March – May 2010


December 2009
Ross Morton
Faith and a Fast Gun
Sex and Violence
Gold robbery mystery

September 2009
Steve Hayes
BHE Books
Paul Lederer
Accurate words

June 2009
Jack Martin
Series Heroes
Riding the Range

March 2009
Blast to Oblivion
Tyler Hatch and Twins
Night Herding
Walt Masterson

December 2008
All Guns Blazing
Jim Bowden & Co.
Revolver Conversions

September 2008
Western Noir
Power of the Premise
West on Wheels

June 2008
Plot or Not Debate
Jack Giles
Whitney Revolver

March 2008
Walt Masterson
Plotters and Pantsers
More Horse Talk

December 2007
Peace at Any Price
Dan Claymaker
Horse Sense

September 2007
Artist Michael Thomas
Judging by Covers
The Schofield Revolver

June 2007
David Whitehead
Realistic Ballistics
Plot Twists

March 2007
Crime/western fiction
The Walker Colt
Sydney J. Bounds

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


A Tough Act to Follow    Hoofprints
Justice and the Western
As Frederic Remington Saw It   New Black Horse Westerns

Visits to this quarterly online magazine result from interest in or curiosity about the Black Horse Western novels published by Robert Hale Ltd of London. The ezine's aim is to expand on the titles, blurbs and covers found at The Extra offers news and comments from readers and authors about BHWs and westerns at large.

One author sent us this pithy feedback on our December-February issue:

"What is there to say? Once again a top-notch effort and you hit quite a few nails very accurately – right on the noggins. Good, absorbing articles that say something: good or bad, according to whoever reads them, but there's meat there, mate, and always a pleasure to read. No bullshitting, I sat down at the computer to have a quick look at the BH Extra and then push along with chapter 5 of my work in progress. Hey! I'm still here – an hour later and haven't even noticed the time passing."

Strangely, the Extra attracts five or six times more visitors from the United States than from Great Britain. The core subject matter is the Hale books, and in the US they have only patchy distribution, partly explained perhaps by the publisher's long-held conviction, notably shared by a prominent literary agent in the field, that America is a closed shop to "British" westerns. This is regardless of the research which goes into the work done by the better writers, several of whom are Americans or resident other than in Britain!

Quote from London: "So far as the USA is concerned we find the only market is large print which originated in this country. Westerns written by non-Americans are only too obvious, I am afraid, to Americans and consequently we find American publishers do not look very kindly on products from elsewhere."

And the Hale marketing director told one BHW author way back in 1992:

"As you may know, this light fiction series in hardback is sold exclusively in to the public library system and not through the retail trade, where the paperback rules supreme. In recent years, the level of public money available for book purchasing has been severely reduced as a direct consequence of inflation and the recession. So bad are things that we are struggling to keep the series alive. I hasten to add that this is not through any lack of demand, but merely through lack of money available for book purchases for public libraries."

We have seen history do more than repeat itself. Last year, with the fear of an allegedly picky library market accepting only the tamest of westerns, it was decided to test the waters for original paperback westerns. So far, two Black Horse Extra Books have been published on a "print on demand" basis, supplementing their author's Hale titles. Similarly, a group of other BHW writers and supporters have produced successfully two anthologies of western short stories, the latest being A Fistful of Legends.

All  these books have been welcomed by Americans who are thoroughly knowledgeable about the western genre. One of the articles in this Extra, "Justice and the Western", contains reviews from Texas and California of a paperback BHE Book written by an author who was born in Britain and now lives in New Zealand. The blanket claim that Americans won't read westerns not written by Americans has clearly been challenged and found wanting. We urge others, please, to place orders for the reviewed book, which retails in the US for less than an imported Hale BHW.

Elsewhere in this Extra, Gary Dobbs (aka Jack Martin) tells us about a follow-up to the big sales success last year of his debut BHW, while Paddy Gallagher (aka Greg Mitchell) comments on paintings by Old West artist Frederic Remington (1861-1909). 

Your comments and western news are always welcome at

FREE excerpt here

Jack Martin roped for fresh interview


Arkansas Smith: the name was legend. Once he had been a Texas Ranger, but now he was something else entirely. Some said he was an outlaw, a killer of men and a fast draw. Others claimed he was a kind of special lawman, dispensing frontier justice across the West and bringing law to the lawless.
   Arkansas Smith arrived in Red Rock looking for those who shot and left his friend for dead. He vowed to leave no stone unturned in his quest to bring the gunmen to justice, and soon those who went against him had to face the legendary fast draw that helped tame the West.
Back cover
Arkansas Smith

UNDER his pen-name Jack Martin, Gary Dobbs produced in 2009 the fastest-selling Black Horse Western ever. The Hale-published fiction line, established in its present form in 1986, had previously been marketed actively only to British and Commonwealth public lending libraries. Gary's runaway success was achieved by way of online, retail, non-library sales.

The performance was outstanding and managed largely on the Net via Gary's hugely popular blog, The Tainted Archive. Gary quickly realized, as the sales of his debut novel totted up, that it was going to be a hard act to follow – a feeling with which he had possibly been familiar before only in his blossoming stage and television career as an actor.

He said, "After The Tarnished Star I wanted to try a new kind of character, one that would develop over a series of stories."

Black Horse Extra, of which Gary is a committed supporter, was kindly given the chance to grill him – in a polite way, naturally – on his intentions. We began by asking if his new hero, Arkansas Smith, had a literary tradition. We knew that might sound a mite pompous to some ears, but we wanted to know if Gary had in mind other characters in western fiction and movies with whom Ark shared traits.

‘I thought I was dead and seeing a ghost when I saw you hovering over me. I heard you’d been hanged down in Reno,’ he said. ‘It’s been a long time.’
‘A lot of folk seem to have heard that one,’ Arkansas muttered.

Ian Fleming 
Gary: I suppose the biggest influence on what I am trying to create with Arkansas is that shot of John Wayne's Ethan standing alone, framed in the doorway in The Searchers. That's such a powerful scene and tells us so much about the character of Ethan Edwards. It's that sense of loneliness, of righteous dignity that I'm striving for. Arkansas can be with a crowd of people and yet truly he is still alone.

