James Thane's Reviews > The Hunter

The Hunter by Richard Stark
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Feb 13, 15

bookshelves: crime-fiction, hard-boiled, parker, richard-stark
Read in February, 2015

This is a classic hard-boiled novel, the first book in a series that would ultimately run to twenty-four books published between 1962 and 2008. The series featured a brutal, smart, amoral professional criminal known only as Parker who worked with crews of other professional criminals and usually focused on robbing banks, armored cars or other such targets. Parker was not a professional killer, although he never balked at killing anyone who got in the way of the job at hand.

He also never hesitated to kill anyone who double-crossed him, and as the book and the series open, Parker has been double-crossed in the worst possible way, shot by his wife at the end of a job and left for dead. The wife then ran off with one of Parker's partners from the job, along with Parker's share of the loot. Needless to say, Parker, who luckily survived the attempt on his life, is not in a good mood when we first meet him, and Stark's introduction of his protagonist ranks as one of the best in crime fiction.

Pissed at the world and determined to get revenge, Parker is stalking across the George Washington Bridge into New York City, a "big and shaggy" man, with "flat square shoulders and arms too long in sleeves too short....His face was a chipped chunk of concrete, with eyes of flawed onyx. His mouth was a quick stroke, bloodless."

"Office women in passing cars looked at him and felt vibrations above their nylons....They knew he was a bastard, they knew his big hands were born to slap with, they knew his face would never break into a smile when he looked at a woman. They knew what he was, they thanked God for their husbands, and still they shivered. Because they knew how he would fall on a woman in the night. Like a tree."

Parker has traced his wife to New York and arrived there virtually penniless. He's determined to deal with her and, through her, to find the partner who betrayed him and stole the money that was Parker's share of the job they had pulled.

It won't be easy, and complications ensue, one after the other. But Parker will not be deterred, even when he learns that the man who betrayed him has used his money to repay a debt to the Outfit and is now protected by them. To get his revenge, Parker will have to take on the Outfit all by himself. But what the hell does he care; he won't rest until he gets what he's owed.

Richard Stark is the pen name of Donald Westlake, a prolific writer who is otherwise best known for the comedic Dortmunder crime novels that he wrote under his own name. But the Parker novels are really his crowing achievement. They are taut, spare stories cut close to the bone and without a wasted word. And there's absolutely nothing funny or redemptive about them. Parker's is a tough, brutal and dangerous world; there's no room for any sentimental nonsense and watching him make his way through that world is one of the most enjoyable experiences in the world of crime fiction.

As a side note, this book was ultimately filmed twice, once as "Point Blank," in 1967, starring Lee Marvin as Parker, and again in 1999, as "The Hunter," with Mel Gibson in the role. The Lee Marvin Version is much the better of the two, and Marvin captures the character about as well as anyone could.
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Comments (showing 1-14 of 14) (14 new)

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message 1: by Michael (new)

Michael Nice introduction. It's been decades since reading one of these, and the urge to delve among 20 unread ones runs up against my rural libraries having discarded them over time. You do a great job of capturing their special qualities.


Algernon I saw both movies, and indeed Lee Marvin had a brooding presence and a meanness that was much closer to the charater in the book than Gibson.


James Thane Michael wrote: "Nice introduction. It's been decades since reading one of these, and the urge to delve among 20 unread ones runs up against my rural libraries having discarded them over time. You do a great job ..."

Thanks, Michael. I understand that libraries occasionally have to weed out their collections but it seems a crime that they would be discarding books as good as these. Parker would not be happy!


James Thane Algernon wrote: "I saw both movies, and indeed Lee Marvin had a brooding presence and a meanness that was much closer to the charater in the book than Gibson."

I agree completely. Marvin has just the right "edge" for the character and Gibson misses it.


message 5: by Dan 2.0 (new) - added it

Dan 2.0 Oh contraire, while I've yet to read any of these, I thought Gibson did a bang up job on that underrated Payback flick. The movie is easily rewatchable and darkly comedic. Why pick on him, when there's a much easier target? Did no one see that Parker abomination with Jason Statham and Jennifer Lopez? Terrible!


message 6: by Zakariah (new)

Zakariah Johnson Easily one of the best hard boiled books ever written. I always remember that opening, and the description of the ropey veins in the back of Parker's hands--hands obviously born for killing.

Marvin was also perfect for the role; even if the movie plot got a little jumbled. Like Michael Caine in the original Get Carter, watching Marvin you can just tell he actually knew how to throw a punch to hurt somebody, and you wonder how many teeth the poor stunt men in those fight scenes left on the floor of the set.


message 7: by James (last edited Feb 13, 2015 09:01AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

James Thane Dan 2.0 wrote: " Did no one see that Parker abomination with Jason Statham and Jennifer Lopez? Terrible! ..."

Oh, God--thanks a lot for reminding me of that! Just seeing the preview once was enough to make me puke and I've been trying to repress the memory ever since. But I'll grant you that by comparison, Gibson's effort had to be Academy Award-worthy...


Larry Robert Duvall did a good turn as Parker in "The Outfit," based on the 3rd Parker book. He was sided by Joe Don Baker.


James Thane Larry wrote: "Robert Duvall did a good turn as Parker in "The Outfit," based on the 3rd Parker book. He was sided by Joe Don Baker."

I vaguely remember that one and thinking that it wasn't too bad.


Larry It's captures Parker's essential nature, and makes it clear that he is a very bad guy to cross.


Sharon Great job, Parker is so compelling. I envy that you're re-reading them. I have go put them all on my list, again.


James Thane Sharon wrote: "Great job, Parker is so compelling. I envy that you're re-reading them. I have go put them all on my list, again."

Yes, he is a very compelling protagonist, which is why, even though I have so many new books sitting in my TBR pile, I still occasionally pull one of these off the shelf and re-read it. I finished working my way back through them a couple of years ago, so I figure it's about time to start again!


message 13: by David (new)

David The Mel Gibson version was "Payback" not "The Hunter." I believe "the Hunter" was Steve McQueen's final film.

Having seen both of the films based on this book, I have to say they were very, very different. Both had a 1960's FEEL-- and both were very gritty.

I prefer Westlake's Dortmunder novels. Several of those made it to film as well-- in particular--"The Hot Rock" with Robert Redford (a hilarious film in my memory) and "What's the Worse that Can Happen?" and the worst thing is that it became a vehicle for Martin Lawrence's stupidity. DeVito was fun to watch in it, though.


James Thane I remember seeing "The Hot Rock" several years ago and really enjoying it. Then a couple of years ago I found it in a bargain DVD bin and bought it. When I watched it the second time, it didn't seem nearly as good for some reason, although it has a lot of good people in it. I know a lot of people do prefer the Dortmunder novels but people's tastes differ of course. Didn't see "What's the Worst that Can Happen."


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