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Wednesday 27 September 2023

Chap O'Keefe rides again!

Way back in 2014 I interviewed a stalwart of comic and genre fiction, Keith Chapman. He was an editor and contributor to various fiction publications in London in the 1960s before moving to New Zealand and spending nearly 35 years in newspaper and magazine journalism. He returned to fiction writing in earnest in 1992, using the pen-name Chap O'Keefe, writing westerns, and also edited the Black Horse Extra online magazine. Recently he has concentrated on bringing out his quite considerable back-list in e-book format, rather than producing new fiction.

Chap O'Keefe, his wife, adult children and grandchildren live in Auckland, New Zealand. The family home was high on a North Shore hillside overlooking Hellyer's Creek and the sparkling Waitemata Harbour, but 8 years ago for medical reasons they moved to a small unit in a retirement village.

Black Horse extra online magazine appeared quarterly for six years from March 2006. It promoted the western genre and the work of authors published by the (now defunct) Robert Hale company’s Black Horse Western hardback novels. You can still read each issue of this magazine here

Black Horse Extra (

Keith’s writing history is covered in two lengthy blog items, featuring among other legendary characters for magazines devoted to Sexton Blake, Edgar Wallace, and Leslie Charteris’s The Saint:

WRITEALOT: Blog Guest - Keith Chapman aka Chap O'Keefe ( -

WRITEALOT: Blog Guest - Keith Chapman - part 2 (

Some of Keith’s re-issued westerns as e-books can be found on Amazon and other platforms:

Rebel and the Heiress

Frontier Brides

Blast to Oblivion

A Gunfight Too Many

Gunsmoke Night (his first book written as Chap O’Keefe)

This is my review of Blast to Oblivion

Inspired by Conan Doyle’s The Valley of Fear, this twenty-first Black Horse Western by Chap O’Keefe starts with a bang – a shotgun killing in Denver.

Ex Pinkerton Joshua Dillard was hired by the deceased’s sister, Flora, to investigate the murder. She suspected that her brother’s wife was concealing something – particularly as she had moved away with her male secretary Joseph Darcy to the mining town of Silverville. When Dillard arrives there, he meets up with an unusual character with the monicker of Poverty Joe, who happens to be instrumental in saving Dillard from some desperadoes. Dillard interviewed the ungrieving widow but couldn’t find any evidence to link her with her husband’s death. Besides the unwelcome attentions of the desperadoes led by Cord Skann, Dillard also has to contend with the duplicitous Marshal Broadstreet.

This is an enjoyable yarn and it’s clear that the author has written about Joshua Dillard a number of times (this is his seventh appearance, in fact); the character fits like a well-worn glove. Subtle evidence of research crops up from time to time, too. ‘An English lady traveller in the district had recorded that bad temper and profanity in the presence of women was widespread.’ I could be wrong, but this may be alluding to Fanny Trollope’s classic ‘Domestic Manners of the Americans’.

The action-packed story is laced with humour as well as gunplay. The twist at the end is neat and it’s satisfying for both the reader – and especially for Dillard – that Flora is a woman of her word.


‘Told in Pictures’ is an article written by Keith and featured in the prestigious Illustrators Quarterly (2013), lavishly illustrated with covers from Combat Picture Library, Edgar Wallace Mystery Magazine and The Sexton Blake Library, among others.

Tuesday 26 September 2023


Margaret Lawrence’s final book in her Hannah Trevor historical trilogy, The Burning Bride, was published in 1998. I have been remiss in not reading it until now. 

This tale takes place between 6 November and 24 December 1786.

Widow midwife Hannah Trevor has always been an independent soul, even when wed to her unsavoury husband. So, even though she is pregnant by Daniel Josselyn, Major of the Continental Army, and a landowner, she is not committed to the betrothal. Yet, as circumstances begin to crush them all, she relents: ‘If marriage be a bond, I am ready to bear it. If love be a fire, I am already burnt’ (p269).

Daniel had once been the friend of Hamilton Siwall, but that was a long while back. 

Siwall is a land merchant, moneylender, magistrate and member of the General Court. When he tries debtors, he often acquires the offender’s land in settlement, continually extending his power and prestige. It seems that Siwall is keen to lay blame on Daniel for the slightest perceived infraction, and it is not long before the opportunity presents itself.

Marcus Tapp is the High Sheriff of the county and a creature of Magistrate Siwall. ‘Tapp’s eyes scanned the yard, missing nothing…Strange eyes, they were, so pale they seemed in daylight to have no colour at all, glass eyes that the world passed through without effect, to be recorded by the raw ends of his nerves’ (p23).

