Indie Book Promo is happy to welcome Van Holt to the blog! He’s here to share about his latest release, A Few Dead Men. If this book sounds like something that you would be interested in reading, please find some buy links below!
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Blurb: Wearing a badge and a Colt .45, Ben Cobbett had tamed some of the wildest towns in the West. When he stopped in the isolated desert town of Rockville to give himself and his tired horse a little rest, he wasn’t looking for another wild town to tame. But an old rancher wanted him to clean out a gang of vicious outlaws and rustlers who had ruined the old man’s daughter and run off most of his stock. What were a few dead men to a gunslinging town tamer like Ben Cobbett?
The bad ones weren’t afraid of Cobbett. They thought it would be fun to have him around, so they killed his horse to keep him from leaving. They soon learned that it was no fun at all to have Ben Cobbett around.
And it turned out to be more than a few dead men. When you got a man like Ben Cobbett started killing men who laughed at the law and everything that was right and decent, it was hard to get him stopped before he sent them all to hell where they belonged.
WARNING: Reading a Van Holt western may make you want to get on a horse and hunt some bad guys down in the Old West. Of course, the easiest and most enjoyable way to do it is vicariously—by reading another Van Holt western. Van Holt writes westerns the way they were meant to be written.
A Few Dead Men can be purchased:
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What some reviewers have to say about Van Holt’s writing:
“I had a feeling that Van Holt…might actually be the successor to Zane Gray, a master Western storysmith, whose novels set the style of a generation.” –Stern0
“Van Holt is King of the Spaghetti Western…” –Rarebird1
Van Holt wrote his first western when he was in high school and sent it to a literary agent, who soon returned it, saying it was too long but he would try to sell itif Holt would cut out 16,000 words. Young Holt couldn’t bear to cut out any of his perfect western, so he threw it away and started writing another one.
A draft notice interrupted his plans to become the next Zane Grey or Louis L’Amour. A tour of duty as an MP stationed in South Korea was pretty much theusual MP stuff except for the time he nabbed a North Korean spy and had to talk the dimwitted desk sergeant out of letting the guy go. A briefcase stuffed with drawings of U.S. aircraft and the like only caused the overstuffed lifer behind the counter to rub his fat face, blink his bewildered eyes, and start eating a big candy bar toconsole himself. Imagine Van Holt’s surprise a few days later when he heard that same dumb sergeant telling a group of new admirers how he himself hadcaught the famous spy one day when he was on his way to the mess hall.
Holt says there hasn’t been too much excitement since he got out of the army, unless you count the time he was attacked by two mean young punks and shot oneof them in the big toe. Holt believes what we need is punk control, not gun control.
After traveling all over the West and Southwest in an aging Pontiac, Van Holt got tired of traveling the day he rolled into Tucson and he has been there eversince, still dreaming of becoming the next Zane Grey or Louis L’Amour when he grows up. Or maybe the next great mystery writer. He likes to write mysteries when he’s not too busy writing westerns or eating Twinkies.
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Excerpt from A Few Dead Men
The two men met on the trail, strangers with only one thing in common—they happened to be going in the same direction.
They did have one other thing in common, a deadly skill with firearms, but they did not discuss that at the time, though each was curious about the other.
Ben Cobbett would never see thirty again. Joe Deegan would never see thirty at all.
Cobbett was a tall lean man with pale hair, bleak gray eyes and a weathered brown face that might have been carved from solid rock. He wore a dust-colored hat, a faded corduroy coat, gray trousers, and a walnut-butted Colt .45 on his right hip.
Joe Deegan was about two inches shorter, five ten or a little better. He had rich dark chestnut hair, laughing blue eyes and a smooth round baby face that made him look younger than his actual age of twenty-five. He wore a black hat, black leather vest, blue shirt, black trousers and a black gun belt, with the holster and ivory-handled Colt .44 on the left side. He also rode a beautiful black horse that Cobbett suspected was stolen. Cobbett’s own gelding was a rangy sorrel, and he had a bill of sale in his saddlebag.
As it was getting late, the two men decided to camp for the night beside a little stream near the trail. They took care of the horses first, then boiled coffee, cooked bacon and beans and pan bread. It was fall in the high desert country, warm days, cold nights, and the fire felt good. The hot coffee was fine also, and Cobbett sipped a second cup while Deegan finished the beans and bacon.
