I hold Ralph Hayes' early western series 'Buffalo Hunter' in high regard. I've read and posted rave reviews here for the series first, second and fourth books - “Gunslammer”, “Four Ugly Guns” and “Hellhole”. I've yet to see any other books of the series in the wild except the eighth title, “Revenge of the Buffalo Hunter”. While the first seven books, from what I can gather, were penned in the 70s, Hayes took most of the 80s off due to the action genre tanking. He practiced law and his wife was a successful artist, so I'd take the stance that he may have used this book to get the creative flow going again. Unlike the prior titles, which were strictly Leisure/Belmont, this book was released by Pinnacle in 1992. Does it have the same impact as the 70s entries? Hell no.
While enjoyable enough for a paperback western, this isn't on the same magnitude as the prior books. O'Brien, the Buffalo Hunter, is still the protagonist, but he's written a little differently. Unlike previous character conventions, this O'Brien has way too many friends, talks a little differently (way more profanity than usual) and relies on a boot knife. The last part is trivial, but it defies the character's violent means to an end – Sharps rifle, Remington lever and 10-gauge sawed-off. His ability to maim and throw a heavy boot knife is symbolic of the creative liberties taken with an already well-defined character. It just isn't my O'Brien.
The premise of the book is a dodgy duo of outlaws – the Gabriel Brothers. They rape, kill and rob everything in Arizona and New Mexico, seemingly with no opposition. While this is a factor that is in heavy rotation with Hayes' westerns, it's way too convoluted for its own good. They end up killing O'Brien's friend and raping the daughter, which puts our character on the hunt. While that's simplistic and an easy tale to tell, this narrative builds in the extraordinary – we have Pat Garrett and the Earps. As if Hayes needed to include iconic cowboys, he has Garrett corresponding with O'Brien multiple times, and an unnecessary scene with Virgil Earp. The action is uneven and spread throughout multiple locations, and introduces a crowded cast featuring bounty hunter Sumner and a hunting partner McGraw. There's a spiritual element included about a white buffalo enigma that's a load of nonsense.
If I hadn't read any prior 'Buffalo Hunter' titles, I may have a higher level of patience for this novel. Knowing the history of the character, and it the entertainment factor of the prior books, this one is just lukewarm on the scale. It's a good read for new fans of the genre, but far better series novels exist and more impressive Hayes novels are out there.