BHE: We note that while Ark is invested with his own originality, you make no real attempt in the first book to write what might be called a definitive description of him. Presumably this is intentional.

Gary: I read once that Ian Fleming said he kept the description of James Bond vague to allow readers to step into his boots. Well, with Arkansas I wanted to create something of an enigma – a paradox who although the main character in any story  is also standing on the sidelines and can never be a real part of anyone's life other than his own. I hope with each novel to put more meat on the character since much of his history is still a mystery at the end of the first novel. You get little hints and snippets of his past but nothing solid. I can’t give too much away as it will spoil the experience for the reader, but by the end of the book it is evident from the type of character Ark is that he can be placed quite logically anywhere in the West.

BHE: It seems then that Ark will be a character who grows.

Gary: Yes. The thing with a series character is it gives more scope to develop certain aspects over a series of stories. You can plant the seeds of future stories as you go along and create anticipation with the reader.


‘Fifteen years a Ranger can give a man a case of wanderlust,’ Arkansas said and offered Will the cup. He had only served six years himself, but all the same their ways were in his blood. He, too, would get that
restless urge if he felt the grass growing beneath his feet.

George G. Gilman

BHE: Most of your followers already know that you like reading about series heroes yourself, but would you like to expand?

Gary: I love series characters. George G. Gilman's Edge is a fave with me and although the BHW books are in a different style to the blood and thunder of the '70s adult westerns, there are some similarities there. I'm always nicking little bits from Terry Harknett [Gilman] in any case. I'm as much a fan of Edge today as I was as a kid. Due to all those years of entertaining me with the Edge books, Terry will be getting a signed copy of each Jack Martin book. That'll teach him! He says he doesn't read westerns, but he had to read Tarnished Star and soon Arkansas will be sitting on "Mr Edge's" shelves, too.

And the Sudden books [by Oliver Strange and Fred Nolan as Frederick H. Christian] were a big influence. They, I suppose, are the closest in theme to what I am trying to create with Arkansas Smith.

BHE: We've discussed the pros and cons of series characters here before, notably last June with BHW authors Jake Douglas, Ben Bridges and Chap O'Keefe, in the debate "Heroes Too Good To Kill Off". One issue raised concerned treading the line between  familiarity and freshness as points of series' appeal. How will this be tackled in the Arkansas Smith stories?

Gary: Of course, even though each story will be fresh, the reader will come to it with some familiarity of the character and know to some extent what to expect. I think the trick is to surprise them – give them more of the same but different and allowing a very real development from book to book. I always feel that with westerns, like other genre fiction,  the reader expects certain elements and would feel cheated without them. The art of it is to take that old cliché and turn it on its head, make it work so that it seems fresh for the duration of the story. Nothing at all is totally new.

I was brought up on a diet of classic westerns and I feel more comfortable telling that sort of story. What I am aiming for is to create something that could have been read or seen up on the screen during the golden age of the genre. Angst is all very well but I want a larger-than-life western adventure and that’s what I hope I’ve delivered with Arkansas Smith.

‘What are you doing?’ Edith asked, fear very much evident in her voice. She was visibly upset, which was to be expected since they had just come across a body-strewn battlefield. Not something a woman should see. Not something anyone should see.

BHE: "Larger than life" takes care of the truly fictional side of your aims, but we know you won't be ignoring reality. Can you tell the readers what your plans are there?

Gary: Over time I’d like to see Ark involved in many of the iconic moments in western history – the Indian wars are just one obvious scenario. Mind you, I’ve got plans for Ark to be in a town called Tombstone on an October night in 1881. I think that particular legend would be a great one to play around with – try and create a story that runs on the sidelines of the actual historic events. The fictional story must enhance the actual events and make perfect sense. That’s the main difference I think between reality and fiction – fiction must make sense while reality often doesn’t.

BHE: Knowing the Hale resistance to Indian wars stories, please fill us in on how that idea will work.

Gary: I have some kind of loose story arc worked out for the Arkansas character. I'm fitting him into an aspect of the Indian wars for the next book. Arkansas' feelings towards the Indians at first will mirror those of Ethan Edwards in The Searchers. They are very, what we would now term racist, but that doesn't make him a bad man. He is of his time – and after the first book readers will understand Ark's hatred of the Indians.  However, through the developing story he will find a dignity in the Indians and grow to respect them. Throughout the books, I intend to have a recurring Indian character who will be introduced in the next book – but there is something mystic about this Indian. I'm not sure who he is, but he's being birthed in my subconscious at the moment. I can feel him there. And he will be introduced in the second Ark book.

BHE: To return, then, to the other iconic moments: what is the story there?

Gary: Another thing that appeals to me with the series character is the possibility of having him meet all these real-life western characters from book to book – people like Wyatt Earp and Calamity Jane – which is why I've kept the time period of the first Ark book very vague. Of course, the danger with this sort of thing is to over-egg the pudding. So it's not like historical folk will be popping up willy-nilly, but when they do it will make perfect sense, I hope. I want Ark's universe to be one that could have existed alongside the real West.

Wyatt Earp

‘I’ve got to go after Lance,’ he said, and bent and pulled the star from the sheriff’s shirt. He pinned it on his own chest and rolled and lit a quirly. ‘Guess this means I’m the law around here. Least for the moment.’

BHE: We can see some careful thought having to go into all this. As you know, authors and publishers of fiction series are required to be quite meticulous when preparing guidelines for series heroes. Even then, inconsistencies and contradictions can pop up in the very best – in the Sherlock Holmes canon, for example.

Gary: I'm working on an Arkansas Smith "bible" at the moment. This is a very useful thing to do with a series character as it gives you a point of reference and helps with continuity. Although each Ark will be standalone, there will be some continuity, and I want to point back to previous books as the series continues. My plans at the moment are to do a standalone western in between each Ark book. So my next will be non-Arkansas but I'm also working on an outline of  the next Arkansas book. I hope to have them both ready towards the end of this year. I'm snowed under with work at the moment and enjoying it.

