Friday, August 18, 2017

Killer's Doom: A Walt Slade Western by Bradford Scott

I first made the acquaintance with Walt Slade a couple of weeks ago on my vacation up to East Texas. Then, it was a novel I picked out at random from a wonderful antique store in Jefferson, Texas, and read most of on the vacation itself. I enjoyed FOUR MUST DIE so much that I sought out more Walt Slade westerns. Turns out I already owned one in my large collection of old paperbacks I inherited from my grandfather.

KILLER’S DOOM was that book and man what a title. And it’s a pretty nifty cover, too. The back description leads off with a banner headline: “Catch Covelo!” That is the underlying plot of this novel.


Slide is out west in El Paso and he’s received a threatening letter:
El Halcon, you will not catch Juan Covelo, but some day Juan Covelo will catch you, and then for you it will be muy malo! Muy malo!”
For those that don’t know, El Halcon is Slade nickname. It means the Hawk, likely because he has such good eyesight. Anyway, Covelo is a legend in the area for he rides around with a great black hood over his face, committing all sorts of horrible crimes and violence upon his victims. Slade correctly reckons it is to hide the bad guy’s true identity so he takes up the case.

Covelo has a gang of owlhoots riding with him, eight if I remember correctly. What makes this novel so grand is watching over Slade’s shoulder as he investigates, gathers evidence, fights, shoots, and whittles down the gang number until there is only Covelo left. That's not a spoiler. That's a western trope, one with which I have zero problem.

When I mentioned to my dad that I had read that first Slade book, he immediately started rattling off all the traits Slade was known for: his horse, Shadow, his singing, his rapid fire shooting, his eyes. I was taken aback with the mention of singing. A singing cowboy? In a book? In FOUR MUST DIE, not all of those were apparent. They were all there in KILLER’S DOOM, including the singing.

Shadow, the horse, was also on full display. I got a sense of his character the first time I met him, but in KILLER’S DOOM, he actually talks! Well, not really, but he and Slade have such a good camaraderie that author Bradford Scott (really A. Leslie Scott; click here for some background) actually wrote dialogue for Shadow, then followed it up with something like “…his snort seemed to say.” Charming.

KILLER’S DOOM also introduces the reader to a past villain, one that Slade already brought to justice. It was nice to see that the author understood weaving ongoing threads throughout this long series even back in the day when each book seemed to stand on its own.

I enjoyed KILLER’S DOOM about as much as FOUR MUST DIE--maybe a tad more--and I really love the character of Walt Slade. I have already started my third Slade western in a row!

When it comes to westerns and western writing, there are still things, techniques, and terminology I need to learn. As part of my education, I read with a pencil in my hand and circle various words and phrases I see over and over again. From there, I extract them into my own files and read them over before and during the writing of my own westerns. Here’s a sample two page spread.


I highly recommend the Walt Slade westerns. Now that I know what to look for (hat tip to James Reasoner), I have spotted them in just about every used bookstore I’ve entered in the past few weeks. I love discovering a new-to-me series in which I get to scour bookstores in the coming months and years hoping to find yet another Walt Slade adventure.

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Killing: Seasons 3 and 4

By
Scott D. Parker

I recently finished watching the Seasons 3 and 4 of The Killing and I got to wondering something: Why do sequels typically go darker than the first?

What makes The Killing interesting is that it started dark and went even darker. Seasons 1 and 2 focuses on a single story (and I flat-out loved it). Seasons 3 and 4 has a common overarching story arc but two cases-of-the-season. Season 3 goes almost full dark from the get-go. It involves the street kids of Seattle and someone who is hunting and killing them. Add to that two characters in Detectives Linden and Holder who already battle their own demons and you’ve not exactly got a joy-filled show. I’ll admit that a few times during the ten episodes I was like “Really? They’re going there?” Yeah, they went there.

Holder is the one character who can turn on and off the charm on a dime. One moment he was jabbing street talk with other characters in his most charming way and the next he’s staring out a window, pondering death. Linden starts season 1 sad and barely rises to a smile. It’s oppressive, to be honest, and it acted as a damper on all of Season 3.

