The Imaginary Realms of
Gilbert M. Stack





Over on the Dry Side by Louis L’Amour

Louis L’Amour is usually a lovely storyteller, but in this book he attempts to jump back and forth between two points of view and one of them (a young teenaged boy) never quite worked for me. I guess L’Amour is just better at bringing to life his typical loner heroes who are good with a gun.

The plot here, though, was worthwhile. The story opens with a father and son discovering a man who has been killed in his front door. After burying him, they decide to take over his farm and that leads them to trouble. As it turns out, the man was killed by brigands who believe that he brought a great treasure out of Mexico. When the man’s brother shows up, things heat up. But what makes this book so good is L’Amour’s ability to slowly circulate the idea that there can’t possibly be a treasure in the conventional sense. And watching the more intelligent and sane of the brigands come to this realization really worked for me. As they abandon the search, that leaves the worst sorts of men to continue trying to force the secret of the nonexistent gold out of the hero.

There’s also a woman. It’s almost mandatory in a L’Amour novel that there be a beautiful woman to instantly win the heart of his hero. I rarely find his romances convincing, but I did like the way in which the existence of this woman permitted us to see more of the character of individual brigands.

The real treasure of the story comes in the last pages where we finally learn what the treasure is.

The Rider of the Ruby Hills by Louis L’Amour

This is a classic L’Amour tale of the west before there was enough civilization out there to enforce the laws. Ross, the hero, rides into a ranchers’ war with a piece of critical information. He actually owns the deed to the water sources that make it possible for the ranchers to support their cattle. The ranchers are mostly a bunch of honorless criminals who muscled and backstabbed their way into the region and now are trying to muscle their way to being top dog. Naturally, Ross intends to be the one to come out on top. It ends with a nice little almost-court -cene in which people try to figure out what’s really going on.

This volume also includes a nice little mystery called The Sixth Shotgun. Again, a nice little crime drama in which our hero is about to be hung for a murder someone else did. Fortunately, people start asking about where he got the shotgun that committed the crime and what happened to it afterwards. It’s a good introduction to Louis L’Amour.

In Alpha Order by Author

Coffin Creek by Ben Bridges

Let’s face it. When you’re looking for a western with a little old-fashioned gunplay in it, a title like Coffin Creek is definitely going to catch your eye—and this novel delivers with tense action all along the way. But there’s also a tight little mystery and two great subplots—one about a lawman that may be past his prime and one about a crippled man who doesn’t know he needs to regain his self respect. Put it all together and you have a story Louis L’Amour would have enjoyed. I’m going to have to try a couple more of Ben Bridges’ tales.

The Wilde Boys by Ben Bridges

The Wilde Boys is a Dirty-Half-Dozen-style story. Judge Wilde and some of his politician friends back in Congress are tired of bandits running wild across the west, so they have decided to take half a dozen of the meanest killers in prison and use them as a hit squad to take out some of the most dangerous outlaws who have kept out of the hands of the law. If you ignore the totally disturbing constitutional implications, this is a fun story where in keeping the “good guys” on task is far more than half the story.

Bridges has a deft hand for creating characters you will love and hate. His battles are always exciting. And in this case, he leaves room for half a dozen sequels. If you’d like to read a quick action-packed western, The Wilde Boys won’t disappoint you.

I received this book from in exchange for an honest review.

Melinda West: Monster Gunslinger by KC Grifant

Melinda West operates with her lover, Lance, in a wild west that is overrun by various sorts of monsters and sorcery. The east is no better, and the south is dominated by evil railroad corporations who appear to pretty much enslave everyone. The plot of the book involves the soul of a friend of Melinda and Lance being stolen and their efforts to get it back. The action is pretty good and the story moves along at a decent pace. My primary complaint is that Melinda, a woman of action if there ever was one, chooses to talk again and again when encountering the woman who is taking her friend’s soul (and Lance’s soul later in the story) to an evil sorcerer with the result being that the villain continually gets away. If this had happened only once, it would have been unfortunate. But that it happened repeatedly seriously irritated me. I did not understand ever why Melinda did not simply put a bullet in Eloise and move on. Even if she didn’t want to kill her—and Eloise is as much a monster as any creature in the book—she could have wounded her or crippled her and put an end to her ability to escape. The only reason I can come up with for her not doing this is it would have cut the story much shorter. Of course, the opposite should have been true. Having stopped Eloise, the big bad sorcerer would have had to come in person to claim the souls he needed for his nefarious scheme. It wouldn’t even have been a very different story, but it certainly would have been more believable.

So, to sum up. There’s a lot of good action here, but I didn’t feel as if the characters acted in character, and that damaged the overall effectiveness of the tale.

Deadman’s Road by Joe R. Lansdale

Here’s an excellent collection of Weird West style stories about a minister who travels about doing God’s will by stamping out supernatural evil. There are five stories:

Dead in the West: This is the longest and best developed of the tales. It introduces Reverend Mercer, a gunman with demons of his own who is angry at God even as he does the lord’s work by stomping out genuine evil. He’s a likeable character, even while his very harsh view of the world is a bit disturbing. After some introductory material, the story shoots into high gear when the dead start to rise and prey on the townsfolk. It’s just a little bit of damage around the perimeter of the town the first night, but it is obvious things are going to get much worse for the unsuspecting town. Mercer learns that the town he is in was cursed because it murdered a native American medicine man and his African-American wife. The medicine man curses the town and pulls a demon into himself. He kills the guilty, but doesn’t stop there, until only Mercer, a young boy, a doctor and his daughter and the town’s preacher stand in the way of the demon’s vengeance. It’s a very good story.

