You Only Hang Once

Review: You Only Hang Once, David J. West, 2022. 

Cover by Anna Stansfield

Things aren’t looking good for Porter Rockwell and his friend Quincy Jackson at the beginning of this novel.

The girl Emily was dragged over a cliff and into the Colorado River by Mala Cosa’s dead body at the end of Crazy Horses, and Territorial Marshal Shaw is going to use the lack of her exculpatory testimony and other evidence he’s forged, suborned, or misinterpreted to send Rockwell and Jackson to the gallows.

And Mormon leader Brigham Young, who comes off a bit prissy here, isn’t going to intervene for church protector Rockwell. The US government is still investigating the Mountain Meadow Massacre, and Young doesn’t want any impression about that the church sanctions murder. So the importuning of his daughter, aka Roxy Lejune, goes for naught.

By this time, the relationship between Roxy and Quincy has firmed up into true love for each other, and Roxy takes steps to bust Quincy out of jail, and Rockwell manages his own escape.

Hearing rumors of a new criminal gang in the area, he heads for Montezuma City, the ruins of an ancient civilization of giant white men. There he’ll meet criminal mastermind Iblis and Emily, who isn’t dead after all.

In Montezuma City, Rockwell will encounter earthquakes, the Haunter of the Abyss, and make new allies.

This one is probably my least favorite of the three Dark Trails Saga novels. Perhaps that’s because it’s the shortest, and the escape scenes didn’t interest me as much. Again, though, West provides some good characters, and it was nice to see the development of Roxy’s and Quincy’s relationship.

Additional Thoughts with Spoilers

The backstory, delivered by Iblis, of Montezuma City evidently was inspired by a bit of Mormon folklore, specifically the Gadiantons. West also says it was inspired by Robert E. Howard’s El Borak (which I’m not familiar with) and the claims by one Cyclone Covey of a “Roman Jewish colony in America”.

Crazy Horses

Review: Crazy Horses, David J. West, 2017. 

Cover by Anna Stansfield

There’s a lot less lead thrown about in this sequel to Scavengers, but I liked it more.

It’s a pursuit story with Porter Rockwell and friends Roxy Lejune and Quincy Jackson both the pursuers and pursued.

At the end of Scavengers, Rockwell’s blood brother Chief Redbone showed up asking for Rockwell’s help after Mexican slaver Matamoros, who survived the carnage at the lost Spanish gold mine, kidnapped Redbone’s daughter.

That carnage produced 63 missing people in the Thorn massacre, and Territorial Marshall Brody Shaw thinks Rockwell had something to do with that. Brody wants to see Rockwell hang, and, as we see, he’s not above forging evidence to produce a conviction. Shaw’s hatred of Rockwell goes back to New York State when Mormon founder Joseph Smith stole Shaw’s flock away.

So, Rockwell and friends are pursued by Shaw as they pursue Matamoros through the desert around the Colorado River. They’ll encounter some of the women Rockwell freed from Matamoros in Scavengers after the slaver killed their husbands and raped them. One girl, Emily, stows away with the Rockwell party as they travel down the Colorado to follow Matamoros.

There’s a lot to like here. There is the Uninvited, a vampiric entity who appears as an old man seeking camp fires, the final showdown between Rockwell and Matamoros, and the bloodbath at the lair of Mala Cosa. He’s a sorcerer Matamoros needs to redeem himself with, and the price of redemption is Redbone’s daughter.

This one ends on a grim note.


Review: Scavengers, David J. West, 2017. 

Cover by Nathan Shumate and TheChunkyDesigner

This is the first book in West’s Dark Trails Saga of weird westerns featuring, of course, Porter Rockwell. 

If you want a western with plenty of lead being slung about, this one’s for you.

It starts out with Marshall Rockwell pursuing Ferdie McGurdie, a horse (and pie) thief. It seems it’s not just the law that wants McGurdie but also the Cottrell gang and the strange German Reverend Mort who has allied himself with US Cavalry Captain Thorn. McGurdie managed to get the secret of a lost and reputedly haunted Spanish gold mine from an Indian shaman.