At this time there is a big issue regarding taxation among the townspeople of Rufford, Maine: ‘Tax upon tax had been laid on them, debts from a war that set rich men free to get richer, but ground out all hope from the labouring poor’ (p2). There are too many debtors; often the prison is bursting at the seams.

‘Rich men elected other rich men and they scratched one another’s backs like sleek cats and did not understand why poor men resented them, and any who resisted the growth of their power was labelled as traitors and fools. So it would be under governors and presidents, as it had been under kings and popes and caesars’ (p235). Anarchy does not seem too far off…

Another of Siwall’s creatures is the town’s local doctor, Samuel Clinch; he is a drunkard and a misogynist: ‘These country midwives are no more skilled than a witch with a broomstick, with their pawings and strokings! What does a woman know of such matters? Can she spell, sir? Can she read and write and cipher Latin like a man? No, she cannot! Women are soft for our pleasures, but they ain’t got the brains of a sheep where Science and babies is concerned!’ (p128). As implied, he is not averse to taking payment for his doctoring of female patients with pleasures of the flesh. Until, that is, he is found murdered in the forest. A mystery surrounds the violent death.

For different reasons, both Siwall and Tapp soon accuse Daniel of the murder, though there is little conclusive proof.

Hannah is kept busy with her midwife role. ‘It was always there at a borning, the spectre of dying, the other side of the treacherous coin of hope’ (p335). Yet, in reality, she would prefer to spend her time quilting and finally preparing for her wedding to Daniel. Several quilt patterns are named throughout the book: Bridges Burning, China Dish, Cross and Crown, Cradle in the Wilderness, Flame in the Forest, and Star of the Forest. Instead, she finds herself puzzling over the unpleasant doctor’s murder. That is, when she is not laying out the men who’d been sentenced to death by the loathed magistrate.

‘This is her work in the world, to reconcile living and dying. To wash away fear and shame and loneliness with a touch the dead must somehow feel where they stand watching, invisible, behind their window of clouded glass’ (p244).

Again, we meet Hannah’s deaf mute daughter Jennet, always depicted with compassion and eloquence. As before, Lawrence’s prose and imagery suck you into the story, and into the period:

‘A woodpecker rattled in the crown of an oak tree, and a flock of kinglets chattered as they flew from one tree to another, their scarlet crowns a flash of fire against the heavy hung branches. And now and then a limb creaked with the weight of slowly melting ice, and a burden of wet snow fell with a plop to the ground…’ (p398)

Here you will find poignancy, cruelty, anger, despair, injustice, love, hate, suspense, and tension aplenty.

A fitting end to an engrossing historical series. 

Friday 15 September 2023

BLOOD RED ROSES - Book review


Blood Red Roses is the second book in Margaret Lawrence’s trilogy about Hannah Trevor. I read the first – Hearts and Bones – in 1999. I found Hannah, her main character, very compelling, and the storytelling was excellent. I obtained the two sequels as soon as they were published in paperback. And yet for some unfathomable reason I’ve only now got round to reading them – a matter of some two dozen years later! In mitigation, I have acquired several hundred books still to be read… Unfortunately, I recall little about the first book after such a lapse of time, save that I recall admiring it greatly. (Since that time, beginning in 2008, I have attempted to write brief reviews of the books I’ve read, if only to remind me what they were about, for it is unlikely I will re-read a book when I have so many lingering on the shelves unread).

‘Lucy Hannah Trevor turned thirty-eight years old on that foggy St Valentine’s Day of the year 1786. She had the ripeness of a woman who had borne four children and the unconscious sensuality of one who thinks she has long since cured herself of needing men for more than idle conversation’ (p11, Heart and Bones).

Hannah is a midwife in the town of Rufford, Maine. Three of her children died and her fourth, Jennet is a loving deaf mute, now aged eight. ‘She had listened in vain for the birth cry, and when her aunt laid the girl-child on her belly, Hannah was sure she had given birth to the dead. Even when her hands found the warm, slippery shape of a living baby there, it seemed to her an alien gift that had nothing to do with her own body nor with anyone else in the world – and was more precious, being only itself’ (p47).

Her husband James had abandoned her while she was pregnant with Jennet, leaving gambling debts, and was presumed dead. Hannah’s secret lover was Daniel Joselyn – Jennet’s father.

