Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Hunter: Richard Stark


The Hunter is the first novel in a series by Richard Stark (one of Donald Westlake's pseudonyms). The series of 24 books features an amoral criminal, Parker,who specializes in payroll robberies. He is not a killer for hire, but he will kill if someone gets in his way. In other words, not a very nice guy. He has no redeeming qualities. He has no remorse for what he does; on the other hand, he is not sadistic. He does not think much about what he does at all. He just conducts his business and moves on. In this novel, Parker is seeking revenge on Mal, a man who double-crossed him, took his wife, and stole his share of the proceeds from a job.

This story felt kind of numbing in the first reading. As soon as I finished this book, I wondered if I want to continue reading books about a protagonist who is narcissistic and unsympathetic. I don't dislike the character but there is nothing admirable or likable about him, at least in this book. The writing is plain and unadorned, the story is hard-boiled, with lots of violence. There is little description or exposition. There is a lot of action and dialog and that is how you learn about the characters, most of which are very similar to Parker.

The real test, however, was that it was just as compelling when I was rereading portions of the book as I worked on this post. So, in the end, the answer is that I do want to continue reading this series. I will be reading the second book, The Man with the Getaway Face, in June, for a special theme on Heists / Bank Robberies at Friday's Forgotten Books at Patti Abbott's blog, pattinase. And I have ordered the third book in the series, The Outfit.

A review quote from the Christian Science Monitor, cited at the publisher's site:
If you’re looking for crime novels with a lot of punch, try the very, very tough novels featuring Parker. . . . The Hunter, The Outfit, The Mourner, and The Man with the Getaway Face are all beautifully paced, tautly composed, and originally published in the early 1960s.
A quote from an article at CriminalElement.com
The Hunter should be on everyone’s short list of must-read novels. Its historical significance to the crime genre is on par with The Big Sleep or The Maltese Falcon. In the same way those novels introduced hardboiled noir to the world, The Hunter jumpstarted the era of the antihero that we still see ripples of today. It is action-packed storytelling with an innovative structure and one of the most unique and most celebrated characters in all of crime fiction.
Other resources:


Film Adaptations

This first book in the series was the basis for at least two movies: Point Blank, starring Lee Marvin and Payback, with Mel Gibson. I watched both movies after finishing the book.  I had watched Payback years ago, but this was my first viewing of Point Blank. Both movies try to humanize Parker, but they do stick fairly close to the story in the book. I think Lee Marvin's  portrayal of Parker is closer to that in the book, but Mel Gibson depiction of the crazy drive that Parker must have to achieve his goal is also very well done.


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Publisher:  Univ. of Chicago Press, 2008 (orig. publ. 1962)
Length:     198 pages
Format:     Trade paperback
Series:      Parker #1
Setting:     New York City
Genre:      Hard-boiled
Source:     I purchased my copy

24 comments:

  1. I think I will go for the movies. I don't know if I can handle a book with lots of violence it. There was a time I quit reading TeSs Gerritsen just because I tried miserably to handle the meticulous details she narrated. For instance, when an autopsy is conducted. I was so sad that I loved her books...

    Thanks
    Shalet Jimmy

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    1. I do understand, Shalet Jimmy. I can usually handle violence better on film than in a book, also. I have not read a book by Gerritsen in a long time; I agree those are good books, but if the autopsies bother you, that would be a problem.

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  2. You make such interesting comments, Tracy, about a character who doesn't have to be sympathetic to be compelling. And there are fictional characters like that. I actually think Westlake is skilled at drawing readers into a story, even if the characters aren't the sort you'd want to have visit for dinner.

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    1. Yes, Margot, I do think it Westlake's writing that kept me going.

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  3. I agree with Margot (...she's the expert in my book!)
    not every character has to be 'likeable'.
    I'm trying to keep up with CF writing....but question:
    If character was a great 'dinner partner'....was he amusing in any way? Were any of his actions or words funny? I will be looking forward to the next Richard Stark review!

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    1. It is strange, Nancy, but I actually prefer this character to some in the book I am reading now, set on Wall Street. Not much humor in this book, the character is very focused on what he wants. I am looking forward to reading the next book. Very soon.

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    1. This is most definitely your kind of book, Col. It was a very different reading experience for me.

