The Lonely Hunter is the first book of the Lt. Frank Hastings mysteries that are currently being reprinted as ebooks by Mysterious Press, which is quickly becoming one of my favorite publishers for books I read when I was a kid but can’t find anymore. I’m able to plug holes in series collections that I never found, and probably can’t find anymore if I start looking for them. I like the fact that now they’re all right a my fingertips.
Lt. Frank Hastings is, oddly enough, only a detective sergeant in this first book. He promotes up to lieutenant sometime before the second book.
The book is short and compact, and reads just like an old 1970s television cop show. We get into the story and mystery pretty quickly. There is a certain amount of family problems and office problems that float around the edges of the primary investigation, but they never really weigh into the mix. In a way, Hastings’s subplot involving his own runaway daughter almost feels pasted on as an afterthought.
The mystery is very workmanlike and sadly feels a little dated. I enjoy Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins mysteries a lot, but they don’t feel dated even though they’re sharing the same time frame and earlier. I don’t know exactly what the difference is, but it’s there.
I read a lot of the Hastings mysteries back in the day, and I think I got started on them because Collin Wilcox teamed up with Bill Pronzini to write Twospot, a mystery that features Hastings and Pronzini’s iconic private eye, Nameless. That was the first book that ever mentioned Nameless’s first name: Bill.
This book has a lot of dialogue and suspects, and the mystery is fairly simple to solve for the attentive reader, though Wilcox does practice to deceive. The representation of the Haight Ashbury crowd at the time feels a little off looking back at things now, but I can also remember all the thinking at the time, and Wilcox is dead on for how people felt about the hippies and drugs in those days.
Hastings’s character felt maybe a little anemic, not quite as fleshed out as I remember, but I read the later books in the series as I recall. I’d never been able to find the earlier ones. But these are books I’m going to read for comfort reading, and it looks like Mysterious Press has them all in ebook now. I recommend this one for readers who still like the solid mysteries of yesteryear, or someone who wants to take a tour down memory lane. The helicopter chase at the end is cool in that it reminds me of how awesome I used to think all those things were back then.