PICCADILLY COWBOYS ~ THE GRINGOS
*The first in an occasional series of posts looking at the Piccadilly Cowboy westerns…
They rode out of a dark and dangerous Piccadilly pub in the heart of ‘70s London. Seven deadly UK wordslingers with their battered typewriters tied down, ready to blast out paperbacks filled with violent, brutal, blistering action. They were set for a showdown against every tin star tradition of the western genre—and determined to shoot ‘em to dollrags.
For the next decade, the gang known as The Piccadilly Cowboys would carve over three hundred notches on their combined typewriters—one for every hard, fast, ultra-violent tale they produced. Terry Harknett, Angus Wells, Kenneth Bulmer, Mike Linaker, Laurence James, Fred Nolan, and John Harvey had never travelled west of London, yet their influence would save the western genre from obscurity. However, not everyone felt the means was being justified by the end. The old guard of the standard western—white-hatted, horse loving, damsel rescuers—reviled these blaggards who they believed were destroying their legacy.
Using assumed identities—pseudonyms such as George Gilman (Terry Harknett), Frederick H. Christian (Fred Nolan), William M. James (Harknett, Lawrence James, John Harvey), James A. Muir/Mathew Kirk (Angus Wells), L. J. Coburn (James, Harvey), Neil Hunter (Mike Linaker), Charles R. Pike (Kenneth Bulmer), and many others—these desperate men found inspiration in the filmatic violence, heat, dust, and bloodshed of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns. Together, they shunned the generic moral and puritanical principles of traditional westerns in favor of a blood-soaked, nihilistic, ultra-realism splash across their pages.
The protagonists created by the Piccadilly Cowboys were not traditional anti-heroes, or even amoral drifters with their own personal code. They were brutal violent bullies, sociopathic villains, with no thought for anything beyond their own survival and the slaking of their depraved lusts—killing, vengeance, sadism, and prurient rutting.
Edge (61 books), Adam Steele (49 books), Herne (24 books), Bodie (6 books), Apache (27 books), Caleb Thorne (5 books), Jubal Cade (22 books), The Undertaker (6 books), Angel (9 books), Hart (10 books), Breed (22 books), Claw (6 books), Hawk (15 books), Lawmen (six books), Crow—the worst of the bunch—(8 books), and a dozen or more other vicious series gunmen cemented the reputation of the Piccadilly Cowboys for creating The Most Violent Westerns In Print...
Among the lesser known, but better written of these series, Gringos was co-authored by John Harvey (who would go on to critical success with his mainstream detective stories featuring Charlie Resnick) and the prolific Angus Wells under the pseudonym J. D. Sandon. The ten books in the Gringos series began publication in 1972 with Guns across the River. The final book in the series—Survivors—was published in 1982.
Set in the 1800s, the Gringos were four hard violent men—Jonas Strong, who was damned by his color...Cade Onslow, a major who deserted the US Army in pursuit of vengeance…Jamie Durham, a junkie shunned by society due to his destroyed face...and Yates McCloud, a rapist described as headed straight to hell.
Guns Across the River begins with the Gringos entrusted with delivering guns to Pancho Villa—weapons he needs to defeat his hated rival, Zacatecas, and advance on Mexico City. Finding themselves in a trap, the Gringos must use the weapons themselves while putting together a rag-tag army of their own...
GRINGOS #1: GUNS ACROSS THE RIVER
ANGUS WELLS (1979)
They Came To Sell Guns—And Stayed To Use Them ~ The Mexican Revolution—when death rode on a razor’s edge and life hung on the hammer of a colt automatic. Cade Onslow: US Army Major. Deserter, with nothing to gain but vengeance. Jonas Strong: Top Sergeant, damned by his color. Yates McCloud: Rapist. Nowhere to go but hell. Jamie Durham: The needle of morphine was the answer to his ruined face. The Gringos—four men with nothing to lose but their lives. And they didn’t count for much in the blood fury of rebellion.
GRINGOS #2: CANNONS IN THE RAIN
JOHN HARVEY (1979)
Money Was All They Wanted—Death, All They Expected ~ When the consignment of illegal arms the Gringos were shipping south to the Mexican rebels was blown out of the water, they were forced to go back to Zapata empty-handed. Emiliano Zapata, the deadliest rebel of them all. He could have had them killed on the spot—Instead he held one of them hostage and sent the others to hi-jack a government arms train. They all knew what would happen if they failed, but failure wasn’t a word the Gringos knew. Even if they had to blast and shoot their way through the hell that was Mexico to prove it!