The three books are written from the omniscient point of view. However, each book begins and ends with an extract from Hannah’s journals in the first person: 1) 14 February 1786 and 22 February 1786; 2) 12 July 1786 and 12 September 1786; 3) 6 November 1786 and 24 December 1786. So the three novels barely cover ten months of the same year – though event-filled months indeed!

A recurring theme is the making of quilts, which Hannah endeavours to accomplish when she is not in conflict with officialdom and some thoroughly unpleasant individuals. And the three books tend to follow a pattern, too.

Each book begins with a prologue. 1) How he killed her; 2) How she made God weep; 3) How he killed the ghost of shame. None of the individuals are either Hannah or Daniel; at this point they are anonymous.

The penultimate chapter headings are relevant: 1) The breaking of hearts and bones; 2) Blood and roses; 3) The refiner’s fire. Each echoes the titles of the relevant books. The book title Blood Red Roses is from a children’s dance.

Interspersed are chapters relating to legal proceedings investigating the murders – they’re all murder mysteries besides being historical novels: ‘Piecing the Evidence’.

When they first met, Daniel’s wife was living in England. Hannah wanted him merely to give her a child; she did not seek love. Yet inevitably love followed – on both sides: ‘His life turned always upon the sight of her – even more intently since the winter, for now he knew her heart better. As she went upon her nursing visits, Hannah was a bright fleck of colour – her hooded red cloak against the winter snow, and in summer, a plain linen bodice and a homespun skirt that might have been dyed in the same pot of cochineal as the cloak’ (p27).

Midwife Hannah was independent, and did not stand for any nonsense. ‘It was no matter of dying; surely Molly’s case was, the midwife judged, more messy than desperate, the girl cried for a nurse if she suffered a hangnail. Hannah could witness, and besides, men always got liverish, and histrionic at bornings’ (p44).

Many of the characters are neatly described. ‘Andrew Tyrell held a long-handled glass to one eye and peered through it. He had spent much of his life poring over badly-printed books and now, at five-and-forty, he could not see more than a yard beyond his nose without a lens’ (p52). And: ‘He was a tall man and heavyset, with a long, lugubrious countenance and grey eyes set deep in his skull, like musket balls in a bore’ (p177). And: ‘Honoria Siwal eyed Hannah down a nose so long and thin it might have served a heron for a beak’ (p217).

And the author’s descriptions of Jennet’s travails are beautifully done: ‘But when there was music, Jennet Trevor seemed to see it in the very air, and something that had slept in her since before she was born awoke and climbed the blank walls of her silence, demanding to be heard’ (p87). And: ‘Hannah could feel the pounding of her daughter’s heart like a fist, slamming, slamming, slamming at the invisible door that locked her out of the world’ (p89). Jennet ‘did not wake from her drugged sleep till near six that evening, but in the clock of her bones it was morning still’ (p278).

This period – like many before and after – was a time where women were considered chattels, second-class citizens, if considered at all. ‘Known and unknown, seen and disregarded. All women are nobody. Poor women are nothing at all’ (p161). [Have times really changed? Women have had to fight for recognition for centuries and now a certain vociferous minority want to eliminate the definition of ‘woman’. Really?] ‘Nothing. I am nothing human. I am a weed to be torn from the world’ (p170).

The murder mystery is resolved.

The times were perilous, violent and in many instances unjust; that’s history for you. Certainly, if anyone is ‘offended’ by factual historical events, then these splendid novels are not for them. For the majority who enter Hannah’s world they will feel they are almost there, and will be moved by her gripping tale.

The final book is The Burning Bride, which I have begun and will review next.

Thursday 7 September 2023

Promotion by Rough Edges Press


£0.99/$0.99 e-book For 1 week only – starting on 6 September!

From Rough Edges Press


Amazon UK:

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A fast-paced thriller with plenty of threats and sexy suspense…

A catalyst is a person who precipitates events. That’s Catherine Vibrissae. Orphan, chemist, model, and crusading cat.

Seeking revenge against Loup Dante, the Head of Ananke—and the man responsible for the takeover of her father’s company—Cat will stop at nothing to uncover his wicked agenda. A trained chemist and an accomplished climber, she is not averse to breaking and entering. So, when she crosses paths with an attorney for the bloodless organization and uncovers a mysterious product called Catananche, Cat risks injury and death to learn more.

Ranging from South England to the North-east, from Wales to Barcelona, Cat’s quest for vengeance is implacable. But will she be able to escape the clutches of an unexpected and whip-wielding enemy?

