Tuesday, 31 July 2018

THE DARNELL SAGA - Chapter 24


Chapter 24
Nemesis
Ray Foster

     Major Steve Sullivan leaned back in his chair his eyes drifting from the scruffy individual sitting on the edge of his desk to the crestfallen face of the young man seated on a camp stool to the front of them.
     “Well, Tim, what an unexpected pleasure,” the unkempt man said, lowering himself from his perch.
     “Mister Devlin,” Tim Schendel acknowledged without raising his head.
     “You two know each other?” Sullivan asked.
     Devlin nodded: “You could say that. Young Tim there has been in and out of trouble that he’s bloody lucky not to see the inside of a prison.”
     Kyle Devlin had been an English policeman who had served, on loan from the London force, with the New York Metropolitan Police. Now he had been seconded to the Union Army tasked with upholding the law and dealing with deserters in garrison towns.
     “Well, Tim, this time you are in serious trouble,” Devlin pointed out. “You’re listed as a deserter and, by rights, you should be stood in front of a firing squad. However, you just done something that, to my knowledge, no other deserter has – you bloody well surrendered. Why?”
      Ever since he had seen the burnt out house Tim had feared the worst. He had chosen not to ride in closer as he did not want to see Sam’s charred corpse amongst the ruins. It was as though his life had ended and guilt flooded through him. The least he could do was to clear her name.
     Having rehearsed what he would say in his mind the last person he thought he would be confessing to was Kyle Devlin.
     Taking a deep breath he recounted everything that had occurred from the discovery of the broken down wagon to the point where he had encouraged Sam to desert with him. Every so often both Kyle and Sullivan would probe for a little more detail until they had a full picture.
     “Right – you’re telling us that Graydon knew that Corporal Darnell was, in fact, a girl?” Kyle pressed, thoughtfully. “Despite that you claim that he was going to declare her as a deserter. For what reason, do you suppose? There are no women serving in this army.”
      Tim shook his head: “He asked me if I knew and I said that I didn’t. He just grinned and said that when we caught her we could have some fun with her first. I couldn’t let him do that – so I got Sam out of there.”
      After almost an hour of intense interrogation Tim was thoroughly drained. Nervously, he glanced up as Devlin strode by him and summoned the guard detail. First, he ordered the Corporal in charge to take Tim to the infirmary for the old wound to be checked. Then to the Quartermaster to have Trooper Schendel re-equipped.
      Only when everyone had gone did Sullivan pour himself a glass of bourbon and light up a cigar. He focused on a streamer of smoke floating ghostlike across the room before expressing his feelings.
      “I don’t know what you’re thinking,” Sullivan stated. “But Canada is out. We have no jurisdiction.”
     “Well, I can’t let those Darnell boys get away,” Devlin shrugged. “They killed that Government agent and claimed that he was a deserter. It could have been a case of mistaken identity except there’s a matter of a missing money belt and five thousand dollars. Nor is that the only robbery linked to the Darnells.”
     “If the girl’s alive,” Sullivan, emphasizing each word with a stab of the cigar, was quick to point out. “She’ll side with her brothers.”
     Devlin was well aware that was a possibility just as the skeptic in him felt that the burning of the Maybelle house was just a ruse to throw pursuers off the scent.
     “That’s where young Tim comes in,” Devlin explained. “Hopefully, giving Sam the news that she is in the clear the whole family will come back. Even so, Tim will still be a deserter because he did the right thing the wrong way.”
      It took a while for all the factors to sink in before Sullivan burst out laughing.
      “You’re one devious bastard, Kyle Devlin,” he nodded. “Schendel is bait – except you are about to recruit him and give him legitimism. He’s going to love you when he discovers that he’s a policeman.” Before adding on a serious note. “There’s still the question of Graydon. Have you thought about what could happen if he and Schendel run into each other?”
       “Graydon isn’t going after a deserter,” Devlin was quick to point out. “He’s chasing down a woman – ergo he has deserted his post and that makes him fair game.”


    Living on the rough streets of New York had taught Tim many things – the most important was knowing who your friends were. Sure Officer Kyle Devlin was his nemesis but the policeman had always been fair. With this in mind he had known that there would come a day when Devlin would not be able to help him so Tim had escaped from New York’s stranglehold. He had to smile at his current predicament and who was there? Devlin. And now they were heading to Canada together.
    “You know we’re being watched,” Tim mentioned while fixing his saddle.
    Devlin nodded for he had been conscious of the lurker half-hidden in the shadows.
    “Doesn’t leave you does it,” Devlin grinned as he mounted up. “The stuff that keeps you alive on the streets just doesn’t go – life depends on those instincts. You either become a criminal or -.”
    “I got the message,” Tim shook his head in amusement. “You were going to say policeman.”
     Devlin just nodded.
     “Just so that you know,” Devlin advised throwing Tim a meaningful look. “You’re off the deserter’s list – for now. But you are under my command and I have to be alive for that to be permanent. In the meantime we’ll need to watch our backs because I’m a bit suspicious about that Sergeant’s interest in us.”

