Showing posts with label William W. Johnstone. Show all posts
Showing posts with label William W. Johnstone. Show all posts

Monday, December 13, 2021

To the River's End

Rant - Kensington continues to swindle their fan base by suggesting that William W. Johnstone, who died in 2004, is still alive. On the back inside cover of the publisher's recent release, To the River's End, it states, “William W. Johnstone IS the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of over 300 books...” Further, it states that he authored titles like Flintlock and Will Tanner: Deputy U.S. Marshal. The fact of the matter is that Mr. Johnstone had been dead over 10-years by the time those books were actually authored by ghost writers. Additionally, it states J.A. Johnstone is the co-writer of this book and that she had a hand in writing a number of prior titles. The reality is that she is Johnstone's niece, heir to the empire, and she hasn't written a published word. The back cover proclaims to readers that William and J.A. “...are the greatest western writers of the 21st century.” Hell, it even states you can email Mr. Johnstone at If he responds, then I'll tap-dance on water and turn your milk into moonshine. 

ReviewTo the River's End hit store shelves in October, 2021 and is only the second trade paperback to emerge from the William W. Johnstone camp. Unlike prior Mass Market Paperbacks, this one has a different color scheme, texture, art design and feel. The only other trade paperback that I'm aware of being the Target exclusive, Go West Young Man, from May, 2021. As I stated above, the cover states this is authored by William W. Johnstone and J.A. Johnstone but in reality it is written by one of a handful of revolving ghost writers – some great, some mediocre and some just plain 'ole bad. 

The book is about two trappers, Luke Ransom and Jug Sartain, that partner up to independently capture beaver pelts in the fertile Rocky Mountains. Luke is the weapons expert and fighting man while Jug provides the comedy and tasty biscuits. While the two are skilled trappers, their fierce independence makes them a vulnerable target for the Blackfoot tribe. Without the support of the American Fur company or Hudson Valley, their presence alone infuriates the Blackfoot tribe. This rivalry is the premise of the book.

Like an assembly line, Luke kills the approaching Blackfoot throughout the long winter. But, not just fighting and killing them. It's a slaughterhouse so thick that the main problem isn’t the amount of Blackfoot warriors. Instead, Luke's biggest issues are A) Where to dump all of these bodies and B) What to do with all of the horses he acquires after mowing down these presumably inexperienced, incompetent Native Americans. Jug plays second fiddle and exists just to be shot twice and then nursed back to health. 

To the River's End would be a gripping cold-weather survival tale ripe with action if the protagonists actually faced stiff opposition. Instead, it's like a Friday the 13th film where the immortal Luke elevates the body count using knives, arrows and lead. Readers, you deserve better than this. Author, whoever you are, I'm glad you are working and being paid to write. Everyone deserves the right to make a living with the talents they possess. However, I wish you had more time to write quality books instead of meeting deadlines for this sketchy western brand. 

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.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Rig Warrior #01 - Rig Warrior

The paperback shelf at your used book store is typically going to feature plenty of titles from the William W. Johnstone empire. If you are a fan of the author (s), there's a plethora of goodies to devour. If you aren't, you are stuck weeding through stacks and stacks of the stuff hoping to find other writers. It's just the nature of the paperback reseller. 

'Rig Warrior' was a short-lived series that debuted in 1987. The self-title released that year, followed by two sequels in 1988 - “Wheels of Death” and “Eighteen-Wheel Avenger”. The books were repackaged with different artwork and reprinted for modern audiences. It's similar to Bob Hamm's 'Overload' series in the way it drills down to vigilantes driving freight trucks and fighting the mob. It's really as simple as that, although this series adds a slightly new dynamic to it by the second novel. 

Barry Rivers is a Vietnam Vet and ex-Special Forces officer. He's won numerous medals and gained a universal knowledge for killing. After service, Rivers went into consulting work and established an extremely profitable firm. His father is an owner operator for Rivers Trucking, an employer that Barry drove for before going to Vietnam. Barry learns that the business has been targeted by the Mob and that his father was badly beaten. It sounds like we have ourselves a vigilante novel.

