Monday, March 11, 2013

Review Roundup: Past Imperfect

Pitchfork Justice
By Chuck Tyrell
Western Trail Blazer, October 2012
$12.95 paperback, ISBN 1480074225
$3.99 Kindle, ASIN B009QV3WKY
288 pages

Loner Ness Havelock doesn’t go looking for trouble, but trouble dogs his every step. So do shady characters with grudges. A clandestine message about a friend in mortal danger sends Havelock rushing to repay an old debt, even though stepping into the fray will put him much too close to a woman he’s trying to forget. Someone tries to kill him, then a dying boy stumbles into his camp…and then all hell breaks loose.

Pitchfork Justice is a sterling example of how a talented author can craft something fresh and exciting from the most well-worn of plots and character types. Larger-than-life hero with a code of honor engraved on his soul despite his unsavory past? Check. Old friend in dire straits? Check. Beautiful woman in need of rescue? Check. Bad guys complete with black hats and fast guns? Check. In Tyrell’s hands, though, none of those things seems stale or clich├ęd. The plot twists and turns toward a conclusion that seems both preordained and anything except guaranteed.

Chuck Tyrell does so many things right in this story that it would be impossible to list them all. The writing voice is confident and quirky, never sounding forced. Tyrell, who was raised on a U.S. ranch before expatriating to Japan, obviously knows ranch life and the territory of the Southwest. Dialogue and narration are jam-packed with color and authenticity. The narrative alternates between the hero’s first-person point of view and close third-person points of view offered by a couple of minor characters. Tyrell wields the risky technique like a surgeon wields a scalpel.

Another thing Tyrell does extremely well is hold the reader’s attention. Just as Havelock and his assortment of associates extricate themselves from one scrape, an even bigger threat arises. Putting down the story is like eating one potato chip: No amount of resolve to indulge in moderation will save readers from the lure of guilty pleasure. “Just one more chapter, then I’ve got to close the book.” Yeah, right.

Most impressive, though, is the way Tyrell plays with established notions about good and evil. Havelock and Judge Harlow Wilson obviously play hero and villain, respectively. Everybody else is up for grabs. One character in particular stands out: A grudge-bearing gunman with a fondness for Arthurian chivalry is nothing short of riveting. The kid is a cold-blooded killer, yet readers can’t help liking the guy.

Gritty, romantic in the classical sense, familiar and yet never predictable, Pitchfork Justice is a winner.

By Matthew Pizzolato
The Western Online Press, September 2012
$5.99 paperback, ISBN 1479378518
$0.99 Kindle, ASIN B009GDDGU8
108 pages

Wesley Quaid rides into a Kansas town seeking a respectable job as a cover for his plan to rob the bank. Deputy to the local lawman seems tailor-made to camouflage Quaid’s agenda…until he falls for the lawman’s niece.

Quaid grabs readers in the first sentence of this novella and never lets go. The more-often-than-not witty ladies man captures every upstanding citizen in town without even trying. He’s equally adept at lassoing readers.

Author Matthew Pizzolato has a gift for blending fun and suspense. Readers’ suspicions about the outcome will change multiple times as Quaid wrestles with his conscience and conflicting desires. Can a man escape his past, or was the past a rehearsal for destiny?

Kathleen Rice Adams is a Texan, a voracious reader, a professional journalist, and a novelist in training. She purchased Outlaw and received a review copy of Pitchfork Justice from the publisher. Her opinions are her own and are neither endorsed nor necessarily supported by Western Fictioneers or individual members of the organization.


  1. I'm no stranger to Chuck Tyrell's books. Looking forward to reading Matt's as well. I'm going to buy both books.
    Excellent job Kathleen!

  2. Thanks, Jerry! The two books are very different in tone and style, but both authors do a bang-up job of storytelling. I can't swing a dead cat in a room of Western Fictioneers without hitting an author from whom I can't wait to read more. :-D

    I'm also re-evaluating my stand on stories told in first-person. Both PITCHFORK JUSTICE and OUTLAW are primarily first-person narratives. I'm not ready to go looking for first-person stories, but the westerns I've read lately handled the technique so well that at least I no longer pale at the very suggestion. :-)

  3. Kathleen, I really enjoyed these reviews! I have bought both of these books, but have not had a chance to sit down and read either of them.

    If I hadn't bought them both already, I would buy them based on your reviews, which make me all the more eager to carve out some reading time for myself!

    I 'm like you about first person--I never used to consider reading much first person, and I don't know why. But when I wrote my Kane trilogy, there was no other way to tell that story but in first person. I enjoyed writing in first person(which I didn't think I would). So I'm looking forward to reading these two, Pitchfork Justice (great name!) and Outlaw.

    Thanks for some excellent reviews--you're paying me back for the additions to the TBR list, I think, Kathleen! LOL


  4. Wonderful, informative review for Chuck Tyrell's novel. Yes, he's good! I hosted him as a guest on our Sweethearts of the West blog. I feel as though I know him in person--but of course, I don't.
    Well done, Kathleen.
    And Congratulations to Chuck.

  5. Hey -- YOU started the TBR war, Cheryl! Don't blame me because you're dangling in the air at the end of your own petard. :-D

    These are both great reads. Ness Havelock's first-person voice in PITCHFORK takes a bit of getting used to initially because it's SO idiosyncratic, but what will stick with readers long after they finish reading is that strong, distinctive voice. It's mesmerizing.

    OUTLAW is entertaining in a whole different way. Wesley Quaid easily could have come across as an arrogant pig, but his voice is humorous without degenerating into schlock. I can't wait to read more from both of these authors.

  6. Every time I visit here my TBR pile grows. The Kindle is starting to groan. :)

    Thanks for the reviews, Kathleen, as always a great job.


  7. Like Jerry, I have enjoyed the work of Chuck Tyrell and look forward to reading Matt. Long ago, I agreed with Kathleen about westerns written in the first person. Then, I started reading Wayne D. Overholser. Thanks for the great work, Kathleen!

  8. These reviews have me hooked. The Kindle is charging up right now but get ready, guys.

  9. I grew up reading first-person books so they don't put me off at all. In fact, it took me a while to get used to the distancing third-person. I have Pitchfork Justice but haven't had a chance to read it yet. Looks like I better up that timeframe. I did read Outlaw and loved it. Wesley Quaid's even on Twitter!

  10. Thank you, Kathleen, for the review. Sorry if Ness Havelock sounds like an idiot at first (isn't that what idiosyncratic means?). I've only done two books in first person (with some third person, usually from the antagonist's point of view), but I have to say that for some stories, it's the only way to go. I just read a long first-person thriller by Bernard Cornwell, and it's a dandy way of leading the reader astray, because the POV character regularly misreads the situation and clues.

    Ness Havelock makes cameo appearances in several of my novel, including the current WIP, working title: Yaqui Blood.

    I'd really like to get your take on Dollar a Day, a book with several surprising twists in the plot, and written in the third person.

  11. Oh, my blog on the 13th, entitled Good Baddies and Bad Baddies, uses Pitchfork Justice as examples of the above.

  12. Insightful and helpful reviews, as always! These guys really are both class acts.

  13. Great reviews, Kathleen! Agree with Matt's book, so I'll have to put Chuck's higher on my TBR list. :-)