THE HUNTER by Richard Stark
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I’ve made a promise to reread all the early Parker novels by Richard Stark (Donald Westlake) this year. The books are short and compact, and the reading will be a pleasure. I can burn through them in a sitting or two. The books are dated, of course, because most of them were written in the 1960s and early 1970s, and cell phones and the internet weren’t prevalent. The targets of the professional criminals in these books would be a lot more difficult in present day.
But I can slip back into the time period effortlessly. Some of the younger generation of readers might struggle with that lack of technology unless they’re well-versed in period piece stuff – back in the old days when they had to try to trace phone numbers.
Parker is one of those iconic characters in fiction that will forever stand out. He’s been played by Lee Marvin (Point Blank), Chow Yun Fat (Full Contact) and by Mel Gibson (Payback). That’s some rarified air there, folks. He’s a big, gnarly brute of a man in the novels, a cold-heated professional when on the job, able to cut losses and throats with a single flick of a knife. As the series progresses, Parker softens a little, but not much. He maintains a bleak outlook on life and I love him for it. Comic writers like Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka probably read Stark, or at least works by other writers who were inspired by the Parker books.
In this first volume, Parker is on a mission of vengeance. He barely survived the last heist after being betrayed by one of his partners and his wife. Now he wants his cut of the profits. The double-cross is more complicated than Parker realizes. When the ex-partner took the money, it wasn’t just about the money. The man needed the stake to buy his way back into the Outfit (Mafia) and get back into their good graces after blowing another operation that nearly got him killed.
Watching Parker coolly work his way up the chain of people involved to reach the offices of the Mafia, where he brazenly demands his money, is an absolute treat. In some ways, Parker reminds me of Joe Pike, Robert Crais’s hero. Neither one of them will give an inch, no matter what it costs them personally. Giving in to someone one, in their view, is much worse than dying. I like that about those kinds of characters.
This book was an absolute delight to read even though I’d seen both movies and read the book years ago (at least twice). I finished it in a couple nights and am looking forward to the rest of the series.
Comics enthusiasts (and readers that enjoyed this story and might want to follow it into other incarnations) will be happy to know that Darwyn Cooke has written and drawn two of the Parker novels. The Hunter and The Outfit are out as graphic novels as well.
If you haven’t read the Parker novels, you don’t have to read them in order, but I’d recommend it. The University of Chicago is reprinting them (almost all of them are out now), and there are Kindle versions as well.
If you have never read a thief novel, especially if you loved Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw in The Getaway, you gotta read the Parker books.
You’ll thank me for the recommendation.