Old West Book Reviews Archives

Book Review: Killer of Witches

Killer of WitchesIn Killer of Witches, the Spur Award winning author W. Michael Farmer delivers a carefully researched story of a Mescalero Apache’s adventures. Beginning in 1865, the boy, along with a small group consisting of his family and friends, “jump” the reservation at Bosque Redondo, New Mexico Territory where they have been unhappily confined.

Their well-planned escape in dead of night is rewarded when they join a larger group of Apache fugitives hiding in Mexico. The reader is swept along with the Apaches, particularly Yellow Boy, as he grows into a much-feared warrior. He rides, shoots, becomes expert with bow and arrow as well as guns and practices all the rituals and traditions of his People. Along the way he meets some famous Apaches such as Juh and Victorio.

The location of the story includes New Mexico Territory, Arizona Territory, and Sonora and Chihuahua, Mexico. The reader really feels the descriptions of a harrowing life on the bronco trail. Heat, cold, storms, water shortages, dangers from wild animals and possible ambush by American troops, Mexican soldiers or renegade killers along the border is constant.

Yellow Boy dreams of a girl he likes, but wisely chooses another more suited to his dangerous lifestyle. Juanita fights beside him and is a woman to be counted on. She’s strong and smart, and totally devoted to her man.

A cantankerous old white man named Rufus Pike takes Yellow Boy under his wing and teaches him passable English as well as the expert handling of guns. Yellow Boy is tough and determined yet a thoughtful young man who tries to understand the rituals of the Apache god, Ussen. Both Apache and Spanish words and phrases are found throughout the story including their meanings.

As the story progresses, Yellow Boy has a frightening dream during which he thinks he has been spoken to by Ussen. He is warned that a mysterious apparition too horrible to think about has attacked Yellow Boy’s family campground in the mountains. When Yellow Boy rides to the rescue he discovers that sure enough, a sort-of Comanchero cross between a Mexican and a Comanche giant has murdered many of Yellow Boy’s relatives including his beloved father.

Known as “The Witch”, this hideous individual has taken over a hacienda and surrounds himself with captive women, fellow marauders, scalp hunters, murderers and thieves. The Witch, covered with tattoos, bird feathers and paint, dresses in an odd getup found only in poor Yellow Boy’s wildest nightmares. Armed with a pet owl trained to kill humans, this Witch becomes the villain of all villains. Quite likely the guy has smoked a little too much peyote.

Yellow Boy, armed only with his aged grandfather, his favorite gun, and two boyhood pals, must settle the score. The reader knows he’s being put-on by a clever and imaginative author who keeps readers glued to their book far into the night.

Well…, not too far into the night. I suggest you finish the story in the morning in the light of day when The Witch’s horrible face, his murderous rages, his gang of cutthroats, his mistreatment of women, and his diabolical urges to torture and kill anybody defying his authority won’t seem so scary. Besides, we have to find out what happens.

Does Yellow Boy beat The Witch? Read the book. You won’t be disappointed. But be careful, this book is the first of a trilogy featuring Yellow Boy and his nemesis, so we suspect even after turning the last page, there is still a lot more hard riding to do. Get your copy HERE.

Editor’s Note: The reviewer Phyllis Morreale-de la Garza is the author of many books including Hell Horse Winter of the Apache Kid, published by Silk Label Books, P.O. Box 700, Unionville, New York 10988-0700. www.silklabelbooks.com

*Courtesy of Chronicle of the Old West newspaper, for more click HERE

Book Review: Wyatt in Wichita

download (1)In the novel Wyatt in Wichita, readers of Western fiction will enjoy a look into the early life and times of Wyatt Earp. The author begins the story with the death of Wyatt’s wife Urilla, who died in Lamar, Missouri in 1870. At this time, Wyatt was 22 years old. Following this traumatic event, Wyatt travels to various towns throughout Kansas, and even up to Deadwood in the Dakotas while deciding what to do with his life. Heartbroken, confused, short of cash and blaming himself for the dearth of his wife, he runs into a variety of people both good and bad, who shape his future.

The problem with writing fiction using famous characters for the leading role is that the author must appeal to readers who have usually made up their minds well in advance of picking up a book. So much has been written about all the Earps, good, bad, and otherwise, it is hard to find anybody who does not have some preconceived ideas of what Wyatt Earp was really like. Was he a hero, or a self-serving cad?

