Posts tagged ‘Westerns’

BOOK REVIEW by Charles Johnson



Book Three in the Zebadiah Creed series

Published by FIVE STAR, a part of Gale, A Cengage company

ISBN; 9781432868505   Genre: Western    268 pages

Reviewed by Charles Johnson

In the Western genre of books, there are gunfights, posses heading the bad guys off at the pass, hotly contested poker games in smoky saloons . . . and in BLUE RIVERS OF HEAVEN (as well as the first two books of the Zebadiah Creed trilogy) these trite situations are calm afternoon teas compared to the adventures Mark C. Jackson concocts for the reader to experience. There are no such cliches of this genre: Jackson sees to that with great effect. The author is deeply skilled in his descriptions of fights, chases, and even the tension created in the exchange of heated words before any physical action actually occurs.  To top it off, Jackson finds fresh new ways to bring action to the western genre that will wow the reader; sometimes with a level of brutality, sometimes with unexpected sensitivity.

Zebadiah Creed, the protagonist of the book, is not necessarily a moral man, but he certainly adheres to what he sees as the correct way to behave in different instances.  Give him a formal dinner and he will know what to do.  Face a surly crowd, and he will make choices of wisdom.  Present a young lady for him too woo, and Zebadiah can be smooth and suave as any cultured gentleman.  Yet, his flaws will betray him from time to time, and that makes for an interesting character.  And yes, even a man such as Creed has his love interests that he deserves.

The backdrop of this story is varied: there are dank prisons, fancy plantations, joyous riverboats, and cabins in the woods filled with a variety of circumstances that are unique and sparkling.  Every scene moves from one to the other with no delay.  This keeps the reader’s attention at a peak that rarely sags throughout the book.  As for characters, there are several of varying stature from the first two books – and it is also important to note that Jackson’s characters are none of your one-dimensional western characters – no dumb farm hands, no schoolmarms – characters are fully developed in every way – the good ones and the bad ones equally.  Even the horses have personalities

BLUE RIVERS OF HEAVEN continues the story of Zebadiah, tying in a good many portions of the first two books (AN EYE FOR AND EYE and THE GREAT TEXAS DANCE).   In this book, Zebadiah is manipulated into a position of being forced to assassinate a rather important person – but you’ll get no spoiler here as to who and how it all turns out – Zebadiah’s adversaries use every tool for force our hero into the unsavory task – just more of that great action that author Jackson so readily delivers.

Some technical thoughts: the chapters are short, which enhance the pace of the book.  There are no vocabulary challenges – the language is well handled, even in a few instances of profanity.  I wonder about the title as well … it is not as clearly connected to this book as the titles of the first two are connected to theirs.  HINT:  Read all three books close together – it will help keep track of the characters and situations as Zebadiah courses through his adventures.

Thanks to the writing and storytelling skills of author Mark C. Jackson, BLUE RIVERS OF HEAVEN delivers a great deal of action, setting and personality with vivid descriptions of all of that, and then more.  Perhaps that means book four isn’t far off…..


BOOK REVIEW: AN EYE FOR AN EYE by Mark C. Jackson (reviewed by Charles Johnson)

book cover eye for an eye
By Mark C. Jackson
Five Star Publishing, a part of Cengage Learning
ISBN 9781432832971
210 Pages

AN EYE FOR AN EYE has a subtitle on the cover of the book: “The Tales of Zebediah Creed, Book One. Here’s to book two, three and four . . . and five and six and as many as Mr. Jackson wishes to spin out for us.

What a unique ride! I was expecting a western filled with cowboys and bad guys and gunfights, just like other books I’ve read from Five Star. Instead, I was led into a world of black market in fur trade. In AN EYE FOR AN EYE, we have a tale about our strong-willed hero Zebediah Creed as he pursues the small-time thieves that work for what amounted to crime bosses of syndicate – you know the sort; we grew to know them in the 1920s, during the bootlegging days of Prohibition. Except, maybe, these fur trading bosses were much nastier as to their sense of justice and morality. This is nothing like that Daniel Boone or Davy Crocket we grew up with in the sanitized 1950s TV shows, oh, my, no!

