March-May 2007


December 2006
Lauran Paine
Jake Douglas & Co.

September 2006
Misfit Lil
Greg Mitchell

June 2006
Marshall Grover
Facts for Fiction

March 2006

Jeff Sadler
Mike Stotter
Writers and Money


Robert Hale Limited
Black Horse Express
Adam Wright
Ben Bridges
Mike Linaker
Piccadilly Cowboys
Gillian F. Taylor
B. J. Holmes

Detectives in Cowboy Boots     Hoofprints     Ending with a Bang
Farewell to a Small Giant      New Black Horse Westerns

One year when sales of western novels hit a worrying low, a publisher advised a contributor, "If an author has confidence in his writing ability he should tackle something more demanding than the short western, and certainly from Elmore Leonard onwards there are writers who have made a successful transition."

He was partly wrong and partly right. Done properly -- with attention to the standards of plotting, characterization, background research and narrative skill that should apply to all genres -- the western is as "demanding" as any other fiction, maybe more so when it comes to achieving the delicate balance between historical reality and myth. He was right with his mention of Elmore Leonard. He might also have named Erle Stanley Gardner, John D. MacDonald, John Jakes and Loren D. Estleman among others, though the crossovers have not always been in one direction.

Traditionally, advances on westerns have averaged less than novels in other categories. Reports today are that a publisher will pay four times what he pays for a western for a historical romance. Granted the latter, with similar research demands and similar calls for set-piece scenes, will run to more pages, though not four times as many, and will carry a higher cover price, though not four times higher.

Just as galling is the notion buyers of hardcover and trade-paperback westerns, usually public libraries, don't give a hoot for the credentials of individual writers; that they buy by publisher's imprint and price. The readers of westerns, it's alleged, are too shy to communicate preferences, or don't have them.

In this issue, we can read Chap O'Keefe's memories of authors who moved competently between thriller and western fiction and whose books were widely enjoyed. A second feature provides useful research information on a firearm popular with western writers -- the Walker Colt. Sift through the legends and the facts with Greg Mitchell.

Enjoy, too, the Hoofprints section, and feel free to leave your own impressions at

Lastly, sadly, we must mark the passing of writer Sydney J. Bounds -- a grand old man of genre fiction (and Black Horse Westerns) who died in late November.

Chap O'Keefe on writers who ride for two brands


Where was Emily Greatheart? The pretty young lady from Denver had gone to Arizona to meet her dead fiancé's mother and vanished. Only a bloodstained jacket was found in an abandoned spring buggy hired from the Pike's Crossing livery stable.
     Emily was the daughter of Big Jack Greatheart, ex-marshal and one-time tamer of brawling boom-towns. But Big Jack lay in his bed in Colorado, frustratingly crippled by arthritis and a skeleton of his former self. So he called on unconventional detective Joshua Dillard.
     Joshua followed a cold trail and hot impulses into battle against ambitious cattleman Bart Waller and his gun-handy, womanizing son, Vincent. No wonder he was soon up to his reckless neck in two-fisted, lead-slinging trouble!

STRIP out the western trimmings from what is the back-cover blurb for Sons and Gunslicks, a new Black Horse Western out in March, and you could well have the bones for a typical private-eye story with its origins in pulp fiction.

This would be far from the first time links have been pointed out between crime stories and westerns. Just as significantly, a complete run-down on the authors who have written both would . . . well, fill a book of the bibliographical kind. But we can run some words and pictures designed to encourage a look with a fresh eye at BHWs and the tradition they represent.

A lately neglected author who comes to mind is Frank Gruber (1904-1969). He wrote in quantity for both the western and detective titles during the golden years of the pulps. He also scripted at least a couple of Universal's revered Sherlock Holmes movies starring Basil Rathbone as the great detective and Nigel Bruce as his Watson. Made on low budgets in Hollywood during World War II,  Terror By Night and Dressed to Kill (aka Prelude to Murder) are now in the public domain and have been reissued several times on DVD packs of varying quality. They are fun nostalgia, often at a modest price. (But a conductor on a London-Edinburgh express. . .?)

If only a western movie will do, why not hunt out 1955's Rage at Dawn, another classic widely available on DVD? It's based on Frank Gruber's fictionalization of the story of the Reno Brothers gang and stars Randolph Scott, Forrest Tucker and J. Carrol Naish. Scott plays James Barlow, a detective agency operative sent from Chicago to infiltrate the gang.

Gruber's twentieth century detective creations, featured in crime novels worth tracking down, were Simon Lash and Eddie Slocum, Johnny Fletcher and Sam Cragg, and Oliver Quade.

For the large and small screens, Gruber reputedly wrote more than 200 scripts or scenarios, mainly westerns. He created several television series, notably Tales of Wells Fargo, The Texan, and Shotgun Slade (1959-61). The last combined his favourite genres: Slade was a private eye in the Old West.

Another prolific crime and western writer of the same period was William Ard. He was mentioned not long ago by James Reasoner at his absorbing blog, Rough Edges. James is a writer with a sure foot in both camps today; Ard was the private-eye tale-teller with the Timothy Dane and Lou Largo series who, under the name Jonas Ward, created the long-running Buchanan westerns.

Ard wrote the first five books featuring Tom Buchanan, one of which was made into a movie in 1958, again starring Randolph Scott. Buchanan Rides Alone was filmed tongue-in-cheek by famed western director Budd Boetticher, based on the novel The Name Is Buchanan.

Ard died during the writing of the sixth Buchanan book, and it was completed by science-fictioneer Robert Silverberg.

The series was continued by Brian Garfield, another writer now also renowned for crime fiction, who contributed Buchanan's Range War before William R. Cox took over with titles including Buchanan's Stage Line.