The Cottrell gang gets the drop on Rockwell and stakes him out to die in the desert sun with a defector from their gang, Quincy Cuthbert Jackson. (Rockwell spends a fair amount of this novel either disarmed or in captivity.) They are rescued by the very attractive Roxy Lejeune, possessor of what seems to be a cursed – but very luck for her – faro deck.

Rockwell isn’t very believing of McGurdie’s tale when he catches up to the fugitive, but he comes around eventually. If nothing else, he’s bringing the Cottrell gang in for killing his horse and leaving him to die. Quincy and Roxy, very interested in the tale of treasure, join him.

By novel’s end, the scavengers after that treasure will include a Mexican slaver gang, very annoyed Indians, Thorn’s crew, and the Cottrells. It’s an unsentimental story of brutality and survival.

The action is almost non-stop and it’s well-done, but the novel’s best feature is that interplay between Roxy, Rockwell, and Lejeune. It’s clear that Roxy is hiding some secret about her identity. Quincy is a black man and former member of the US Colored Troops, educated with a big vocabulary he likes to show off and resentful of any insinuation that he, always a free man, was ever a slave. Thrown together in adversity and saving each other’s lives, Roxy and Quincy have a tempestuous relationship between her secrets and the problems of a black man and beautiful white woman contemplating a life together.

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Six-Gun Serenade

Several reviews of weird westerns from David J. West are coming up.

Given their stats, my weird western reviews are about as useful as a lame mule dying of thirst in the desert. They don’t look capable of carrying their weight much longer. I’m tempted to put a bullet through their head. We’ll see if water shows up.

Review: Six-Gun Serenade, David J. West, 2017.

Cover by Go On Write

This is a teaser anthology with just two stories and an excerpt from a West novel which I’ll be covering in the future.

In “Six-Gun Serenade” it’s 1868 in the border of the Wyoming and Utah Territories, and chemistry teacher Amsa Davison finds himself playing host to some unsavory men in his house.

Led by Caleb Landforth, an Omar Khayyám spouting man who claims to also be a spiritualist, they are on the trail of treasure: a lost Spanish gold mine abandoned when the native slave labor rebelled and killed the Spanish there. They are confident they’ll find the mine but need Davison to assay any gold taken.

Meeting the rest of Landforth’s crew, Davison finds there even worst bad men when they expect apart from the cook and a couple of others. Then there’s Warner, a long-haired gunfighter with the steel blue eyes of a natural killer. It doesn’t take long, of course, for it to be revealed that Warner is none other than Porter Rockwell, a favorite character of West’s for his weird westerns.

And there is a bit of weirdness here since Landforth really does have psychic powers which lead him to the mine. But it’s also no surprise that Landforth has decided that he won’t need Davison for long.

It’s a engaging story that doesn’t hang around long enough to wear out it’s welcome, but I can’t say it’s particularly memorable.

The Money Light” was supposed to be included in West’s collection of linked stories, Whispers Out of the Dust, but ended up not being included for length reasons.

It’s a pleasant enough ghost story full of what I call faux Western dialogue – laconic and humorous, but I doubt people in the real American West talked that way.

Things start out with protagonist Saul Reynolds killing, in a card game, the Ferguson brothers who accuse him of cheating. (Spooner, Reynold’s friend, was the one actually cheating.) Given their reputation, the town is certainly not sorry to see the Fergusons dead, and Reynolds goes with the Ferguson bodies to their mother’s house. 

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Memento Mori

My look at West’s #Savant series concludes.

Review: Memento Mori, David J. West, 2020. 

Cover by Warren Design

Most of the plot revelations were taken care of in the preceding #Savant book, In My Time of Dying. About half of this story is a chase with Elizabeth Dee and bodyguard Porter Rockwell trying to rescue John Dee from Count Germain. And John isn’t going to be offering much aid remotely to Elizabeth this time since he has been almost completely silenced and immobilized by Germain aka Edward Kelley, Dee’s old associate.

The story starts around Cheyenne with Elizabeth and Porter Rockwell attacking a train to get John Dee back. It will end in the Liberty County Jail in Missouri – a place Rockwell knows all too well since he spent – as he did in our timeline – many months imprisoned there.