For years I tried and tried to get something published and now I've got so many irons in the fire. It's great! I've also got a lot of revisions to go through on my historical crime book. This was A Policeman's Lot but is now probably Deadly Echoes. The publisher loved the book but hated the title, you see. I've not got a firm contract yet, but it's close. I've been given a four-page list of revisions and there's some major work there – but I'm excited about this and can't wait until I'm able to announce more. The crime stuff though will be written as by Gary Dobbs to keep it distinct from my Jack Martin work. Westerns though, will always be my first love.

BHE: This interview will be going online very shortly before publication of Arkansas Smith in March. Is there anything more you'd like to add to tempt its readers?

Gary: What can I tell you about the plot of Arkansas Smith? Well, Arkansas is visiting a friend, a man he once rode with as a Texas Ranger. However, he finds his friend wounded and close to death – a pretty run-of-the-mill plot really, but there’s more going on and several flashback scenes fill in detail to allow the reader to get closer to the real Ark. For instance, one flashback deals with Arkansas’ birth on a battlefield during an Indian attack....

BHE: Forget "run-of-the-mill"! That sounds full of human interest and punch and a receptive western reader's mind will surely run on. We were going to say good luck with the series, Gary, but on past record, you'll need no such help to reach an enthusiastic audience. Thank you for sparing these moments from your busy schedule.


Tale of relationships.
Impressions of a diverting kind


The author name M. M. Rowan makes an unexpected return to the BHW list in April. Between the Winds is understood to be the first western with the Rowan byline since 1991. The earliest, No Long Farewell, appeared in 1985. It was followed by Beyond the High Mesas (1986), Absarokas (1989), The Powder River Raid (1988) and Singing Wind Rise (1991). Fellow author David Whitehead told Hoofprints in answer to an inquiry, "I was very surprised to hear M. M. Rowan has a new BHW, especially after so many years. I'll watch out for it with interest! Unfortunately I don't have any more information on her than what appeared in Twentieth Century Western Writers. I did have some personal correspondence with her but I cleared all that out years ago. A charming educator from Glasgow, Marie Rowan's writing frequently explored the relationships between ordinary pioneer stock, and her plots were distinguished by unexpected twists and a largely unglamorous view of the West. On average, Rowan took between 12 and 15 months to write a book, but in 1990 confided to me that she hoped to write faster in future. After Singing Wind Rise, however, she vanished from the scene altogether." From its blurb, the new book runs true to Rowan form. It begins: "Kaid McEntyre hates his father with a vengeance and blames him for the life of drudgery the whole family has endured. Nevertheless, when his father is beaten half to death in Flat-Stone Creek, Kaid decides that he deserves some kind of justice...."

Paramount Pictures has acquired Chad St John’s action adventure "spec" screenplay The Further Adventures of Doc Holliday. St John is currently one of the hottest screenwriters in Hollywood and had two screenplays on the 2009 "Black List", a listing of the best unproduced screenplays in Hollywood. He has also developed screenplays for the film adaptation of the Ronin and Sergeant Rock comic books. Paramount and producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura were keeping the details of the Doc Holliday project tightly under wraps. Showbiz paper Variety described it “a history-based action adventure tale in the vein of Pirates of the Caribbean. Doc Holliday, best remembered for his friendship with Wyatt Earp and the Gunfight at the OK Corral, has featured in many big screen feature films, including Howard Hughes’ 1943 film The Outlaw and John Ford’s 1946 classic My Darling Clementine. He was portrayed by Val Kilmer in Tombstone (1993) and Dennis Quaid in Wyatt Earp (1994).

Doc rides again.

Hitting the right note.
Looking for music to read (or write) westerns by? Peter Joelson, of Audiophile Audition, recommends a Membran CD release, Great Western Themes. The track list is: The Big Country, High Noon, Bonanza, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, The Magnificent Seven, Once Upon a Time in the West, Blazing Saddles, For a Few Dollars More, A Fistful of Dollars, Rawhide, The Green Leaves of Summer and Gunfight at the OK Corral. "Mike Townend is responsible for these excellent arrangements for the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to evoke the sweat, dust and heat of the somewhat out-of-fashion western movie, and the results remain entirely in keeping with the originals. Those expecting music for westerns in the style of Elgar will be sorely disappointed, or considerably relieved." The orchestra is conducted by former New Yorker Carl Davis. "Most notable are the touching cor anglais solos, and the authentic-sounding parts for guitar and percussion which left a smile on my face." The remastered recordings date from the mid-1990s.

Here's more about Arthur Kent, author of the December BHW The Kansas Fast Gun, mentioned in Hoofprints last time. Bibliographer Steve Holland writes: "I've spoken to Arthur on a couple of occasions but not for many years. He was born in Stoke Newington in 1925 and educated at City Literary Institute in London. He worked as the night editor on the Daily Express in the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s, having gained journalistic experience as editorial assistant on the News Chronicle and as a feature writer for the Australian Daily Mirror, which you've already noted. Published his first novel in 1953, written in quiet moments on the news desk. It was a gangster thriller which he sold to Curtis Warren who published it under one of their house names. He wrote a handful of other titles for Curtis before they went bust and he switched to Panther Books, which is probably where he first came into contact with editor Bill Baker, for whom he was to later write six Sexton Blake yarns. Panther Books published his bestseller The Camp on Blood Island, a novelization of the movie which sold out and went through a number of editions, much to Arthur's displeasure. He had received a flat fee, shared with his co-author Gordon Thomas, and wasn't paid a penny extra when the book became a hit.... I'm rather pleased to see his westerns getting a second outing. Hopefully there will be a royalty or payment of some description."  And for those who have asked about the stunning Sexton Blake cover Hoofprints ran, this was the work of Ferdinando Carcupino, born in Milan in 1923 and well respected in Italy, drawing everything from comics and cartoons to colour covers and glamour pin-ups. He died in 2003.

Bestseller didn't pay.