The challenge for author Shirley, himself obviously a Wyatt Earp fan, was to keep readers turning pages even if they did not always agree with the author’s assessment of certain situations. Shirley is an experienced and clever writer who is able to keep the story moving forward by his good descriptions of life in the Old West, plus, he includes glimpses of other famous Western characters such as teenage Billy the Kid whom Wyatt tries to steer in constructive directions. Billy tags along with Wyatt throughout most of the book, and we see glimpses of his character as the young man struggles between right and wrong. He tries listening to Wyatt, but we can see a dark side to Billy that we know will eventually erupt in Lincoln County, New Mexico.

Meanwhile, to keep the reader guessing, Shirley has Wyatt involved in solving the murder of a beautiful young woman found strangled in his sister-in-law’s brothel. Bessie Earp, a madam in Wichita, is married to Wyatt’s older brother, James.

The story includes good descriptions of towns bustling with saloons, card games, buffalo hunters, peace officers and others who lived in these frontier settlements. Wyatt plays cards, gets into personal disagreements, and makes friends with the likes of Bat Masterson. Even Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane put in brief appearances.

Trying to earn a living, Wyatt does wood cutting, law enforcement, riding shotgun for Wells Fargo, and even does a bit of gold prospecting. He stays in touch with his brothers and meets the difficult Mattie Blaylock who will eventually follow him to Tombstone, Arizona. While Mattie fawns over Wyatt now, she will eventually become a thorn in his side. However, this book does not get into the Tombstone part of Wyatt’s life. This story ends with him still in Kansas, trying to figure out where he will go next. Perhaps another Wyatt Earp story by this author will be forthcoming as a sequel, but don’t look here for the shootout at the O.K. Corral.

If you enjoy Western fiction filled with guns, card games, bad guys, peace officers and fast rides, you will like Wyatt in Wichita. Author Shirley has among his many credits co-screen writing the motion picture, The Crow, as well as having written television films for FOX and Paramount. Wyatt in Wichita is entertaining and fun in the tradition of historical western fiction. Shirley is an experienced storyteller who knows how to spin a good yarn. Grab your copy HERE.

Publisher’s Note: The reviewer, Phyllis Morreale-de la Garza is the author of numerous books about the Old West including The Apache Kid, published by Westernlore Press, P.O. Box 35305, Tucson, Arizona 85740

*Courtesy of Chronicle of the Old West newspaper, for more click HERE

Book Review: First Territory

41mmmwV02TL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_This novel tells of a young white man’s experience during the 1855-1856 Yakima War in the Pacific Northwest. The protagonist is Andrew Eaton, who works as a translator between American politicians, the U.S military commanders, and the Indians, thus he is traveling with important people and getting in on all that is happening.

Andrew has learned the Indian language from his friendship with a beautiful Indian girl named Lalooh who ultimately does some translating too, since she has learned passable English from Andrew. However, throughout the story she stays with her family and as the story unfolds, she and Andrew only catch glimpses of one another.

Some background leading to this story, while only touched upon here, is the true debacle of Marcus and Narcissa Whitman who, ten years earlier before this story begins, had been brutally massacred along with twelve other white persons at their Mission in the Waiilatpu in what is now Oregon. Marcus was an American pioneer, doctor, and missionary among the Indians. Narcissa was one of the first white women to cross the continent. Their deaths occurred November 29, 1847. It is believed the Indians Marcus was trying to convert to Christianity became suspicious and enraged when a number of Indian children died in a measles epidemic and the Indians thought the Whitmans had poisoned them. Not until several white children died did the Indians understand the situation, but by then it was too late.

Now, ten years after the Whitmans’ deaths, there is continued feuding between the U.S. government, the various Indian tribes and white religious groups. Young Andrew finds himself caught in the desperate struggle between all these people as the Indian Wars in the Northwest finally grind to a close. Indian reservations are being established while leaders of the various tribes struggle between themselves as well as the new white government. Many misunderstandings, deep personal hatreds, loss of life and old traditional ways all come to a tumultuous clash by the end of the story.