Along the way we get cameo appearances by Crazy Horse (who fights a duel with Rockwell) and the James Gang and a special guest villain appearance by Helena Blavatsky.

There’s mayhem aboard trains and steamboats, and Rockwell will once again get to use those prototype pistols John Browning gave him.

This story is darker, moodier than its predecessor since we get some flashbacks to violent episodes in Rockwell’s life. (I wonder if one particularly strange one is a recap of another Rockwell story West has written.)

Another winning weird western from West, and I look forward to the third installment of the #Savant series.

In My Time of Dying

I liked the fourth installment of the #Savant series enough, “A Manuscript Found in Carcosa” in Tales of the Al-Azif, that I decided to check out the first installment in the series. (The crosshatch in the series title makes sense in terms of the story, but I wonder if there also isn’t some Twitter marketing ploy at work.)

Review: In My Time of Dying, David J. West, 2019. 

Cover by Deranged Doctor Design

If my reviews of West’s work seem a bit short compared to others, it’s not just because his stories are in the novella or short novel range. It’s because they are well-done modern pulp, and part of the enjoyment of a good pulp story is usually the plot twists and turns and the set action pieces.

And there’s a lot to like here in terms of plot.

Our story opens not in the American West of 1875, where most of it takes place, but in the Himalayas in 1874. In a mountain fortress, a group called the Knights of St. Germain have a prisoner, and they’ve had him a long time. His name is John, an emaciated figure of skin and bones chained in a dungeon as he has been for many a decade. He is a sort of reservoir of lifeforce, constantly recharged by mysterious forces and then drained by Count St. Germain. Or, at least, that’s what he calls himself now. John knows him under his old name, Edward.

Certain readers will no doubt tumble on to whom these two men are, especially since our series heroine is Elizabeth Dee. But, for those who don’t, I won’t spoil West’s slow reveal.

John is a man of formidable resources, an ability to dominate wills, and he makes a break from the fortress – by flinging himself off its high walls.

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Home on the Strange

My look at David J. West’s Cowboys & Cthulhu series concludes.

Review: Home on the Strange, David J. West, 2021

Cover by Carter Reid

A wagon train is wiped out by Indians leaving only Hannah, a girl, alive.

Captain Brady, newly out of West Point and sorry he just missed the action of the recently concluded Civil War, leads a cavalry troop to bring the Indian leader, Crazy Snake, and his men to justice.

Porter Rockwell serves as their scout. As a Mormon, he’s suspected of collaborating with the Indians.

And then, around the sinister outcropping of rock called the Pulpit, sentries begin to be picked off at night.  

It sounds like the elements of a typical western except it’s not because this is another in West’s Cowboys & Cthulhu tales. There’s something in the Pulpit besides hostile Indians. And there’s a voice in Hannah’s head who is giving her advice that she and Rockwell will need to drive the enemy in the mountain off.

This is another winning entry in the series, and it is the closest yet to a classic western plot. It’s got the humor and well-done action of other stories in the series. It’s classic pulp adventure in the Mythos tradition and a good weird western whose many surprising delights I will spoil with no further plot reveals.

There are some nice scenes out of the main action like when Rockwell meets Tanner, an old acquaintance of his who knows firsthand the secrets in Pulpit.

And it was nice to see Wovoka, the Indian prophet who inspired the Ghost Dance, getting a mention.

Let Sleeping Gods Lie

After reading West’s “A Manuscript Found in Carcosa” and “The Haunter of the Wheel”, I wanted to read more of West’s fiction with Porter Rockwell. The latter story is part of West’s Cowboys & Cthulhu series, and this story seems the first in the series.

Review: Let Sleeping Gods Lie, David J. West. 2019. 

Cover by Carter Reid

When three Chinese miners show up at Porter Rockwell’s saloon one night, they are in a hurry to abandon their diggings around the camp of Murderer’s Bar. One of them is dying. They want to trade a “dragon bone” and a book for a horse and wagon. They found working them their claim on the putatively haunted Scorched Devil Ridge. Rockwell trades them a cart and mule for the goods but not before the Chinese mention the Old Ones and hungry ghosts, and that, in two nights, the stars will be right.