Buchanan had a memorable pard in Coco Bean, a prizefighter, holding the title Black Champion of the World.

John Hunter
In Britain, writers of light fiction made similar crime/western crossovers through the years. Veteran John Hunter (1891-1961) was a key contributor to the Amalgamated Press's Sexton Blake Library detective series well into the 1950s.

As a boy, I developed a taste for Hunter's tightly written, exciting stories which tempted me to sample his Lannagan novels for the same publishing company's Western Library. They appeared in identical, inexpensive format -- two slim paperbacks a month with digest-sized, newsprint pages. The westerns had vigorous covers by James E. McConnell or Derek C. Eyles.

Rex Hardinge
The Lannagan novels were accompanied by Western Library's reprints of the likes of Ernest Haycox, Max Brand and William Macleod Raine. Among other British crime writers contributing were Rex Hardinge, T.C.H. Jacobs and Sydney J. Bounds.

Rex Hardinge, like Hunter, was a Sexton Blake author. He was renowned for his stories set in India and Africa which he knew from first-hand experience. During World War II, Hardinge served as an officer in Military Intelligence. He was parachuted into China in 1942, remaining there until 1946 with "a cloak and dagger outfit".

He wrote his westerns as Rex Quintin and Charles Wrexe. More can be read about him at, the absorbing site put together by Mark Hodder.

T. C. H. Jacobs
Crime writer T. C. H. Jacobs (1899-1976), aka Jacques Pendower, Penn Dower and Tom Curtis, wrote original Western Library novels about a Texas marshal called Whip McCord, starting with Texas Stranger. I believe several were later reissued in hardcover versions by John Long Ltd.

From 1960, Jacobs's publisher for crime novels was Robert Hale Ltd. The Perfect Wife, published by Hale in 1962 under the Pendower name, features Slade McGinty, a private eye with an office-cum-flat in Brewer Street, Soho. McGinty is commissioned to seek information about the young, popular and charming Lady Sandra Bondell, who "sounded more like a saint than a modern young woman. Too damned good to be true."

Vintage detective novels by Jacobs published in the 1930s (US, Macaulay; UK, Stanley Paul) are listed by Allen J. Hubin as genre classics.

Jacobs had a keen interest in medical jurisprudence, also writing true-crime articles and books. And interest in criminal psychology could be put to use in a western, too, adding depth to plot and characterization:

"Slim, he thought, was not to be trusted with any lethal weapons. Such concentrated hatred in one so young fascinated Whip. He wondered if there was anything in heredity. Lefty Masters had been a killer. So, it seemed, was his son. Or was it merely environment? Slim would have been reared in the company of outlaws. He must inevitably have absorbed their anti-social thought and actions."

In the 1960s, when I was an editor for Micron Publications and Odhams Books, I asked Jacobs to contribute material and came to know him through letters and phone calls. Eventually, Jacobs invited me to lunch at the Wig and Pen Club in Fleet Street. Despite big differences in age and background, it consolidated a rapport. Born in Devon and living in Kent, Jacobs was a soldierly, no-nonsense gentleman who called a spade a spade in a voice that was gentle and gruff at the same time. Sadly, commercial fiction today supports very few craftsmen of his kind.

His experience was wide and long -- the army, the civil service, radio, film, Rotary, the Crime Writers' Association. . . . Jacobs's novel Traitor Spy was filmed in 1939-40, starring Bruce Cabot and released in the US as The Torso Murder Mystery. For D.C. Thomson, the periodical publishers based in Dundee, Jacobs was the author who wrote possibly the largest number of detective stories featuring Dixon Hawke, the company's rival to Sexton Blake. Jacobs produced most of the Hawke serials that appeared in the weekly Adventure in the 1930s as well as stories for the annual Dixon Hawke Casebook.

In 1949, for the Amalgamated Press, Jacobs wrote a western text series for Knockout paper,  Buffalo Bill -- Frontiersman. In December a year later, it was back to detectives for the same firm's Sun, with a series about Tough Tempest -- Crime Buster -- launched in that publication in the same issue as Barry (Joan Whitford) Ford's Law of Wild Bill Hickok series.

I suspect Jacobs's work may not be valued completely in his home country. Today, perhaps the finest store of his literary papers and manuscripts is kept in the Special Collections Library of Pennsylvania State University.

Sydney J. Bounds

John Creasey
Another prolific "old hand" I worked with, Syd Bounds, wrote for Western Library as James Marshal, and while his speciality was science fiction, he could turn his hand to just about anything, including crime stories. In recent years, Syd wrote the Savage series of BHWs. A Man Called Savage is to be reissued by Ulverscroft in large-print this summer, joining Savage's Feud and making at least a couple of his westerns more readily available to US readers.

Also writing both crime and western fiction in the '50s was Vic J. Hanson. His crime yarns were gangster fiction of the Hank Janson kind, but he later turned to Sexton Blake detective stories. And then came many, many Hale westerns under his own name and Jay Hill Potter.

Hanson, Bounds, Jacobs and Hardinge all accepted invitations to write for me in the '60s when I was editing Western Adventure Library, Cowboy Adventure Library and -- in the crime line -- Edgar Wallace Mystery Magazine.

John Creasey (1908-1973) -- of Toff and Gideon fame, prolific author of hundreds of crime novels -- wrote about 30 westerns in the 1930s and '40s as William K. Reilly, Tex Riley and Ken Ranger. Once, he made the mistake of mixing up coyotes with buzzards or vultures. Because he was British, he was never forgiven for the "flying coyotes". Some US editors and literary agents didn't just laugh. They used the famous gaffe for years as grounds to reject automatically all westerns written by Britons -- notwithstanding Creasey wrote his, for him, small bunch in probable haste and difficult circumstances without the benefit of the research and reference books available today, let alone the Internet.