Cutting remarks.
Keith Hetherington (aka Jake Douglas, Rick Dalmas and others) found much to enjoy in the last BH Extra. "The piece about the truncated text in Faith and a Fast Gun [January] was spot-on. The author [Chap O'Keefe] had a reason for 'spelling it out'. And I might add that these days there's not  always a lot of subtlety with the readers. 'In your face' is necessary to get your point across to some; as an integral part of the story, pointing up the subsequent actions of the character, it's needed! There was not much cut, but it was an important not much. However, the publisher said it all: You can write what you like, but we are equally free to delete what we don't like. You can't argue with that, but I find the morals issue a little out of kilter. Candice Proctor in her article about gratuitous sex and violence summed it up well: if it doesn't do something to move the story along, then scrap it. If it does, leave it alone. I recall working for [TV company] Crawfords when there had been complaints about violence and too many spectacular car crashes. The boss addressed a meeting of writers and said, very reasonably and succinctly, 'Action does not necessarily mean violence. It is something that helps with the story's development, which can be conflict between two characters or, equally, simply a kiss. As long as it's meaningful, tells the viewer something, prepares him for a forthcoming development, perhaps previously unsuspected....' I've always remembered it and tried to apply it in my own work."


Every Saturday, writer Robert Silva contributes a westerns column for AMC TV's movie blogs. One entry has been "And the Hero Rides Off Into the Sunset and Eight Other Western Clichés". Silva wrote, "Westerns have always incorporated traditional elements more than other genres do. But as time's gone on, some characteristics have calcified into clichés. Look no further than Blazing Saddles for a wonderful spoof of all the outworn cowboy hokum." He then listed as his eight clichés besides Riding Off Into the Sunset: Evil Ranchers; Saloon Brawls; Spineless Townspeople; the Evil Sheriff; the Heroic, Mysterious Loner; Savage, Noble, Spineless, Illiterate Injuns; Colour-co-ordinated Villainy ("look for the guy decked out in black") and the Duel to End It All. On the last cliché, Silva commented, "Sergio's Leone's movies went wild with the concept – complete with at least one ten-minute long showdown.... But of all Western clichés here, this is the one that won't go away – and that few Westerns can do without."

Spot the cliché.

Winning storyteller.
Nik Morton (aka BHW writer Ross Morton) reports that his World War II French Resistance story Codename Gaby has won the Book Awards short story competition for 2010. It can be read here. The site says, "The Book Awards have attracted thousands of votes since they were first announced in 2008. These awards are voted for by ordinary readers, not a closed panel, and so are truly open to any author who has a body of satisfied customers willing to support their nomination." Nik's  tale was originally slanted at another competition that required the story to begin with the words "Missed it!" He says, "What was missed and by whom was up to me. I didn’t get placed in the competition and the story gathered dust; but I was drawn back to it frequently, knowing it could be improved. Two years later, a rewritten version has won the Book Awards competition. The point of all this is, never give up on a piece. That original idea just might need to germinate and could later bring you success. That applies to any genre fiction you want to write. As I tell the members of my writers’ circle, the more you write, the better you become at writing. Indeed, we can always improve, no matter how many books we have had published. Keep writing!" Nik has also just edited A Fistful of Legends (Express Westerns), 21 new tales of the Old West from BHW authors and some newcomers. And Nik's second novel about psychic spy Tana Standish, The Tehran Transmission, set in Iran in 1978, is out now.

The US Postal Service announced in Washington that Cowboys of the Silver Screen are among the subjects headlining its 2010 stamp programme. Watch your mail for appearances by William S. Hart, Tom Mix, Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. The stamps go on sale in mid April. "The service honours four extraordinary performers who helped make the American Western a popular form of entertainment. Film stars from the silent era through the singing era are featured on the stamps." The portraits for all four stamps are by artist Robert Rodriguez. The notes on the Hart stamp say, "William S. Hart (1864-1946) brought a powerful presence and serious approach to early westerns. Tall and trim, with acting skills honed by years of experience on the New York stage and in productions across the country, Hart became one of the most popular leading men of the silent film era. In his movies, the actor insisted on authentic depictions of the Old West and its people, from their clothes to their lifestyles and complex personalities. He frequently played the stalwart, tough-as-nails cowboy, and his favourite horse was a brown and white pinto named Fritz."

Never licked yet.

A blogging hit.
At the end of January Gary Dobbs (aka Jack Martin) ran a BHW themed weekend at his Tainted Archive blog with contributions from Hale publicist Nikki Edwards and authors Lance Howard, Clay More, Ross Morton, I. J. Parnham, Chuck Tyrell and David Whitehead. A standout feature was a complete Blackbow comic strip, resurrected from the 1967 annual of Britain's legendary Eagle, published when Gary was just two years old! The scriptwriter was Keith Chapman, at the time of the item's origin in the early years of a professional writing and editing career that had begun in his teens. Today Keith is best known as BHW author Chap O'Keefe. For an earlier themed weekend, based around the Saint books, films and TV series, Keith had supplied a vintage Saint comic script. Gary said, "The Archive's cooking now.... The most hit upon section of the Saint weekend was the digital publishing debut of the long-lost comic strip. It has been downloaded over a hundred times and still receives readers week after week." Gary's bumper BHW weekend can also still be visited and consists of more than a hundred posts, comprising new and recycled material plus reviews of recent BHWs that have appeared elsewhere online, such as in Steve Myall's Western Fiction Review and Evan Lewis's Davy Crockett's Almanack.

Paddy Gallagher (aka Greg Mitchell) follows up his article in the last BHE about Frank Gardiner: "The other day I read of a new book claiming that Thunderbolt (real name Fred Ward), probably Australia's most popular bushranger, was not killed by Constable Walker at Kentucky Creek in 1870. It is now claimed the man positively identified and photographed was not Fred but his uncle, and the police knew they had the wrong man but covered up the deception. The story gets wilder. It was claimed the real Thunderbolt went to America and teamed up with Frank Gardiner. They would have made a hell of a team but, as far as is known, Gardiner lived a respectable life in San Francisco and stayed on the straight and narrow. The story reads like fiction but it isn't the first claim that Thunderbolt really escaped. People don't like letting go of folk heroes or popular villains.When I was a kid, there were many ancient characters about who were claimed to be Dan Kelly, youngest brother of Ned. It now seems Thunderbolt has joined Jesse James and Butch Cassidy and even Elvis in the Never Really Dead Club."

