Book #5: The Hunter

Re-posting my review from Un:Bound

There are two sides to Donald E. Westlake, the grand master of mystery and crime writing.  He could deftly pull off light capers with ease, as his series of Dortmunder books proved time and time again.  But the need to step into the darkness, to stop pulling punches and just get violent, to dole out retribution in the coldest, most calculated manner has proven to be too strong a lure, and so for those instances Westlake slips into another persona, and inhabits another character to exact revenge in a manner his lighter characters would never dream of, let alone execute.

Enter Richard Stark, and the Parker novels.

Even if you've never read The Hunter, the first in the Parker series, you may have come across its basic plot on the silver screen.  It was twice adapted for the screen, first in 1967's POINT BLANK, starring Lee Marvin as the Parker character, and then much later in 1999's PAYBACK starring Mel Gibson (both are pretty fun films and definitely worth a look).  But neither film really gets into the head of Parker, a cold slab of granite out to get even with the people who double-crossed him during a robbery.  The fact that he was going to double-cross them before it happened doesn't matter, nor does the fact that one of the people who betrayed him was his wife.  Everyone has to pay.

The book is very methodical, going over Parker's particular code of ethics and conduct as he almost casually settles himself into New York after breaking out of prison (for vagrancy, and how that charge came out of the whole robbery and double-cross is wonderfully done) and begins to hunt down the people who betrayed him.  The violence, when it occurs, is fast and matter-of-fact.  The dialog is vintage Stark/Westlake, and wouldn't feel out of place in some of the best film noir on the 40's and 50's.

For a book that is 100% unapologetic in its actions, and as a prime example of the best that crime fiction has to offer, The Hunter is an ideal book, the kind you pick up and don't put down again until it's finished.  The new editions from the University of Chicago Press are really nice looking, keeping a sharp, visual themes between the different covers.  The first six novels are available now, with more (hopefully) on the way.  if you need a quick crime fix, you could do a hell of a lot worse.