Although the bulk of Mike Linaker's fiction has appeared in the action-adventure genre, where he regularly chronicles the adventures of Gold Eagle's Mack Bolan, he remains one of Britain's most accomplished and collectible western writers. He is also a very, very nice guy.
Michael Robert Linaker was born in Lancashire on 7th February 1940, and educated at Anglo-Chinese schools in Malaysia, where his father served as a non-commissioned officer in the British Army. Returning to England in the mid-1950s and settling in Derbyshire, he eventually married Marlene Ward in 1967.
Mike's main interest in adolescence was science fiction. "The western influence came from film and television," he later explained. "I read SF books by the dozen, but few if any westerns because that Max Brand/Zane Grey stuff just didn't do anything for me.
"Then one day I happened across a Fawcett Gold Medal western called Tough Hombre by Dudley Dean. Something about the cover just hooked me, and after I finished reading it I'd become a western fan in no uncertain terms. Western paperbacks were being imported in great quantities at that time, so I was spoilt for choice."
Mike very quickly came to admire the western in its traditional form. "Not that I don't like the current output, which is now coyly called Frontier Fiction," he's quick to add. "But I feel there's still an audience for the westerns of the past. When I talk of 'traditional' westerns, it brings to mind the writers who influenced me when I read their stories. Frank Castle, Lewis B. Patten, Gordon Shirreffs, Richard Jessup and many others. And of course Louis L'Amour. They wrote about tough, honest, self-sufficient heroes, gunfights in dusty streets and conflicts played out against the spectacular terrain of the old Southwest. It was the stuff of high adventure, a time when America was still creating its own history and its heroes. In the West we're dealing with, though the stories painted vivid images of tough men in a harsh land, the prose perhaps strayed from the absolute truth, but in the hands of those craftsmen who wrote the stories, there was an allowance for a little artistic bending of the rules. No different, in truth, of any fictional genre, where too much reality could not only tarnish the storyline, but might easily detract from the reason for the piece -- to entertain the reader."
Mike's first published western was Incident at Butler's Station (1967), a neat variation on the "group of people under siege" theme, in this case a soldier, a band of outlaws en route to jail and a strong-willed woman, all of them trapped in a Wells Fargo way-station surrounded by Apaches. This book, and its successor, were both issued under the pseudonym "Richard Wyler".
That second book was a pursuit story entitled Savage Journey (1967). The hero here is Luke Kennick, a former soldier whose last patrol was wiped out by marauding Comanches. Tensions rise when Kennick -- now a rancher -- agrees to escort the Indian chief who led the ambush across country for trial. Kennick's task is complicated when he finds and rescues a woman in the desert.
The "maverick lawman" theme surfaced in Mike's Jason Brand series, written as "Neil Hunter" and originally published in Norway by Morgan Kane publisher Bladkompaniet. Brand is a former US Marshal turned gun-for-hire, and the series contains several of Mike's most intriguing plots, such as in Devil's Gold where -- in its original form -- a trail of Confederate gold leads Brand to Jamaica, where he locks horns with a Chinese renegade and teams up with a British secret agent!
However, probably his best-known western series to date is that featuring Bodie the Stalker, again written as "Neil Hunter". Bodie is a bounty hunter, and with its violent and often intense plots, this six-book series successfully recreates the mood of the old Spaghetti westerns.