Deegan studied Cobbett with his smiling blue eyes. The younger man, not yet saddened by age or experience, seemed to find everything mildly amusing—even the bleak humorless face of Ben Cobbett and the high-peaked Montana hat he wore. Or perhaps it was Cobbett’s neatly trimmed mustache that was a lot darker than his hair.
“You from Montana?” Deegan asked.
“I was there a few years,” Cobbett said quietly. In keeping with western tradition he had not asked any questions himself, would not ask any.
Joe Deegan laughed quietly at the older man’s taciturnity, his blank-faced disapproval of the question. Deegan was a young man and he did not have much regard for customs he considered out-of-date, especially as lawmen had never hesitated to break tradition and question him. He had little doubt that Cobbett had worn a badge at one time or another. He looked like the type—Deegan often bragged that he could spot a lawman a mile away.
Deegan drank his coffee thoughtfully, a hint of malice in his grin. He reflected that many ex-lawmen, without their badge to shield them, became sensitive and secretive about their former occupation. And well they might, for there were a lot of men around who would jump at a chance to fill them full of holes. Deep down nobody had much use for a lawman. Outlaws were a lot more popular.
“What were you back in Montana?” Deegan asked finally. “Lawman?”
“For a while,” Cobbett answered shortly.
“I figgered you were,” Deegan said. “I can always spot a lawman. Something different about them.”
“I’m not a lawman anymore.”
Deegan showed his white teeth in a hard grin. “They’ll try to pin a badge as you the minute you ride into Rockville. The last marshal has prob’ly been shot by now. They bury one about once a month.”
Cobbett finished his coffee and laid the tin cup aside. His face seemed even harder in the flickering firelight. “I’m through wearing a badge,” he said. “I figure it’s time I tried something else.”
“If you ever aim to, it is,” Deegan agreed. He glanced at the pale hair under Cobbett’s hat. “That hair gray, or has it always been like that?”
“Might be a little gray in it. Seems to be getting lighter anyway.”
Deegan chuckled. “Well, I guess everybody gets old sometime.”
Cobbett’s cold gray eyes narrowed a little. “Yeah, if they live long enough.”
“How old are you anyway, Cobbett?” Deegan asked.
Deegan’s surprise showed. “Hell, I figgered you were closer to forty.”
“Lot of people figgered that,” Cobbett grunted. “I believe I’ll turn in. Old man like me needs his rest.”
“I think I’ll ride on to Rockville,” Joe Deegan decided. “It’s only a couple more hours, and the boys are more likely to be in town at night. I ain’t seen them for a while.
“Suit yourself.” Cobbett was already spreading his blankets.
Deegan looked at him for a moment, then shivered and glanced at the sky. “You gonna get wet,” he said. “I think it’s gonna rain.”
“I’ve been wet before.”
Rockville was a one-street town of false-fronted frame buildings, surrounded on three sides by boulder-strewn hills and sagebrush. Just east of the town there was a stream in wet weather, a dry wash at other times. Once a few cottonwood trees had grown along the wash, but there were none left near the town. They had been used for lumber and firewood.
To Joe Deegan the place looked as if it had shriveled up and died. He had only been gone a few weeks, but evidently his memory had already started playing tricks on him. He had remembered a wide street filled with people on foot scrambling to get out of the way of wild riders galloping into town and firing their guns into the air. And on either side bigger buildings, mostly saloons and gambling halls, brightly lit with chandeliers and glowing in the dark, and noisy with the clink of chips, the tinkle of glass, the jingle of spurs, and the laughter of girls in gaudy low-cut dresses. But there was none of that. At ten o’clock the town was dark and quiet and almost deserted, with dim lights showing in only a few buildings and half a dozen horses tied in front of a saloon.
Toward the saloon Joe Deegan drifted, his face lighting up when he recognized the horses. He swung down at the rail, tied the black, and went in through the swing doors, spurs jingling, a reckless carefree smile on his round baby face. It was good to be back, even better when he saw the five men at the bar turn and start grinning from ear to ear. They were his pals, the fun-loving, work-hating boys he rode and rustled with. Even the bartender’s bulldog face cracked in a grin. Even old Duffy Shaw, who had a heart like stone, was glad to see him back, and it was always good to see a friendly face, even one like Duffy’s.
“I’ll be a suck-egg mule!” Barney Nash roared. “If it ain’t Joe Deegan, in the livin’ flesh!”
