Monday, December 23, 2013

Review Roundup: Artists and Killers

West of the Big River: The Artist
By Jackson Lowry
Western Fictioneers, December 2013
$9.99 paperback, ISBN 1490442073
$2.99 Kindle, ASIN 1490442073
$2.99 most other e-formats, ISBN 9781301936823
222 pages

Before he was a celebrated artist, Charles M. “Charlie” Russell worked as a cowhand. In West of the Big River: The Artist, author Jackson Lowry brings the pre-fame Russell to life as a footloose laggard who grows into his heart and soul during a brutal Montana winter.

Lowry does an exceptional job of imbuing the fictionalized first-person account of a few brief-but-intense weeks with self-effacing humor and depth. Readers will feel Charlie’s fatigue, the bitter cold, and the even more bone-chilling fear. Charlie Russell is no hero; in fact, he just barely qualifies as a cowboy. Relegated to night herd because of his poor skills with horses, guns, and lassos, Charlie’s artistic ability puts him — unwillingly — at the center of a rustling caper. Although he’d much rather fade into the background and draw or paint, suddenly he finds himself deputized and chasing some very bad, gun-wielding outlaws. The result is an uncommon mixture of comedy and drama that lends a spritely pace to the story.

Lowry’s prose overflows with charm and wit, creating characters and situations that virtually leap from the pages. Under the author’s pen, the west comes to life as vividly as it did under Russell’s brushes and chisel. The Artist is a recommended read, not only for entertainment value, but also for the inescapable notion that this glimpse may provide a very close approximation of the real man behind the artist’s legend.

Wolf Creek Book 8: Night of the Assassins
By Ford Fargo
Western Fictioneers, October 2013
$8.99 paperback, ISBN 1493550497
$2.99 Kindle, ASIN B00GFEZA5A
$2.99 most other e-formats, ISBN 9781301591183
160 pages

On its best days, Wolf Creek, Kansas, isn’t a peaceful sort of place, but when a local drug lord and brothel owner decides the town ain’t big enough for him and any competitors, things go completely to hell without even the benefit of a handbasket. Disembodied heads in bloody burlap sacks start showing up on doorsteps … and that’s the least of the town’s worries.

Wolf Creek Book 8: Night of the Assassins may be the most blood-drenched volume in the Wolf Creek series yet. Except for a brief foray into Old West forensics courtesy of town doc Logan Munro (written by Clay More), violent deaths stack up like tumbleweeds against a fence. Munro’s chapter, which provides an up-close look at an 1871 autopsy, offers the only opportunity readers will have to catch their breath. When a detailed, clinical examination of decapitation victims is the “light” reading in a novel ... well, draw your own conclusions.

Hostler and former Texas Ranger Ben Tolliver (James J. Griffin) is the first to find one of Chinese “businessman” Tsu Chiao’s gory messages. Tolliver responds by storming Tsu’s opium den and provoking a brawl with the kingpin’s bodyguards, some of whom don’t survive. Then hired gun Wesley Quaid (Matthew Pizzolato) and a small group of ranch hands tangle with Tsu’s imported assassins. More violence, blood, and death ensue.

Racial tension grows bowstring-tight as the mysterious, largely invisible assassins strike at will and then disappear. Even Wolf Creek residents who are reasonably well behaved (by local standards) begin forming mobs with the intention of ridding the prairie of all Celestials. A full-scale riot seems inevitable about the time mild-mannered schoolteacher Cora Sloan (Bill Crider) forms a one-woman vigilance committee and commences to shooting folks in order to protect a law-abiding Chinese family. Poor Marshal Sam Gardner (Troy Smith) and his deputies are at their wits’ end trying to keep a lid on the town by backing down one side and then the other — repeatedly. Thank goodness Samuel Jones’s (Chuck Tyrell) San Francisco connections prove to be a literal lifesaver, albeit a violent, bloody one.

Wolf Creek Book 8: Night of the Assassins is Old West action on steroids. Still, the book manages to add education and a walloping dose of surprise to the non-stop entertainment. Fans of the series definitely won’t be disappointed, but they may find themselves asking “how will Ford Fargo top this?”

A Fire in Brimstone
By Tom Rizzo
Cane Hollow Press, December 2013
$0.99 Kindle, ASIN B00H8CKGUC
$0.99 most other e-formats, ISBN 9781310009129
32 pages

Can a man buy redemption with the wages of sin? Sheriff Cass Ryan sure hopes so, because his only other option is to consign the entire town of Brimstone to Hell.

As plots go, the reformed outlaw facing down specters from his past is as old as the western genre itself. In A Fire in Brimstone, author Tom Rizzo does nothing new with the basics, but the way he constructs an intricate plot in only thirty-two pages will keep readers inside the story from start to finish. With his second work of fiction, Rizzo establishes himself as the sort of “plotty” writer who could woo mystery and thriller fans to westerns.

The ending may seem a bit too easy and lacking in consequences, but it’s satisfying and fits the story. The real fun in reading A Fire in Brimstone is in watching the jigsaw puzzle come together.

Kathleen Rice Adams is a Texan, a voracious reader, a professional journalist, and an author. She received review copies of Wolf Creek Book 8: Night of the Assassins and West of the Big River: The Artist from the publisher. Her opinions are her own and are neither endorsed nor necessarily supported by Western Fictioneers or individual members of the organization. Links in the review are for convenience only; they do not produce affiliate revenue.


  1. Excellent reviews Kathleen. The Artist is on sale for only 99 cents.

  2. Kathleen, I always look forward to your reviews. You are so talented--never giving away spoilers, yet writing a review that makes people WANT to go buy the book and read it! I have read the Wolf Creek book, but not the other two. I think this is your bi-weekly revenge on this poor Okie whose to-be-read pile is so high it's about to topple as it is! LOL

  3. Livia, THE ARTIST is well worth full price. At 99 cents, it's a steal. Fictionalizing a real person's existence is always a risk -- especially in first-person. Jackson Lowry did an admirable job. Now I need to read all the other novels in the WEST OF THE BIG RIVER series! :-)

    Cheryl, you have only yourself to blame. As I recall, you're the one who recruited me for this gig. ;-) The WOLF CREEK series is on my must-read list. Even when something in one of the books hits an off-note -- and that happens in all series from time to time -- the stories are just too good to miss. Be sure to pick up A FIRE IN BRIMSTONE. It's right up your alley. :-)

  4. Think it is time to give myself a Christmas gift...many of them. Like Cheryl my TBR & TBP piles are growing. I appreciate your insightful and honest reviews. Merry Christmas and a great upcoming year to you. Doris

  5. As always excellent reviews, Tex. I really need to pick up a copy of the ARTIST. Charlie Russell has been a favorite forever, and I just saw Livia's comment saying it's 99 cents. Sold.


  6. From one voracious reader to another, Doris: All my best to you and yours this holiday season and in the New Year to come! I've so enjoyed keeping up with you this year. Your posts always inspire. :-)

    Rustler, you'll enjoy THE ARTIST. I rank it among my top reads this year -- and I read a lot of wonderful novels during 2013. Stay warm up there in WYO's frozen tundra! :-D

  7. "Old West action on steroids"... I love it! And I agree with your assessment on the other two books... Tom Rizzo's second work of fiction, man, that portends a lot of great things to come!

  8. Rizzo definitely is an emerging talent to watch -- closely, lest he loose some intricate evil by surprise. ;-) I'm thrilled to hear there's evidently a plot afoot to publish more of Tom's work! :-)