“Vengeance is Mine” is the sixth 'Buffalo Hunter' book. It was released by Manor in 1978 and continues the saga of vigilante/hunter O'Brien. Author Ralph Hayes loves creating impossible moments for this protagonist and “Vengeance is Mine” is no different.
The opening pages has O'Brien out hunting for buffalo with his trademark Sharps. He receives some unwanted visitors at his campfire and quickly finds himself staring down three barrels. Two are Cameron boys – an older brute named Darcy and his violent 12-year old brother Billy Joe. The third, Emmett, is a hand on the Cameron farm. When the shooting begins, O'Brien ducks behind some horses and can only watch as Darcy accidentally shoots Billy Joe. O'Brien then kills Darcy. Emmett runs off to the Cameron ranch to report that O'Brien killed Darcy and Billy Joe in cold blood.
Ranch owner and father Silas Cameron and his two remaining sons put a warrant out for O'Brien's arrest. Soon, a posse catches up to the surprised O'Brien and they violently assault him. On the verge of death, O'Brien is then tied to a horse and dragged through the desert rocks. Emmett and the posse leave O'Brien to die under the hot sun. But it will take more than that to kill this seemingly immortal cowboy.
An old rancher named Jarvis stumbles on the dying O'Brien and brings him back to his house. After nursing him back to health, O'Brien gains his strength and begins to help the old man with hunting and farming as repayment. While he's out hunting, more baddies stumble upon Jarvis, tie him to a chair and ruthlessly beat him. When they learn that Jarvis has no money or belongings, the group decides to kill him. But, O'Brien is hunting them from outside and Ralph Hayes absolutely shows no mercy. Our Buffalo Hunter SLAUGHTERS the group with a combination of knife, fists and bullets. This is the 70s and this western series is about as violent as it gets.
As O'Brien is getting back on the buffalo trail, he's arrested in Willow Creek by a backwoods sheriff and deputy. They throw him in jail and then work out a way for the town to lynch him by spreading rumors that O'Brien is a child killer. Meanwhile, Silas has paid a quick draw gunfighter named Waco Kid to hunt down O'Brien and kill him. As O'Brien is treed with a noose at the hands of the town, the Waco Kid shows up to save O'Brien...just so he can drag him back to Cameron and kill him there. Later, O'Brien kills Waco only to find that he is now hunted by the law, Cameron and a ton of drifters and hardmen looking for O'Brien's head for reward money.
On the run with his Sharps, knife and Winchester rifle, O'Brien finds that a specific bounty hunter named Certainty Sumner is on his back trail. He heads to the town of Sulphur Creek, a familiar place to fans of the series. This town was freed from outlaws by O'Brien in the first book, “Gunslammer”. Only now the town has reversed their outlook and wants to sling up O'Brien for money. The finale has a vicious cycle of violence as events come full circle and O'Brien fights a town, the law, bounty hunters and Cameron.
What is really interesting about this book is the appearance of Certainty Sumner. In this one, Sumner is a bounty hunter and really a bad guy. But, Hayes has two later novels featuring a bounty hunter named Wesley Sumner (“Lawless Breed”, “Way of the Gun”) – who may or may not be the same guy. In those books, Sumner is a more likable character but still a killer. If you read this particular novel...well you get what eventually happens to Sumner. But I won't ruin it for you.
If you like Ralph Hayes, then you will certainly love this novel. It has all of the characteristics that make this author so enjoyable – clearly defined good guy, vile criminals, over-the-top violence and a lighting fast pace. “Vengeance is Mine” is just about the best of the series, but I still have a handful of these books left to read including a few that Hayes says are at the top of his writing game. We'll see how it shakes out...but this one is really hard to beat.