The others greeted Deegan as he stepped up to the bar beside Nash and ordered a whiskey. Nash was a rock-hard heavyset bruiser wearing a small derby on his huge head, a tacky green coat and a red shirt that hung outside his striped trousers. By now he had killed at least a bottle by himself and his dark-stubbled red face had a bloated look. His mean little eyes were bloodshot and bleary and there was a kind of challenge in them, in spite of his show of friendliness. He had long suspected Deegan of trying to take his gang away from him, replace him as the leader, and he probably wasn’t as happy to see the baby-faced killer back as he pretended.
“How was Cheyenne?” Barney asked, his voice a natural roar.
Deegan rolled and licked and lit a cigarette. “I didn’t go to Cheyenne.”
“You didn’t?” Barney asked. “You said you was!”
Deegan glanced at the heavyset man, his blue eyes cold under slightly raised dark brows. “I changed my mind.”
“Where the hell did you go?”
“Salt Lake!” Barney Nash exclaimed. “What the hell did you go there for? Ain’t nothin’ there but a bunch of wife-beatin’ Mormons.”
Joe Deegan chuckled. “Then they must do a lot of beating, ‘cause they sure got lots of wives.”
Some of the boys laughed at that, and Chuck Moser, a big-toothed, pop-eyed young man, asked, “What was it like in Salt Lake, Joe?”
“Dead,” Joe Deegan said. “Dead as this place.” Then he squinted through his cigarette smoke and asked, “You boys been up to anything while I was gone?”
“Nothin’ ‘cept the usual,” Barney Nash said, and a couple of the others chuckled. “Pickin’s is gettin’ slim and the competition tougher.”
“The Pasco boys still acting tough?”
“’Bout like usual,” Barney Nash said. Then he looked at Joe Deegan with a malicious grin. “They said if you ever come back around here they was gonna have you for breakfast.”
Joe Deegan’s blue eyes were narrow and cold under raised brows. “They better bring plenty of help.”
Barney Nash spread his hamlike hands, watching Deegan with his mean little eyes. “Leave me and the boys out of it,” he said. “It ain’t our fight. It’s between you and them. You got them sore foolin’ around with Molly.”
“They still better bring plenty of help,” Joe Deegan said.
It was raining the next morning when Ben Cobbett rode into town. He left his horse at the livery stable, tramped through the mud with his saddlebags, blanket roll and Winchester and turned into the town’s only hotel, brushing rain from his slicker and cleaning his boots as best he could before entering. At the desk he signed the register, climbed the stairs and cleaned up in his room.
He cleaned his guns, the Colt and the Winchester.
When the rain slacked off to a slow drizzle he left the hotel and crossed the mud to a restaurant for a late breakfast.
Just as he was finishing his bacon and eggs Joe Deegan came in with a cheerful grin. He sat down opposite Cobbett and laid his wet black hat on the table, running his fingers back through his wavy dark hair. “Saw you ride in,” he said. “How you like our little town?”
Just then the waitress, who had barely spoken to Cobbett, came from the kitchen with a big smile and said, “Joe! When did you get back?”
“Last night,” Deegan said, laughing quietly at her surprise.
“And you ain’t even been in to say hello!” the waitress said. She was a rather pretty but tired-faced woman who appeared to be in her late twenties. She might have been either younger or older, for the dry climate had already gone to work on her face, making it hard to guess at her exact age.
Joe Deegan was still chuckling, pleased with the world, but pleased most of all with Joe Deegan. “It was raining too hard,” he said. “Jane, this here is Ben Cobbett. He used to be a lawman back in Montana. Jane Keller, Ben.”
Jane Keller glanced sharply at Cobbett, then looked at Joe Deegan in surprise. “He’s a friend of yours?”
Deegan glanced at Cobbett and showed his white teeth in a generous smile. “Sure,” he said and shrugged. “Everybody’s my friend, Jane. You know that.”
Jane Keller’s sun-cured face was serious and her green eyes were worried. “I don’t know,” she said. “George and Dave Pasco say they ran you out of town and you better not ever come back.”
Joe Deegan’s laughing baby blue eyes suddenly narrowed and turned cold. But he quickly erased that expression and said easily, “Them boys just enjoy hearing theirselves talk. They didn’t mean no harm.”
