Indie Book Promo is happy to welcome Van Holt to the blog. He’s here to share about his book, The Gundowners. If this book sounds like something that you would be interested in reading, please find buy links below.
“Step aside Louis L’Amour, another great Western writer is here…” –Heather
“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
While Jeff Mitton is away fighting in the War Between the States, his sister Lettie disappears. When he returns home, his mother makes him promise to find her.
When Jeff if bushwhacked while looking for Lettie, he is befriended by a secretive gunfighter named Steve Kibben, who is hunting some men who killed his sister.
Jeff doesn’t know they are searching for the same dangerous men. Men, and beautiful women, who will stop at nothing to stay out of the clutches of the Federal agents pursuing them for spying for the South.
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.
The Gundowners can be purchased:
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Bio: 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 it if 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 the usual 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 candybar to console 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 himselfhad caught 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 shotone of 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 ever since, 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.
Van Holt can be found:
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by Van Holt
Jeff Mitton rode slowly across a narrow valley where the spring grass stood high and picked his way up the far slope through scattered trees. On the crest he drew rein to study the rolling, sparsely timbered country ahead.
He barely noticed the low rocky knoll about a hundred yards ahead of him and off to his right. There was some brush on the knoll and a few trees, but scarcely enough cover to appeal to an ambusher. And yet it was from that knoll that the two shots came almost simultaneously.
He felt a glancing blow along the side of his head that knocked his hat off. He felt sure he was not hurt bad and was vaguely puzzled to find himself falling from the saddle….
The next thing he became aware of was the smell of wood smoke and boiling coffee. Glancing about, he saw a tall young man near his own age squatting over a small fire. The man was watching him with a faint half smile. There was no other expression in the clear gray eyes, and the short brown beard seemed to mask the lean handsome face.
Mitton’s hand went to the day-old stubble on his own face, and it was then that he became aware of the throbbing in his head and remembered that he had been shot. He gave the man by the fire a sharper glance, noticing that he wore two guns in tied-down holsters.
The man smiled wryly, as though reading his thoughts and mildly amused at his lack of trust. “I heard the shots and found you lying up there on the ridge,” he said, hooking a thumb over his shoulder.
Mitton noticed that they were in a scattered grove of cottonwoods beside a small spring of clear water. Two saddles lay nearby. His sorrel and a fine looking blood bay were grazing on picket ropes not far away.
“Coffee?” the man asked, reaching for the pot and filling a tin cup.
Mitton silently nodded and slowly sat up, his hand going to the side of his head. The stranger brought him the cup and then squatted on his heels nearby, watching him with that faint unreadable half smile, which could be seen only around his gray eyes. Below the eyes his bearded face was devoid of expression.
“I’m Steve Kibben,” he said. “It used to be McKibben, but got shortened to Kibben.”
“You must have a mighty hard head,” Kibben said. “That bullet glanced right off it. Made almost as much of a dent as a light hammer would have. Reminds me of a fellow I heard of once who was shot five times in the head at close range and all the bullets bounced off. Didn’t even hurt him. The man who did the shooting threw his gun down and ran.”
“I don’t think I’d want anybody to shoot me five times in the head,” Mitton said. “Once is enough for me.”
“Any idea who shot you?” Kibben asked, watching him closely.
Mitton started to shake his head, then thought better of it. “No,” he said.
“I scouted around a little,” Kibben said. He hooked a thumb over his shoulder. “Two men waited behind that knoll over there and then rode off heading west after they dry-gulched you.” He dug two empty brass shells out of his pocket and handed them to Mitton. “I found these. Winchesters or Henrys, I can’t tell which, since they use the same cartridges. I guess robbery wasn’t their motive, since they didn’t go any closer after shooting you. They just wanted you dead for some reason. That means they knew you or thought they did.”
Mitton again started to shake his head. “I can’t think of anyone who—” He suddenly broke off and sat staring at the ground without seeing it.
Kibben watched him silently for a moment, then went back to the fire and began slicing bacon into a frying pan. After a time he glanced at Mitton. “Anything come to you yet?”
Mitton hesitated. “Did you ever hear of Barncastle and Mather?”
Kibben shook his head. “I don’t think so. But I’m not from around here.”
“I’m not either,” Mitton said. “My folks had a small farm near St. Louis. Our nearest neighbor was a man named Barncastle. Except for some servants, he lived alone in a big two-story house and never went to see anyone, and nobody went to see him. Then along toward the end of the war a man named Mather and his daughter moved in with him. At least she claimed to be his daughter, but not too many people believed it. Mather was a tall dark man with a black beard and the girl—Rose Mather—had red hair and blue or green eyes. They were supposed to be related to Barncastle some way, but I never got the straight of that either.
“Rose Mather met my sister at a party and they became friends. They were close to the same age. Lettie was only sixteen but looked older. She went to work for Barncastle. He’d suddenly started doing a lot of entertaining, but it was always army officers and strangers that no one around there seemed to know. Lettie usually worked late and started staying there at night most of the time. I wasn’t at home then, so I don’t know all the details, but it seems her job was mainly keeping Rose Mather company and helping entertain the guests. My mother said Lettie became very secretive about what she was doing. Mother got worried and tried to get her to quit, but she started staying at Barncastle’s more than ever. And I think she traveled some with Rose Mather and her father.