Meanwhile, "indigenous" writers -- an agent's adjective, not mine -- were allowed to survive unscathed sins of poor research similar to Creasey's. For example, as late as 1990, a respected western/crime writer could set his novel in 1901, write of a character anachronistically "zipping up his pants", yet continue to receive the critics' adoration in august trade journals such as Publishers Weekly and Booklist, and later have the work in question anthologized as one of the great stories of the American West. (Which it is, by the way.)

I hold no brief for John Creasey, beyond objection to the mean-spirited exclusion of anyone, but I did have a strong appreciation of his crime novels, which gave me countless hours of enjoyment in teen years and earlier. Copies of his westerns, as will be seen, I didn't come across in my youth. It was only late last year that I had the lucky chance to buy one. They are in the rare books category. Thus they change hands at prices way beyond the means of those who primarily read westerns rather than invest in them as collectibles or trophies from eBay hunts.

The Creasey western I read recently was a Western Library reprint of Riders of Dry Gulch, which avid Creasey bibliographer Richard Robinson records was originally published by Herbert Jenkins Ltd in 1943. Confirming this, I have in my files the handwritten note below which Mr Creasey sent me in 1958. The author lists the publishers for one of his mystery personas and his three western identities . . . and regrets that the westerns are, even then, out of print. None of them ever did reappear in the Jay Books paperbacks he mentions.

The Dry Gulch novel's main drawback  is adherence to a common practice of its age -- trying to convey supposedly western dialect through bizarre spelling. Clarity is sacrificed on occasion to no good purpose in the "jumpin' jack-rabbits" dialogue. Some might also find a lack of authenticity in the Texas setting. Particularly, the chapters set in El Paso would require, for today's knowledgeable reader, greater research attention. But bursts of action are frequent and, despite a little meandering in the storyline along the way, a villain is unmasked in the last chapter. Mystery elements feature as prominently as in the Creasey crime novels of the period -- the Peter Mantons, Norman Deanes, Anthony Mortons, Gordon Ashes and so on.

A good man is framed and persecuted; an eccentric runs loose. You are left in no doubt about what kind of story you are reading when lawyer Petrie tells cowboy hero Boyd Warren in an early chapter, "I'm a long way happy 'bout Long Paul. Is he more than he pretends? Is his queerness acted? Answer that, and maybe yuh'll answer a lot more. Ther's plenty that want answerin' in Dry Gulch. If Olsen was wrongly convicted, as I think, ther's a man at large, more than one man, I know, but one who organised these killings and lootings. Since Olsen left, there has been none of them, but I live in constant dread that they will break out again."

Maybe for the people who read and wrote in wartime Britain, a mystery novel set in a faraway Old West provided a more complete escape than a novel placed in a society and against a background where familiar detail couldn't help but remind them, along with the nightly air raids, that the way of life they cherished was under appalling threat. Quaint (wistful?) mention is made in Riders of Dry Gulch of steak "juicy-looking, sizzling in the heat", bacon and eggs, chickens on spits and a smell of frying steak.

Before World War II,  in 1938, Creasey had dedicated the novel Introducing the Toff, published in hardcover by John Long Ltd, to the Amalgamated Press man who later edited both the Sexton Blake and Western Libraries. The dedication ran, "To L. E. Pratt, who first put the Toff into print."

Richard Robinson told me a few years ago, "John's westerns are like the Holy Grail -- and some of the harder books to find. At a recent get-together [of a group of Creasey enthusiasts] we had just over a half of them in various editions. Several were published in magazine form in the US and are more common."

Though Creasey's reputation rests on his hundreds of crime novels, I think he maintained a pride in his western writing after it became unobtainable. He was an assiduous publicist and in the late '50s issued a greetings-style card to his reader correspondents with the title "Creasey books are on top of the world . . . and here are some of the reasons why". In it is the sentence: "He is the only English member of Western Writers of America." Which should have been qualification enough to clip the wings of any patriotic, wild-west high-flyer objecting to sharing his air space with coyotes!

Jack Trevor Story

Among the later Sexton Blake writers who also wrote, or had previously written, westerns was the much under-rated Jack Trevor Story, author of The Trouble With Harry, filmed by Alfred Hitchcock, and Live Now, Pay Later. Story's "rather good westerns", as he described them, were mostly about a character called Pinetop Jones and were published in the '50s, usually in hardcover for the lending library trade, by Hamilton (Stafford), originators of the Panther Books paperbacks. When I was in London copy-editing Sexton Blake novels for the Amalgamated Press in the early '60s, I was completely unaware that Story had also been western authors Bret Harding and Alex Atwell.

On the back cover of a Panther Books hardcover, Harding's author bio says, "He has always been interested in the genesis of the western novel, especially those in which character, humour and genuine suspense take precedence over the stereotyped horse opera plot." Mystery, romance and intellectual eccentricity are also mentioned. Anyone who met Story, or has read his work or about him, knows something of the last! To sample an opening chapter from a quirky Jack Trevor Story western go to . The entire website is an excellent tribute.

Terry Harknett
By the end of the Swinging Sixties, few British crime writers were left dabbling in westerns, or admitting they once had. Then came the '70s and the influence of the Italian movie makers with their violently dramatic, spaghetti westerns. A younger generation of British writers took on board the lessons. Terry Harknett, a self-confessed "frustrated mystery writer" with "no particular penchant" for westerns, slipped into the scene almost by accident.

"For fifteen long years I wrote mystery novels [for Robert Hale Ltd] that were published twice yearly  -- and sank without trace at the same rate," he told the US magazine The Writer.

Luck took a hand, he said, when he was hired to write a "book of the movie" and it happened to be a western. "I had not seen it and I had never read a western novel."