The first in the Cat’s Crusade series, Catalyst follows a strong female character with a thirst for action.

Wednesday 6 September 2023



Dennis O’Neil’s novel Batman Knightfall was published in 1994 and was mainly adapted from a story arc serialised in the following DC comics, many of which he edited: Batman, Batman: Shadow of the Bat, Detective Comics, Legends of the Dark Knight, and Robin; with additional material from Batman: Venom, Batman: Sword of Azrael, and Batman: Vengeance of Bane – all published between 1991 to 1994. I read the series at the time but have only now got round to this book. (My TBR pile is enormous!)

Way back then O’Neil and his other editors wondered, after the release of the Batman Returns movie, that there was a risk of saturation, scaring off potential readers. Also, there was a feeling that in the time of Eastwood, Schwartzenegger et al piling high corpses maybe Batman was an anachronism, even passé – especially as the caped hero would never kill. They decided to test the concept with the Knightfall story arc. The readership response was conclusive: they wanted a ‘Batman who was avenging and compassionate. The Batman archetype is the creature of darkness who serves the common good, the devil on an angel’s mission’ (p349).

The familiar characters in the comics are here; firstly, Commissioner Gordon: ‘… sometimes he despised himself for his reliance on the masked vigilante, but he knew that without Batman, his job would be impossible. Gotham City hadn’t had an honest government since the Civil War… Batman was necessary – a necessary evil… if Batman’s a devil, he’s my devil. I’ve made a pact with him and I’ll keep it. Until he steps over the line. Until he kills someone. And then? The day that happens it’ll be the end for both of us, and probably for the city, too’ (p11).

There are appropriate dark moments in the tale, but there’s also banter and wit: it’s become a cliché almost that after Gordon’s meeting with Batman the Dark Knight would tends to vanish. ‘I’ve finally figured out how you do that. You’re one of those ninjas, aren’t you? You learned it in Japan.’

Batman said, ‘Correspondence course. It was either ninja or air-conditioning repair, and I already had a black suit.’ (p24).

At this time, Tim Drake is the third incarnation of Robin. The first, Dick Grayson, naturally grew older and became crime-fighter Nightwing. Jason Todd, the second, was killed by The Joker. The Drake family lives close to Wayne Manor, which is handy. Tim is still a novice Robin, but a fast learner.

At the beginning, the criminal psychopath Bane crosses paths with Batman and escapes. Bane realises that if he wants to control Gotham, he must first get rid of the Dark Knight. So he embarks on his strategy, diverting Batman to numerous crime scenes, to fight felons; and eventually he even releases several terrible criminals from Arkham Asylum. Finally, Batman confronts Bane and in his worn-out frazzled state is no match and his back is broken. Bane contemptuously dumps Batman in the street.

Alfred and Tim find Batman and take him to the Cave and thence to hospital, pretending that Bruce Wayne had a serious RTA. Bruce is worried, however; although he has apprehended several escapees from Arkham, there are others still on the loose, more than the police department can handle. He informs Tim that a substitute Batman is needed – and selects Jean Paul Valley, who had previously been a costumed avenger, Azrael. (Clearly, Nightwing was otherwise occupied).

In their own ways, both Bane and Valley are psychologically damaged. Bane’s back-story makes grim reading (pp19-32), but sheds some light on the warped violent character. At an early age Valley had been brainwashed by his religious father to follow the Ancient Order of St Dumas and train to be an assassin. Yet in an earlier adventure, Azrael was instrumental in saving Batman’s life.  

Talking of psychos, we meet The Joker only briefly; he is one of the escapees: The bright red lips slashed across his white skin curled upward into a smile. ‘Of course, hurting people really isn’t done in the best circles.’ His lips curled down. And up again. ‘So I’ll do it in a straight line.’ (p51).

While taking weeks to recover, Bruce is determined to fight crime from his bed. ‘Sometimes there’s a clue to the present in the past,’ Bruce observed. ‘The story of your life,’ Alfred replied dryly (p223). Obsessed with combatting crime, Bruce pushes Alfred to the point where his faithful manservant finally has enough and with regret leaves his employer…

A number of questions are raised and answered about the Dark Knight, not least what drives his soul. Also on display is the power of redemption. O'Neil's Afterword is enlightening too.

