modestly attentive reader won’t be kept in suspense very long, because Robbins telegraphs the identity of Mr. Big on page 130, leaving the remaining thirty-two pages of text a bit anti-climactic. That’s not to say the book is ruined. It’s still a notch or two above average, thanks partly to a couple of vividly violent sequences. One is a brutal beating on a very muddy street, and the other is a savage lashing by a bullwhip-wielding bad guy. Unfortunately for Fargo, he’s on the receiving end of both of these assaults, each of which is nearly fatal. But don’t feel too sorry for him, as he’s rewarded by the author with some mighty steamy interludes with the sexy sisters.

There’s actually a third sister too, a likable ten-year-old who befriends Fargo and is in turn watched over by him. Their scenes together are very charming, and help differentiate this character from the usual two-fisted, fast-on-the-draw western stereotype we’ve seen so many times before. (My inner casting director put Rory Calhoun in the role of Fargo, and that seemed to help bring the character to life too.) The author showed a welcome light touch in another way: Fargo keeps running into strangers who embarrass him with gushing praise for the exploits recounted in earlier novels!   

Anyway, there may be better Trailsman books out there (and there are), but you could do a lot worse than “Mountain Mankillers”.   

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.