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Released: August 2014
ISBN: 9781311049117
Kindle US, Kindle UK
Apple, Kobo, Nook
Series: The Hellhole Saga, #2
Author: S.L. Kotar and J.E. Gessler
Length: Novel
Genre: Historical Western
Price: $3.99

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The post-Civil War era in the American West was a troubled, turbulent time. With hatreds still seething, men often took it upon themselves to enforce their own brand of justice. When they did, it brought them in conflict with those few who attempted to apply a standardized set of rules and regulations to a rawboned civilization.

Convincing men who did not fall into the category of outlaws but who were, rather, self-appointed vigilantes to follow the law was not a simple task, yet that was what Marshal Claw Kiley faced when he confronted a gang of mountain men from West Virginia, out to punish renegades for dishonoring a woman. Not unsympathetic to their cause, yet well aware how easily vengeance turned to slaughter, Kiley was forced to risk his life in order to let the law judge and sentence the guilty.

To survive past the one-year life expectancy the Federal men in Topeka had given him, the marshal will need all the help of trusted friends. Not only did he face the task of keeping peace in the brutal environs of Hellhole, a town existing solely as a half-way point where buffalo hunters gathered to sell their hides to Back East buyers, but he also faced the threat of drifters, gunfighters, and outlaws, all eager to try their hand at bringing the new "Badge" down. If Kiley lived, he would become a legend; if they gunned him in the street, he would fill a grave on Boot Hill – next to those who had come before and failed.

“It’s hot enough to fry eggs in sand.”

She could hear him say it. Right down to the peculiar emphasis he put on the word, “fry.” It conjured up images of grease-darkened frying pans, sand blowing so hard it pried the eyelids open, eggs costing two dollars a dozen and not having a dime to her name.

Those were the good memories.

In truth, there was only one bad memory associated with that statement.

The man who originated it.

The man she had heard repeat it, time after time. One thousand times. Until she was so tired of hearing him utter such nonsense, she told him if he said it once more, she would leave him.

Which was a lie.

It was he who ended up leaving her.

For a grave on boot hill.

Lowercase “b,” small “h.”

Not a famous cemetery, not in a notorious cow town.

In a no-name graveyard, in a town that would not outlive the railroad tracks bypassing its borders.

If it had been for another woman, she would have forgiven him. If he had tottered away under the influence of too much red-eye whisky, she would have understood. If lightning had struck him, she might have accorded such as the Will of God.

If he had developed fever and withered away under its burning tortures, she would have nursed him to the last, without question. If he had been trampled on in a stampede, thrown from the back of a wild mustang, been crushed in a rock slide, she could have borne her grief with dignity.

If he had died of old age, she could have accepted his passing with grace.

Of all the ways to die on the frontier, only the last was improbable.

Which caused her to laugh. The first mirth she had expressed in years.



Her man had been a lawman. He had worn the Badge.

Uppercase "B."

For “justice,” he said.

The irony was, he meant it.


Justice of acquittal for men accused of crimes they did not commit. Justice of the rope for men who used guns without giving a damn who they shot, or why.

Justice for homesteaders driven off their land; justice for Wells Fargo, recovering cash boxes filled with other people’s gold.

Justice behind bars for swindlers, card sharks, brawlers and water witches.

The only one not accorded “justice” under his system of law and order, was his wife.

She was expected to understand.

Fairness was for others.

That was part of the deal he made for both of them when he pinned that “tin badge” on his chest.

“For better for worse.”

She could hear him say that, too. He had only said it once. It was enough to sear the sentiment into her breast.
Closer to her heart than his head lying on her bosom.

He stood tall that wedding day, a brave man sweating under the burden of the oath he was about to take. Comfort. Honor. To love and to cherish. He had nodded gravely at each word, pledging his troth with a stiff nod and a firm, resounding “I will.”

He swore to love, to have and to hold, to keep himself only onto her, “as long as ye both shall live.”

He was not generally a swearing man, but he took that oath, kissed her on the lips and paid the itinerant preacher ten dollars in gold for his trouble.

He said afterwards, it was the most expensive swearing he had ever done in his life.

She asked him once, what oath he had taken when he first put on the badge. He knew what she meant and did not answer her.

Their marriage had many silent days, many cold nights.

If his death had a purpose; if it had made a difference; if anyone had cared, the widow might have been left with a memory warm enough to sustain her one single night.

It did not seem too much to ask. One night. Eight hours.

She did not get five minutes.

Nor five seconds.

Where was the justice in that?

To be sure, there were the graveside testimonials, the two-paragraph obituary in the weekly, out-of-town newspaper, condolences from his superiors in Topeka. The governor had sent a hand-written letter, penned by an anonymous aide.

Nowhere was the word “justice” mentioned.

Which, in its own ironic way, was a form of justice.

Without meaning, without empathy.

No one could understand her loss. She was expected to grasp the meaning without being told. She was a woman of the world.

A world exactly ten feet deep and four feet wide.

There had been no money for a headstone. Someone from town carved his name on a wooden cross.

The gesture held no meaning for her.

He was dead. That was the only fact she understood.

Top Reviews
A Real Gem
The entire "Hell Hole" series of books are just awesome! Very interesting and entertaining to read as well as being authentic. I recommend these books wholeheartedly. A great read! ~ Paticia A Arvantes, Amazon

• • •

Their fledging relationship is not easily understood by either
he problem with most Westerns is they are plot heavy, with shoot-em-up action on every page, but very little characterization. That is not an issue with this novel. Claw Kiley, marshal of Hellhole Kansas, a rough hider town is a fast draw, but more than that, he is a complex character . . . Cougar Bradburn, former saloon "girl" now saloon owner, is written with depth and passion and complexity as well. Wiser in things of the world than Claw, she is Claw's match in all that matters. ~ Betzgreat, Amazon

• • •

Good old fashioned western
This is the second book of the Hellhole Series. Books that take you back to the days of old-fashioned westerns. The characters are both appealing and very well written . . . The story of Hellhole, Claw, Cougar and Dr. Ward continues. In this story there is a homestead burned in that Claw goes out to check on. What he finds sends him off alone across country tracking two groups of people, one following the other. Will he prevent one group for taking justice in their own hands instead of letting the Law prevail? New characters are introduced which I suspect will make appearances in the future. The romance continues between Cougar and Claw, and I look forward to reading the next book. ~ nnmama, Amazon

• • •

What more can I say about S.L. Kotar and J.E. Gessler that I haven't said before? From book one, page one, word one, I have been impressed by the accurately detailed plots they write. Instant visuals come to mind on reading, catapulting readers right back to post-Civil War Kansas, and to a time when folks were trying to get their lives back to normal, and a time when the Old West was just coming to life . . . Claw Kiley is a wholly believable character for his time, one who could have definitely leapt out of the TV screen. He's James Arness, James Garner, Dale Robertson, and the rest all rolled into one man. Claw takes no guff from any man. He lives by the book, protects with his badge, and keeps it within the law, even when he's bending it to capture the bad guy. Certainly perfect hero material, and a character readers will like from the get-go . . . Audition for a Legend is the perfect title for this book too. After all, if he can survive the toughest outlaws who ever set foot in Hellhole, he'll be a legend. And his stories will be come classics, just as those which came before from legends like Zane Grey, Max Brand, and Louis L'Amour. ~ Heart of Fiction



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