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Payback at Morning Peak [Kindle Edition]

Gene Hackman
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)

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Book Description

LIFE, NOT DEATH, DROVE JUBAL YOUNG . . . but memories of his ma and pa, and his beautiful, bright sister are all he has left. Memories of the peaceful days before Jubal stumbled home with his .22, his blood running cold with fear, terror, and anger. When it was over, the homestead was half burned to the ground. Someone had to bury the bodies. Someone had to set things right.

Now, as Jubal rides west into New Mexico, he remembers his family’s laughter and love, his pa’s wisdom, ma’s thick books, and everything that was defiled by a band of drunken renegades towed along by one man’s murderous grudge. A reprobate lawman won’t believe his story. A soft-hearted mountain man won’t survive Jubal’s one-man war. And a judge and his beautiful daughter cannot stop Jubal from climbing a peak of blood and madness: for justice, or payback, or something he can live for—or die for—redeeming.

An American film icon delivers a great American novel with Payback at Morning Peak. Gene Hackman, whose fiction is “rousing” (Publishers Weekly) and “robust” (Winston-Salem Journal), takes readers on a powerful and historically dead-on western odyssey in the tradition of Louis L’Amour.

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Gene Hackman is coauthor of three novels:  Escape From Andersonville, Justice for None, and Wake of the Perdido Star. He is a two time Academy award–winning actor with lauded performances in such films as Unforgiven, Bonnie and Clyde, The French Connection, Mississippi Burning, and Hoosiers. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with his wife and two German shepherds.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.


Jubal hiked with abandon through the mountainous forest, cradling the Colt slide-action rifle in his slender arms, proud his father had seen fit to allow him use of the small-bore .22. Not quite eighteen, he was just under six feet, nearly as tall as his father, and did his best to dress like him: whipcord pants tucked neatly into calf-high boots. Two rabbits he’d shot that morning hung from a leather-tooled belt around his waist, a gift from pa. He thought of cleaning them himself but decided he would let ma take care of that little chore. He imagined her proud face when he returned home with them. Rabbit stew would be a welcome change from the tough buffalo meat cured in the family smokehouse.

He thought of his sister Prudence, pouting earlier today when ma had told her to stay home, shuck peas, and tend the fire.

“Jube gets to have all the fun!” she’d said.

“Miss Prudence,” ma had replied, “you’re only fourteen, and it’s best you tend your chores.” Strict but fair.

Jubal didn’t mind the company of his sister, though, as they had much in common. Much to Mother Young’s concern, Pru often ventured alone into the forest to hunt berries and wildflowers.

The boy topped Morning Peak, seeing Colorado stretching out to the northern end of New Mexico’s Sangre de Cristo Mountains. A late afternoon sun warmed his chapped hands while he marveled at the painted landscape, aspens shimmering as their new spring leaves caught the sun. To the west he could just barely see his family’s cabin, nestled into a meadow lined with fir and limber pine. A gray smoky haze from the log structure filled the small valley, and he knew Pru had been doing her job with the fire.

The wind changed, and Jubal’s eyes widened. There was too much smoke. He noticed unusual movement around the house and heard eerie sounds of strange, jubilant voices floating up through the dense valley.

His reaction was immediate. Gripping the rifle in front of him to clear the way, Jubal broke into a dead run and began to close the hefty distance to the cabin. He tore through thickets down the canyon, sharp branches ripping at his leather coat as he plowed through the brush.

Minutes later, he stopped within shouting distance of the compound, his legs on fire with exertion, his lungs needing air.

A pile of bright gingham fabric lay on the earthen courtyard. Like a body. The clothing looked to be his mother’s, her dress cloth flapping with the breeze. Pru’s horse, Butternut, lay near the well, her legs thrashing as a rush of blood flowed from her neck.

Jubal counted five men riding on horseback in the courtyard, with several more stirring around the outbuildings and barn. They all seemed determined to celebrate, shouting as if they had achieved a great victory.

Trying to control his breathing, the boy slumped behind a massive pine. He wanted this day to start over, wanted to forget the body in the yard, wanted only to run, but Pa would skin him if he didn’t stand as a man.

Where was pa?

Jubal took several more deep breaths. He moved to his stomach and started to crawl. He’d gone only a few feet when he rolled onto his back, fighting panic, his nose stung by the sharp and disagreeable scent of burnt flesh and manure.

