Thursday, January 18, 2018

Merrick by Ben Boulden, 2017

"Thief, gunman, killer. A hero you'll hate, but root for anyway."
Every time I watch a movie about a heist or read a story about a robbery at gunpoint, the first thought that comes to my mind is Something’s going to go wrong. In spite of meticulous planning, things don’t always go as intended. That’s exactly what Merrick—a tough outlaw with a conscience and the hero of this fast-paced Western short story by Ben Boulden—finds out when he teams up with an old partner to ambush an armoured wagon in Texas and make away with a $15,000 payroll.

Merrick, who is brought in as a last-minute replacement, is mindful of the risks involved in the venture. He knows by experience that a holdup is never easy, even if the dough is. Though he is reluctant to accept mastermind Clarence Tilley’s offer at first, the .44 Remington wielding outlaw cannot escape the allure of money and the prospect of moving to the California coast and living it up.

But the outlaw’s getaway plan is dashed to the ground when Spider Robison, a particularly vile, greedy and trigger-happy gang member, double-crosses his accomplices, wallops Merrick in the head and decamps with the loot. After regaining consciousness, Merrick sets out to hunt down Robison, not so much to seek revenge as to retrieve his rightful share of the heist and be on his way.

Merrick is not the quintessential Wild West outlaw. He is an outlaw alright but one with scruples, the kind who’d indulge in unlawful acts but probably won’t go beyond a limit. While he can be tough and dangerous, and shoot to defend himself, he also has a certain vulnerability, a sense of fair play and justice, perhaps even compassion, which sets him apart from others of his kind.

All of 25 pages, Merrick is a cracker of a Western story that fans of the genre will enjoy reading. The plot—a stage robbery gone wrong—reminded me of pocket-size black-and-white Western comics I was fond of reading in my youth. I could visualise each scene unfold in the form of a comics panel or frame. In that sense Merrick would make for a very entertaining comic-book.

I hope Ben Boulden—author of Blaze! Red Rock Rampage (15) and Blaze! Spanish Gold (18) in the Blaze! Adult Western Series—casts Merrick in more short stories, perhaps even a novel or two. I’d like to read more about the Utah outlaw’s exploits in the author's crisp narrative style. Recommended.

Available for Kindle, $0.99.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Books and ebooks of 2017

I bought less than a dozen books and ebooks in 2017, and intentionally so. It was in keeping with my decision to read as many books as I could from my collection of 100-odd paper books. The resolution did not work. Like a government project delayed by time overrun, I have decided to carry-forward the ambitious plan to 2018 and keep my fingers crossed.

There were a few notable acquisitions during the year, books I was glad I read.

Author Margot Kinberg, who blogs about crime fiction every single day at Confessions of a Mystery Writer, very kindly sent me a signed copy of Past Tense, the third book in her mystery series featuring ex-cop Joel Williams. The professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at Tilton, a fictional university, is an affable and unassuming gentleman with a nose for sniffing out clues. Past Tense was an engaging campus mystery. You can click here to read the review.

Ben Boulden's debut novel Red Rock Rampage, #15 in the Blaze! Adult Western Series, features J.D. and Kate, a husband-and-wife team of gunfighters in what is an action-packed tale written in a racy style. I reviewed the book and interviewed Ben here. In coming weeks, I intend to read his second novel Blaze! Spanish Gold. But before that, I will be reviewing his 25-page Western short story Merrick (since reviewed). You can learn more about Ben and his work over at his blog Gravetapping.

During the year I was lucky to purchase three out-of-print Sudden paperbacks, my favourite Western series created by British author Oliver Strange. One of these is Sudden Strikes Back by English writer Frederick H. Christian who wrote five of the Sudden novels, following Strange's original ten books. I now have eleven of the Sudden novels that I have been reading and rereading since the eighties.

Finally, a friend and colleague gifted me a lovely hardback edition of Where the Sidewalk Ends, a delightful collection of children's poetry written and illustrated by American author and cartoonist Shel Silverstein. Wikipedia quotes Silverstein as saying that he never studied the poetry of others and developed his own "quirky style, laid back and conversational, occasionally employing profanity and slang." Where the Sidewalk Ends inspires you to pen your own verse.