But the rest is history. He did a few more; it was realized nobody was writing books like the tough spaghetti movies; he assumed the pen-name George G. Gilman, and the famous Edge paperbacks came into being.

Soon, every paperback publisher in London had an Edge-series clone. The stories were written almost exclusively by a coterie of writers who followed, perhaps unknowingly, in the tracks of an existing tradition of writers "who hadn't been further west than Paddington Station". They won themselves a higher profile than the forgotten British western writers of earlier decades and became known as the Piccadilly Cowboys. Among them were John B. Harvey and Mike Linaker.

John Harvey's books had the trademark of the PCs which was gritty realism, the more sordid it could be made the better: "Wes Hart woke sticky with sweat that lay on his body like cloying vomit, turning cold." Harvey did the opposite to Terry Harknett -- he later headed completely away from his fascinatingly ugly westerns, about Hart the Regulator, to write bestselling crime novels about Detective Inspector Charlie Resnick.

Mike, as Neil Hunter, Richard Wyler and John C. Danner, still rides the range for Black Horse Westerns and the large-print Linford Western Library, while his bill-paying work is blockbuster adventure thrillers for Gold Eagle's series based on Mack Bolan lore.

Mike Stotter
Associated at an early stage with producing a fanzine for Harknett's GGG fans, another Mike -- Mike Stotter -- graduated to writing westerns of his own. In 1997, Ed Gorman and Martin H. Greenberg chose an extract from Mike's first BHW, McKinney's Revenge, for inclusion in The Fatal Frontier. This was a 420-page anthology in which Gorman and Greenberg demonstrated the direct links between crime fiction and western fiction, proving the contention with a fine collection of stories from Elmore Leonard, John Jakes, Brian Garfield, Marcia Muller, James Reasoner and other top-selling crime and mystery authors. Today, Mike continues with occasional western projects, but he is also highly respected as the editor of the crime fiction website Shots (

To compile a complete history of  the parallels between hardboiled detective stories and westerns would be beyond my capabilities and take space unavailable here. But I will add that a lifetime's enjoyment of tightly plotted crime thrillers ensures I'd be less than satisfied with writing a Chap O'Keefe western which didn't contain mystery and suspense. For stories about the series character Joshua Dillard, an ex-Pinkerton detective, the elements are routinely accommodated. The Gunman and the Actress and The Lawman and the Songbird attempt a pattern set by genre classics. So, too, do Shootout at Hellyer's Creek, The Sandhills Shootings, Ride the Wild Country and this month's Sons and Gunslicks. Every time, the intention has been to spring plot surprises and solve puzzles in the closing pages of action-packed yarns.

My other series character, Misfit Lil, similarly encounters situations more common to crime stories. In one forthcoming title, Misfit Lil Hides Out, she is framed for murder. As always, resourceful Lil makes some ingenious plays and produces the necessary answers to a mystery with a flourish at the end.

To wrap up, let's return to Frank Gruber with whom we started. The aim here -- in case detractors are itching to level the charge -- has not been to paint a picture of a cosy club of forgotten old fogies. Way back in January 1941, Gruber made the following comments, in which you could substitute "western" for "mystery" all the way through:

"The manager of a large book store gave me an advance copy of a mystery novel by a new author and asked me for my honest opinion of the story.

"It started off swell.  The detective was a colourful character.  The writing had a vitality you seldom find, the dialogue was crisp and the story moved.  It lacked only two things, but those two things meant all the difference between an outstanding mystery and 'just another mystery novel.'

"The story lacked a theme and it lacked invention.  All right, nine out of ten mystery novels lack those two very same things.  That’s why they sell their 2000 to 3000 copies and are forgotten. A dozen or so mysteries stand out every year from five hundred that are published. In practically every case these outstanding mysteries have both theme and invention.

"In a previous article in the Writer’s Digest I stated my opinion that a colourful theme was vital in a bestselling mystery novel.  I still hold that to be true, but now I add that without invention the theme falls flat.  .  .  .  

"All detective stories have the same basic plot.  A murder is committed, perhaps two or three; questions are asked and answered and your detective makes certain deductions and eventually pins the guilt upon the culprit.

"Every detective story writer has to work from his skeleton plot. The dressing he gives it is what makes his story different from other detective stories. But too often this dressing is commonplace. The jaded detective story reader has read essentially the same thing a hundred times. Murder in itself is no longer startling or unusual.

"That is why the smart detective story writer gives his story invention.

"In my own case, I try to have a minimum of six or seven inventions in a novel and I try to space them out so there’ll be one every two or three chapters.  .  .  .  That is exactly why this story falls flat on its appendix.  It has nothing different in it, nothing unusual. It lacks both theme and invention."

Some advice is timeless. I hope, as either readers or writers, we can count on theme and invention being among the ingredients in many of today's Black Horse Westerns.

-- Keith Chapman, aka Chap O'Keefe, whose
 latest BHW is Sons and Gunslicks.

Big fan of westerns.
An assortment of the right tracks


Morgan Freeman co-starred with Clint Eastwood in the actor-director's acclaimed western Unforgiven, but he's determined at age 69 not to retire until he has done another. He told Big Picture News Inc, "I haven't even scratched the surface. There is great stuff that hasn't been touched by me ...  I'm a big fan of westerns, and I haven't done my ultimate one. There are many stories to tell." Freeman, an Oscar winner, has played widely diverse roles, including several detectives, a convict and a poor black chauffeur, but he has expressed in the past an eagerness to complete the list by playing a deputy marshal from the 1870s. "No one knows about the law officers who populated the West -- the deputy sheriffs, deputy marshals and people of that ilk who were in Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas. This guy's name was Bass Reeves and he was a true character. It has been in the pipeline for years and it's something I really want to do, but we have a problem getting the script together. That's the hardest part of any movie." Come in, Adam Wright. . . ? In 2001, Adam fictionalized Reeves's story for a BHW novel.

