Saturday, 4 December 2021

THE LONELY HUNT


BREED
Number 1 of 22
By James A. Muir
Cover art by Colin Backhouse
Sphere, 1976

He stepped out of the shadows, a tall man with a gun on his hip and death in his eyes. ‘I am Matthew Gunn. Some call me Azul.’ He drew as he spoke, triggering the Colt in a violent explosion of sound that blew the Mexican backwards off his feet, twisting him around so that he hit the sand face down. Dead.

He was part-white, part-Apache, all killer. Around the border country they came to know him as Breed, and they feared the name, for it spelled violent death.

Breed is a series from the group of British authors later to become known as the Piccadilly Cowboys. Unlike many of those series the Breed books were all written by one author, in this case Angus Wells. Like most of the series coming from the Piccadilly Cowboys this one begins with the hero hitting the trail of revenge.

Azul returns to his village to find it destroyed and all the men, women and children massacred, including Azul’s white father and Apache mother. All killed for their hair. Azul swears to a blood oath. He will find and kill the six scalp hunters, slowly, painfully. Angus Wells probably wrote the most descriptive passages of death out of all the Piccadilly Cowboys, and having Azul wanting to take his time killing the men he hunted, gives Wells the perfect opportunity to create some gruesome ways of putting a man to death. And it’s not just the scalp hunters who will suffer a lingering death at the hands of Azul, there are others who become targets for the half-breed’s wrath. As the death toll mounts, so Azul becomes a wanted man. Soon Federales are out to stop him, and they have an Indian tracker. This Yaqui becoming a major problem that Azul has to deal with, but not quite as you’d expect.

What seems to be a pretty straight-forward plot gets more complicated as Azul meets other people during his quest for vengeance. Azul takes the time to help some, but mainly to kill. Soon the storyline takes a neat twist as the leader of the scalp hunters reveals that he knew Azul’s father, Kieron Gunn, but how they knew each other isn’t explained, at least in this book. Yes, some of the scalp hunters are still alive at the end, thus setting the theme for subsequent books as Azul continues on the vengeance trail. 

Wells switches regularly between characters, often not sharing Azul’s thoughts during the times he deals out death. Having these scenes told from the hunted viewpoints makes the half-breed seem more frightening, giving him almost mythical abilities, yet not to far stretched to be unbelievable. 

Like in many of the Piccadilly Cowboy’s series there are a few groan-worthy one-liners and names of people the author knew being used, such as calling a ghost town Jamesville (a nod to fellow PC author Laurence James). Even the popular band, The Beatles, gets a look in as one of the scalp hunters is named Jude Christie which allows the following to be directed at him, ‘Hey, Jude,’ said Nolan in a tone that promoted Christie to look away from the cold green eyes, ‘whyn’t you just let it be? I gave you a taste of honey, right? So tell me why I should have known better than taking a ticket to ride for Cristobal?’

The Lonely Hunt is a great opening book to a series that became one of the favourites of UK western readers back in the Seventies and Eighties. 

6 comments:

Charltonman said...

Great review Steve. I agree Angus did like a gruesome death or two.

James Seger said...

Oh man, those Beatles puns... what did I expect from a paperback writer?

James Seger said...

Incidentally, know of any plans for this series to be brought back as ebooks?

Steve M said...

Very good James :)

Steve M said...

Unfortunately it's very doubtful any of the series written by Angus Wells will appear as ebooks. Sadly he passed away before ebooks took off, and any attempts that I know of to get in touch with his estate to get permission to publish his work as ebooks has drawn a blank, so it would seem none of the eight PC western series he wrote or part wrote will be put out in electronic form - series such as Breed, Jubal Cade, Hawk and Peacemaker.

James Seger said...

Thanks Steve. It's too bad. I do see he has some fantasy novels available as ebooks (Yesterday's Kings, Lords of the Sky, etc), published by Random House. So someone knows who to contact (or his contract with Random House was very broad).

I'll choose to see those books as a hopeful sign. I want to be an optimist:)