If you are a fan of Batman, then this should be in your collection. Just don’t take 29 years to get round to reading it. Mea culpa

Editorial comment:

The substitute Batman drove the batmobile into the rear of a school bus – in an attempt to prevent the children being killed. Yet a short while later, Robin is following the batmobile and ‘noticed the damaged rear end and wondered…’ (p284). But of course it was the front end of the vehicle that sustained damage. Blame the editor…

Sunday 3 September 2023

HANNAH - Book review


Paul-Loup Sulitzer’s saga Hannah was published in 1988 – translated by Christine Donougher. This is one of those sprawling novels that cover many years, taking the heroine from childhood to old age; a book to get lost in and enjoy. It’s narrated from an omniscient point-of-view.

It begins in Poland in 1882. Hannah is a seven-year-old Jew. While playing in the fields with her brother Yasha and a friend Taddeuz, a young Polish Catholic, she learns of the attack by Cossacks on her village. Then the pogrom reaches them; Hannah hides but her brother is burned to death and Taddeuz betrays her by running away.

She was a precocious child and her father Reb Nathan taught her to read and talked of the wonders of the universe. ‘There was between the two of them an extraordinary closeness that she would know with no other man’ (p5). ‘He would declare: Nothing in the world is more mysterious than a little girl’ (p5). Her father was killed in the raid.

The drayman Mendel Visoker was twenty-four when he discovered Hannah alone in the fields and took her home. She was traumatised, but did not cry. A phrase Mendel uses is: ‘One of two things is possible…’ which Hannah hijacks several times in the narrative, to comic effect.

The years passed and Hannah continued her learning in several languages, borrowing books from Mendel when he visited. She would always be of diminutive stature and had enchanting grey eyes. When she was fourteen Mendel agreed to take her to a relative of the village rabbi in Warsaw as Hannah was plainly stifled in the little village. She stayed in the Klotz household; the woman Dobbe was the power in the marriage, Pinchos was ‘only a suggestion of a husband’. There are many amusing and colourful character descriptions in the book; this one stands out: ‘The couple were nearly sixty and had never had any children. In fact, they had not spoken to each other for some thirty-odd years, united in one of those silent bonds of well-maintained hatred that only a perfect marriage can achieve’ (p77). ‘She was truly colossal, as tall as Mendel, and the look she shot him would have terrified a lesser man. Her small keen eyes were tucked away beneath heavy eyelids that fell, like the rest of her face, in folds’ (p77). However, Dobbe is no match for the wilful Hannah.

While working in the Klotz shop, Hannah sets about improving things and strikes a deal with Dobbe to earn a percentage of the takings. Eventually, she strikes out on her own, achieving considerable success – until she is attacked and robbed. Mendel learns of this and metes out his own revenge but is then on the run and arrested, sent to Siberia. Hannah is given his boat-ticket to Australia, where she is taken in by the Mackenna family. ‘… this sudden immersion in a real family came as something new and surprising; she had not experienced the same since she was seven… Their average height alone was impressive… She felt like a fox terrier invited to share a meal with an assembly of St Bernards’ (p206).

Hannah was a quick study and soon turned her hand to developing scented cream lotions. She scoured much of Australia for the ingredients and quickly understood commerce: ‘she knew that the less cream she included in each pot the more highly priced – and prized – the contents would be’ (p284). All the time she desired to find and reunite with her childhood love, Taddeuz…

‘She was not going to remain in Australia for twenty years, and she was already getting old, nearly eighteen. Taddeuz would not wait half a century for her, nor would Mendel, in the event he had not already escaped…’ (p292).

By the turn of the century, Hannah is a rich and successful woman, head of a cosmetics empire with establishments in London, Paris and Vienna. And yet she seems unfulfilled unless she can find Taddeuz…

This is a completely engrossing novel with a wonderful and memorable heroine in Hannah and plenty of other fascinating characters, not least Mendel, her protector who possesses an unrequited love for her.

The book ends on a reasonably high note; however, there appears to be a sequel, The Empress, dubbed Hannah Tome 2, but it is hard to come by. I’m quite content to leave Hannah at the end of this book.

Apparently, Sulitzer used a ghost writer for many of his books: Loup Durand. I don’t know if Durand wrote this one.

Sulitzer is a French financier, and was a self-made millionaire by the age of seventeen.

It has been postulated that Hannah’s story is a fictional account of Helena Rubinstein. True, both originally came from Poland, and both took the cosmetics and fashion industries by storm at the start of the twentieth century. Quite a number of authors have used real larger-than-life people as templates for their fiction. Whatever the story behind the book, that should not detract from a well-told and affecting tale.