Deadman’s Road: Mercer runs into another curse—a strange demonic possession with weird black bees. Once again, its’ a good story that went in a slightly different direction than I expected.

The Gentleman’s Hotel: In this story, Mercer fights werewolves in a hotel full of ghosts. The ghosts really give the story a unique feel for a werewolf tale. It’s a good take on a familiar theme.

Crawling Sky: Mercer saves a man from being tortured because a Cthulhu-esq character killed his wife. He then goes to deal with the monster. Like all the stories in this collection, it’s a lot of fun, even if there is a little more exposition than the others.

The Dark Down There: Goblins are in the mines and Mercer has to dig them out. But the best part was actually Mercer dealing with the miners before he reached the technical monster. A fine conclusion to a fine series.

The Sword and the Gun by John J. Law

This was a pleasant short story about the old west in the vein of Louis L’Amour’s westerns. The central plot revolves around a young man’s quest for justice and his need to grow up first if he’s to obtain it. Being a western of the classic variety, his quest for justice is of the eye-for-an-eye sort, but, true to the great western writers it is also “justice” not simply vengeance.

Law’s twist to make the genre his own is his decision to add an eastern element. The villain is a Japanese man and to defeat him, the hero has to learn something of the Japanese culture and fighting style. I would have liked to see this emphasized even more as it is the most unique aspect of the story.

If you’re looking for a quick and enjoyable story set in the old west, I think this one will please you.

Joshua’s Country by Gerard de Marigny

I’ve always thought it was difficult to capture the spirit of the westerns set in the late nineteenth century in a twenty-first century tale, but Gerard de Marigny managed this feat in his short novel, Joshua’s Country. Joshua Jacob is an old man who struck me as being a little bit out of time. He is very much the sort of rancher you could find in a Louis L’Amour novel carving out a living for himself and his men and their families out in the great American west (in this case, Texas). When his grandson gets in trouble with ISIS insurgents in Iraq, Joshua is forced to look more closely at the relationship he forged with his now dead son and is trying to build with his grandson.

There is a lot of action in this novel and a dastardly set of villains ranging from terrorists, drug cartels and corrupt government officials. It’s all a lot of fun. De Marigny could have built this novel as a thriller or a simple action/adventure piece, but his decision to ground it in the western genre made it feel much more approachable and less over-the-top to me. Joshua has stepped out of the romanticized legends of the west. Character matters. Family matters. A man’s word matters. It made so many of his decisions and actions instantly credible. My only complaint is that I don’t see a sequel coming out of this story. It doesn’t need one.

Make Me No Grave by Hayley Stone

This is a powerful western about a rigidly proper lawman and a lady bandit known as the bloodthirsty “Grizzly Queen”. The story opens with the lawman having captured the bandit queen and having troubles with a local sheriff and his mob who want to lynch her rather than bringing her to trial. Matters get bloody and the lawman’s life is saved by his prisoner, embarking the reader on a strange journey in which I rarely had any idea where the story was going, but still found totally compelling.

So there’s a little magic, a dead president, an assassins, murdered civilians, violent posses, native peoples in need of help, and rival gangs. Through it all, this strange relationship between the lawman and the most notorious woman in the west where moral lines continue to become blurred as we try to figure out if this a tale of justice or a tale of redemption or something else entirely. Whatever it ultimately is (and we do find out by the end of the novel) it’s a tremendously interesting novel.

Dire Wolf of the Quapaw by Phil Truman

Deputy Marshal Jubal Smoak is hard on the trail of Quapaw bandit, Crow Redhand. Redhand has shot Smoak twice so the deputy is highly motivated to bring him to justice. Then Redhand becomes the prime suspect in a massacre of a Quapaw family and the stakes raise considerably. Smoak needs to get his man before more people are senselessly butchered. The problem is that—dangerous as Redhand is—he’s not the only suspect in the murder. A drifter had a fight with two of the now-dead family members and more troubling yet—for the superstitiously minded—there’s a Quapaw legend about an evil spirit that takes the form of a giant dire wolf and the locals clearly fear this monster is behind the crime. Smoak isn’t big on superstition, but the reader will certainly find themselves seriously considering this possibility…

As if that isn’t enough of a mystery/adventure, there are very intriguing side mysteries that keep wrapping around the main problem. One of these was so cleverly inserted that I missed its possible connection to the main story until Smoak started putting the pieces together. Once he did, I started to figure out the whole plot—and isn’t that a significant part of what the reader wants in a good mystery? A fair chance to figure out what’s going on and then the excitement of seeing the hero try to bring the villain to justice.

This is a good mystery, but it’s also a good western. If you like both, you’ll want to read this novel.

I received this book free from Audiobook Boom in exchange for an honest review, but before I got the free audiobook, I had purchased an e-book copy to read. I just hadn’t gotten to it yet when I had the chance to listen to it instead on my daily commute.

Spirits of the Western Wild by David Schaub and Roger Vizard

I am a big fan of fully dramatized audio and it’s rare to find one as beautifully performed as this book. A combination of excellent audio performances and wonderful dialogue (like the spirit who tries to sound educated but keeps using the wrong highfaluting words) makes it easy to keep track of a large and dynamic cast. In addition there are great sound effects that heighten the sense of being there and really add some gusto to the visual descriptions within the tale.

The story is equally strong—a very cute coming of age story that was clearly focused on a younger audience but which I (at my more advanced age) found thoroughly enjoyable. I hope this cast will produce other audio books in the near future.