Barry takes a vacation from the firm and starts driving for his father's business again. Soon, he learns that the business is running government contracts and that certain parts of the FBI are shipping drugs in the freight. It's an elementary story line until we realize that there's mad scientists involved and, along with the drug traffic, it is an expansive operation involving corpses being used in freakish experiments. Rivers Trucking unknowingly supplies the labs with these cadavers and in turn they are subjected to “Frankenstein” experiments in a weird “Universal Soldier” concept. 

Johnstone is in ultra-conservative mode here and takes some of the political turns that saw his 'Out of the Ashes' series go extremely red. It's very pro-gun, Republican and prepper friendly with the typical “the government and police can't be trusted” phobia. It's silly, poorly written and comes across as rather immature. However, by the end of the book there's a twist that I won't ruin for you. It's this twist that makes me rethink the book's staying power. Because of this, I think I may jump on the second novel just to see if the series improves under the new dynamic. The verdict is still out, but based on this only lasting three books I'm thinking it was a failed attempt.

Buy a copy of "Rig Warrior" HERE

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, November 1, 2017

Black Friday

After his 2004 death, the estate of William W. Johnstone - under the direction of his niece, J.A. Johnstone - kept the family business alive by turning the Johnstone name into a successful fiction factory. The company hires talented genre authors to craft action and western novels published under the house names of William Johnstone and J.A. Johnstone. Unlike James Patterson’s similar business model, the actual authors are given no credit. The ghost writers are sworn to secrecy through non-disclosure agreements and the promise of future work if they keep their mouths shut about their contributions to the family business while fostering the illusion that William and J.A. are actually authoring these paperback originals. The ghost-written Johnstone westerns are pretty standard fare, but the contemporary action novels ("Treason", "Stand Your Ground", etc.) tap into the growing market of politically-conservative adventure tales marketed to the Fox News-Breitbart crowd. The formula: common-sense American heroes battle crime, immigrants, and Muslim terrorists as well as the politically-correct liberals standing in their way of success. These stand-alone novels celebrate the triumph of conservative American values over progressive societal chaos. Commercially, this formula has been extremely successful. The unknown authors would never have gotten their books into every 7-11, grocery chain, and big box store if they weren’t leveraging the Johnstone house name and the right-wing wish fulfillment thriller formula.

2016’s "Black Friday" is the most recent Johnstone thriller to dominate the non-bookstore bookshelves in this successful sub-genre. It’s the story of a Muslim terrorist attack on a middle-America shopping mall on the day after Thanksgiving. The unknown author introduces us to a cast of characters - several war veterans, an ex-con with a heart of gold, a Catholic Priest, a cowardly school teacher, and others - who all head to the mall on the busiest shopping day of the year. Little did the heartland customers know, but Islamic terrorists (a 100 man cell!) were planning a mass-casualty attack that day at in the name of Allah. Things quickly devolve into a barricade situation with the cartoonishly inept law enforcement outside (paralyzed by their politically-correct bosses) while a core group of hostages, armed with their own weapons and those taken from a sporting goods store, mount a stand.

Politics aside, this is an excellent action novel. Think of it as “GOP Die Hard in a Mall.” There is plenty of blood-spurting violence throughout the book. The heroic characters were well-developed and sympathetic, and the bad guys were all suitably reprehensible. The unknown author did a fantastic job of moving the plot forward from one violent set-piece to another. The novel’s conservative politics didn’t detract from the quality of the adventurous tale conceived by the author. At worst, they came off as a distraction when awkwardly shoe-horned into otherwise great scenes (one character growls, “Thank God for the Second Amendment” as he’s raining bullets on terrorist intruders, for example). There’s nothing factually incorrect about that sentiment given the context, but these asides can take the reader out of the story for a moment - a disservice to the suspenseful sequence underway.

As with many propulsive action stories, there needs to be some suspension of common sense and disbelief. Mall anchor stores tend to have more exits than the author allows. And a law enforcement response in real life is (thank goodness) way better than this fiction depicted. But why quibble with a Walmart paperback? "Black Friday" is a truly exciting and violent book that will please fans of classic 20th Century Men’s Adventure literature. If you find the occasionally awkward conservative talking-points bothersome, just remind yourself that this book is filed under fiction, and enjoy the thrilling ride.

