Hell Town by William W. Johnstone
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Hell Town is the continuation of a series by William W. Johnstone following Frank Morgan, a dead-eye gunfighter once known as "The Drifter" but now working as the sheriff of Buckskin. Johnstone delivers just what you'd expect from a western: shoot outs; outlaws; an either righteous or misunderstood sheriff; double dealings; saloon fights; a heap of colorful characters.
Buckskin, this once boom-town-gone-bust, is about to boom again with the reopening of the local mines, which will bring prosperity as well as trouble. Not only does Morgan have to contend with the stubborn-as-a-mule young guns looking to make a name for themselves by taking out the fastest gun in the west, but he also has to manage the unruly practices of one mining company's brash and underhanded owner. Oh, and there's a band of outlaws with a deranged leader about to rain bullets and utter oblivion down upon Buckskin.
The writing is workman-like and, while it's nothing special, it's also nothing to complain about. There's enough period detail to make it believable for me. Johnstone does occasionally use some words and phrasings that stick out as being more modern. Some might find that jarring. I didn't have a problem with it.
With Johnstone it's action, action, action, a passing hint of romance, and then back to the action. The book reads more like a collection of short stories with an overarching theme. Another way to say it would be that the scenes are set up episodically, such as westerns traditionally often are. Quickly wrapping up a storyline, newly presented and completed all in one chapter, can make the scene's consequences seem, well inconsequential. The technique does however allow the writer to introduce a change of pace should the story be growing slow at any point. The end result is a fast-paced, fun read that you'll likely forget five minutes after finishing.
To say William Johnstone wrote a lot of books would be to say the ocean holds a lot of water. Johnstone wrote for only about 25 years, but penned around 150 books in that time. Those books were spread out over quite a few different series, his bio asserting that they fall into the western, horror and survivalist genres. Some are shorter than others, but if you're looking for a nice, long series of say 20 of more books, Johnstone might be your man. I know I'll be giving another of his works a go in the future!