“One night there was a bad storm, with a lot of thunder and lightning, and Barncastle’s house burned down. Five or six bodies were found, but they were all burned so bad they couldn’t be identified. Nobody seemed to know who was in the house that night, but if anybody escaped they kept mighty quiet about it. Mother hadn’t seen Lettie for two or three weeks and didn’t know whether she was in the house that night or not.
“The war ended right after that. By the time I got home there were all sorts of rumors going around. Somebody claimed they heard shooting at Barncastle’s house just before it burned down, and there was talk that the people who burned up in the house were already dead, that they’d been murdered. It was said that Rose Mather and Lettie had been learning military secrets from Union army officers and passing it on to Confederate agents. They were all accused of being spies—Barncastle, Mather, Lettie, Rose and several servants or people who pretended to be servants.
“Then a few days after I got home a man named Scullen came to the house and asked my mother and me all sorts of questions. My father was dead. This Scullen was mighty secretive, but we gathered that he was some kind of Federal agent. He asked if Lettie had said anything about a large sum of money just before the house was burned. Mother said she hadn’t been home in almost a month, but Scullen didn’t seem to believe her and he came back two or three times after that, asking if we’d ever seen Lettie or heard anything about her. He seemed to think she was still alive. But we’d long since lost any hope of that.
“Then about six months ago Sam Heffer, a guy I grew up with, came to the house and said he’d seen Lettie in Kansas City. He’d been looking for her ever since the war. People around home seemed to think he’d gone out of his mind, and I didn’t know whether to believe him or not. Mother was sick and I hated to leave her, but she persuaded me to go to Kansas City with Sam and see if we could find her. But we never found a trace. After a few days I went back home, but Sam kept looking.
“My mother died a few weeks ago. But before she died she made me promise to find Lettie if I could.
“Unless those two men were somehow connected with Barncastle and Mather, or with whatever happened at Barncastle’s house that night, I have no idea why they tried to kill me.”
“Have you got a picture of your sister?” Kibben asked. “I drift around a lot. Chances are I’ve seen her if she’s out west anywhere. Girls are mighty easy to spot west of Kansas City. And I’ve been to Kansas City a few times myself.”
Mitton dug out a picture and handed it to him. “The one on the left is my sister. The other girl is Rose Mather. The picture was taken not long before Barncastle’s house burned down. If they’re still alive they’re both around twenty-one now. The Mather girl may be a little older. In the picture it looks like they’ve both got dark hair and eyes, but Lettie’s eyes were blue and her hair light brown like mine—almost blond—and Rose Mather had long red hair and sort of blue-green eyes. That’s what Mother said anyway. She only saw her once.”
Kibben studied the picture with a faint appreciative smile. “Both mighty pretty girls.”
“You ever seen either one of them?”
Kibben shook his head and handed the picture back. “I saw a red-haired girl once who looked a little like the Mather girl. I didn’t get a good look at her, but I’m pretty sure the girl I saw had dark eyes, either dark brown or black.”
“Where did you see her?”
Kibben stirred the sizzling bacon in the pan. “She was on a westbound train. I soon got off. I don’t know where she was headed. But it probably wasn’t the same girl.”
Then he asked, “If that guy spotted your sister in Kansas City, how did she get away from him?”
“He said she pretended not to know him and said she’d call a policeman if he didn’t go away and leave her alone. He tried to follow her, but she went into a hotel and the clerk wouldn’t let him go past the desk. He didn’t have any money for a room. He showed me the hotel when I went to Kansas City with him and I talked to the clerk, but he claimed there hadn’t been anybody named Lettie Mitton or Lettie anything staying at the hotel since he’d been working there. And he said he’d never seen a girl like the one I described. It was all I could do to get Sam Heffer out of there before he tore the hotel apart looking for her.”
Kibben grinned. “I can imagine. But it sounds like he was either mistaken, or somebody paid the clerk to keep quiet.”
“I find it hard to believe my sister would have pretended not to recognize Sam,” Mitton said. “They were practically engaged before she went to work at Barncastle’s. He got shot up pretty bad and was mustered out in ‘64. Lettie was over there all the time and nursed him back to health. But after she went to work at Barncastle’s, she quit having anything to do with him.”
“You know where Heffer is now?”
“No, I haven’t seen him since Kansas City. But I guess he’s still looking for her.”
Kibben smiled his wry smile. “If she’s still alive, she must not want to be found. So offhand I’d say you are both wasting your time looking for her.”
“That’s what I told my mother,” Mitton said. “But she seemed to think Barncastle and Mather had Lettie a virtual prisoner somewhere and were preventing her from coming home or getting in touch with us.”
Kibben shrugged. “Such things have been known to happen. But don’t be too surprised if you find out that she just don’t want to go back. Or she may be afraid the law is watching for her.”