He had to keep moving. Rising, he darted between a stand of scrub oak, then bellied down and once again crawled, hiding behind the scattered chamisa.

Laughing and drunk, the men staggered around the toolshed and outhouse. One dark-skinned fellow looked different, wearing a feathered, flat-brim leather hat with a bright yellow braided string running under his chin. He carried a bow across his back and a quiver with arrows attached to his belt. He looked familiar, the way he carried himself. The whole raft of them seemed related.

Jubal’s thoughts drifted to more pleasant times. The family together, Pru laughing at his jokes, his parents sharing secrets. When was that? A lifetime ago. He forced himself back to the present. He had work to do.

He looked down at the rifle. He’d killed animals for food, but could he kill a man? He shifted on the rough ground. Maybe it didn’t matter.

A wail came from the barn, growing louder as Jubal crept closer through the thicket. He caught a glimpse of the two-story structure’s exterior.

And then he saw his father.

Jubal, Sr., hung from a pulley outside the hayloft, arms stretched high above his head, legs dangling above the wicked flames of a fire. Charred remnants of his clothing and strips of skin swung from his chest. A chunk of red cloth, which Jubal recognized as his father’s bandanna, had been stuffed into his mouth. A man with a filthy poncho wrapped around his shoulders tossed hay from the loft onto the torturous blaze.

Jubal’s pa was near to death, his bare legs burned. Blood matted his neck, arms, and chest.

Then the wailing stopped, the body swaying like a pendulum. Jubal stared, looking for recognition. His father’s lips were moving. With each group of words, a nod, then he would begin again. He gazed at Jubal. Did he speak? Did he call out, “Save yourself”? His eyes rolled toward the smoked sky, once again the same litany, but this time the head drooped, the shoulders and legs relaxed. The body settled into its trusses.

Jubal chambered a round in the .22, raised it, and took a long, dreadful moment to pray. His head pressed hard against the rifle’s breech. He wiped the moisture from his eyes, adjusted the rear sight, and shot his father in the head.

The sound, though muffled by the crackling fire, still startled the fire-tending Mexican. He turned toward the noise as Jubal stood and pumped another round into the Colt. Trembling, he fired, his bullet catching the man in the lower stomach. The man dug his hands under his heavy leather belt, searching, then doubled over as if looking for something on the ground.

Jubal’s second shot pierced his head just above the cheekbone, dropping the man like a rock from a high place.

The boy slumped to the ground, watching the remains of his father swinging from the barn. “Help me, Pa. What have I done?”

Fifty yards off to his left, two men, their hair pulled tautly into braids on the sides of their heads, dragged tied bundles of his mother’s and father’s clothing. They soaked the pile of garments in lamp oil and lit it. Trailing the fiery bundle behind a crazed horseman, they made great circles around the house and barn, setting fire to the dry grasses.

“Be the man I taught you to be,” his pa had once said to him. He eased to the ground, too frightened to move and yet strangely not seeming to care. Jubal looked down at the two paltry rabbits still hanging from his belt.

The men by the house stopped their whooping to look at the area of the barn, the structure now fully taken by rising flames. The cracking and popping of the dried timbers had partially covered the sound of the small-caliber .22, and Jubal was still safely unknown to them.

He watched as they cavorted in his family’s vegetable garden. Others circled the lifeless form of his mother on the ground, making coarse gestures and poking their rifles at the body.

Pru. He hadn’t seen her anywhere. Where is she?

Jubal started to pick himself up. He was sick with fear and remorse, but he’d do his damnedest.

Crouching low, he sprinted to the edge of his mother’s root cellar. There he remained unseen behind the canted door, thinking how easy it would be to slither out of the clearing and into the welcoming shelter of the spruces and whitebark pines that surrounded the homestead—then run for his pitiful life.

A high-pitched scream came from the edge of the woods, beyond the burning barn. Pru was running into the clearing where their mother lay, her bonnet streaming behind her, tangled in her long blond hair. Wildflowers fell from a basket on her arm. She ran like a frightened animal, shouting to her mother.

A horseman spotted her and pursued her across the open field.

Ignoring the other men, Jubal took quick aim with his rifle and pulled the trigger. The shot went awry. The horseman scooped Prudence up in one swift powerful move, gripping her waist and swinging her up beside him. She protested loudly, beating her fists against the man’s head and chest.

Jubal had very little chance for a shot now, he was afraid of hitting her. The other men honed in on Jubal’s position and fired at him, bullets dancing past his head. He collapsed onto the ground and crept to where he could use the burning farmhouse as cover.