Thought mixing horror with westerns was a new development? Think again! Los Angeles Times "resident expert" Kenneth Turan listed among "notable DVD offerings in film" Creepy Cowboys: Four Weird Westerns. He said The Rawhide Terror, Tombstone Canyon, Wild Horse Phantom and Vanishing Riders were examples from the 1930s and '40s of westerns with pronounced horror/mystery elements. Stars included Tom Mix, Ken Maynard, Buster Crabbe and Bill Cody. Another reviewer said. "So old they creak, but man oh man, are they fun." Not bizarre enough? Turan also recommended Westerns With a Twist, a trio of full-colour westerns -- Apaches, Chingachgook — The Great Snake and The Sons of the Great Bear. These movies were made in East Germany during the Cold War years -- "Red Westerns" -- and star a Serbian actor, Gojko Mitic, as a heroic Native American battling perfidious white settlers.

Screams of  laughter.
Roped in.
Avalon Books is a US publisher of wholesome adult fiction. "Substitute euphemisms in all instances where profanity, including 'damn' and 'hell', might be used," its rules for writers say. On the back of a title issued in the mid 1980s, the firm listed 38 of its westerns. They included no less than 15 by Terrell L. Bowers. Today the veteran author is a valued contributor to the BHW series who made his first entries in the line's debut year, 1986. He told Avalon he sometimes thought he was born with boots and spurs. His father was his inspiration. He provided Terrell with his own horse and cows to ride and rope. On small acre lots or fair-sized farms, he always had the fixings for cowboying on hand. Terrell also shared his father's taste for movies starring Bob Steele, Johnny Mack Brown, Roy Rogers and John Wayne. Western blood was in his veins, and he loved to create a new story, new characters -- then let his imagination run wild. "Fortunately," he once wrote, "I have a beautiful, loving wife and two angelic girls, who understand and accept my endless hours at a typewriter. My principal desire is that somewhere there are western lovers who find my stories entertaining." His latest BHW is The Trail to Yuma.

Another case of myth versus reality. . . . The stereotype western hero is at least six feet, sometimes taller, and is sometimes said to have been a former cavalry officer. But we are told the US regular cavalry had a maximum height limit of 5 feet 10 inches. Some cavalry officers who were state-raised militia, or men who raised their own regiments during the Civil War, were big men, but regular cavalrymen were supposed to be 5 feet 10 or less. The late John Wayne often portrayed a cavalry officer in movies, yet at 6 feet 5 inches he would have been much too big for the regular cavalry. The average man of the era would have stood about 5 feet 8 inches if Civil War records are taken to be a guide. And though some Indians were tall, most were smaller than white men.

Role sized up.
Hillerman: clouds

In a Western Writers of America press release, award-winning mystery writer Tony Hillerman said, "Western writing, to me is when you're flying from the east and clouds block the view. You can't see a thing. Then, you're over west Texas. The clouds part and what do you see? Endless miles of sunshine and wide open spaces." WWA said that over the past few decades, western literature had slid into an abyss of reader apathy, but they were now facing a promising future. Purchases of westerns in the United States increased 9 per cent in 2005 and 10 per cent in 2006. Publishers representative Larry Yoder said today's westerns weren't what your grandfather read or "some TV show with a predictable plot". WWA president Cotton Smith added stirringly, "Western literature is of the spirit, our spirit, the spirit of America. Western literature is the motivation of people to succeed in lands greater than themselves. The Western is full of souls filled with concern, fear, joy and desire. In a phrase, it is the literature of America's soul." Wow! Remember that next time someone dismisses the book you're reading or writing as "just another shoot-'em-up".


Multi Spur Award winner Richard S. Wheeler, graciously given space at Ed Gorman's new, improved blog, raised doubts about the sales health of the western in response to the WWA release. After some debate, he said, "The death throes of a major American literary genre have occurred beneath the periscopes of the journalists of literature and the book world. These people don't care about western fiction, and know their readers wouldn't care either, which is why the genre is all but gone." Wheeler queried sales figures that failed to "distinguish  between books published commercially and vanity books done by print-on-demand publishers". Two of Wheeler's fine westerns have appeared as BHWs: Sam Hook (December 1987) and Stop (April 1990). Ed Gorman westerns, too, have been issued in BHW, British-market editions: Gundown (February 1997) and Wolf Moon (July 1998). For western readers whose foremost requirement is a brisk and lively read, the blog debate furnished extra reasons for western readers to support the Hale (and hopefully hearty) series with purchases and library borrowings of the newest titles.

Wheeler: clouds gather.
Ike's endorsement.
Never underestimate western fans. Paddy Gallagher (aka Greg Mitchell) reminded Hoofprints that General, later US President Dwight D. Eisenhower was an avid follower of westerns and his favourite movie was The Big Country. "To broaden the scope of the books, the publishers should be aiming higher and breaking new ground," Paddy said. "The most positive feedback I got from my first BHW, Outlaw's Vengeance, came from a well educated bloke I know who had never read a western in his life. He read the book only because he knew me -- but he enjoyed the western atmosphere so much, he was going to read more by other authors." Paddy, who lives near Canberra, Australia, is currently working on completing his latest western for a New York publisher, who responded to material held for a considerable time. "It seemed to have disappeared off the face of the earth. . . . Then, out of the blue, a letter arrived saying they liked what I had sent over and would be interested in seeing the rest."