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  5. I'm a big fan of these but was really introgues by your description of Parker as narcissitic - I'd genuinely never thought of him that way, but certainly will from now on! By the way, which version of PAYBACK did you watch? If it's the one with Kris Kristofferspn then you shoud watch the director's cut - it is tougher but much better in my view. I compared the various version way back on Fedora: https://bloodymurder.wordpress.com/2013/10/22/payback-straight-up-the-directors-cut-2006/

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    1. I did see that post, Sergio, but it had slipped my mind. Going back and reading your post, the director's cut sounds disturbing, but I still would like to see it for comparison.

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    2. The series reboots itself with the second volume, and then settles outstanding plot threads in the third, THE OUTFIT, before really taking off so well worth getting through the initial trio and then picking up one more (see what i did there? You get them early and ...) :)

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    3. So it looks like I will be getting the fourth book, too, Sergio. I will be reading book 2 as soon as I finish the one I am in the middle of. Although I love older paperback editions, so far I am getting the U. of Chicago Press editions.

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  6. I got through maybe a third of this one and dumped it. I've never been a Westlake fan, but thought I might like the Parker books, and I was wrong. I had an immediate dislike for the character, and what's the point of reading a book when you dislike the main character?

    I know these are well liked by many, but not by me.

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    1. Rick, I want to give the series some more time and see how I like it. So, at least the next two books, maybe more. However, I can definitely see your point. I recently finished a book (that was much closer to the cozy type of mystery) and I disliked almost all the characters. (The Big Killing by Annette Meyers) For different reasons, I guess. After reading 250 pages of the book, I had to finish the last 100, but it did not get better.

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  7. I've seen Point Blank several times, mainly for Lee Marvin--compelling in everything I've seen him in, including the musical Paint Your Wagon. Had no idea it was adapted from a Westlake novel. I see the Parker character as a personification of the typical corporate ethos. Despite my enjoying the film (I haven't seen payback) I agree with Rick Robinson, Tracy, stopping short of questioning why you would want to read these books. As for me, The Ax was as close as I want to come to the Parker outlook.

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    1. Usually the reason I will read stories that otherwise don't appeal is for the writing style, and that may be it here, Mathew. It is always hard for me to define what I like about a reading experience, and much easier to say what I don't like. Types of novels I don't usually read are: ghost stories, stories where I feel dread about what is going to happen to the characters, and serial killer novels. But there are always exceptions.

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  8. This was very interesting: I am unlikely to read this book/series, but I hadn't realized the connections between author names, films etc, and I like to be informed. Definitely a book for Col rather than me!

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    1. I am just trying to figure out all the Parker films that are available, Moira. I read a lot of books by Westlake at some point in my life and I remember reading some noirish ones, but I don't think I was even aware of the Richard Stark books until the last few years. Now I want to catch up on his books (there are a lot) and try the various types of stories that he wrote. Just not enough time to read everything I want to.

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  9. I am not a fan of books with an unsympathetic or likable main protagonists though I have, occasionally, read a few. (i.e. Jonathan Ross's detective superintendent Rogers in today's post, for one.) But I try to stay away from these types of guys (or gals) if I can help it. Still, I enjoyed reading your review because - who knows?

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    1. I know what you mean, Yvette. My tastes in mysteries and all kinds of reading has changed over time. Based on what I have read, the character in this series stays about the same, but I still want to see what happens in the series. And the writing is good.

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  10. Good for you! We at Ambler House consider Richard Stark something of a hero and the Parker novels among the best crime novels ever. Some of our books show his influence, including our latest, BUTCHERTOWN, a 1920s gangster novel set in Northern California and also inspired by Dashiell Hammett's RED HARVEST.

    You can find out more if you like at http://amblerhouse.blogspot.com/2016/11/award-winning-author-burchfield.html.

    Apologies for the clumsy approach, but we couldn't find an e-mail through which we could reach you for a possible review.

    Thank you and good luck with the rest of the Parker series. Some are better than others, but none of them are really bad.

    Cheers,

    Thomas Burchfield
    Ambler House Publishing (Owner and reviewer at THE STRAND MAGAZINE).

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    1. Thanks for the comments, Thomas. I will check out site and information about your business.

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