Showing posts with label Last Mountain Man. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Last Mountain Man. Show all posts

Monday, June 28, 2021

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 91

Episode 91 is a special Father's Day episode! Eric and his father, Chris discuss the life and literary works of William W. Johnstone. We delve deep into Johnstone's prolific career, determine the identity of J.A. Johnstone and examine the publishing mysteries surrounding the Johnstone name after his death. The two discuss The Last Mountain Man, Rig Warrior, Out of the Ashes, Matt Jensen, The Eagles and so much more. Tom calls in with commentary on Johnstone's contemporary thrillers like Stand Your Ground and Black Friday. Listen on any podcast app, or download directly HERE 

Donate to the show HERE

Listen to "Episode 91 Draft" on Spreaker.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 07

On this episode we are examining the noir work of successful author Richard Matheson, who's predominantly known for his horror and science-fiction work. We have two new reviews for you, 1955's "A Bullet for Cinderella" by John D. MacDonald and William W. Johnstone's 1984 western "The Last Mountain Man". Stream the episode below or wherever podcasts are streaming. Direct downloads are HERE.

Listen to "Episode 07: Richard Matheson" on Spreaker.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Last Mountain Man #07 - War of the Mountain Man

William W. Johnstone released his seventh ‘Last Mountain Man’ book in May of 1990 for Zebra. “War of the Mountain Man” continues the adventures of paperback warrior Smoke Jensen and his westward war with land barons, rapists, outlaws and criminal fast-draws. At this point in time, it’s all rather cookie cutter as Johnstone seemingly just phones in the action by recycling fights and enemies and placing them in subsequent books. At one point, two characters shockingly absorb Smoke’s account of killing over 200 men in prior adventures. It’s a testament to the series' high body count and the protagonist’s own immortality. Smoke may be grazed by bullets or fists, but his unwavering legacy just continues on – maybe at the expense of the reader.

The book’s opening chapter explains that Smoke and his wife Sallie have sent the kids abroad via a steamship. Sallie wants to spend some time alone with Smoke and wants the two of them to go visit an old school colleague, Victoria, in Montana. Victoria and her husband Robert have inherited a ranch in Hell’s Creek where a land baron named Max Hutchins resides. Smoke is weary of the visit, but is reading between the lines – Sallie needs Smoke’s skills to liberate the two ranchers. The two arrive at a small town on the Swan River where Smoke is informed that a survivor named Jake Lewis is still alive. Readers may remember that Smoke avenged the death of his first wife in a camp called Uncomphagre in the series’ first book. Jake, a survivor of Smoke’s Uncomphagre raid, is working for Hutchins which is an easy connect-the-dots for the author and an inevitable showdown for readers to anticipate.

Barlow is a corrupt little place where Hutchins has killed off the paper editor, Marshall, and tarred and feathered the minister. He’s replaced them all with his own men, something that Smoke corrects instantly upon arrival. Collectively, he rallies the town’s 30 willing citizens to fight back against Hutchins and his 100 gunners. The town votes to elect Smoke as the sheriff and soon the town is rebuilt – bank, shops, school, police force, etc. 

Barlow is an unusual spot geographically. The north end is controlled by Hutchins and the south is ruled by an equally vile criminal in Red Malone. The two split the gambling, whoring and raping equally and Smoke soon cuts off all supply trains in and out of Hell’s Creek. There’s no railroad to this part of the country…so needless to say Smoke prompts the ultimate war with Malone and Hutchins. A bulk of the book’s story is hit and run tactics by both men, some rapes, burning and, of course, some death. The finale is predictable as the town defends the raiders in the not so epic showdown.

Johnstone never seems to run out of books, yet he is clearly out of ideas here. Malone and Hutchins are molded from the same elements as the series’ prior bad guys – Potter, Stratton, Richards, Hanks and McKorkle. These books wouldn’t be nearly as lethargic if we actually saw Smoke injured or simply pressed face first to the boards. Instead, Smoke is arrogant to the point of annoying because he, like the reader, knows he is invincible. It’s nearly pulp fiction as Smoke runs around, often completely alone, and kills off dozens upon dozens of bad guys. We love the hero, but at the same time we need vulnerability. Smoke is never in danger. It’s unfortunate, but this series is rather stale and lifeless with a barrel-chested hero that has immortality.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Last Mountain Man #06 - Law of the Mountain Man

William W. Johnstone wrote this sixth book for his 'The Last Mountain Man' series in 1989. It was originally released on Pinnacle and featured far more superior artwork than the later editions that are fairly common on store shelves. I am assuming the original artwork is viewed as somewhat dated so the publisher opted for "timeless" cover art depicting black and white towns or simply the profile photo of cowboy and his horse. From the few fans I've spoke with, they feel the new "updated" artwork leaves plenty to be desired. Regardless the publisher has treated the entire series this way and I think it really detracts from the series.

The novel begins with a really inviting premise. Smoke Jensen is holed up in a cave and explains to the reader that he is being hunted by a group of men. The backstory tells us how Smoke arrived in this precarious situation. His wife Sally has her family in town from back east. During the visit the baby acquires a lung issue and the doctors urge the family to go to Arizona for a few months due to the dryer air there. Smoke decides to hang back and work his ranch in Colorado. After a few days of bachelorhood he gets the call of the wild and heads into the mountains for some action. 

After a hard ride he ends up at a saloon where typically a fight happens, Smoke kills or injures someone and then the gang of goons he wrangled with are after Smoke. Damned if it doesn't happen right on cue. Smoke scuffles with a land baron named Jud Vale and lays him out with an iron fist. Smoke is accused of being a Box T rider and he finds this to be an interesting accusation and rides onto a local farm to figure out what's going on. It's typical of the series to find Smoke aiding two farmers in a cattle war with the local baron. The end result is Smoke, farmers, an old cowboy and some kids fighting back against Jud Vale and his hired guns. It's all been done to death but this one has enough action and fast pace to be one of the better books of the series thus far. 

There are two really good portions to this book. The first is the introduction of a character named Matthew. I'm not totally sure this is the same Matt Jensen that shows up in Johnstone's book series of the same name but all of the signs are here. Smoke adores the kid and sees that he is terror with a gun. Much like Smoke being raised by Preacher, Matthew is trained by an old cowboy named Cheyenne. Here Matthew has parents and is a young man. Somewhere along the way I know that Smoke adopts a son named Matt and it could be this kid. Time will tell. The second part is a tremendous firefight in the mountains with Smoke facing a dozen bounty hunters. This isn't an unusual battle and Smoke has had plenty, however the author spends time on positioning, amounts of ammo and really sets up an intense conflict that sucks the reader into the gun smoke. It's really well done.

Overall this is just another Smoke Jensen western and ranks fairly high in the book series thus far. I think Johnstone really came into his own in terms of depicting gunfights and conflict. Unfortunately, the plot and numerous bar fights are enough to leave you wanting a bit more out of these western tales. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

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.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

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

Buy a copy of this book HERE