BHW writer Paul Wheelahan is known in his native Australia as a comic-strip artist -- creator of The Panther  (1957-63) -- and as the author of countless Cleveland western paperbacks under pen-names including Brett McKinley, Emerson Dodge and Ben Jefferson. His first BHW, Branded!, appeared under his own name in September 2000 and was followed by several more. Then, like prolific compatriot Keith Hetherington who'd already joined the Hale camp, Paul adopted a string of bylines: Dempsey Clay, Matt James, Ryan Bodie, Ben Nicholas and Chad Hammer. Fellow author David Whitehead says, "One of the tricks Paul employed back in his Cleveland days was to write the last of ten chapters first. Then, if he found that the story was taking longer than anticipated to tell, he could cut and compress it somewhere around the middle, thus avoiding the usual problem of having a rushed ending." Paul's latest BHWs are Just Call Me Clint by Chad Hammer and Gun Lords of Texas by Matt James.

Last chapter first.
Reality for SF writer.
Western readers and writers were reminded that not all genres are fortunate enough to have a BHW series. Leo Stableford commented to blogger Grumpy Old Bookman, who'd written about the difficulties facing the genre writer, "This is possibly the best post I have ever read in any blog ever on the topic . . . My father is a mid-list SF writer and academic and only started to have anything like a career when the number of novels he'd written approached the late 40s or early 50s (I really don't remember). Unfortunately, in today's world he didn't sell as was required, and now finds securing a publisher impossible in the mainstream and challenging elsewhere. He'd never even have got a foot in the door had he been born 30 years after he was."

Greg Mitchell dispels misconceptions

. . . as Joshua left the house's enclosure, the fleeing woman turned. In her hand, as if by magic, there appeared a revolver.
     It was a big, hefty piece of armament, with a barrel about nine inches long. Joshua's expert eye placed it, possibly, as an old Walker Colt which in total length would measure more than fifteen inches. Not exactly a lady's pistol, Joshua thought, and forged on relentlessly.
     "Stop!" he ordered. "That ancient piece of hardware will be useless to you."
Sons and Gunslicks
Chap O'Keefe

THE Walker Colt .44 revolver is a great favourite with western writers and was the preferred weapon of many fictional gunslingers. But in real life, it owed any popularity it gained to the fact that it had no competition.

Its predecessor, the Paterson Colt, was patented about 1836 and was the first practical revolver. The Paterson revolutionized the handgun world but it had its limitations. It was not a particularly robust arm with the choice of  five shots in calibres .28, .31,.34 and .36. The cap-and-ball, percussion revolver was slow to load with loose powder, balls and percussion caps. If the chambers were not sealed with grease or beeswax, the balls could be jolted loose when carried muzzle-down on a horse, though the advantage of having multiple shots outweighed the disadvantages.

The public at large did not receive Samuel Colt's revolving handgun with enthusiasm. Colt ran into financial problems and he had to close his factory at Paterson, New Jersey.

Among those who were quick to appreciate revolvers could be counted the Texas Rangers. They used them against hostile Comanche warriors and Mexicans to great effect. But they saw that improvements were needed. Consequently, Captain Sam Walker approached the Colt company with ideas for an  improved revolver. The new weapon, produced for the rangers in 1847 and designated the Walker Colt, was a radical departure from the Paterson but a much more practical weapon.

The cylinder capacity was increased to six chambers, each capable of accommodating more than 40 grains of powder and a .44 bullet. A conventional trigger guard replaced the Paterson's folding trigger and a rammer attached under the barrel ensured that the bullets were firmly seated in the chambers. The weapon was heavy, slightly more than four and a half pounds in weight but that helped to reduce the recoil from its powerful loads.

Colt arranged with the Whitney Armoury at Whitneyville, Connecticut, to manufacture the new revolver. The factory produced 1,100 Walkers and they were the most powerful handguns of the day. The profit Colt made was enough to set him up in new headquarters at Hartford.

Glowing contemporary reports claim that the Walker was more effective than the "common rifle" at 100 yards and more accurate than the smoothbore musket at 200 yards. The claims should not be taken at face value. Much depends upon the definition of the "common rifle". The same weight of bullet and the same powder charge would generate much more speed and energy in the longer rifle barrel, as the famous Winchester '73  later demonstrated. The Walker fired a rifle-sized charge but in the shorter barrel could not match rifle ballistics for similar loadings. It was more accurate than the musket at 200 yards because its barrel was rifled. The smoothbore musket had little accuracy beyond 90 yards. Uneven gas escape from around the ball sent the bullet astray. A musket ball might travel a fair distance if the right elevation was given to the weapon but long-range accuracy was out of the question.

Many early Colts were sighted to hit the point of aim at 60 yards so inside that range they shot a little higher. Given the right elevation of the barrel their extreme range was about 1,400 yards but both power and accuracy would be lacking by then.

The Walker's large powder capacity was also its downfall. Some claim that as much as 50 grains of powder could be crammed into the chamber although the recommended charge was 40 grains. Of the 1,100 Walkers produced, approximately 300 were said to have blown up as a result of cylinder failure. It had been the most powerful revolver of its day but the day was a short one.

Colt rapidly improved the Walker to produce the Colt Dragoon which was lighter, better balanced, and with superior craftsmanship and materials. It could still fire a 40 grain powder charge. After three models of Dragoon, the last big-bore Colt  percussion revolver was the  streamlined 1860 .Colt Army. It still fired a .44 bullet but the powder charge was reduced to 28 grains. This gun was noted for its easy pointing and accuracy. Because of patent problems, Colt could not start producing metal-cartridge revolvers loading through the rear of the cylinder until 1871.

Percussion revolvers quickly went out of favour. They were unreliable and difficult to load when compared with the newer types.

Was the Walker ever a gunfighters' gun? It was only when nothing better was available. The length and weight made it an ungainly weapon unsuited to quick draws and the arm lacked the natural pointing ability that was a feature of later Colt revolvers. It was obsolete before the American Civil War.

