1: Faraday: The Iron Horse, by James Reasoner.
James Reasoner creates some iconic characters and sets up a western series with a dynamite opening book. I understand there was a series of these books published in the past in which the sequels were written by other authors, but I haven't read any of those. I did much enjoy this one though.
Matthew Faraday runs a detective agency, a competitor to the Pinkertons. He brings young Daniel Britten onto his team and sends him to investigate an apparent attempt to sabotage the western expansion of the railroad. Someone is informing the Sioux of the movements and vulnerabilities of the "Iron Horse" and Britten soon begins to accumulate suspects.
We have a pretty good mystery built up here, and then a wild free-for-all ending in which the mystery is revealed and the action rolls. A really strong ending. Two particularly well developed secondary characters were Sam Callaghan, a rough frontiersmen drawn along the lines of Wild Bill Hickock, and Mordecai Vint, a peddler with a love of strong drink who also has a beautiful daughter--Laura. I have a feeling that Callaghan plays a role in the later books in the series. I liked him quite a lot.
All in all, an excellent and entertaining read.
2. Stage Fright, by Richard Prosch.
Stage Fright is the fourth book in the Dan Spalding series. Spalding is a music buff and record store owner in Ozark City who frequently gets involved in solving local crimes and helping local citizens. He's a bit of a Knight Errant, as in John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee, and the Spalding books evoke a similar feeling in me.
I've enjoyed all the previous entries in this series and this was no exception. A quick, taut thriller with lots of action and suspense.
3. Tragon of Ramura, by John M. Whalen.
This is the first book I’ve read by John M. Whalen, but it won’t be the last. It’s a standalone novel. The writing is very good, with a lot of action and well-drawn characters and settings. I’d classify it as Sword & Sorcery. Tragon is our main hero. He’s strong and courageous, but no Conan. He struggles with fears and doubts; he isn’t always top dog in a fight. One of the things I liked about the story is that it’s not just Tragon’s tale. It’s really an ensemble cast and several times we see other characters pull Tragon’s butt out of the fire. I particularly enjoyed Yusef and Darius.
The story begins when Tragon and his crew, who have been labeled pirates but hold that title in name only, arrive at a coastal town of “Afkira,” a fictionalized Africa. They are hired by a man named Hestus Variano to help him rescue his daughter from a city of sorcery called Caiphar. Mayhem ensues, of course, and Tragon finds that he has a strange connection to the daughter of Caiphar’s king. I won’t give more of the plot away so you’ll need to read it to find out what that connection is.
Whalen is certainly familiar with the tropes of Sword and Sorcery and adventure fiction. There are elements in the tale which will likely remind many readers of Burroughs’ stories of Opar. There’s also a few twists on the general Sword and Sorcery concept. All in all, I enjoyed it quite a lot.