Meanwhile, Andrew is in love with Lalooh and probably she has feelings for him too, but the situation is far too desperate and emotionally-charged for these two young people to resolve their differences and live happily ever after. Lalooh is faithful to her own people, even though she is roughly treated by an Indian who takes her for his wife. Andrew must watch and record while translating, and becomes embroiled in all the brutality on both sides. Andrew travels with his own people, while always on the lookout for Lalooh. His hared for the white governor becomes deeply entrenched in his feelings as he is caught between his job as translator and what is happening to the Indians.

Author Richie Swanson spent nearly thirty years beginning in 1977 exploring Indian reservations in the Northwest and researching the People’s long traditions. He writes with carefully crafted original detail, painting word pictures that sometimes cause the reader to flinch. Swanson’s writing is bold and unforgiving, some battle scenes are painfully revealing. The surprise, the sudden and fearful attacks and their aftermath remind us of all our years of human tragedy, war after war. Swanson’s writing goes deeper than an easy to read novel, he teaches truth along with entertainment. He really drives home what a gutsy, well-schooled novelist can do when endeavoring to rise above the average story-teller. Get your copy HERE.

Editor’s Note: The reviewer Phyllis Morreale-de la Garza is the author of numerous published books about the Old West, including the novel Widow’s Peak, published by Silk Label Books, P.O. Box 700, Unionville, New York 10988. Www.silklabelbooks.com

Book Review: Thunder Canyon

Thunder CanyonThe novel Thunder Canyon is informative as well as fun reading for teenagers and adults alike. It is a fantasy/historical fiction about three modern teenage cousins who are magically transported back to the 1900 rip-roaring gold mining town of Cripple Creek, Colorado. The kids are both delighted and awed by the boardwalks, gambling saloons, Chinese workers, miners, gamblers, horses, wagons, no indoor plumbing, and the hustle and bustle. The contrast showing modern kids in a historical setting is amusing as well as filled with surprise. Occasional expressions like “awesome,” and “Hey, dude,” keep the reader chuckling as the kids are put to work spying on various members of a dangerous outlaw gang.

The real protagonist in the story is the grown up Eddie Donnally from New York, a Secret Service operative on the trail of a gang of counterfeiters who have set up shop in Cripple Creek. The gang consists of an angry woman bent on revenge, and her three brothers who are her accomplices. Unbeknown to Eddie, he has had a run-in with this family several years earlier in New York during which time their leader was sent to prison. Now, after moving to Colorado, the remaining gang members plan to kill Eddie when they discover their old nemesis is hot on their trail again.

The kids work as sleuths, passing information about what they have seen and who they have followed, while Eddie works the gambling saloons looking for signs of counterfeit money and who the culprits might be.

As readers turn the pages, we find sharp photos of 1890s rail cars, color photos of gold pieces known as Eagles, Double Eagles, and Half Eagles. There are pictures and descriptions of telegraph keys, burro descendants of those who worked in the Cripple Creek mines, arrest cards and photos of several real female counterfeiters apprehended in the old days by the Treasure Department, counterfeit coin-making equipment, Gold Mine Stock Certificates and counterfeit coin detectors from the 1890s.

The story includes train rides between Cripple Creek and the nearby town of Victor, a bit of romance between Eddie and an attractive town lady who runs a haven for stranded persons, and a helpful connection with the Chinese community. The story ends in a big shootout inside the gang’s mine hideout, right in keeping with a good old fashioned Western story.

The Appendix gives a detailed description of the game of faro including photos and information about dealers, players, and cheating (which sometimes ended in gunplay).

The author of this book is Donald Brewer, a 26-year veteran with the United States Secret Service. He was the Special Agent-In-Charge of the Counterfeit Division in Washington, D.C., and at one time worked undercover as case agent in the Atlanta Field Office. Later, in Miami, he spent eleven years closing down counterfeit manufacturing operations when Miami was known as the counterfeit capital of the world.

While retired now, Brewer’s obvious love for his job comes through in this story which is the second book in the “Mouse Gate Series” of adventures about catching counterfeiters. When not giving speeches and presentations regarding counterfeit U.S. currency, he is busy writing a third book for this series. Brewer has appeared on both the Discovery Channel and Learning Channel in an effort to educate the public on the issues of newly designed U.S. currency.

Thunder Canyon is not only an informative book for adults, but perhaps a step toward encouraging teenagers to read about life in the Old Wild West. Get your copy and get in on the fun HERE.

*Courtesy of Chronicle of the Old West newspaper, for more click HERE

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