Saturday, 24 March 2018

JAMES GUNN: 1 THE DEADLY STRANGER by John Delaney

James Gunn is sitting outside a Cumberland pub admiring the local scenery of the English countryside when his conversation with his friend is interrupted.  An angry young farmer bears down on the protagonist with a promise to stick him with a pitchfork unless Gunn marries his pregnant sister. In the fight that follows the young farmer falls awkwardly, breaks his neck and dies.

In no time at all Gunn heads for Liverpool and arrives in Boston. Here Gunn discovers that he is well out of his depth - a stranger in a strange land. Pick pockets, thieves and con-men wait for unexpecting victims and it is not long before Gunn loses everything. Outnumbered in a bar room brawl he wakes up aboard a wagon driven by Art Thackeray. Paid to dump Gunn in the middle of nowhere Thackery proves to be Gunn's saviour.

Taught how to use a gun and bullwhip things look good for the pair to go into business together but fate intervenes and Gunn finds himself adrift in the Army town of Fort Wayne. It doesn't take long for him to fall foul of the local bully and he is on the run again.

Fortunately, there is a job up for grabs - guiding a wagon train to California. This takes up the second half of the book and is fraught with it's own dangers with Pawnees on the rampage and a crooked cabal who do not intend the train to arrive at the final destination.

There is something about Gunn's character that shows that he is on a learning curve - his naivety of the west shows through but he learns from his mistakes.

The James Gunn series last for 6 books. The first appeared in 1976 by MEWS a New English Library imprint though the final two (neither of which are numbered) were published by NEL. This was in the middle of The Piccadilly Cowboys era but author John Delaney does not appear to be one of them.  In fact there does not seem to be any info on this author.

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

THE FEUD by Amelia Bean



'The Feud' tells the story of the Graham-Tewkesbury war that took place in Arizona's Tonto Basin in the 1880s. It follows Edwin 'Breed' Tewkesbury who was the last man standing.

The story opens with the death of Edwin's sister, Josie who was married to George Graham. Edwin finds his sister emaciated and struggling to keep her new born baby alive. As her brother tries to help her she dies in his arms but not before she has told him what was going on. Edwin and Josie are half-breeds - their mother was an Apache who died shortly after her daughter was born. Josie's son showed more of his Native American side than the white side. After Edwin has buried his sister George Graham turns up - and lies about how long he has been away. When told that he is a liar George goes for his gun - only Edwin moves faster and takes George Graham down to ground level and strangles him with his own bare hands. He, then, drags the body into the house and sets it alight.

Although there are suspicions and accusations rife there is no proof that George Graham was murdered but it is there smouldering beneath the surface. All it would take was one spark to reignite the need for a vendetta.

One thing that would never be tolerated in cattle country was the introduction of sheep - and that was what the Tewkesbury clan did. It became a bloody battle that was destined to destroy both families and leave Edwin Tewkesbury as the sole male survivor.

Amelia Bean drew on historical references in order to write this fictional account. Her inspiration came from a magazine article by William MacLeod Raine who confessed that he had not been anywhere near where the events had taken place. In 1957 Amelia did visit the site of the feud to the point that she stood on the very spot where Sheriff Mulvenon took down Charley Blevins and Jack Graham with his shotgun. However, she discovered that the whole story was still hotly disputed and the subject of rumour and controversy.

Not much is known about (Myrtle) Amelia Bean except that she was born in Utah, educated in Salt Lake City and lived in California with her husband and son. Between 1957 and 1967 she wrote three books - the first was 'The Vengeance Trail' (U.S. title 'The Fancher Train') and the last 'A Time Of Outrage' about the Lincoln County War - with 'The Feud' in the middle.

Apart from this book I haven't read anything about this feud - but Zane Grey used the back story for his novel 'To The Last Man' but changed the names. It was filmed with Randolph Scott. In 1992 there was a 'Gunsmoke' movie, also, called 'To The Last Man' where Matt Dillon gets involved in the feud.
Tabor Evans 'Longarm'  gets involved in the feud ( Longarm and the Pleasant Valley War). Another novel that references the Tewkesbury - Graham war is Chuck Tyrell's 'Revenge At Wolf Mountain'.

'The Feud' was the first western that I had read that had been written by a female western writer. Although there is a 'romantic interest' in the story that involves Edwin and his step-sister, Stella it does not intrude into the main thrust of the book.

Edwin Tewkesbury became the deputy sheriff of Gila County, Arizona and died in 1902. He was survived by his wife and four children.