Which is a shame because the most compelling character was Peter Sarsgaard, who plays a man on death row…and Linden helped put him there. He is fantastic, and he frankly steals just about every scene he’s in. As depressing as Season 3 gets, I’d still recommend it…

…Except the last minute. Ugh! Something happens in that last minute of the season 3 finale that aggravated me and propelled the story into Season 4. The case-of-the-season in Season 4 was the brutal murder of a rich family and the only survivor is the teen-aged son three months away from graduating from a military school. If you thought Season 3 had some dark moments, Season 4 went even darker. There are moments that are downright disturbing, enough to make you shift in your chair. Tyler Ross plays the surviving son and he does a phenomenal job with his role. Joan Allen is, however, the star of this season, playing the principal/superintendent of the school. She commands the screen whenever she’s on it with her steely gaze and firm jaw line. The more the aftereffects of Season 3 played on our two detectives, the more I enjoyed Allen’s scenes.

The denouement is one I partly saw coming, odd considering the conclusion of seasons 1 and 2 I didn’t see coming at all. It didn’t detract that much, but it is still surprising. One of the things I commented about to my wife was that The Killing is that particular show that turns the viewers against its lead characters. Not in a big way, but there were a few times when I just wanted to slap them around and make them straighten up.

Then there is the epilogue. I’m still trying to determine if I liked it or not. One the one hand, when I watched it, I had a smile on my face. On the other, it might have seemed too trite. But I certainly understand the point that show runner and creator Veena Sug was after: you find your home wherever you find it, sometimes in the most unlikely of places.

If you read my review of Seasons 1 and 2—especially the length of it—you might question why I’m summing up sixteen episodes in 500 words. Frankly it is because Seasons 1 and 2, all one story, was so utterly compelling and consuming that the writers had a tall order to even match how great that first story is. And it ended in such a way to suggest that the story was done and finished, but the network decided it had a hit on their hands and renewed the show for another season.

It brought to mind the TV show “Castle,” still one of my all-time favorites. When the show runners didn’t know if the series would be cancelled at the end of Season 7, they provided an ending which was tear-inducing, warm, and great. When Season 8 was announced, I was overjoyed. What could be better than more Castle? Well, the answer was mediocre Castle.

Same thing here. I’m almost tempted to tell people to watch Seasons 1 and 2 of The Killing and walk away. My wife, the one responsible for me watching the show in the first place, disagrees, saying the finale and epilogue allow the characters some closure. I see her point and I certainly agree with it considering I watched all four seasons…

…But there’s still a part of me that says the first 26 episodes of The Killing are some of the best television I have ever watched. The next 16…not so much. They are good and there are some incredible moments in Seasons 3 and 4, but none approaching the heartbreaking moments of episode 1. Heck, that one episode is better than any single episode in Seasons 3 and 4.

I’m glad I watched all the episodes and, as a whole, still consider The Killing among the best crime shows I’ve ever seen. But there’s still part of me that wants to caution folks about the dichotomy of seasons 1/2 and 3/4. Heck, the more distance from the series finale of Castle, the more I tell new viewers to stop at the Season 7 finale. I’m pretty sure the more time I get from The Killing, I’ll tell people something similar about Seasons 1 and 2. Stop when you're ahead.


Have you ever had a show like this?

Monday, August 7, 2017

A Sign of a Well-Read Book

Do you ever read your books this way?



My grandfather used to hold his books that way. I remember, even as a boy, cringing at bending the cover all the way around so that he would be able to read just a single page. (It is one of the primary reasons I enjoy reading on my Paperwhite so much.) After awhile, his books—mostly westerns—would end up this way.





A couple of weeks ago, I was in Galveston and I always visit the Galveston Book Shop. I checked the western section and ended up buying HIGH LONESOME by Louis L’amour (as a direct result of reading James Reasoner’s review). It was then I actually took notice of something. Many of the older westerns—i.e., the slim volumes from the 1960s and before—had the same slant to the spine. That meant my grandfather wasn’t the only one who held his westerns that way.

Nowadays, with our thick tomes, even in paperbacks, holding a book that way is almost impossible. And many of us don’t like to do that either. It ruins the shelf appeal I assume.

But there’s also something charming about seeing a stack of used paperbacks in this condition. It reminds me about the consumer quality of cheap paperbacks. They were just a few steps away from pulp magazines. They were one form of entertainment, likely meant to be read, then passed on to someone else or sold at a used bookstore. Not like today when most of us like to have that bookshelf lined with books.

When I open my “new” copy of HIGH LONESOME and noticed the spine had that slant, I actually curled the cover all the way around and read like my grandfather.

I loved it.

Do y’all read paperbacks this way? Did you grandparents or parents?

