Saturday, October 13, 2018


The amazing popularity of current Westerns published under the William W. Johnstone byline have kept the Western genre selling in the millions of copies. Published by Pinnacle Books, who specialize in paperback original action series, the massive popularity of the Johnstone brand Westerns have made it possible for other Westerns to breakout, either from Pinnacle or other publishers. Over the next few blog posts, I want to point out some of these new Westerns from traditional publishers, and then move on to the booming realm of independently published and small press Westerns. First up are some Westerns from writers I know and whose work I admire...

Surrounded by ranches, farms, and precious metal mines, the town of Dover Station, Montana is ripe for the plucking. It’s up to Sheriff Aaron Mackey to keep the peace—and keep the dregs of humanity from trying to make a killing...Where the bullets fly, vengeance reigns—If anyone can smell an investment opportunity, it’s railroad men and big city bankers. They’re not the kind of folks that Sheriff Mackey is used to dealing with. But greed is greed, and if anyone knows how money can drive men to murder, it’s the sheriff of a boomtown like Dover Station. But when Mackey is forced to gun down a pair of saloon rats, it brings a powder keg of trouble—with a quick-burning fuse of vengeance named Alexander Duramont. This bloodthirsty psychopath wants to kill the sheriff for killing his buddies. And he plans to get his revenge using a highly combustible mix of fire, fear, and dynamite. Mackey’s not sure how he’s going to stop this blood-crazed lunatic, but it’s going to be one heck of an explosive and very violent showdown.

These are the violent days (and reckless nights) of Lou Prophet, as told to his ink-stained confessor. Most of these recollections are brutal. Others are bloody. Some might even be true.

LAST STAGE TO HELL: What do you get when you take one stagecoach out of Denver, add a thousand-or-so bullets whizzing past your head, while sitting next to two headless corpses caught in the crossfire? If your name is Lou Prophet, you get revenge. Raucous, rowdy, ruthless revenge. Next question?

DEVIL BY THE TAIL: How do you catch a fork-tongued demon who’s busted out of prison to wreak all sorts of unholy hell on a small Texas town? If you’re Lou Prophet, you team up with red-hot Louisa Bonaventura, aka “The Vengeance Queen,” and cut a swath of merciless Prophet mayhem in return...Due process be damned.

In Lou Prophet’s lawless West, justice comes from the barrel of a gun—his gun. Peter Brandvold’s acclaimed two-fisted Westerns tell of the bloody days (and thrilling nights) of the bounty hunter called Prophet, and the dangerous woman he dared to love.

BLOOD AT SUNDOWN: Lou Prophet and the deadly Louisa Bonaventure have torn a bloody swath across Dakota territory in search of the Griff Hatchley gang. When they finally catch up to them, an epic blizzard threatens to turn the Dakota prairie into a frozen hell. To bag their prey before the storm hits, Prophet and Louisa split up—and take separate paths towards damnation.

DEATH IN THE SNOW: Prophet’s course takes him into a town packed to the gills with the deadliest outlaws that roamed the frontier, while Louisa gets caught in Sundown, a one-horse town where a hatchet-wielding maniac threatens to paint Main Street red. When spring’s thaw comes, they’ll find a city of corpses beneath the snow...And nobody gives a damn about the law.

In the first, full-length novel of this gritty, fast-moving western duo, Once More with a Vengeance, Sheriff Ben Stillman finds himself in the unenviable position of having to arrest a young man for murder on suspicious evidence. But the cards are stacked against the young firebrand who calls himself Johnny Nevada. One, Johnny has gotten Judge Hoagland’s daughter pregnant, shaming and enraging Hoagland himself. Two, Johnny warned Dave Bliss he was going to kill him because Bliss ordered Johnny to stay away from Bliss’s daughter, Sarah, whom the young Casanova was also sparking. Johnny made the warning public and two weeks later Bliss was dead. In the novella, Rattlesnake Convention, Ben finds himself on the trail of two young thieving killers with a hard winter storm bearing down.

Bounty Hunter Lou Prophet is stalking the notorious train robber Frank Beauregard, a man with as much conscience as a rattlesnake with a baby rabbit in its craw. This snake, however, has a woman in his craw—an innocent young woman who came west from Minnesota to be the mail-order bride of a lonely rancher. Miss Mattie Anderson finds her new home high in the Colorado Rockies far from what she’d expected. She finds her husband-to-be far from what she’d expected, as well. Why is his hired man so tongue-tied? Who’s the dead man in the shallow grave out back? As more dead are piled high and the lead flies like snowflakes in a prairie blizzard, Mattie begins to wonder if she hasn’t promised herself to the devil himself. Only Lou Prophet can save her from the ties that not only bind but threaten to hang her.

Two western novels featuring Bear Haskell, U.S. Deputy Marshal, who rides for Chief Marshal Henry Dade out of Denver’s First District Court. Haskell’s a former Union war hero and Pinkerton agent, a big man over six and a half feet tall and as broad as a barn door. He wears a necklace of bear claws taken from the grizzly that almost had him for supper. That’s the kind of man bear is. He holds a grudge and he gives no quarter—to grizzly bears or men. In these two rapid-fire westerns, Bear is given the nasty assignment of going after the man or men who backshot an old lawman friend; then, in the second book, of heading down to Texas to hunt a notorious, mysterious, and cruelly cunning killer known as The Jackal.