Pru was taken into the tree line from where she had just emerged. He moved along the ground. Once he was at the other side of the farmhouse, he ran into the nearby woods. All of his instincts told him to keep his head down and pursue cautiously, but he couldn’t ignore his need to chase the horseman. He had lost his parents. He couldn’t lose his sister.

Once in the woods, he could hear Pru’s voice coming from several directions, all of her cries amplified by the reverberating valley walls. For some time he searched for her, scrambling from one tree to the next. When he was finally resigned to the idea that the horseman had moved out of the valley, he heard hoofbeats coming from the east. He ran in that direction, only to see a lone rider bolting at a gallop between the trees a hundred yards in front of him.

The man had left Pru in the woods.

Jubal quickened his pace and backtracked from where he had last seen the rider. After a lengthy search, he found her… her face bloody from a deep forehead wound, clothing twisted about her body. There was so much, too much blood. On his knees, he pleaded with her to speak to him. He cradled her in his arms and rocked her, trying to coax a spark of life.

The wildflower basket was still looped around her arm. Jubal gently pulled out the leaves and...

Product Details

  • File Size: 2405 KB
  • Print Length: 402 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: B00F6I5LMS
  • Publisher: Pocket Books (June 7, 2011)
  • Sold by: Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004G8QTHK
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #419,432 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars In this case, revenge is a dish served Hot June 12, 2011
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I had some trepidation about buying this book, but I was curious about what Hackman could do, and the plot looked interesting.
As it turned out, I was well pleased with the results. Gene Hackman does a good job of pulling you into the action right from the beginning, and you start rooting for the protaganist immediately. The impetus for the story is the slaughter of Jubal Young's family by a gang of vile heathens, one of which you'd like to see die immediately. The story follows Jubal as he tracks down and subdues the gang members one by one, either by turning them in to the law, or in some cases killing them, usually in self defense. One of the gang members is one of the vilest villians I've come across in literature in a long time. You really want this guy to die.
About half way through the book, a sweet love story evolves, but doesn't get in the way of the action. And action there is. It keeps you turning those pages.
I lived in Santa Fe, NM (Gene Hackman's home) for twenty years, and one day, several years ago, while testing out my new 4 wheel SUV in the nearby foothills, I came across Gene Hackman in his. I was on my way back down, and he waved me over on his way up, and asked what to expect further on. We talked for awhile, and I found him very pleasant and down to earth. He thanked me for the information, and said to watch for his wife and dogs further down the mountain, as they decided to walk for awhile. About a quarter mile down the road was an oriental woman with two dogs. I waved and continued on down. From that meeting on I was definitely a Hackman fan, and that was another reason why I wanted to read his book, and I'm glad I did.
If you like Westerns, you'll love this.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Make No Mistake, Hackman 's Got The Chops July 23, 2011
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I read this book fully expecting the best and was not disapointed. Admitedly, I antisipated catching glimpes of everyone from Popeye Doyle to Harry Zim rounding the turn at any moment. But not so. Hackman's characters stand squarely on their own and tell us thier story, no tricks, no soap, no speccial lighting. Just damn good story-telling in form of a gritty, hard hitting Western. Great work. Welcome to the genre.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Payback at Morning Peak August 22, 2011
By Annie
Format:Mass Market Paperback|Verified Purchase
The only Gene Hackman book I have read which I found very readable , interesting , and reminds me of the Loui Lamour books . I highly recomend the book and would purchase more Gene Hackman works in the future .

Ted Brock
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Reasonably good.. August 15, 2011
Format:Mass Market Paperback|Verified Purchase
If nothing else, I admire Gene Hackman for writing this book. It is not easy to write a novel and he did it in his late 70s.

This book is an easy read and never becomes boring, but I think it is a bit too formulaic. This story uses every possible Western cliche that I can recall, but if you can ignore this aspect of the novel and just read it for simple enjoyment, then you will not be disappointed.