Friday, August 4, 2017

Four Must Die: A Walt Slade Western by Bradford Scott

On a recent trip to East Texas, I stopped in Jefferson, Texas, and scoured a few antique stores. I found a motherlode of old paperback westerns, maybe two hundred or more, all for a dollar each. The issue was which ones to buy? I didn’t need any L’amour or Gray or Short, so I started judging the books by the cover art and cover blurb. FOUR MUST DIE was branded a Walt Slade Western. Something tickled the back of my brain enough that I bought it and read it on my vacation.

And I’m glad I did. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel.

As I am wont to do—please tell me I’m not alone in what I’m about to tell y’all—I saw a book by an author I’ve read and know (James Reasoner’s Death Head Crossing) so I propped it up for the next buyer to see. So charmed with myself, I took a picture and sent it to James. He thanked me, and then promptly started telling me about the other books in the photo! I told him via email that I very nearly called him to discuss what I was seeing because he has forgotten more about westerns than I’ll probably ever know.

He was the one who told me that FOUR MUST DIE was the last of the paperback originals in this series and the only one not written by Walt Slade’s creator, Leslie Scott. The real author of FOUR MUST DIE was Tom Curry, a fellow author who penned some Jim Hatfield novels prior to this. I have come to the conclusion that if there’s an old-school pulp writer that I want to learn a bit about—especially if it’s a western—all I have to do is google the author’s name and James’s name and there will likely be a blog post. Here’s one for some background on Leslie Scott.

Back to today’s forgotten book. FOUR MUST DIE shows Texas Ranger Walt Slade skulking around El Paso searching for Barney Hale, an outlaw with a peculiar set of instructions: he needs to kill four seemingly random men in the region. Slade muscles his way into Hale’s good graces and convinces the owlhoot that, Slade, can get the job done in half the time. Hale agrees, and Slade sets his plan in motion.

He knows these four men—the editor of the newspaper, a cattleman with land north of town, a worker in the land office, and the owner of a smelting plant—and gets them to vanish for a time until Slade can get to the bottom of this whole shebang. There’s an oily attorney, the Honorable Alton Z. Carson, behind the scheme that even Slade can’t figure out until a single word is uttered: “Gold.”
What follows is a flat-out joyride of a western. Slade is a fun character, quick on the draw and even quicker with his wits. He is tough as nails, but isn’t above actual manual labor in order to root out the bad guys. And I love his horse, Shadow. There’s a unique beast with a special way he runs when the bullets start zinging past them.

You remember me mentioning that tickling I had in the back of my brain when I saw FOUR MUST DIE in the store? Well, that’s because I inherited a Walt Slade book from my grandfather. I’ll be getting to that book next.

As James wrote to me, this was the last of the Walt Slade westerns. Fittingly, the last paragraph reads thus: "With a wave of his slim hand, Walt Slade mounted Shadow, and they [the men left behind] him ride away, to where duty called and high adventure beckoned." That's a great way to end a series...and a perfect starting point for someone like me.

FOUR MUST DIE is a well-written western and if it’s any indication of the type of story of all the other Walt Slade oaters out there, I just found me a new series to collect.

BTW, if you're interested, here is the photo I sent to James.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Now Available: The Killing of Lars Fulton: A Junction City Western

An ambush leaves an innocent man dead and the sheriff behind bars, branded a murderer!

Now, the sheriff's only hope is a half-breed deputy, and he's being hunted.

IN AN EXCITING NEW JUNCTION CITY WESTERN FROM AUTHOR S. D. PARKER, Sheriff Walt Eason finds himself accused of murder, and only Deputy Diego Lange can save him.

Rustlers have stolen heads of cattle from all the biggest ranches in Junction City, Texas, including Bartholomew Conway, the nemesis of Sheriff Eason and his deputies. But when the lawmen open fire on a suspected owlhoot, the dead man is not a thief, but one of Conway's own ranch hands.

Now, Junction City's richest citizen has all the ammunition he needs to get rid of Eason...at the end of a hangman's noose. Eason's fate falls to his junior deputy, Diego Lange, a half-breed with few friends in town. Lange has only hours to uncover the truth about Lars Fulton and the strange thing discovered in the corpse's pocket or Junction City will have a new sheriff, one who doesn't look too kindly on Diego Lange.

If you like action-packed tales in the tradition of Robert Vaughn, Paul L. Thompson, or Frank Leslie, you'll enjoy THE KILLING OF LARS FULTON, the first novel-length tale in the Saga of Junction City.

Available at Amazon.


Excerpt:

“I’m not sure I can do it,” Deputy Diego Lange whispered. He crouched on a small rock outcropping overlooking the land outside of Junction City. The air was warm, even an hour toward midnight. The new moon cast no glow on the land below. Overhead, the stars sparkled in the night, the constellations mingling among themselves. The heat of the day was giving up its last fingers and succumbing to the cool night air. The smell of sage and hot rock still tickled Diego’s nose and those of his companions.

