By William W. Johnstone with J.A. Johnstone
Pinnacle, November 2017
As a teenager, John McMasters won the Medal of Honor as a sniper for the Union Army during the Civil War. Thirty years later, McMasters lives a peaceful life in the Arizona Territory, raising a family and running horses. These days, he needs eyeglasses to hit a distant target. But that doesn’t stop his wife and four children from buying him a special present for his fiftieth birthday: a beautiful new Remington shotgun. Turns out, he’s going to need it . . .
The Butcher gang has come to town. By the time McMasters learns of their arrival, they’ve invaded his ranch and slaughtered his family, hightailing it out of the country. McMasters wants revenge, using his new shotgun to hunt down those butchers like the animals they are, but he can’t do it alone. His friend, Deputy U.S. Marshal Daniel Kilpatrick, is hauling six of the deadliest criminals in the country to a prison in Yuma. They’re cutthroat killers, every bit as ruthless as the Butchers. But when McMasters points his Remington at their heads, they will become his killers . . .
A stand-alone novel from the Johnstone’s, which is a straight-forward tale of revenge. This story rattles along at a great pace, switching from one person to another regularly, as well as jumping back in time to fill in some of the backstory of a number of characters. These past events told in passages presented in italics.
The author has created a terrific bunch of characters on all sides. The change in McMasters is fascinating to read, as he goes from a man at peace with the world to one consumed by hatred and the lust for vengeance that will see him become a wanted man alongside those he frees to help him in his deadly mission.
His posse of prisoners include a broad mix of personalities, and more than one of these people would like nothing better than to kill one or two of their traveling companions, and of course most want to be free of McMasters too. How McMasters manages to keep himself awake so they don’t jump him during the night is both gruesome and ingenious. A neat touch is that one of these prisoners is a woman who seems to have a personal grudge against the Butchers too.
The book begins mid gunfight and then goes back to before the massacre of McMasters’ family and it takes nearly all the rest of the story to get back to that opening point. The pace is breathless, the action vicious and graphic. Part of the fun for me was wondering just who would be alive at the end, and that included McMasters. Of course I can’t answer that here but I will say that everyone who enjoys violent westerns full of brutal characters will find this to be a thoroughly entertaining read. This book certainly confirms why the Johnstone books are so popular with readers today and left me eager to pick up another as soon as I can.