“I doubt if the law is, but Scullen might be,” Mitton said. “The last time he was there, he as good as said he was no longer working for the government. He’s just trying to get his hands on the money he thinks Barncastle and Mather stole, or what’s left of it.”
Kibben brought him a tin plate of bacon and cold bread, then squatted nearby to eat directly from the frying pan himself. “You got any idea how much money they stole?”
“I don’t know anything about it. But Dave Scullen must think they stole a lot, or he wouldn’t still be looking for it after more than five years.”
Kibben smiled faintly. “This is beginning to sound interesting. Spies, missing girls, a fortune in stolen money.” Then he asked, “What makes you think they headed west?”
“Seems like nearly everybody else is these days. I thought maybe they did too.”
“Pretty wild rough country,” Kibben said. “Do you know how to use that old gun you carry?”
“I was one of the best shots in my outfit during the war,” Mitton said modestly.
“That was a while ago,” Kibben said, refilling the tin cup from the coffeepot. “You done any shooting lately?”
“I tried the old gun out to make sure it still worked.”
“You need a better gun than that,” Kibben said. “Take half a day just to reload the thing. And if you run into those two men who tried to kill you, they’re going to think you’re looking for them and chances are they’ll just go for their guns and start shooting. That means you’ll have about a split second to kill both of them before they kill you.”
Mitton glanced uneasily down at the old percussion Colt in his cut-down cavalry holster. “I’ve been intending to get a new gun,” he said. “I got a little money out of our farm. But I keep telling myself I’m on a wild-goose chase anyway and probably won’t even need the gun I’ve got.”
“You may be on a wild-goose chase,” Kibben said. “But that won’t keep you from needing a gun. Out here the first thing a man reaches for when he wakes up is his gun belt—the ones who don’t sleep with it on.”
He was silent a moment, studying Mitton thoughtfully. “I’ve got a gun I got off a fellow who didn’t need it anymore. I don’t need it either, but not for the same reason. You can have it. Maybe camp here a few days and practice some with it while your head heals back up.”
After they had finished eating he got the holstered gun and cartridge belt from his saddlebag. It was a Colt .44 almost exactly like Mitton’s gun except that it had been converted to use metallic cartridges. Kibben took a look at Mitton’s gun and said, “That’s not a bad looking gun. Get a gunsmith to fix it so it’ll use cartridges and you’ll have a pretty nice pair. It’ll do now for a backup gun.”
They camped there that night and Kibben learned about all there was to know about Mitton, without revealing anything about himself except his age. It turned out that they were both twenty-five, but in everything except years Kibben seemed a lot older than Mitton. Mitton had the feeling that he had been everywhere and done everything, perhaps a good deal that he should not have done.
The next morning Mitton belted on the new gun and practiced for a while. Kibben seemed impressed with his shooting, but disappointed when he saw him draw the gun from the holster.
Mitton had buckled the shell belt on over his old cavalry rig, the cut-down holster of which was on his left side with the gun butt to the right for a cross draw.
“Try drawing that one,” Kibben suggested. “You’re more used to it.”
After seeing him draw the old gun, Kibben said, “That’s a little better. But you should tie the bottom of the holster to your leg. And you need a lot of practice.”
He got a rawhide thong from his saddlebag, cut a hole in the bottom of the old holster, ran the thong through the hole, tied it, then tied the dangling ends around Mitton’s leg. “There. You’ll know how the next time.”
Now both holsters were tied down, the guns snug in the leather, and Mitton felt like a walking arsenal.
That day he practiced drawing for several hours, first one gun and then the other. The next day he started in again. By the end of the third day Kibben, observing his progress, had grown quiet and thoughtful.
“I wouldn’t have thought it was possible,” he said, “but you’re faster now than most I’ve seen. Keep practicing and you’ll soon be as good as the best.”
“As good as you?” Mitton asked.
Kibben shrugged. “Maybe.”
Several days later they rode into Hays City, Kansas, one of the wildest towns on the frontier.
As they rode slowly along the dusty main street between false-fronted frame buildings, Kibben suddenly asked, “Do you know those two men who just came out of that saloon?”
Mitton glanced about and saw two rough-garbed, unshaved men standing on the boardwalk, staring at him though hard eyes. “No, I never saw them before.”
“They know you,” Kibben said. After a moment he uneasily rubbed his bearded jaw and added, “I’ve got a feeling they know me too.”
Mitton looked back over his shoulder and saw the two men swing astride two horses that had been standing at the saloon rail and ride slowly along the street in the opposite direction. “Looks like they’re leaving town.”
“Better let them go,” Kibben said. “They may not be the ones who bushwhacked you. And there used to be a tough marshal in this town. Fellow named Hickok. But I heard he’d left.”
Still looking over his shoulder, Mitton saw the two men turn south at the edge of town, and he mentioned this to Kibben.
Kibben’s lips twisted in a wry smile. “They may circle around and head west again. Looks like they were trying to avoid you.”
Mitton had a feeling that if the two men were trying to avoid anyone, it was Steve Kibben.
The preceding was from the gritty western novel
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