Sheriff Walt Eason grinned in the night. “It ain’t no big thing.”

“It’s no big thing for you, Sheriff,” Diego whispered back. “You do it all the time. Hell, you’ve already started doing it seeing as how the election’s coming up. I ain’t,” he searched for the right word, “as accomplished as you.”

Off to Diego’s right, he heard a soft snort from Jack Moore. “If I was standing up for my brother, I’d be so drunk by the wedding it didn’t matter what I said.” Moore was the senior deputy among Eason’s rank of three. Typically, he didn’t let anyone forget that he was second only to the sheriff. Even tonight, as the three of them hunkered down to catch some cattle rustlers, he made sure to get the catbird seat on the outcropping. He claimed he had eyes like an eagle’s and could see clearly in the night. Diego knew that Eason tolerated Moore and acquiesced. But Diego was still irritated that Moore decided to stick his nose into business that was his.

Eason inhaled deeply and let out the air slowly. “When it comes down to it, all you have to do is speak from the heart. It’s your brother’s wedding. He asked you to stand up for him. Sure, that usually means you gotta give a toast of some sort. Everyone will be looking at you, making you feel puny as an ant. Put all that stuff away. Just remember, this is your brother. Other than your parents, you know him best. All you have to do is…” He stopped and held up a hand. “Quiet.”

“I heard him, too,” Moore said.

All three men laid flat on the rock their eyes overlooking the grazing area. The dark husks of cattle gently stomping their feet could not dampen the sound of footfalls on the dirt.

Someone was coming.

Down a ways, just to the other side of the cattle, they all spied the distinctive silhouette of a man. He wore no spurs so the only sound he made was the gentle clomp of his boots. He wore a hat so the lawman couldn’t make out his face. But they all saw what he was doing: making his way toward the cattle.

In a low voice, Eason whispered, “Remember we have to catch him in the act. Before that, he’s just a man out on the midnight walk.”

Diego understood. He began to breathe more shallowly, his mind telling him even his breath would give away their position. Moore, on the other hand, fidgeted in his position.

“Don’t move,” Eason commanded.

The shadowy figure made his way along the perimeter of the group of cattle. Curiously, he reached out a hand and touched the romp of each cow.

Diego frowned. “What is he doing?”

Eason shushed him. “Wait and see.”

The man continued to walk around the perimeter. If he kept going that way, he would get perilously close to where the lawmen had stashed their horses. If he found the horses, all bets were off.

That seemed to be the thinking of Deputy Moore as well. “He’s gonna find the horses,” he hissed.

“Let him,” Eason said. “It means we have the element of surprise.”

“Why don’t we surprise them right now,” Moore said. He moved. Small pebbles dislodged and tumbled down the outcropping.

The shadowed man heard and turned toward the sound. He drew his gun and aimed, the barrel swiveling back and forth, not sure from where the sound came..

The lawmen already had their guns in hand. Under earlier orders from Eason, they held their fire. Besides, even with starlight, they couldn’t get a direct bead on the shadowed man’s location. But when the man opened fire at them, the blossom of flame from his muzzle would give them all the pinpoint direction.

A lead slug pinged near Diego’s face. He reacted without thinking. He pulled the trigger of his gun. Moore did the same. Eason held back. Gouts of fire poured out from the barrels of their revolvers. The shadowed figure fell in a clump.

“Dammit!” Eason said. “I said hold fire until he did something.” He sighed, sending plumes of dust in the air. He holstered his weapon and got to his feet. “Come on.”

Diego felt chastened by his mistake. He had reacted without thinking. Typically that was a good trait for a lawman to possess. But he was still learning. Sheriff Eason, to his mind, was the best teacher in the world. Now Diego had disappointed him.

Eason, Diego, and Moore trundled down the outcropping and approached the shadowed figure. Not knowing if they had killed him or not, they approached from three different angles. The two deputies still held their guns.  Eason approached unarmed.

The downed man law sprawled on the ground. His gun hand was empty. Eason kicked the pistol out of reach just in case. The dark patch under the man was likley blood. The more Diego looked at the patch, the larger the patch got. It was blood alright, seeping out of the wounded man and being soaked up by the dry ground.

Eason reached into a pocket and flicked a lucifer match to life with his thumbnail. He crouched down and brought the light closer to the dead man’s face.

“Oh no.”