Ralph Hayes told me earlier this year that he began to seriously write in 1969. Here we are in 2018, and this 90-year old writer is still plugging away. I admire his work ethic and longevity. His newest novel, “The Way of the Gun”, comes on the coat tails of last year's “Lawless Breed”, a western that introduced us to the main character Wesley Sumner. That book had Sumner released from prison after hunting and killing his Aunt's murderer. Picking up after those events, “The Way of the Gun” presents Sumner as a successful bounty hunter that takes on a different kind of job – rescuing a rancher's daughter from the bad guys.
Like Ralph's 'The Buffalo Hunter' books, this one follows a very familiar formula. It's vintage Hayes as he presents the good guy, three to four bad guys (including the brutish leader) and weak innocent people who can do nothing but run for cover or empty their pockets in defeat. The good guy is always a dead shot who gets in numerous fast-draws and always...always...takes a minor, flinching bullet wound in the side or shoulder. He's never seriously injured, but often ridiculed, bullied and forced into violence. That guy is Wesley Sumner. The bad guys are led by Duke Latham. The beauty in peril is Dulcie. The story is a simple one – Sumner sets out to retrieve Dulcie from the bad guys, only to find himself the hunted after safely securing her.
I will say that Ralph still has the passion and fire for good western storytelling. This is a vintage mono-myth with the likable hero journeying onward for one specific purpose. However, the older and more conservative version of Ralph Hayes is far tamer. This novel lacks the gritty, violent and profane edge that made his 70s and even 90s novels enjoyable. “The Way of the Gun” is a delight to read, but if you are comparing the different eras...I'll take the 70s. This novel is more like a good 'ole fashioned episode of “Bonanza”, “High Chaparral” or “Gunsmoke”. I'd suspect that may be the whole point, a more wholesome and less violent approach that can be enjoyed by young adults as well as the older crowd. I'd put this on par with William W. Johnstone's 'The Last Mountain Man' series in terms of play it safe fiction. Sumner is essentially Smoke Jensen...and I'm just fine with that.
You can get this title from Black Horse Western at www.bhwesterns.com.
Note – That's totally Christian Bale (“3:10 to Yuma”, “Hostiles”) on the cover.