Carrying ammunition for percussion revolvers was always a problem. At first the shooter had to carry a small flask designed to deliver a measured charge of powder, loose bullets and a supply of percussion caps. Some also carried a small quantity of grease to seal the mouths of the chambers to keep the powder dry and to avoid chain fires. Later, combustible paper cartridges containing measured powder charges were attached to the bullets but these were prone to damage that made them difficult to load. The cavalry carried these cartridges in wool-lined pouches to prevent them  being damaged. But separate percussion caps still had to be added before the weapon could be fired.

By 1870 metallic cartridges had proved their worth and percussion weapons were being phased out. Revolvers like the Walker took too long to load and had a high rate of misfires. They also had the disconcerting habit of "chain firing" when all chambers discharged at once. This fault also sounded the death knell of the Colt revolving rifle. A man holding a revolving rifle in the conventional manner could lose all or part of his left hand if the weapon chain fired. The only safe way to hold a Colt revolving rifle was for the left hand to hold the front of the trigger guard. They were considered so dangerous that they were withdrawn from Union troops during the Civil War.

In 1873, the Winchester company brought out the improved, centrefire version of their popular 1866 repeating rifle. The cartridge was designated the .44/40. and fired .44 bullets propelled by 40 grains of powder. This was a similar load to that fired by the Walker Colt. The Colt company in the same year introduced the famous .45 calibre, Frontier Colt. Then in 1876, Colt started chambering Frontier Colts for the .44/40 cartridge so a man could use the same ammunition in both rifle and revolver. In a revolver, the .44/40 had marginally less hitting power than the Colt .45.

A gunfighter who continued using percussion arms after 1873 was certainly flirting with the hurting. Although Wild Bill Hickok had a pair of .36 Navy Colts, he was thought to have possessed metallic cartridge weapons, too. The James Brothers, the Earps, Bill Cody, Bat Masterton and Billy the Kid Pat Garrett  and a host of outlaws all used metal-cartridge revolvers. There would be little demand for a weapon as unreliable and outdated as the Walker Colt.

The Walker was an important development in revolver design but did not deserve the legendary status that some writers later gave it. Lightning draws and trick shots were out of the question with these weapons but if they hit a man, he stayed hit.

-- Paddy Gallagher, aka BHW writer Greg Mitchell


Paterson factory

Sam Walker 

Sam Colt




Wild Bill Hickok

The Extra pays tribute to Sydney J. Bounds

Jess Harper sat alone on a pine bench outside his rough-hewn log cabin, waiting. Behind him, the late afternoon sun sank beyond the rim of the canyon, and the cabin gave him shade. The air was stifling hot, dry, and the yard inch-thick with dust.
    Short and broad, Harper had the solid build of a grizzly, his hair touched early with iron-grey. His rugged, almost homely, face showed lines of stubbornness.
Lynching at Noon City
Sydney J. Bounds

FOR discerning readers of BHWs, 2006 ended sadly with news of the death, on November 24, of veteran author Sydney J. Bounds, aged 86.

I knew Syd in London in the 1960s and had huge respect for him as one of the most versatile workers in the genre-fiction business -- SF, detective, western, horror, plus scripts for war libraries and even nursery comics. Quietly spoken, small in stature, non-assertive, he was the true professional. Editorially, I had the pleasure of handling his work at Fleetway House, for the Sexton Blake Library detective series, at Micron Publications, for the Edgar Wallace Mystery Magazine, and at Odhams Books, for various boys' adventure annuals.

Editors and publishers continued to hold him in esteem. My sentiments echo those of John Hale, chairman and managing director of Robert Hale Ltd.

"I am sure he was the oldest author on the BHW list. I cannot remember ever having had personal contact with him direct, as in recent years all his work came to us via an agent. However, my recollection is entirely of an unassuming and highly professional author who could turn his hand to all sorts of fiction writing."

Even as the office junior at Fleetway, I recognized Syd was much under-rated. His Sexton Blake novels were published as by Peter Saxon, George Sydney and Desmond Reid -- all "house" pen-names -- but my memory is that the re-write work on them was barely necessary. When a Blake novel was later chosen to be serialized for the first time in a widely circulated weekly paper, Tit-Bits, it came as no surprise to me that it was one of Syd's. I've heard, though, that the unassuming Syd wasn't told and found out only much later. 

Sydney James Bounds was born on November 4, 1920 in Brighton, a seaside resort fifty miles south of London. He worked as an electrical fitter before moving to Kingston-on-Thames, where he studied electrical engineering at a technical college. During World War II, he was an electrician and instrument repairer for  Royal Air Force ground crew. At the same time, he began writing science fiction and fantasy.

Steve Holland, at his aptly named blog, Bear Alley, records that Syd sold his first story in 1943 and was one of the more prolific authors of the "mushroom jungle" post-war era of cheap UK paperback publishing. Steve says, "Although he wrote over 40 novels, Syd’s metier was always the short story of which he wrote hundreds, many published anonymously in children’s papers and annuals. Anyone who has tried to make a living from selling fiction will know the difficulties of changing characters and plots every 2,000 words, yet Syd managed to make a living doing just that for many years. Although best known for his science fiction, his talent for turning a situation on its head in one chilling line made him one of the champions of small press horror magazines of the 1980s and 1990s."

Among Syd's earlier work, was a string of western novels in the 1950s for the Amalgamated Press's Western Library as James Marshal. In the 1960s, he wrote more westerns under his own name for Robert Hale Ltd. These were of the same length as, and appeared in a similar format to, the later Black Horse Westerns. Titles I know of  were The Yaqui Trail, Gun Brothers and Lynching at Noon City.

