THE TRADING POST AND OTHER FRONTIER STORIES

Western stories and their writers don’t get much good press these days, and that’s a shame. Fortunately, Maine has one publisher dedicated to the promotion of solid western writing — Five Star in Waterville, which highlights the stories of veterans and newcomers alike.

“The Trading Post” is Five Star’s latest western short-story anthology, compiled by award-winning editor Hazel Rumney, of Thorndike. These 14 western short stories feature Maine writers and others, offering mystery, romance, courtroom drama, fast-shooting gunplay, frontier lore and a few surprising plot twists.

Rumney’s selections cover a lot of ground and time — from Montana, Wyoming and Colorado to Kansas and Missouri, from 1800 to 1885. Each story is a well-crafted, entertaining tale of intrigue and action, with strong characters in the men and women of the Old West.

In “The Trading Post,” an old fur trader and his Cree wife are locked in a deadly standoff with a young stranger, and only one man will survive — maybe. “Coffin Nails in Calloway County” finds a young, inexperienced frontier lawyer defending an accused killer in a stacked trial, but his skill at poker might turn the tables on everyone.

In “Little Cheyenne” by Ethan Wolfe, an itinerant preacher faces down an outlaw gang terrorizing his small town, leaving the pulpit and taking up his pistols to dispense some lethal judgment. John Nesbitt’s story has a cowboy riding into a hot-lead gun battle over horses and hostages.  

“The Judgment Tree,” by well-known writer Johnny D. Boggs, features the only real-life western figure, Daniel Boone, whose wise frontier decisions rival King Solomon’s, and who makes sure the owlhoots get what’s coming to them. And “Halfway to Hell” is a terrific mystery shrouded in clouds of gunsmoke.

 

A VENGEFUL WIND:  A NOVEL OF VIKING AGE IRELAND

Viking warlord Thorgrim Nightwolf has been raiding and trading in ninth-century Ireland for more than two years, and he is getting tired of the cold rain and the treachery of Irish lords and churchmen. He would like to return to Norway, but first there are some scores to settle and some rich monasteries to plunder.

“A Vengeful Wind” is the eighth volume in award-winning Maine author James Nelson’s “The Norsemen Saga,” a rousing adventure series of the Dark Ages. Nelson has written fiction and nonfiction about pirates, privateers and naval warfare, but this series is his best yet. The books are sequential in time and event, but can be read as stand-alone.

Thorgrim and his men are repairing their storm-damaged ships on the Irish coast, working under an uneasy truce with the abbot of a local Irish Christian monastery. The abbot provides sailcloth, food and ale, and Thorgrim agrees not to attack. Neither believes the other. The abbot’s warrior monk, Becc, hates the pagan Vikings and vows to violate the truce at any cost — and that cost will be very high indeed for everyone. Meanwhile, in Dorsetshire, England, a bitter and deadly rivalry erupts between a minor nobleman and a royal widow over who shall rule in Dorset. Murder, a complex frame-up and treason result in bloodshed. Thorgrim, his men and ships flee Ireland under relentless attack by Becc’s army, landing in England and becoming unwilling participants in the royal feud.

Thorgrim, however, is shrewd, and sees an excellent opportunity to kill Englishmen and reap a great treasure. And there’s always the duplicitous Irish to slay later.

Nelson brilliantly paints a vivid and gory picture of the Viking age, complete with graphic battles, intrigue, suspense and clever plot twists. Grab a battle axe and a jug of ale.

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.

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