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

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Out of the Ashes #02 - Fire in the Ashes

Beginning in 1983, prolific author William W. Johnstone created the first of 35 installments in his Out of the Ashes series of post-apocalyptic men's action-adventure novels. The eponymous debut introduced hero Ben Raines and his resistance to a socialist regime in the wake of a devastating nuclear war. One year after the debut, Zebra published the subsequent entry titled Fire in the Ashes. 

After Ben's downfall at the end of the series debut, the country has become an enslaved population under an ultra left-winged police state. Two mercenaries, Cody and Lowry, are sodomizing, gang raping and torturing any resistance. The author spends a great deal of time describing graphic, grotesque torture sequences involving Ben's girlfriend, a reporter and her young daughter. In fact, nearly the first 350-pages of the novel is Ben roaming the countryside while sex torture permeates the nation. Weird.

Without ruining the story, the government's military eventually starts backing Ben and the resistance which leads to the inevitable nomination of Ben Raines as the new President. Once a plague reduces the nation's population, the dead corpses attract armies of rats. There's also gigantic mutant the mutated six-year old that Ben is forced to fight in the book's disappointing finale.

Look, the post-apocalypse fiction of the 80s and 90s comes in all shapes and sizes. There's something for everyone. Out of the Ashes, based on my two experiences, isn't anything remotely interesting or engaging for readers to explore. If you like the political intrigue and pawn maneuvering that doomsday provokes, then by all means this book, and series, might excite you. I've never had any desire to pursue any other books in the series.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Out of the Ashes #01 - Out of the Ashes

William W. Johnstone was a prolific author that wrote across multiple genres in the 80s and 90s. While known mostly for westerns in his Last Mountain Man series, and it's many offshoots, the author created a long line of post-apocalyptic books called Out of the Ashes. The series ran 35 books and was spun-off into one additional series called The Last Rebel that managed one book release before Johnstone's passing. The thriving Johnstone estate, which continues to release monthly titles through a revolving door of authors, chose not to pursue any further entries in the series.

The first book of the series, aptly titled Out of the Ashes, was released in 1983 by Zebra. The series had a tremendous following and surely this debut entry was a runaway hit for Zebra considering series longevity. In it, the end of the world begins with a treacherous double-cross within the Washington D.C. brass. The political upheaval eventually turns to force and nuclear bombs begin falling like rain. Most of the US's most populated cities are decimated. However, 5,000 militia were privy to intelligence and prepared for the inevitable bombing. After the dust settles, they emerge from hiding and become a force known as The Rebels. In an effort to become a right-winged government superpower, they learn that the default new president, Logan, declares that the “new” America adopt military socialism. The Rebels then become true Rebels by fighting back against President Logan's new regime and his ruthless aggression. 

The series protagonist is Ben Raines, a Vietnam War veteran who later went on to be a mercenary in Africa and did a lot of wetwork. Afterwards, he retired to Louisiana where he slouched on Scotch and wrote a bunch of pulp fiction. Ironically, on the day the bombs fell, Raines ends up getting stung by yellow jackets and falls down with an allergic reaction. This saves him somehow from the nuclear attack. When he wakes up several days later he realizes the apocalypse occurred. The author then spends pages and pages on Raines traveling the country writing notes about doomsday while getting laid a lot. Eventually, Ben becomes involved with the Rebels and decides to lead the forces against President Logan. 

Unlike Johnstone's western series', Out of the Ashes is incredibly graphic. There's an abundance of torture, rape and sadistic villains threatening to sodomize any resistance. The over-the-top sex reminded me of David Alexander's Phoenix series. I think it was just there for shock value and didn't necessarily expand the story or develop characters. Needless to say, I'm not a fan of this book. About halfway through the novel I pondered what made this series sell and how it could have possibly attracted so many consumers. The political maneuvering and counter intelligence devoured most of the book's narrative. In terms of action, only the last 15-pages were worthy. 

The end result – Out of the Ashes was simply out of ideas. 

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