I hope that his future novels move away from the standard fare and get a little bit deeper into character development and more complex themes.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A surprisingly good read February 12, 2012
Format:Mass Market Paperback|Verified Purchase
Although I had never read any Western fiction, I read this book because I wanted to see how well Gene Hackman could write. He has always been one of my favorite actors, one that I felt might be very good at anything he put a good effort into. It turns out that I was right. This is, in my opinion, a very good book. It grabbed my interest from the beginning and held on until the end. The only complaint I have concerns one word. Using the word 'payback' (which wasn't used until 1955) in the title could be excused, but several times in the novel, the characters also use the word in their dialog, which is a distraction. Since reading this book, I have tried some other Western fiction, notably by Louis Lamour, and feel that Mr Hackman has done a good job. His writing seems more geared to modern readers than the other Western authors I have now tried. I hope to see more work by him.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Very Exciting and Satisying Read October 15, 2011
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Gene definitely has a nack for telling a story. I am a fan of Louie L'aMour and Gene's book is exciting in the same vain. The development of the characters is quite excellent. The story is loaded with evil people and evil acts and, at the same time, tender and intelligent folks. Much human natute is present. Some of the detail about how some incidents could actually happen left me a little wanting. But this is a good fiction novel and some details aren't really that important. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Gene's book.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Payback @ Morning Peak July 31, 2011
Format:Mass Market Paperback|Verified Purchase
Not bad for a Typical Western
It kept my interest,I've read a few books
that seem to go on and on about the same thing.
Gene has a good way of breaking the story up.
It could have done without the flashbacks.
All in all in was a very good book.
Good job Mr Hackman.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Payback at Morning Peak December 7, 2011
By Erich
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I'll admit that I picked up this book out of curiosity to see if the former actor can write.

Jubal, a 17 year old boy, is out hunting when he hears shots and notices smoke at his family's farmstead northern New Mexico. On his return he finds his family under attack by a gang of vicious outlaws. To his horror, he must first deal with the spectacle of his father gagged, trussed up, and suspended over a roaring bonfire. Jubal's mother is already dead and his sister is dying. Both have been brutally raped. The boy manages to wound and injure several of the attackers before escaping.

Jubal knows he cannot let these killers get away with their crime. But in the course of his pursuit he needs to decide who he is--a young man bent on revenge or a boy whose upbringing would settle for seeing justice done.

The dilemma haunts Jubal through the rest of the book as he encounters unsympathetic and incompetent lawmen who would rather treat him as the criminal than go after the attackers. Jubal doesn't completely give up on the legal system but knows it is up to him to hunt these men down. In time he becomes frightened by how readily he has come to rely on a gun, but regains his balance when a judge and spirited girl sees the good in him.

It is in the Cripple Creek goldfield of central Colorado that Jubal becomes a man when he confronts one of the killers. During the encounter Jubal learns that guns sometimes produce unintended consequences that can't ever be put right again. And he learns heroic acts are not always neat, clean, or appreciated when operating in the adult world with adult rules. And oh yes, Hackman did a credible job in telling the story.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Actor Gene is also an excellent Author
Mr. Hackman did a great job with this book. It is well written. Has a good plot and an excellent ending.
He has two books or that I know of. Both are very good. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Dr. Dave
5.0 out of 5 stars Great job, Gene
I can't remember where I learned that Gene Hackman had turned writer, but when I did, I had to check it out. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Radio Writer
2.0 out of 5 stars A tedious read
Love Gene Hackman as an actor, was really hoping for great things for him as an author. Couldn't get into this book. Thought it was a tedious boring read.
Published 4 months ago by Mary F. Trenary
5.0 out of 5 stars great story.
Thanks Gene...great story...well written...good character developement...realistic. Not just another textbook western. Looking forward to additional episodes?
Published 4 months ago by Steven Malcolm
1.0 out of 5 stars Hey, Gene -- Not An Author
I love Mr. Hackman and Santa Fe New Mexico is my second home. However, this novel fell short. Mr. Hackman, you are an award-winning actor. Read more
Published 5 months ago by niki
4.0 out of 5 stars Well written...
This was an entertaining western novel. Hackman is a talented writer. Definitely recommend it for a rainy weekend!
Published 6 months ago by Marsha Birdsong
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
the best western I have in a long time-Gene out did his-self-looking forward to more from him
Published 6 months ago by jim hardy
Published 7 months ago by memec11
2.0 out of 5 stars Better for older children
Purchased the book after recently seeing the movie "Unforgiven" again. This is a revenge Western novel written by Gene Hackman, so I believe is a great actor. Read more
Published 8 months ago by cdt7devils
5.0 out of 5 stars darn good read
Page turner, loved it. I was transported for a few hours to the Wild West and my boyhood's dreams of America. Darn good read Mr Hackman.
Published 8 months ago by Athokos
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