From the celebrated author of the popular Yakima Henry novels, a new western adventure series. After the War Between the States, the former Confederate Mike Sartain came west and joined the frontier cavalry. Wounded by Apaches in Arizona, he was nursed back to health by an old desert rat and his beautiful granddaughter, Jewel. When the prospector and Jewel were viciously murdered by marauding Yankees, Sartain hunted the soldiers down and killed them in his own fierce Cajun style, for Jewel had been carrying Sartain’s unborn child. That’s how Mike Sartain’s lust for revenge got started. That’s how he became a wanted man, with a dead-or-alive price on his head. Now, with no choice but to keep on riding, The Revenger rides for anyone who has an ax to grind.

Saddle up and ride the hot and wild trails of the old frontier with the Revenger, Mike Sartain, as he rights wrongs for those in need. In The Bittersweet War, Sartain rides into the Big Bend country of West Texas. He’s hard on the trail to Old Mexico, for bounty hunters and lawmen are clogging up his back trail. Only, as it often does, trouble finds him in the Davis Mountains, in the little town of Bittersweet, which turns out to be appropriately named. In Gold Dust Woman, A beautiful ranch woman from Lincoln County, New Mexico, wants Sartain to kill her husband, a county sheriff under Pat Garrett. The woman thinks her husband, possessed by an evil Apache spirit, murdered their three young sons. Is Everett Chance really evil or is his wife loco?

In this western duo, the half-breed wanderer, Yakima Henry, pins a badge on his shirt...In Bloody Arizona, four strangers ride into Apache Springs and shoot the marshal while Yakima is locked up. Now the marshal’s wife Julia convinces Yakima to wear her husband’s badge and take on the kill-crazy, vengeance-hungry Rebel Wilkes, who wants to destroy the town as well as his former lover, Julia. In Wildcat of the Sierra Estrada, Apache Springs is flourishing after gold was discovered in the surrounding mountains. With wealth comes trouble, and Yakima is about to have his fill, not the least of which is a canyon filled with lost Jesuit gold that fortune-hunters are willing to kill for, and the love triangle he becomes involved in with Julia and her sister, Emma.


Debuting as an imprint of Kensington Books in 1975, Pinnacle became a hugely successful publisher of paperback original action-adventure series typified by their vanguards, The Executioner series created by Don Pendleton, and The Destroyer series created by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir. Pinnacle displayed long-term market savvy, either by setting genre trends, or quickly responding to popular output from other publishers by creating similar series of their own—which were usually a cut above the originals. 

Pinnacle blazed the men’s action adventure genre trail, quickly responding to reader preferences and adjusting their output. One of their most prolific and genre hopping authors, William W. Johnstone, sold more than 30 million copies of his novels. His output included the long-running post-apocalyptic Ashes series, the equally long-running The Last Mountain Man series, and right-wing fantasy and government conspiracy theory novels. Johnstone and Pinnacle understood their audience and brilliantly tailored the books to their working-class tastes.

Despite Johnstone passing away in 2004, Pinnacle has managed to continue the Johnstone Brand and has turned it into a Western genre juggernaut. According to an article in Publisher’s Weekly, 2017 was the Johnstone brand's best year ever, with 18 novels making the Publishers Weekly bestseller list, and 15 titles charting on the USA Today book listings for a combined total of 27 weeks. Currently, approximately three-quarters of all westerns sold in any given week are Johnstone books.

Pinnacle handled Johnstone’s death in an interesting manner. The fact Johnstone had passed away remained officially unconfirmed for nearly three years. All books published during this time period were all attributed to Johnstone on the covers and via the copyright page. Debates raged in the fan forums until the 2006 paperback release of Last Gunfighter: Devil's Legion. On the copyright page, in small type, Pinnacle confirmed William W. Johnstone died and that a carefully selected author has been chosen to carry on his legacy. 

The name of Johnstone’s niece, J.A. Johnstone, began to appear on the covers under the more prominent William W. Johnstone byline. The fiction has been maintained that J.A. Johnstone is continuing all of her uncle's Western series, while also spinning off new series based on outlines and partial manuscripts left behind by Johnstone himself—to the tune of 25 new books a year. That’s a hell of an output for a single writer.

Despite this, the legion of Johnstone fans, who eagerly gobble up every book, ask no questions and are happy to believe Johnstone is writing from beyond the grave or that J.A. herself is handling all the chores. However, it’s common sense a number of writers, sworn to secrecy via non-disclosure agreements, have been chosen by Pinnacle or Johnstone’s management team and turned into a Western fiction factory.

Knowing they are onto a good thing, Pinnacle has published a number of other Westerns, packaged to match the Johnstone Westerns. Theory has it these short run series are possibly tryouts for writers who may eventually be invited to step behind the veil and pseudonymously pick up the writing chores of a current Johnstone series...or perhaps be given a new Johnstone series to start.

If this is true or not doesn’t matter. Westerns published under the Johnstone Brand have kept the Western genre viable in the modern market. Johnstone’s Westerns have made it possible for a number of other Westerns to breakout, either from Pinnacle or other publishers. Over the next few blog posts, I want to point out some of these new Westerns from traditional publishers, and then move on to the booming realm of independently published and small press Westerns.

To be continued...