Shirreffs wrote vivid, graphic yarns, historical and Western, well-anchored in history. His stuff was damn-near irresistible to my teenaged self: Often set in the American Southwest, his stories featured mountain men and drifting gunmen who carried a wild streak of Scottish warrior heritage. For a budding Celtophile in love with Apache country, it was a cocktail that went straight to the head and thrummed in the bloodstream.
For my money, his best work was a trilogy of novels featuring the Scots-Canadian Mountain Man Quint Kershaw: The Untamed Breed, Bold Legend and Glorietta Pass. The series takes Kershaw from the close of the golden age of the Mountain Men into the Civil War in New Mexico. (For some reason, the original cover for Untamed Breed was scrapped in a mid-90s re-issue in favor of a god-awful romance novel look that would seem to be designed to send the book’s target reader fleeing as if from the growl of a sow grizzly in the underbrush).
Kershaw is a badass, a friend of Kit Carson — a descendant of ancient Celtic warriors who carries their spirit, fortitude and fury unadulterated in his blood. Yep, Shirreffs was as Celtophile as Robert E. Howard. He took it so far as to play in a bagpipe band in his California home. He gave full flower to that obsession in a ripping yarn about a Scottish warrior who ends up in the gladiatorial arena in Rome, titled Calgaich the Swordsman.
These are lusty works, in every sense of the word. Pulpy goodness.
If you’re interested in more, here’s a lengthy interview with Shirreffs from the mid-1990s.