“You’re only saying that, Joe. Everybody knows they’ve got it in for you.” Then she said, “Molly Hicks was in town the other day.”
Joe Deegan’s eyes brightened with interest. “She pretty as ever?”
The waitress pursed her lips. “She’s pretty all right,” she said in a way that seemed to leave a lot unsaid. “What can I bring you, Joe?”
“A big platter of steak and potatoes and about a gallon of black coffee,” Deegan said cheerfully.
She glanced at Cobbett’s cup. “Can I get you anything else? How about some more coffee?”
“You could fill it back up.”
Joe Deegan chuckled and winked at the waitress. “A man of few words.”
About to turn away, the waitress raised her brows as if she thought even those few would be better left unsaid. She looked suspiciously at the former lawman, then smiled at Joe Deegan, a known rustler and horse thief. Cobbett had heard about the baby-faced outlaw even before meeting him on the trail yesterday.
The waitress went into the kitchen and returned with the coffeepot and a cup for Deegan. She filled both cups, then paused beside Deegan’s chair, glancing down at him. “Are your friends still in town? I heard them making noise down at Duffy Shaw’s saloon last night.”
Deegan grinned. “I left them sleeping it off on the saloon floor. That’s where I spent the night myself, as a matter of fact.”
“I wish you wouldn’t hang around with that bunch, Joe,” Jane Keller said. “They’re going to get you in bad trouble one of these days. I know you ride with them just for the fun and excitement, but they’re no good, Joe. A bad lot, all of them, and Barney Nash is worse than the others. He’d cut his own mother’s throat just for the fun of it.” Then she glanced uneasily at Cobbett, as if worried that she might have said too much.
Joe Deegan also looked at the ex-lawman, but he did not seem in the least worried. Rather he seemed to be enjoying himself. “They won’t get me in no trouble,” he said. “I’m more likely to get them in trouble.”
“You shouldn’t say things like that, Joe,” Jane Keller said, again glancing at Cobbett. “I know you don’t mean it, but others might get the wrong impression.”
Deegan grinned. “You don’t have to worry about Cobbett. He claims he’s through being a lawman. But I figure somebody will try to pin a badge on him if he stays around here long.”
The waitress gave Cobbett a guarded look. “Do you plan to stay in Rockville long, Mr. Cobbett?”
Cobbett was sitting back in his chair with his coffee, looking through the window with bleak eyes. It had started raining again. “Not long,” he said.
The waitress looked relieved. She shifted her glanced back to Deegan and said with a smile, “I’ll be right out with your breakfast, Joe. Would you settle for some bacon and eggs, like Mr. Cobbett had?”
Deegan shrugged, grinning his indifference. “Sure,” he said, “If you’ll throw in the hen.”
Jane Keller smiled and went into the kitchen.
“Raining again,” Joe Deegan said. “Looks like I’m gonna get wet yet.” He smiled at Cobbett. “I can’t stay in here long, or that girl would try to have me up before a preacher.”
“You might do worse.”
“She’s more your type, Cobbett,” Deegan said. “She’d start trying to reform me the first thing. She’d tell that preacher we’d be back in church on Sunday.”
Cobbett did not say anything. His long weathered face was blank as if he had not been listening.
Joe Deegan regarded him with mild amusement. “You met the marshal yet? You two might hit it off.”
“Not yet,” Cobbett said.
“He don’t leave his office much when it’s rainy like this,” Deegan said. “I was surprised we didn’t have a new one by now, but one of the boys said it was still the same one, Tobe Langley. Maybe you’ve heard of him. Around here he’s known as a bad man with a gun.”
“The name doesn’t ring a bell.”
Deegan shrugged. “Well, Montana’s a long ways from here. What brought you out this way anyhow, Cobbett?”
“Just riding,” Cobbett said. “I’ve always had the feeling that if I kept on going, sooner or later I’d find what I’m looking for. It comes on me every two or three years and I quit whatever I’m doing and hit the trail again.”
“What are you looking for?”
“Maybe that’s the trouble,” Cobbett said. “I don’t know.”
Joe Deegan chuckled. He seemed to find the tall quiet man more and more amusing. Perhaps not wanting Cobbett to leave and deprive him of entertainment, he said, “Maybe you should hang around here a while. You might find whatever you’re looking for.”
“I doubt that,” Cobbett said. “I guess I’ll push on when it quits raining and my horse gets a few days’ rest.”