Review: In The Name Of Vengeance by J. B. Bergstad

This second volume in the Hyde’s Corner Trilogy chronicles the continuing tribulations of Selmer Burks, sheriff of Sundowner County, Oklahoma. Before I go any further, let me warn you: This is a sequel, not just the second in a series. If you have not read the first Hyde’s Corner book, No Man’s Land: The Beginning, this one will be confusing, especially at first. It takes up the story at the cliffhanger ending of No Man’s Land and goes on from there with very little explanation about what happened in the first book. On the other hand, the story here is brisk and the characters intriguing. If you aren’t bothered by a little mystery about your characters’ connections and motivations, you’ll probably enjoy this one on its own. I do, however, strongly recommend that you start this saga from the beginning.

In Book Two the story of revenge continues, but the character of Selmer Burks is deepened as we see him consolidate his power over Sundowner County and develop his relationship with Tom Burks, the grandson he didn’t want but came very quickly to love. On one level this is a coming of age story, as Tom learns of his family’s past as he grows up in the town his grandfather helped build. Tom learns some parts of this story gradually, and other parts all too suddenly.

While Tom Burks is growing up, his grandfather, Selmer Burks, is sinking ever deeper into the madness that we saw developing in Book One. The first book was a story of family feuding and vengeance in the early days of settlement in the American West. Book Two continues the vengeance theme, but subtly shifts the focus from the motivations behind hatred (and the violence it engenders) to the damage caused by dwelling on that hatred. This book has, at least on a psychological level, elements of horror.

Reading In The Name Of Vengeance is like watching a train wreck in slow motion: You can see it coming. There is nothing you can do to stop it. You just watch to see how horrible the crash will be when it finally happens. This book is more about the slow disintegration of Selmer Burks than about the actions and tensions that lead to his long, slow, increasingly disturbed and disturbing fall. Burks is by design not a well-rounded character, yet Bergstad does a fine job of rendering him with enough subtlety that, despite Burks’ single-minded focus on his hatred and desire for revenge, the reader can see bits and pieces of humanity buried within him.

As Selmer Burks passes his hatred on to yet another generation, we wait to see what Tom does with it. Perhaps he will do better than his grandfather did, but Book Two doesn’t offer a great deal of hope.

I was bothered by a few disturbing stereotypes, and some of the characters seem to fall into the trap of family hatred and vengeance a little too easily. But all in all the characters are both believable and compelling, the writing lively, and the story intriguing. If you enjoyed the first book, you will likely find this middle book in the saga entertaining as well.

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