In the spring of 2000, Syd began writing westerns for Hale again after literary agent Phil Harbottle sold many of his old paperback westerns to the firm for reissue in BHW hardcover.

The reissues came out under a baffling variety of pen-names: Howard Baron, Alexander Black, Roger Carne, Richard Daniels, Sam Foster, Jack Greener, David Guest, Paul Hammond, David Somers, Wes Sanders, Will Sutton, Neil Vaughan and Cliff Wallace. The new books appeared under the remarkable octogenarian's own byline.

One book was quickly picked for publishing in the Linford Western Library large-print series, making it more readily available everywhere, including the US.

Savage's Feud  was a slam-bang episode in the life of Syd's series hero, Savage. The feud involved two families, the Howards and the Flints, and had its origins in the Civil War. At stake was a small fortune built on a stolen Army pay chest. Also quickly on the line were various lives, including Savage's.

Though not the first book in the Savage series, Syd's well-honed storytelling skills made it possible for the reader to piece together quickly, from allusions in the opening pages and later, that Savage was a young delinquent from the New York waterfront working as a Pinkerton agent in the South-west. He was referred to frequently as "small". But his appearance, of course, deceived -- an attribute he shared with many of the Max Brand heroes of olden times. Savage was as ferocious as his name. "A strong name," said the Indian Little Owl.

At one stage, after a bloody knife-duel to the death, another character stared at Savage and asked,  "Do the Pinkertons have any idea what kind of animal they've hired?" Savage replied, "Mr Allan [Pinkerton] picked me himself."

After decades at the action-fiction coalface, Syd's style was as terse and uncomplicated as ever in this yarn:  "He walked up rising ground to where the house sat on the crest. Lights in the windows were like eyes watching him. The sky darkened and horses in the corral turned their heads to stare as he passed by. No doubt there were men behind watching too."

And Syd still had the happy knack of sketching a gallery of colourful characters, even minor ones, with a few well-chosen words. Thus of a town marshal: "Even if he did have a wave in his hair and his guns had pearl handles, they still had real bullets in them." And "The storekeeper gave a weak smile. He was called the Pope because he wore a stiff collar and refused to open his shop on Sundays."

The arch-villain was a greedy and self-seeking town boss, as well as a fanatical ex-Confederate. Wheelchair-bound, he charged at the finale with a wild Rebel yell and a cavalry sword of good Southern steel extended before him. "This time, Savage, you're a dead man!"

Another Savage title, A Man Called Savage -- the first -- will be reissued in a Linford large-print edition this (northern) summer. The latest (last?) BHW is scheduled for May and is also a Savage story -- Savage Rides West.

Unmarried, Syd lived at the same address, 27 Borough Road, Kingston-on-Thames, for more than forty years. Like Steve Holland, I can still remember it from the '60s on editorial correspondence and the cover sheets to his neatly typed, always tidy manuscripts. Last May, however, he moved to Telford, Shropshire. Diagnosed with terminal cancer, he was admitted to a hospice and died just a few weeks after his 86th birthday.
-- Keith Chapman

Literary researcher STEVE HOLLAND holds a special regard for Sydney J. Bounds. He explains why in this personal Appreciation:

What can I say about Syd? He was a real gentleman and one of the first authors I ever contacted, way back in 1979 when I was still at school. I had to do a project for one of our classes, a kind of General Studies class, where we could choose any subject at all. I chose British SF magazines, because I'd then recently become interested in them.

Through people like Phil Harbottle and Mike Ashley, I was able to contact some of the folks involved in the SF mags of the 1940s, one of whom was Syd. Later, when I had the crazy notion of putting together a small mag, Syd contributed a story. My project came to nothing, but I did subsequently publish one of Syd's stories in a souvenir booklet produced for the first Paperback & Pulp Bookfair.

Syd attended all the book fairs and turned out to be as friendly and generous in person as he was in correspondence. We talked about his long career as a writer, usually about his SF stories, or the stories that had appeared in annuals, or maybe the comic strips he'd penned -- whatever I happened to be researching at the time.

Because Syd was a professional, he could turn his hand to any genre and succeed. I don't mean to imply that he was a hack who would simply go where the money was being offered, although all professionals are forced to do that to a degree. He didn't have the hack mentality. He wouldn't just rehash some old idea dressed up as something new. . .he always tried to bring something new to everything he wrote that could often turn a stock situation on its head. He was also a very good writer of twist-in-the-tail short stories. Unlike the true "hack writer", Syd wouldn't short-change his readers.

Perhaps that has something to do with the fact that Syd enjoyed meeting and talking to people he knew would be reading his stories. From his early days in science fiction fandom in the 1930s to his final years in what is now the 21st century, Syd was regularly face-to-face with his audience. Perhaps that's what made him want to put in that little bit extra and take just a little more care with his writing than some of his contemporaries.

Writing is what he did and he was very pleased to be back in the saddle with his Black Horse Westerns. At the age of 79 he took on what was initially a five-book deal. Towards the end, he would say he was thinking about retiring . . . but then he'd write another book, and another, and another. . . . By the end he had written over a dozen new novels in half as many years, and not one of them shows any lessening of his ability to tell a damn good story.

Farewell, Syd.

(Published by Robert Hale Ltd, London)
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Ten new titles are issued every month as BHWs -- tough, traditional or, sometimes, off-trail. The brand caters for all tastes.

Black Horse Westerns can be requested at public libraries, ordered at bookstores, and bought online through the publisher's website,, or retailers including Blackwells, Amazon UK, WH Smith and VinersUK Books.

Trade inquiries to: Combined Book Services,
Units I/K, Paddock Wood Distribution Centre,
Paddock Wood, Tonbridge, Kent TN12 6UU.
Tel: (+44) 01892 837 171 Fax: (+44) 01892 837 272

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