GRINGOS #3: FIRE IN THE WIND
ANGUS WELLS (1979)
Three Men With Nowhere To Go But Hell ~ Mexico 1914. The revolution was in full, bloody spate. Zapata held the south. Pancho Villa held the north. Mexico City was caught in the pincer grip of the rebel armies. But in Reynosa there was an answer to the Government’s siege in the form of enough explosive to blast the rebels to hell. And a way to deliver it—a bi-plane. It was a new way of making war, a way to deliver death from the sky. The Gringos met it the only way they knew how...With bullets and blood.
GRINGOS #4: BORDER AFFAIR
JOHN HARVEY (1979)
They Were Hired To Kill—And Paid In Blood ~ It should have been easy—collect a shipment of arms in El Paso and run them south of the border to the rebel bandit, Pancho Villa. But in the blood and darkness of revolution nothing is as easy as it seems. Betrayed on all sides, the leader of the Gringos feels the raw rope of a hangman’s noose around his neck. It takes the other Gringos all their furious courage and firepower to save him—except none of them can ever be saved.
GRINGOS #5: EASY MONEY
ANGUS WELLS (1980)
Guns Were Their Trade—Killing Their Destiny ~ Zacatecas was the stumbling block that barred Pancho Villa’s advance on Mexico City. The Federale garrison was fighting his bandit army to a standstill. But word came of howitzers stored in Tampico, and Villa called on the four men he trusted most to bring him guns—The Gringos. What they didn’t know was that the whole deal was a trap—an elaborate plan to destroy them. And when the jaws swung shut, they were left to escape the way they knew best—by fighting clear!
GRINGOS #6: MAZATLÁN
JOHN HARVEY (1980)
Their Trade Was Death—At The Right Price ~ When Yates McCloud tried to rape the Mexican’s woman, he forgot about revolutionary justice. And Mexican pride. Pancho Villa needed reliable men to help a bandito take the bank at Mazatlán—The Gringos were chosen. What they didn’t know was that a vengeance-bent killer was dogging their trail. Or that the ruthless outlaws they were forced to work with planned a double-cross. But The Gringos had their own answer to betrayal. The answer was spelled...death. With the word painted in blood.
GRINGOS #7: ONE TOO MANY MORNINGS
ANGUS WELLS (1981)
They Were Dealers In Guns—And Traders In Death ~ The prison was an impregnable fortress, the cells not fit for an animal, let alone a man. Death would have been a kindness for Oveda as neither escape nor rescue were possible. But Oveda’s freedom was vital to the cause of the Mexican Revolution. And for enough money, the Gringos would attempt even the impossible...The Gringos—four desperate Americans on the wrong side of the border, and the wrong side of the law. Fighting was all they had learned from life. Money was all they wanted. Death all they expected.
GRINGOS #8: WHEELS OF THUNDER
JOHN HARVEY (1981)
They Were Born To Live—And Die—Fighting ~ When Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa swore to bring his people out of slavery and into the 20th Century, he didn’t reckon on having a Hollywood film crew in on the action. But now it is the price he must pay for the guns and ammunition he needs to fight the most savage battle of the war, and for the services of the men who will get them—The Gringos. The four hardest hombres south of the Rio Grande.
GRINGOS #9: DURANGO
JOHN HARVEY (1982)
First They Killed For Money—Then For Survival ~ As the Revolutionary war in Mexico builds to a savage climax, the Gringos face their sternest test. In a welter of blood and a hail of death-dealing lead, they must avert the most vicious and cunning plot yet to rob the people of their chance of freedom. The Gringos—four men on the wrong side of the border, the wrong side of the law, and only just on the right side of Hell.
GRINGOS #10: SURVIVORS
ANGUS WELLS (1982)
They Walked Into The Jaws Of Hell—Never To Return ~ The revolution was sapping the life from the suffering people of Mexico. Los Gringos filled the gap with the two things they did best—fighting and killing. Guns and money were enough to satisfy their crude appetites, but to get them, they first had to battle with some of the most vicious enemies the world had seen. And for The Gringos—four desperate men on a journey through red hell—there is no survival without blood on their hands and the ashen taste of death on their tongues.
While many of the Piccadilly Cowboy western series can still be found as used paperbacks (or in new e-book formats on Amazon from Piccadilly Publishing), trying to put together a full set of the Gringos series in good condition is both relatively difficult and pricey. However, the stories are worth the effort to track down if these types of westerns work for you...