Well, the group doesn’t get far on the trail to Sacramento. They are found dead on the trail by two sometimes comical characters – though courageous enough — Zeke and Bowles. For that matter, the night watchman at the saloon is killed too.

And they won’t be the last killings Rockwell, employee Jack, faithful hound Dawg, and the fearsome Bloody Creek Mary will have to contend with. The question is are they just the depredations of the local Mountain Hound gang or something far stranger?

This one has more the feel of the traditional western than “The Haunter of the Wheel” with Rockwell spending almost as much time battling outlaws as a menace from the past linked to Zealia Bishop’s and H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Mound”.

Of course, the mysterious Mr. Nodens shows up, always willing to provide hints to Rockwell but no actual help. Sasquatches do too.

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The Majestic 311

For the last two or three years, I’ve hankered for weird westerns at the turn of the year. Don’t know why.

So, after finishing Make Me King and also wanting to read more Blackmore, I bought this book.

Review: The Majestic 311, Keith C. Blackmore, 2019. 

Cover by Karri Klawiter

As the subtitle says, this is a “very weird western”. 

It opens with a classic western motif: a train robbery.

Leland Baxter’s and his six men are sketched quickly with Blackmore’s typically skillful dialogue.

Baxter is a natural leader of men, opposed to unnecessary violence, and willing to let his men complain – even if he doesn’t do anything about their complaints. Former circus strongman “Shorty” Charlie Williams is his taciturn and loyal henchman. Another of his friends is James “Jimmy” Norquay, former buffalo hunter, who met Baxter in a residential school for Indians Norquay being a Metis. Mackenzie Cass is a cattle rustler possessed of surprising bits of learning. Gilbert Butler is a gunrunner from America. His partner is the volatile, profane, and frequently insolent Eli Gallant. The last is our protagonist, orphan Nathan Rhodes, who once sought a career as a lawman before killing a boy who resisted arrest.

It’s a cold, wintery night in the Canadian Rockies. There’s a train from Canada bound for western Canada with the payroll of a mining company. And, since it has to slow to start climbing the Spirals, a winding tunnel going through the Rockies, it’s the perfect place to hop on it.

That’s the plan. But when Nathan and Baxter find a literally skeletal engineer in the cab – who opens the throttle up before leaping over the side, and the rest of the gang find way too many cars and no passengers, things get strange.

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Tales of Yog-Sothoth

I’m moving out of reading sequence here because David Hambling was kind enough to send me a copy of this and another book, The Book of Yig, which I’ll be reviewing next post. It promised to be just thing with not only another Harry Stubbs tale from Hambling but a weird western story in the book from David J. West.

Review: Tales of Yog-Sothoth, ed. C. T. Phipps, 2021.

Cover by Steve Smith

As Phipps notes in his “Foreword”, H. P. Lovecraft didn’t call his related set of stories the “Cthulhu Mythos”. He called them “Yog-Sothery”. Phipps likes Yog-Sothoth and regards that god, with his ability to open dimensional doorways and mate with humans, the key entity of the Lovecraft universe which has spawned who knows how many stories since.

The organizing structure is the same as Phipps’ successful anthology Tales of the Al-Azif: a set of stories from diverse authors, often working in their own Lovecraftian series, presented in chronological order with some links between the stories. I suppose, if you’re the sort of person obsessed by continuity and consistency, you may balk at that. I’m not and I don’t. I think of the Mythos as a bit like the Arthurian cycle of stories: a set of characters and their relationships which are reworked and elaborated by a variety of authors for their own ends. [Update: Matthew Davenport co-edited Tales of the Al-Azif.]

Or think of it as a literary equivalent of an AK-47: a bit loose in the way the parts fit together but reliable enough for rapid fire which usually hits the target.

However, I didn’t think this book worked as well that earlier book of Phipps.

It starts out well though.

Phipps’ own “The True Name of God” was excellent. I’ll admit my interest in the Crusades may have played a part in my enthusiasm. Set in Akka (aka Acre) occupied by the Crusaders, it follows Ali ad Fariq, an accomplished member of the Order of Assassins as he takes a strange job for an unexpected client. Rabbi Yosef ben Yosef wants him to hunt down something that’s killing Jewish women in the city. The victims include his own daughter.

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