Our main man, Zebediah, is out to avenge his brother’s death, which is a standard plot device in your typical western. But no, here we meet so much more. A gang of marauders kill his brother, and Zebediah is left for dead. A preacher and his daughter see that his health is restored, and our Zebediah heads out on his vengeful crusade. Zeb travels from the backwaters of the Missouri, down into the Mississippi, gaining some experience among the fur trading business (legitimate and otherwise0 in both St. Louis and New Orleans. The further down the river he goes, the bar scenes increasingly lack in civility. But, in a clever and smug way, and in quite a paradox for the reader to experience, the author Jackson has those very same bars show a degree of sophistication in societal preferences as Zeb travels south on the waters.
There’s the sidekick – one British wag, who gives us reason to wonder where his loyalties reside. There are women – some tainted more than others – who hold influences of all kinds on the crime bosses. There are those who become allies of Zeb in ways that are unpredictable.

And lest I forget, there are the bosses. These gentlemen – and I mean that term in every way – may show culture and fine breeding, but they also are well-schooled in ways bring about suffering to those who oppose them without hesitation or second thought – and sometimes, those ways affect even those who just happen to be in the wrong place and the right time. Nefarious indeed!

The setting carries the reader down the rivers on rafts and riverboats, complete with the sound of steam and the slosh of the paddlewheels, and even a visit to a cult-like village. The city life of St. Louis, as classy as it first seems, is at best fourth-rate when compared to the company we meet in New Orleans, right on down to the fine living in the brothels, and even into the opera house. Vibrant descriptions of action, scenery and dialogue flow from Mr. Jackson’s mind with effective and emotive style.

In the books to follow, I am sure our author Mark Jackson will treat us to more wondrously evil villains, more suspenseful adventures for our hero, and more story and plot that will thrill us. His first book here is certainly an indication of all of that, and more.


ghost Marshal
Ghost Marshal
By John C. Hamilton
Ravenfire Media of Eden Prairie, MN
ISBN 978-0-9828459-5-0
310 Pages

The western genre contains shoot-em-ups, bad guys, good guys, gold mines, saloons, and horses. Here in GHOST MARSHAL, add some spectral features (a la Stephen King) and a good touch of Asian folklore and you get a new, thrilling angle on the western genre. Drop the whole package in the middle of the era of Gold Fever in the Black Hills of South Dakota, and oh, what a tale for the reader!

Storyteller John Hamilton knits a yarn with all these elements to give the reader a fun, innovative story, set in the Old West. Meet Jessie, whose father is murdered over a gold mine. No shy wallflower, this lady! She can handle herself well among the nearly all-male population of Deadwood, as she confronts an unsavory sheriff, a judge of questionable morality, and the usual squad of bad guys. Her confidence is multiplied by a unique friendship with Wild Bill Hickok, who has just found himself in the form of a ghost, thanks to an attack from behind during a poker game. The two of them assist each other in surprising ways as they chase down their foes, bickering with each other all the way.

The bad guys? In addition to those already mentioned, there’s the leader of the Chinese population of the town, who derives certain talents from the dark side. There’s the henchmen who are willing (and very able) to take down whoever they are ordered to take down. All of them are quite nefarious – some downright fully evil. Add in some other characters (a down-on-her-luck lady of the evening and a mostly-blind storekeeper, for example) for some pathos and comedy.

Author John C. Hamilton blends all these characters in a story that keeps the reader active. Don’t expect much down time between episodes of action – confrontations in rainy cemeteries and smoke-filled saloons, ambushes in the dark streets of Deadwood and the deep caves of the gold mines – they’re all there, carefully and cleverly worded to give the reader the sensation that he is right in the middle of the fracas.

Pick up John C. Hamilton’s book GHOST MARSHAL for a creative, scary, funny, creepy gallop through a story in the Old West. It’ll make you wish you were sitting in a saloon, beer at the ready, keeping your eye on the drunk at the end of the bar and wondering about the eerie sounds coming from who knows where.