Undying fame.

Westerns for the world.
Paddy Gallagher also tells us, "I was surprised to see Flipkart, an online Indian bookseller, selling BHW, Linford and Dales editions of some of my books. They were advertised as imported editions, so weren't pirated. I knew there was a small interest in westerns in India. I once saw a very bizarre western made in that country but have no idea of the size of the market. Given India's huge population, even a tiny percentage of western readers would probably account for the entire output of all three companies." With rights being held on a world basis, Paddy thinks the small output of BHWs can barely be meeting any global commitment. "It would be interesting to see just which countries buy these books and in what numbers. The Japanese are very fond of cowboy movies and have large English-language sections in their bookstores. It could be they are taking a few as well." Black Horse Extra draws visitors in unexpectedly large numbers from across the world – from China and Russia to the Philippines and Indonesia – or, as Paddy remarks, in places where the everyday language is not English. "Is the western genre better established than we thought? It would be interesting to know how many countries our work reaches, and whether our efforts are reaching English speakers among the general public or just going to military bases and the like. Maybe some of the readers in unusual places would like to comment." Emails from any location are always welcome at .


BHW authors have long been told there's no place for their books in the United States. But times are a-changing in the heartland. The City of Waverly, Iowa (motto "Simply the Best"), has a fine public library with a newsletter called Check It Out! It recently ran a list under the heading: "If You Like Westerns...Try These Authors". The first column of the list began, predictably enough, with some classic names: Grey, Zane; L'Amour, Louis; Brand, Max; Raine, William McLeod. Then in the fifth position came a BHW author, O'Keefe, Chap. A quick check of the library's online catalogue showed that the library's holdings were all of the Dales large-print editions and included favourites like Sons and Gunslicks, Ghost Town Belles, Frontier Brides and Ride the Wild Country. Also featuring on the library's list were two more BHW authors, Lance Howard and Ian Parnham. Why the large-print bridgehead in the US cannot be used as a means to introduce original, standard-print, BHW editions of books by writers with international followings continues to mystify us. No audience? Visitor statistics show this website attracts six times more readers from the US than from the UK.

Iowa offers the best.

Renée Zellweger
Chap O'Keefe collects critics' verdicts

Crazy Bob McGill played Peeping Tom at Devil's Lake and his old heart was pierced. The young woman Sheriff Dan Vickers had brought to share the isolation of his fishing retreat was McGill's sweet daughter, Liberty. What McGill didn't learn was that Liberty had been blackmailed. Her self-sacrifice was to preserve the dubious security of marriage to spineless rancher Tom Tolliver, caught changing a cattle brand with a running-iron.
     Meanwhile, Joshua Dillard, ex-Pinkerton agent and range detective, came to Montana working undercover for Vickers' boss, cattle baron Barnaby Lant. He quickly clashed with Vickers'  deputies, supposed allies, and Vickers' wife Sophie, on her own vengeance trail.
    Then lynching and gunplay muddied the picture. Could Joshua bring justice to the range and save Liberty?

Back cover
Liberty and a Law Badge

IT was a special pleasure to watch the DVD of the 2008 western movie Appaloosa, based on the novel by Robert B. Parker. The film had been reviewed less than flatteringly in several quarters, so my expectations hadn't been high. One review I re-read after viewing the production was at DVD Verdict, a website which uses a mock courtroom setup to interesting effect.

"Judge" Dan Mancini found Appaloosa unsatisfying – "guilty as charged". In the course of doing so, he  made some sweeping, near patronizing comments about the western genre.

"With neither acting nor directing experience in westerns," Mancini said, "Ed Harris makes a noble effort with Appaloosa but ultimately fails to deliver a story that congeals satisfactorily around its genre framework. The problem is that Harris over-indulges his thespian love for nuanced characterizations when a little directorial restraint in the name of coherent, to-the-point storytelling would have better served his movie. Subtlety and nuance are wonderful aspirations when making art; they can also be disastrous when forced to wrestle against the dictates of genre."

Now Appaloosa is a story I would consider strongly character-driven. Was Mancini trying to tell us westerns must always "congeal" around simplistic action and to venture further is pretentious? I took from his statement I've quoted and what followed that he was. I believe he completely misread the character of Allison French, played by Renée Zellweger: "...oddly incongruous performance ... her behaviour is cartoonishly craven, slutty and vile. The story would work better if we were allowed to hate her as a villain...."

Well, it wouldn't have worked better for me, or possibly anyone who was following the story's finer points. The widow Allison's agenda was survival – no small task for a lone woman on a largely unsympathetic 19th century frontier. In pursuit of this, she aligned herself with the man she thought best able at any one point to continue protecting her into an uncertain future.

Visitors to the DVD Verdict website were asked: "Did we give Appaloosa a fair trial?" Less than 30% said yes, so it seems the "jury" of public opinion wasn't in agreement with Mancini.

Liberty knew she’d been on a slide to hell just weeks after she’d married Tom Tolliver, but she’d decided it took a woman considerable less pride than she possessed to renounce her vows and quit. More courage, too.

But like the romance, the western currently remains a much-maligned genre, even by publishers and authors who surely stand to lose every time they trot out their semi-apologetic assessments of their own offerings in it.

I was appalled late last year when it was discovered a published BHW writer – a fairly recent entrant to the stable but busy under several pen-names in the encouraged fashion – was recommending the genre at his website because its stories were of "the simple life". He presented, too, a Formula for writing BHWs, to which he attached his real name and which he also called "fiction writing for dummies". The dummies were presumably the people who aspired to writing BHWs and who would succeed once they'd adopted his by-the-numbers "recipe". To me, this sounded insulting to both the writers and, by implication, the readers for whom the books would be written.

I don't feel persuaded to read the author's books, although they are usually given some of the more attractive Hale covers and I suspect they are of a kind that would be regarded as appropriate fare for western fans by Judge Mancini.