Monday, 19 March 2018

52 WEEKS. 52 WESTERN NOVELS



Authors Paul Bishop and Scott Harris have put together a magnificent spectrum of the Western novels that span over a century from Owen Wister's 1902 novel 'The Virginian' to the 2015 Mickey Spillane/Max Allan Collins 'The Legend Of Caleb York'. All the usual classics are there like 'Shane', 'The Searchers' and 'The Big Country' as are writers Frank Gruber the man behind the tv series 'Tales Of Wells Fargo' riding the trail with Louis L'Amour, Clair Huffaker and Elmore Leonard.

This is not a book of lists - that is not what this book is about. Each book is summarized in a way that makes the reader hungry for more. 'I want to read that book'. Added to this is that there are author bios; facts about or behind the books that they wrote.

What comes across from the editors and the various contributors is the enthusiasm and, dare I say, the love of the western genre.

Every so often there are double page spreads of tv series, movies, a tribute to Louis L'Amour and John Benteen's 'Fargo' series - another spread tips the hat to The Piccadilly Cowboys and the Adult Westerns.

As the blurb on the back of the books says the legend of the wild west comes alive within these pages.

WRITING THE WEST - Part 3


The 1960s saw changes emerging in the way movies depicted the west.
No way could you imagine the likes of John Wayne or James Stewart taking six gunfighters across the border to defend a small Mexican village. Lee Marvin could have but Yul Brynner got the role of the cold, businesslike Chris. 'The Magnificent Seven' became an instant classic - and much quoted in Western novels like John J McLaglen's 'Herne The Hunter' series.

Next on the scene was a scruffy, bristle faced, poncho wearing 'hero'. Took a bit of getting used to seeing how 'Rawhide's' Rowdy Yates had let himself go - but Clint Eastwood along with  Italian film director Sergio Leone took the western down new trails and in the process another classic was born with 'The Good, The Bad And The Ugly'. Leone's films were inspirational with his own 'Once Upon A Time In The West'. Franco Nero as 'Django' - and Lee Van Cleef was making a name for himself.

Nor were the British far behind with Robert Shaw riding into 'A Town Called Hell' and Raquel Welch looking for vengeance in 'Hannie Caulder'.

While new stars were rising the old breed were dying. Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott went to Ride The High Country for one last time. While The Wild Bunch were gunned down in a bloody gore fest that divided the fans.

If there were changes in the cinema so it was echoed in the books we read.
In 1972 New English Library introduced a new breed of hero in the shape of a man called 'Edge' created by George G. Gilman. Edge broke the mold and new heroes followed in his wake.

I must have been slow in catching up because I didn't start reading Edge until 1979. How do I know this? Because the first two books have an inscription - ' To Daddy - Christmas '78'. My two eldest daughters gave me one each and lit a fuse.

No one can quite be sure when it happened but I picked up a second hand typewriter and started writing a western. Just tapped away putting words on to yellow quarto sized paper and 'Poseidon Smith'  was born. So, too, was Pad MaGhee who followed in Poseidon's footsteps. I put the books into a folder and put them in a box - I had proved to myself that I could write a western - or two.

1980: My mother-in-law, who worked in the local newsagents, mentioned that there was a new Western magazine coming out and would I like a copy? Sounded like a good idea at the time and it was a good job that it was. Over the next four months I discovered that George G Gilman, J.T.Edson, Neil Hunter and most of the other western writers that I had been reading were British.
That Christmas my wife, Sandra, bought me some Avon aftershave in a bottle shaped like a Pepperpot pistol.

The Pepperpot pistol sat beside the typewriter as I re-wrote 'Poseidon Smith:Vengeance Is Mine'. The ms went to all the paperback publishers and came back with praiseworthy rejections. In the end I wrote to George G Gilman for advice - his reply was a suggestion that I send the book to Robert Hale.

After having to lose 5,000 words - Poseidon Smith (armed with a Pepperpot pistol) was published. Though not under my own name. The day that I completed the final draft my father in law died - the book had to be put to one side. Five days later tragedy struck again when my own father died. Later, when I returned the ms to Hale the author's name had changed to Jack Giles (named for two fathers who loved their westerns).

None of this would have happened has it not been for a well spent childhood. I guess it is just that childhood never ends - and that together with a love for a genre that is supposed to be on it's last legs we want to keep it alive.

When I write a western a gun sits alongside the keyboard - the kid won't have it otherwise.

The story of Poseidon Smith could not be written without the help of my family.




Sunday, 18 March 2018

WRITING THE WEST - Part 2

Childhood is the most formative time of our lives.
In this day and age it is difficult to imagine a wild bunch of five year old kids running riot without a 'responsible' adult in sight. It is how we grew up and in doing so educated ourselves.

Along with 'life skills' I loved reading and writing - my mum had taught me how before I got to school. By the time I was eight I was reading books like Patrick Reid's 'The Colditz Story'. Although I could write it was down to the books that I read that taught me about structure.

