Saturday, March 29, 2014

The McMasters Series by Lee Morgan

Special thanks to James Reasoner for contributing to this post.

This short-lived but great series premiered in 1995, still another in a long line of Adult Western books from Jove. The McMasters series lasted six books. Credited to Lee Morgan, several authors worked on the series, with the first one written by Giles Tippette. This series should have lasted much longer than six books. The cover artwork was cool and the stories were all solid, action-packed tales. Here’s a rundown on all six books.

McMasters # 1: Introducing Boyd McMasters, who goes on a vengeance spree after his wife is murdered. The traditional vengeance plot is handled well by Tippette and the pacing is solid. Boyd’s brother helps him get situated with the Cattleman’s Protective Association, that effectively puts him on the trail of outlaws. Armed with a custom built .70 caliber rifle, McMasters is a force to be reckoned with. I admit it was that custom rifle that hooked me. And McMasters has an edge.

McMasters # 2, Silver Creek Showdown: Written by James Reasoner, this one easily hooked me with its strong characterization and action. After Silver Creek Showdown I was hooked and happy about it. Everything was clicking here – great entertainment at every level. McMasters was officially added to my list of series westerns “to buy.” Silver Creek Showdown also sports one of the best covers (by “M. Kane.”) even if that Colt Single-action revolver is a blatant phallic symbol. I’m cool with that, and the babe is hot. McMasters is relaxing in the town of Silver Creek, Texas, when he gets an inkling about some missing cattle connected to Silver Creek’s largest ranch, the JF, and suddenly McMasters becomes a target. Big mistake considering he has that .70 caliber rifle. James Reasoner always delivers and Silver Creek Showdown has everything that you’ll want from a western paperback.

McMasters # 3, Plunder Valley: From this point on the covers, which I do enjoy, veer toward the type of artwork commonly associated with Harlequin Romance novels. Now that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I’m wondering if that confused potential western fans and contributed to sluggish sales? Just speculation. McMasters is after Curly and Frank Dobbs, two bad-ass brothers who broke out of jail and killed a deputy. “bullet Boyd” McMasters is hot on their trail, and he’s hot for Sam, the local beauty. Traditional but fun, nothing here would have prevented me from buying additional titles in the series, and so I did.
McMasters # 4, Big .70: The fourth in the series was equally as entertaining as the preceding books; nothing spectacular, but on the mark for providing what I expected. Down in Smoke Tree, Arizona, people live in fear of some cattle rustlers, and that’s when Boyd McMasters shows up with his. 70 caliber rifle. McMasters doles out justice the way you expect, and anything less would be a let down.

McMasters # 5, Mexican Standoff: Boyd finds himself down in Rio Grande where a hardworking rancher named Ben Allison is losing cattle to some rustlers. McMasters lends a hand while finding time to dally with Margarita and Guadalupe which makes pages 124 through 130 of particular interest to connoisseurs of Adult Westerns. Rollicking, steadfast entertainment.

McMasters # 6, Violent Sunday: Up in Montana, McMasters is up against a group called “Hell Killers” and the action speeds up quickly. This one hit the racks in April, 1996, and I recall with clarity enjoying it, and then....nothing. I never found another McMasters book again. After googling it I learned that appears to have been the end of Boyd McMasters. His dalliance with the luscious Lydia Crane perhaps the last good tryst he enjoyed before riding off into the sunset.

Thanks to James Reasoner I learned that Giles Tippette wrote the first McMasters book, and Charlie McDade may have written one as well. In a previous post I mentioned the lack of qualified historical resources relating to Adult Westerns. The McMasters series is a good example of that. These books are part of our cultural history. I enjoyed them. I don’t see any reason not to acknowledge something that I enjoyed. Anyone with additional information regarding the authors on this series is free to contact me. Happy Trails!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Brutal Illusion by Stephen Jared

The Brutal Illusion is Stephen Jared’s fourth Home Run. Like his previous novels, the story uses Hollywood as its starting point. Jared is also an actor and his abiding interest and knowledge of Hollywood history is evident in The Brutal Illusion as well as Jack and the Jungle Lion, The Elephants of Shanghai, and The Ten a Week Steale. I recommend all of Stephen’s books for fans of both classic Hollywood films and golden age pulp adventure fiction. The Brutal Illusion is a short novel, highly entertaining, and loaded with mood, history and suspense. Allyson Rockwell is a shapely young woman with a dream, and Hollywood beckons. But Tinsel Town is only part illusion, the rest of it is real, and often quite brutal. Hollywood is brutal, and when she’s on the verge of giving up and leaving Los Angeles when she meets Lenny Carsen, This Carsen fellow is in “management” which might mean he has connections – of the crooked kind. But no matter, Rockwell is soon under contract to Carl Laemmle  Jr., and she starts getting small parts in pictures. Eventually she meets Jimmy Sneed, a young screenwriter. Things start to look up for Rockwell, who has been staying with Carsten. Naturally, Carsten is not all that he seems, and slowly things being to spiral into an entirely different direction. The Brutal Illusion is a drama, and as I read it I realized that it would make a good film. That’s not unusual considering that Jared himself is an actor. All of Jared’ stories would make good films. He knows what makes for an interesting character, his dialogue is spot on, and the pacing is right. I love the historical tidbits that he sprinkled into The Brutal Illusion. Jared is highly imaginative, imminently creative, and always worth reading. I also just realized something that would be really interesting – I’d like to see Jared himself in a film adaptation of one of his books, like Mickey Spillane did with The Girl Hunters. Now that would be really cool. The Brutal Illusion is published by Solstice Publishing and is available now on

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Grave Descend by Michael Crichton

This 1970 thriller from Michael Crichton, originally published under the pseudonym John Lange, is part of Hard Case Crime’s Crichton/Lange reprint series. This is my second review of the eight releases, having previously commented on Easy Go. Crichton’s mastery of suspense and pacing is all quite evident in this taut thriller. Grave Descend is set in Jamaica and involves a diver named James McGregor who is hired to dive on a yacht that went down the day before. But the yacht is still afloat, and McGregor witnesses its destruction once he begins snooping around. He’s been set up, and he knows it. The question is why. The answer to that question plays out over twenty chapters and involves some nifty plot twists that I won’t reveal here. The solid characterization of McGregor is what propels this novel forward. He’s tough, laconic, and capable of handling himself; but he’s far from perfect. Then there’s the problem of the mysterious cargo, a statue that he can’t find in the wreckage; not to mention his constant manipulation by an unseen protagonist (or so he thinks). McGregor nearly perishes in a Jamaican swamp, only to find himself somehow surviving the ordeal and landing in more hot water. Grave Descend is imminently enjoyable; a page-turner that delivers enough plot twists and suspense to send me back to my reading pile for another of these John Lange novels sooner than later. The slippery cover by Gregory Manchess punctuates the paperback’s collectable allure. According to Hard Case Crime’s publicity blurb, Crichton wrote his John Lange novels while he was a medical student at Harvard. I’ll be reviewing the remainder as I get to them.