In itself,  "formulaic" doesn't have to be a term of contempt. Every game has to be played to rules. In the decade after World War II, the writer of an advice manual for authors could say allegorically, "Tennis is played on a court of fixed size, with various squares and a net. Possibly some tennis players possess so much originality that they feel a sense of claustrophobia on such a court. Well, they can set up rules of their own, or play without rules. The crowd will continue to watch the game on the familiar court."

But I know the end of the story market to which that writing instructor was alluding has long since disappeared. Today the diminishing, discriminating crowd that will still make time for reading fiction when so much else beckons expects something extra.

I took scant comfort from the BHW novelist's intention to move on to "better" things. "Now for the good news," he said. "After writing four crime novels and having each of them kicked back, I finally got one accepted! This is important for a number of reasons: first off, crime pays better than cowboys and Indians but the main thing is with the crime I'll have my own name on the cover. Oh, one's ego explodes! ... ain't it fun?"

Given his attitude on westerns, his tongue-in-cheek (?) glee still grated.

More comfort was found in that although the writer claimed a background in journalism, he gave incorrect names for all three of the companies that have published his westerns. That, I felt, spoke volumes about his credentials.


“Sheriff won’t like a Peeping Tom, you ol’ has-been,” a voice graveled.
That was the only real warning he was given before a gun barrel cracked him across the back of the neck. He cried out in pain as he fell, his body sliding, bumpety-bump, down the log wall to slump in a heap at the bottom. Then the gun iron was applied again, harder this time.

Michael Thomas

James Reasoner

Laurie Powers
Meanwhile, in other quarters, I'm happy to say it has been possible to continue the effort to bring out "Western Fiction for Today's Readers". Just published as the second Black Horse Extra Books title is Liberty and a Law Badge.

Like Misfit Lil Cheats the Hangrope, this is another paperback original. The intention with BHE Books is that they will be published in their convenient pocket-book format to supplement the hardback books published by Robert Hale Ltd for the British & Commonwealth public-library market. And they will offer "extra" in several ways.

For example, with Liberty and a Law Badge we have been able to use cover artwork commissioned for the story, whereas Hale and other western publishers are invariably reduced to choosing their books' illustrations from agency libraries of generic art showing men, guns, horses and landscapes. Sometimes the match works; sometimes it annoyingly doesn't.

Linford and BHW artist Michael Thomas has given us a brilliant cover picture for Liberty, enhanced by what has been applauded as the attractive BHE Books design. "A lovely-looking book" is a typical comment. Michael's illustration captures the characters from the novel graphically. The body language in the young woman's eloquent hands and the threatening sheriff's arrogant stance are most expressive.

Gratifyingly, reviews of the novel have also been approving. Two that were highly appreciated came from James Reasoner and Laurie Powers. Both these critics know their stuff when it comes to traditional westerns. James is a respected veteran in western novel-writing and a life-long follower of pulp fiction. Laurie is the grand-daughter of pulp writer Paul S. Powers, who wrote for Wild West Weekly and other now-famed pulps, often under the pen-name Ward M. Stevens.

At Rough Edges, James wrote: "Liberty and a Law Badge [is] another adventure of range detective Joshua Dillard, a former Pinkerton operative with tragedy in his past that drives him to fight outlaws of all stripes.

"[It] is the first Chap O’Keefe novel I’ve read, but it certainly won’t be the last. As the book opens, Dillard is on his way to his latest assignment, stopping a range war in Montana and finding out who has been rustling cattle from his employer’s ranch. Pretty standard stuff, you say? Well, maybe at first glance, but not by the time O'Keefe gets through throwing twist after twist into the complex plot.

"The Liberty of the title is actually a young woman who has been blackmailed into a sordid affair with a crooked sheriff, who’s the brother-in-law of the cattle baron who hired Dillard, who owns the cattle that Liberty’s husband is accused of stealing. Got that? Then there’s the cattle baron’s sister, who’s married to the crooked sheriff, and she goes on a rampage when she finds out about her husband’s adulterous affair with Liberty (said affair really being nothing more than a series of rapes). Add in a brutal deputy with an agenda of his own, and there’s a whole lot for Dillard to untangle before he can straighten everything out. Naturally, that untangling involves a number of fistfights and shootouts.

"This book is a lot of fun, pulpish but with a sharp, contemporary edge. The dark, complex plot, the emotional angst, and the gritty storytelling remind me very much of many westerns published in the fifties by Gold Medal, by authors such as Lewis B. Patten, Dean Owen and William Heuman. The pace is very fast, the action scenes are handled well, and Joshua Dillard is a very likable hero, tough and competent enough to handle just about any situation, despite his occasional self-doubts, but not a superman by any means. I’m ready to read more about him right now. . . . If you’re a fan of hardboiled action westerns, I definitely think you’ll enjoy it."

At her Wild West blog, Laurie chose to enlarge upon the more noir-ish elements, taking a very personal slant.

"Ostensibly Liberty and a Law Badge is centered around Joshua Dillard, a disgraced Pinkerton detective hired sight unseen by cattle baron Barnaby Lant to investigate rustling from Lant's Flying L Ranch. But when Dillard arrives in town, he witnesses the beating and dumping of an old man, Crazy Bob McGill. When he starts to investigate the assault, Dillard finds himself in the middle of a wasps' nest of crooked lawmen who are in cahoots with Lant.

"Dillard finds out McGill was beaten because he was witness to a horrifying scene, one that would not play well with law-abiding people. While playing Peeping Tom at Devil's Lake, McGill had discovered Sheriff Vickers, also known as 'Dirty Dan', forcing a young woman, Liberty, to have sex with him. What made it even more horrible is that Liberty is McGill's daughter, a sweet young woman who had been blackmailed to preserve her husband, spineless rancher Tom Tolliver who had been caught changing a cattle brand with a running-iron. The prolonged kidnap and rape of Liberty, not only by Vickers but by others who join him later, is at the centerpiece of this book.

"Like many people, I've never been comfortable reading scenes where sexual violence is inflicted on women, and I've been known to walk out of theatres during rape scenes. This may partly be due to the fact that I have two close friends who have been raped by strangers. I do not take the portrayal of rape in books or movies lightly, especially when the scenes are gratuitous or voyeuristic. So you can imagine how uncomfortable I felt when as I continued to read Liberty and a Law Badge, I realized that this problem between Liberty and Sheriff Vickers wasn't going to go away anytime soon.

