Exchanging the snipers of previous books (Point of Impact, 1993, etc.) for a gang of murderers on the lam, Hunter unleashes a memorable orgy of testosterone and bloodlust, delivering a wickedly mature thriller in the process. Made to flee relative contentedness in a maximum-security Oklahoma prison after killing a black inmate, lifelong white-trash bad boy Lamar Pye enlists the aid of his lumbering idiot cousin, Odell, and artist-cum-convict Richard Peed to engineer a hasty jailbreak before undertaking a desperate exodus from the law. Enter Bud Pewtie, an Oklahoma highway patrolman who seems modeled after a statue of a statue of John Wayne. Though chiseled from dolomite, Bud is showing a few cracks: an affair with his partner's nubile, freckly wife and a midlife crisis that verges on plainspoken existential despair. Stumbling into an ambush, Bud gets promptly and repeatedly shot; his partner gets killed. Vendetta formed, a story that had dangled several tantalizing plot twists narrows to a sly variation on the basic gunfighter yarn, with a dash of detective work thrown in. Hands less skilled than Hunter's (he is the OED of firearms) might send such a miasma of random violence, perverse criminal clansmanship, and dogged retribution straight to snoozeville. But the novel is rescued by the deeply zonked Lamar, who appears to have wandered out of the same scorched wilderness (in this case, a desolate Western landscape) that gave us Nietzsche's Zarathustra. Lamar's lessons on the vanished criminal arts (counterpointing Bud's Sunday-dinner tableau) guide his rogue brood to the blood-soaked consecration of a bizarre family romance: Daddy Lamar, his prison-groupie girlfriend Ruta Beth Tull as Mom, Richard as their disappointing son, and Odell as the ``innocent'' Baby. Splendid, raunchy writing, which proposes that between the violently deranged and the unrelentingly lawful there dwells a variety of armed-to-the-teeth wistful bad guys that no one wants to meet.