Friday, December 20, 2013

Book Review : Richard Stark - The Hunter (1962)


Order THE HUNTER here

''I was never a whore, Parker,'' she said. ''You know that.''

''No, you sold my body instead.''

For almost five decades, Donald Westlake  was everywhere and nowhere. He wrote under sixteen different pseudonyms and under his own name as well. Therefore, his name isn't as well-known as he should be. His name doesn't have the same pull than Elmore Leonard's, for example. Westlake's most famous alter ego is Richard Stark, official name behind the Parker cult novels. THE HUNTER spawned at least two movie adaptations (POINT BLANK and PAYBACK) and still captures the imagination of crime fiction readers today. It is the main legacy of Donald Westlake

THE HUNTER is the quintessential Parker tale, the one you know him for. Shot and left for dead by his own wife after a job gone wrong, Parker becomes really upset and obsessed with vengeance. He wants to put traitors in the ground and get his money back. Simple as that. Mal Resnick, the man who orchestrated Parker's demise, did it to collect the necessary money to pay the Outfit (the crime syndicate) back for a previous mistake, so he intends to make things as complicated as he can. There is a certain commitment Parker needs to show, if he wants his enemy dead and his money back. Alienating an entire crime syndicate, for example. 

I'm a sucker for great dialogue. Great dialogue is understated, has sizeable undertow and yet tremendous entertainment value. Fans of TV series JUSTIFIED know what I'm talking about. THE HUNTER is filled with amazing dialogue. Parker isn't much of a talker, but whenever he opens his mouth, it hurts or you believe it'll hurt later. There is a fine line between meaning business and being a peacock and Stark never crosses it. Disciplined, contained, badass dialogue makes Ben happy.

''I'm looking for Mal Resnick, he said. ''You're going to tell me where he is.''

''No. Even if I knew, the answer would still be no.''

''You'll tell me. I want to tell him he doesn't have to pay her off anymore.''

''Why not?''

''She's dead. So is your fat pansy. You can be dead, too, if you want.''

THE HUNTER came out at an interesting time in America. Post-war triumphalism was starting to wear off and it became increasingly difficult to read things morally. Especially when America was supposed to be moral at large, for winning WWII. There is not good or bad guys in THE HUNTER. Just a guy with a justifiable grudge, a very frightened fuck-up and mercantile egocentric businessmen who don't see any value in compromise. Stark puts his reader right in the middle and leaves to choose their level of involvement with the characters. I love it when an author has such faith in his reader's judgement.  Stark has enough faith in his protagonist not to sell it to you.

One particular wrinkle female readers might want to know before getting into THE HUNTER, is that it's pretty sexist. Borderline misogynistic, but in the strange, almost charming way your grandfather might be? I don't believe Donald Westlake ever had anything against women, but THE HUNTER was written in a distant era where feminism hadn't picked up any steam yet. Puts things in perspective. We came a long way since 1962, so take the brutally sexist passages with a grain of salt. None of these would probably exist if the book has been written today.

Otherwise, I went absolutely bonkers over THE HUNTER, read it in two and a half sitting. Brutal, understated and morally challenging are words that make my engine roar. It's easy to understand why there is a cult of Parker in pop culture. He is the archetype of a anti-hero. A businessman with his own, peculiar set of values. Count me in as a fan from now on.

BADASS

9 comments:

  1. Better late than never. Welcome to the club.

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  2. Yes sir. Got #2 and #3 in the TBR, locked and loaded already.

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    1. Just remember: reprints are for pussies. Just saying))

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    2. I like your style, Garraty. But reprints will have to do in the land where English books are few and far between.

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    3. Ben, don't forget: I myself don't live in US or UK. But I get by.

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    4. Well, I never was a thorough and patient man :)

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  3. I'm an absolute nut for the Parker books. And they were a pretty big influence on my second novel. Glad you're on board the Parker train, Ben!

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  4. LOVED that novel, Heath. I can see the influence.

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  5. I enjoy the Parker books, but I worship the pages on which Westlake's Dortmunder series is printed.

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