"But what kept me going was O'Keefe's sensitive approach to the scenes and his interweaving of the oppressive lives that women had to lead in the 19th century into the book. It also helps that Dillard's focus shifts instantly from dealing with the job that he was hired to do – to investigate cattle rustling – to finding a way to rescue Liberty from her plight in the cabin at Devil's Lake. Believe me, there would have been men in the real 19th century west who would have shrugged off Vickers' dehumanization of Liberty as just being the way of the world. Dillard's determination to help Liberty as his number one priority endeared him to me forever.

"It's an action-driven novel and a page-turner that will keep you going until the very end. And the end is worth all of the discomfort you feel when reading about Liberty's helplessness: the ending is chaotic, surprising and actually pretty funny. Or maybe that's just my take on it because I love it when women who have been victimized come back and get theirs. Revenge can be so sweet."


Gallingly, Joshua saw they were beaten. Despite what he’d said about death being preferable to facing the abuse of Lant’s bully-boys, he was obliged for the woman’s sake to reconsider. Thus far, he’d failed her.
Where she had life, maybe she would have hope. He was forced to make a decision that minutes before would have seemed to go against all sense.

Bass Reeves
Another reviewer with his finger firmly on the pulse of the western and modern fiction scenes is Gary Dobbs, aka Jack Martin. Gary not only reviewed the book fulsomely at his Tainted Archive, but commented at Laurie's Wild West, "This is an excellent book, but then we wouldn't expect otherwise from Keith/Chap. I'd love to see this one do well and if there's any justice it will."

Among the other "extras" that come with the BH Extra Books initiative is a freer hand for the writer. Gary, in fact, claimed at his Archive in a 2009 year-end wrap-up that the series had been launched to give me, as Chap O'Keefe, "greater creative freedom". I would modify this to say an eventual objective is to restore the freedom BH Western writers enjoyed for years.

The other day I read an entertaining John Dyson BHW published in 1996, Blood Brothers. It was loosely based on the train-robbing Dalton gang. As the blurb said, Their women were even more wild and wicked. Pearl Starr became as profligate as her notorious mother Belle. Her lover, the beautiful lesbian Eugenia Moore, used her wiles to seek the information the gang needed and then joined the boys on their raids.

The book featured under-age sex, inter-racial sex, swipes at institutional religion and even some CP play when Eugenia/Florence Quick seduced a railroad man who was really Marshal Charles Madsen, allowing herself to be forced across his knees, stripped of her pantalets and beaten with a leather belt. "Got a thing about spanking Flo's ass. Poor gal's so sore she can hardly sit down."

Nuns caught a 14-year-old Mary (offspring of a slave father and a Cherokee mother) in a hayloft with a delivery boy and a bottle of rotgut whiskey:

"I can't t'ink whad we're to do wid you," the Irish Mother lectured her. "Ye'll have to say t'irty hail Marys dis time and beg forgiveness for your sins."

"Aw, go piss down your knickers." Mary sent a wet pair of those garments that she was busy washing slapping around the face of the poor nun. "I ain't sayin' no more hail Marys to nobody. I don't believe in all that manure."

Later, black preacher/marshal Bass Reeves (another historical figure) had his way with Mary:

He took his key, and Mary's hand, and went with her up the stairs. As they sank down on to the bed, brown body tight  against black body, Bass sighed.  "I already broke the tenth commandment. I know fornication's  a sin, Lord, but" – he thrust himself deep into her – "it sure is wonderful."

And Mary cried out, clutching him to her, "Gawd! It sho' is."

These are just random selections. There was plenty more in the same vein, far more explicit and blasphemous than anything in Misfit Lil Cheats the Hangrope or Liberty and a Law Badge. So no, I don't think BHE Books are giving anybody greater creative freedom – just reclaiming the best of the pre-PC scope we were once allowed. And, as the reviewers concur, using it wisely to produce powerful, dramatic, character-driven fiction.

– Keith Chapman, whose latest Chap O'Keefe
 westerns in regular paperback are Liberty and
 a Law Badge
and Misfit Lil Cheats the Hangrope.

Greg Mitchell presents an artist's view of the Old West


When a military deserter robs a mail contractor and leaves him to the mercy of Apache raiders in a remote corner of Arizona, the contractor's brother, Luke Adison, vows to track down those responsible. Soon the tables turn, however, and Luke is captured by the deserters.
    Will he manage to escape and avenge his brother or will he learn the secret behind the sinisterly named Murdering Wells?
Back cover
Murdering Wells

IT struck me while looking through some books on Frederic Remington's paintings that while not exactly promoting western novels, an examination of some of the artwork might interest BHE readers and inform today's writers.

Frederic Remington (1861-1909) is world renowned for his depictions of life in the Wild West. Art critics may not always agree on the artistic merits of his work, but the amount of small detail that he put into his paintings and drawings told a lot about the subjects he had selected and their way of life. He spent a considerable time with the Army in the 1880s and 1890s and his  studies of frontier life are fine reflections of that period.

Remington's paintings and sculptures are owned by museums and private collectors throughout the world, with the largest collection located in Ogdensburg at the Frederic Remington Art Museum. The museum says, "Remington is credited as being the primary image maker of the historic west."

After his marriage in 1884 to Eva Caton, his New York college sweetheart, Remington returned to Kansas City with his bride. He then spent two years touring frontier military posts. He rode with the cavalry on several south-western campaigns.

Later, exhibition honours and publication of his illustrations in leading magazines like Harper's Weekly led to numerous assignments that sent him west time and again to seek out subjects of interest to eastern readers. His paintings and drawings ran into thousands. We can do no better than to start with some of cavalry officers.

Readers will see from his depictions of cavalry soldiers that away from the parade ground a certain amount of individuality was allowed among officers in the field.

