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Released: May 2014
ISBN: 9781311430892
Kindle US, Kindle UK
Apple, Kobo, Nook
Series: The Hellhole Saga, #1
Author: S.L. Kotar and J.E. Gessler
Length: Novel
Genre: Historical Western
Price: $2.99

Amazon US - Amazon UK - Goodreads

Hellhole, Kansas, was no ordinary town. Like other places, it was comprised of desultory businesses, saloons, livery stable, bank, and clapboard homes, clinging to life by their figurative fingernails. What set this hider town apart from other post-Civil War outcroppings of civilization was that it also housed a United States Marshal's office. Hellhole was known to the authorities in Topeka as the place where lawmen went to die.

Claw Kiley had served in the Union Army during the Civil War, being discharged, as he had entered, a private. That fact hardly qualified him for a Federal position, yet he knew something about deputing, having served under the legendary Marshal Jack Duvall before the War. Duvall was widely regarded as the best man ever to wear the badge, yet he had been gunned down on the street of some unnamed town by a man seeking a reputation. Kiley had been the youth who outdrew the man who killed Jack Duvall. That alone made his resume worth considering, and as his life expectancy was deemed to be short, the government agents offered him the job on the expectation he could do little harm in the time he served in the position.

Bright-eyed and with faith in the almost mystical power of the badge he wore, Marshal Kiley drew three rapid conclusions about his new town: the residents of Hellhole still seethed over the outcome of the War Between the States; a girl working at the Lowdown Saloon would become very important to him; and outlaws held no respect for the Law. His first order of business was to teach the citizens to put the late conflict behind them and develop a respect, if not a friendship for the Federal man. His second, get to know Miss Cougar Bradburn; the third, to survive against those who took what they wanted by the power of guns and sheer audacity. How he succeeded would determine not only his own fate, but how the law of the land was to be carved out of hell.

“What’s your name?”

The bright blue eyes of the tall man darted from the paper he had filled out two days earlier to the inquisitor’s face. If he thought the question superfluous, he did not say so.

“Kiley. Claw Kiley.”

“Claw?” Thomas baited.

“Claudius,” came the polite, almost embarrassed correction. The challenge had gone unanswered.

“How old are you, Mr. Kiley?”

“Twenty-three, sir.”

There was an air of military training about him, and more. An innate tact, a respect reserved; the trust it would be reciprocated.

“You wrote here that you deputized with Jack Duvall.”

“Yes, sir.”

“When was that?”

“Until the time of his death.”

“Know him well?”

“He was like a father to me.”

No mistaking the sincerity in the avowal. It made the government man want to ask him more.

He saw no sense denying himself the pleasure of speaking to someone who had known Marshal Duvall. Which did not mean he intended to offer him the job, or that he actually believed the startling assertion.

“Were you there when he died?”

A hesitation.

“Yes, sir.”

“He was gunned down in the street, Mister Kiley. In the performance of his duty. You see the fight?” Kiley nodded. “Was it

No pause, yet behind the curt nod a regret, a hurt. A remembrance of helplessness.

“It was a fair fight.”

“Jack Duvall was the fastest gun alive.”

“He thought so.”

Kiley left the “sir” off the end of his sentence. Thomas noted it.

“The man who killed him was a gunfighter. Red McGee.” The verbalization of the name after so long jogged Thomas’ memory. His mouth went dry and he licked his lips with unaccustomed nervousness. “What happened to him?”

“He was gunned down in the street.”

“Not gunned down, Kiley. Not from what I heard. Called out. Wasn’t that the way it happened?” Kiley shrugged. The fingers of his right hand twitched, as though seeking the feel of a trigger to wrap around. “Called out on the street and shot down. The gunfighter who outdrew the fastest gun alive never lived to tell the tale.”

“Something like that.” An uncomfortable admission.

“Seems as I recall it was the deputy who shot McGee. You were that deputy, Kiley.” Not a question now, but a statement.

“That’s how rumors get started, sir.”

“Red McGee killed the man you thought of as a father, and you challenged him. Wasn’t that how it went?”

“I didn’t say so. Sir.”

“You had an axe to grind.”

Irritation egged him on. Thomas wanted to hear it all. He wanted the tall youth before him to speak. To brag of his extraordinary accomplishment.

“No, sir.” Silence hung over the room long enough for Thomas to plan his next sentence before the youth finished. “I don’t even own an axe.”

Blatant audacity. The Federal man from Washington slapped a hand on the desk.

“Who the hell are you?”

“Claw Kiley.”

Not ‘Claudius Kiley.’ Not ‘The man who outgunned Red McGee.’ Just ‘Claw Kiley.’

“You’re a gunfighter.”

“I can handle a gun.”

“You think that’s the way to tame a town?”

“I think it’s a middle road.”

“What’s the beginning?”


If Thomas had been smoking a cigar, it would have dropped from his mouth.


“Yes, sir. The duty of a law man is to uphold the law fairly; to see the rules apply to everyone.”

“Is that what Jack Duvall taught you?”

“Among other men.”

“What others?”

Another silence, this one longer, before Claw Kiley answered the interrogative.

“Jim Bennett, Dan Cord. There were more. What difference does it make?”

Claw did not want to discuss his past with these men: not coldly, not unemotionally. Duvall, Bennett, Cord. He could have named a dozen others. If ever a man could claim to have twelve fathers, Claw Kiley was that man. Each, in his own distinctive way, had raised him. Molded him. Made him what he was.

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

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A great western
Since the term Best Western is trademarked, I will have to call this one a great western. This book brings me back to Gunsmoke days with Matt, Kitty and Doc, only the marshal in this book in young, just starting out in his profession . . . A powerful book. ~ Betzgreat, Amazon

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The book reminds me of the old westerns that my father in law loves and forces us towatch. Tales of saloon girls
From the first chapter this book engaged me. The story of a young man with huge dreams of being the Marshall of a wee little town of Hellhole, Kansas. The book reminds me of the old westerns that my father in law loves and forces us to watch. Tales of saloon girls, gunslingers and quick draws . . . I am so looking forward to the next book. Definitely a winner of a book. ~ nnmama, Amazon

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Great western (even if your not a western fan)
A great read, it took me back to the westerns of old. Where the good guys always win. I love the pacing of the story. This book kept me interest,I found myself annoyed when I had to stop reading. Can't wait for book 2! ~ John Heilig, Amazon

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Drama, gunslinging, gambling, and more!
There is a lot of gun play from the very beginning as word gets around that Claw is a fast draw. He gets in several interesting situations throughout the book that will keep you turning pages til the very end . . . I am excited for the next book to come out in this series. If it is anything like First Draw, it too, will be a sure winner! ~ Belinda Wilson, Amazon

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This is an excellent start to this new series by a well-seasoned pair of writers. Well done! ~ Heart of Fiction



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