Of all things it was writing that had me outside the various headmaster's office. Very often for the same offence - and my poor parents took the brunt of it.

As told in Part 1 - a western had my influences questioned. The next time occurred just after we moved to Kent. The subject was on parents and home life - but this 9 year old didn't fancy the guidelines. Instead I used a different life - one that I knew well. Friday nights outside a certain pub in Finchley you would find children sitting outside with crisps and glasses of lemonade. For most it was what it was - a night out with friends and family - for others there was another side. Two brothers would have to steer a dead drunk father home. Another would wait for a mother to decide which 'uncle' would take her home. Their sadness and resignation told the story for they would be happier when Monday came and they were back with the rest of us. I wrote about them and it must have been a convincing piece because the head read my parents the riot act. When the truth was revealed the head lectured me on responsibility and respect.

My parents would make return visits - at least they were better prepared.

I loved writing but could never stick to the brief. Teachers didn't know how to mark my work but by sheer luck I was always in the top three in English. As I was leaving school my final English master took me to one side and told me that I should never stop writing.

Wanting to be a writer was one thing - at 17 I tried my hand at writing a book but there was a competitive market and I was too young. The second novel - well less said the better (or rather all said before).

What did I really want to write?
A Western - my life evolved more around the books and movies.
I firmly believed that only Americans wrote westerns - sure there were exceptions like the British writer Oliver Strange - but it didn't stop me from toying with ideas.

Christmas 1978 came with a couple of pressies that would change the whole scene. Was it possible that dreams could come true?

Saturday, 17 March 2018

WRITING THE WEST - PART 1

History belongs to a country yet the wild west defies boundaries.
In a recent interview with Paul Bishop (one of the editors behind '52 Weeks. 52 Western Novels') I was asked about my early influences. Was it books or movies? In fact, none of those.
I was born in the wild west, not that I really grasped it at the time.

The wild west was The Sandpits - a park in North Finchley (North London). Flat grassland flanked by trees that led down to a slight mound then swept down into a bog and a pond. Though, in a child's eye - a swamp and a lake. Eventually, a stockade would be built on the mound with a 'Wendy house' for girls. Though it doubled as a ranch house.

In 1950 - and for some this may be hard to imagine - a wild bunch of five to seven year olds would troop off to the park where chases and gunfights would ensue. The older kids had cowboy hats and pistols - we five year olds had to content ourselves with sticks. At the end of the day we would amble home tired and dirty. That was our introduction to the Wild West - we were born to be gunslingers. The early influences were our peers who had learned things from scratch.

As a six year old I was old enough to head down to the Odeon cinema to go to the Saturday morning pictures. For sixpence you got a cartoon, a serial (Flash Gordon; Rocket Man) and a movie - Hopalong Cassidy and Roy Rogers and very early John Wayne. The western had come alive - as kids with sticks we had chased down rustlers - and there on the big screen were men doing just what we did. That Christmas I got a stetson, a pair of holsters and a vest (the latter made by my mum) and two silver Chad Valley cap-firing pistols. It was like being given a rite of passage. I was one of the big kids.

Then Tex Ritter came to Haringey Arena. It was the most thrilling day of my life - I was so excited and speechless all at the same time. Roping steers; bucking broncos - a pure feast of all things western. The finale was wild as a stagecoach was attacked by a bunch of Indians and it looked daunting until Tex Ritter and the Cavalry turned up to save the day.

The Queen's Coronation bought something new into our lives - a black and white television and with it came 'The Cisco Kid', 'The Range Rider' and 'The Lone Ranger'. I just could not get enough. Along with tv came comics - Kid Colt and Ghost Rider (early Marvel I believe). These new American comics were branded as bad influences - too violent for young children who watched the equivalent or listened to 'Jeff Arnold' on the radio or read his strip in the 'Eagle' comic.

In fact writing a short western story at school had the head drag my mum and dad into his office wondering about my influences. Nor would this be the last time that my parents would be held to account for the things that I wrote.

I was about fifteen when I finally hung up my guns. I mean my collection of cap guns - I had been reluctant to part with them but then it is never easy to surrender a child hood. The event that caused this was with a real Colt .45. I had joined the Air Training Corp where I was assigned to the Guard Of Honour. We drilled with Lee Enfield rifles armed with blank rounds - but when on duty they were not. To cut a long story short - we went down to a firing range and I discovered that I was pretty accurate. I don't know the how or the why but I hit what I aimed at. To use someone else's quote 'I know how to use a gun - I just don't have a need for one'. So the kid hung up the toy guns and quit the A.T.C.

It was far easier to let the celluloid stars do the gunfighting - or read the likes of Frank C. Robertson, Luke Short, Louis L'Amour to keep me enjoying my favourite genre. As for writing - that was best left to the Americans.

Only things were going to change - and I discovered  a different use for a gun.