The first picture is a superb painting of a Lieutenant S. C. Robertson, in charge of Crow scouts. He was a West Point man originally but has adapted to the ways of the frontier. His top half is soldier and his lower half is cowboy. He wears chaps, a cowboy-style gunbelt and a quirt dangles from his right wrist. It is doubtful that the army ever issued the ivory-handled revolver he wears and the weapon would have been privately owned. In most 19th century armies, officers could supply their own revolvers as long as they took government ammunition.

The lariat attached to the pommel of his saddle has not been secured in the proper military style and actually could be dangerous as long coils of limp rope have often ensnared a rider's foot when things went wrong. He is using a double-rein, curb bit that was not military issue at that time. His horse is a nice type but might be a comparative newcomer to the frontier because it has a bob tail and its mane appears to be hogged. Westerners normally did not deprive their horses of nature's defences against insects and weather.

The second mounted officer is more conventional. The man's hat probably is not military issue. Remington often painted his soldiers wearing limp, badly made wool-felt hats but this soldier could be sporting a fur-felt Stetson. He is not wearing the usual cavalry boots but officers were free to supply their own boots. His horse is a good type fitted out with  the standard cavalry equipment with a single-rein curb bit.

When  the picture is closely examined it can be seen that the rider is actually too far back on the horse. This could be an artist's error or the depiction could be true to life. We cannot see the type of saddle though it is most likely a McClellan or a Whitman and  might have been  privately acquired and modified. Certainly the British army officers' saddles of the same era, frequently placed the rider too far back. There was a theory around that time that saddles should be further back to take some of the weight off the shoulders. Unfortunately this resulted in a reduction of the horse's weight-carrying ability and gave the rider a more uncomfortable ride. So this could be an artist's error or it could be true to life but it certainly brings a touch of reality to the picture.

Frederic Remington


This lieutenant of the 10th Cavalry is fairly conventional except that he is using a cowboy-style gunbelt.. It should be noted that if swords were still carried they would have been attached to the saddle so the Civil War sword belt and awkward military holster were no longer necessary.

The looped cartridge belt or "prairie belt" as some soldiers called it, allowed quicker access to ammunition, made it more secure and usually held more cartridges than the older-type pouches. The officer's boots are standard cavalry issue as are the spurs that he wears low on his heels.

This officer is a good example of the wide variety of clothing and equipment used. His hat is military issue as are his coat and trousers but the boots and their long-necked spurs look to be civilian. Again he wears a civilian gunbelt but it is also adorned with a sheath knife in a fringed, Indian-made sheath. It looks as though the knife has been moved to a more prominent place for the sake of the painting as it would be a nuisance to a rider in the position shown. An unknown example of native American craft appears to be hanging from the back of his belt but it is unlikely to be another knife sheath.

While officers wore their six-shooters in civilian holsters, the ordinary troopers did not. They still wore their revolvers butt forward on the right hip. This manner of wearing the revolver made it readily accessible to either hand, and that was useful for a mounted man who might need to use a revolver, sabre or carbine while controlling an excited horse.

It has been said that every picture is worth a thousand words and if this is an exaggeration in some cases, Remington could tell a good story by his art and even today western writers might draw some inspiration from it.

– Paddy Gallagher, who writes his BHWs as Greg Mitchell. His
 new book Murdering Wells will be published in April.



Published by Robert Hale Ltd in February, March and April

Two Gun Marshal
John Saunders  0 7090 8793 9
Guns of Ponderosa
Chuck Tyrell
0 7090 8857 8
The Judas Metal
Gillian F. Taylor
0 7090 8858 5
The Legend of Tornado Tess
Terrell L. Bowers
0 7090 8865 3
The Tombstone Vendetta
Ralph Hayes
0 7090 8866 0
Confederate Paydirt
Robert Anderson
0 7090 8867 7
Wild Meddow
Caleb Rand
0 7090 8875 2
A Man Named Shonto
Ryan Bodie
0 7090 8839 4
The Second Coffeyville Bank Raid
Matt Laidlaw
0 7090 8874 5
Brazos Fugitive
Tyler Hatch
0 7090 8880 6
Rough Justice
Jackson Davis
0 7090 8881 3
The Devil's Gold
M. Duggan
0 7090 8882 0
Kincaid and the Barton Gang
Alan Irwin
0 7090 8888 2
Arkansas Smith
Jack Martin
0 7090 8889 9
Gone to Texas
J. D. Ryder
0 7090 8877 6
Between the Winds
M. M. Rowan
0 7090 8887 5
Unsigned Avenger
John Davage
0 7090 8894 3
Murdering Wells
Greg Mitchell
0 7090 8895 0
Wind Rider
Thomas McNulty
0 7090 8911 7
Doc Dryden, Gunslinger
Ted Rushgrove
0 7090 8912 4
By the Gun They Died
Matt James
0 7090 8913 1

Liberty and a Law Badge
Chap O'Keefe
978 1 4452 3857 9

Black Horse Westerns can be requested at public libraries or ordered at bookstores. They can be bought online from the publisher at, or from other retailers including  Amazon, Amazon UK, WH Smith, Blackwells and The Book Depository ("free delivery worldwide").

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

US distributors: Independent Publishers Group,
814 N. Franklin St. Chicago, IL 60610
Tel: 312-337-0747 Fax: 312-337-1807
Customer service:
Trade sales: Jeff Palicki
Special sales: Richard T. Williams
Home page:

For Australian Trade Sales, contact DLS Distribution Services,
For Australian & New Zealand Library Sales, contact DLS Library Services,
DLS Australia Pty Ltd, 12 Phoenix Court, Braeside, 3195, Australia.
Ph: (+61) 3 9587 5044  Fax: (+61) 3 9587 5088

"From the very beginning this book moves at speed and then races along like a runaway train heading for a collision and destruction. As Chap O’Keefe introduces more and more characters, so the plot deepens through twists and turns, and all sides are brought together for a final, exciting clash of wits, guns and knives.

"Chap O’Keefe’s writing style is very readable and soon sucks you into the plot making this book very difficult to put down. There are plenty of strong male characters and a couple of memorable women, namely Liberty and Sophie, who take two of the leading roles in this tale. And if it’s action you want, this story is brimming with it."

– Western Fiction Review

In stock now at ($15.16) and (£8.56) with free Super Saver delivery

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