By Richard Stark
I’m not quite sure what finally lead me to Richard Stark’s The Hunter. Perhaps it was reading two books back to back about neglected young girls that I felt it was time for something more masculine. Something lean, mean and bad ass. I had heard plenty about the Parker novels from Olman as well as the other 50-bookers. I certainly have also been enabling Olman’s adulation of the series by getting him three new reissues by the University of Chicago Press for his birthday since 2008. So it’s high time I checked out what all the fuss was about.
Another thing - although I have a soft spot for vengeance movies, I’ve never really sought out the equivalent in fiction. I don’t know if there’s a vengeance niche, but I recently came upon the eye-for-an-eye style of vengeance with surprised glee in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series. I wouldn’t be surprised if Stieg Larsson modeled Lisbeth Salander after the Parker character. Unusually intelligent and just autistic enough to be borderline anti-social, Larsson’s (anti-)heroine also operates within her own moral universe.
Since I’m sure all who bother to read this review are well acquainted with the storyline, I won’t go into summarizing The Hunter. I did appreciate the lean structure, taut pacing and sparse prose. Oh, which reminds me, another reason why I wanted to read this was that it simply made a bloody quick read. No wonder Olman bangs ‘em out so quickly – he just focuses on the slim genre books which dispense with all that descriptive, prosaic bullshit that is normally associated with literature. As Olman notes in his review, “there is no fluff here, no moralizing, no glee, no pornographic satisfaction in the revenge. It's like a short, direct punch to the gut that nobody else in the crowd notices until the guy crumples to his knees, gasping for breath”. Yeah, that pretty much nails it right there.
Indeed, the story starts off with Parker telling someone who kindly offers him a lift to go to hell (if this was written today, he would’ve told him to fuck right off). We soon learn that Parker himself went to hell and back, having been screwed over in a heist, thrown in the slammer, then escaping and living as a vagrant for a month. Damn right he is right bloody pissed and he won’t rest until he exacts his revenge, going about it patiently, cunningly and methodically. It was quite enjoyable reading how Parker steals and cons his way until he has the means to go after his enemies. When he finds out that his target Mal is a middle manager within a criminal organization, he single-handedly takes them on. Although he belongs to the criminal underworld himself, he still operates in his own terms.
I guess that’s the appeal of Parker - he’s a true loner - in a world that either wants to mess with him or have a piece of him. So he’s always a man on the move. The Parker character has endured and gained in popularity since The Hunter first appeared in 1962. Sorry if I keep comparing Parker to Lisbeth Salander (I’m not a Parker fan so I don’t have any pretensions of being a purist), but I think this is also why LS appeals to today’s readers (esp. those little old ladies who secretly like to kick a bit of ass) because she’s an updated (and more accessible) version of Parker.
Olman mentioned Parker as “an individual, a free radical, attached to no institution, organization, woman or job”. Parker is not autistic like Salander, but he obviously has sociopathic tendencies. His moral universe is even simpler than Lisbeth Salander’s: mess with me, and you die. Though he may come across as one, Parker is not exactly a misogynist as his black and white worldview applies to both men and women alike. It just so happens that being the wife of Parker allows a certain level of intimacy with this cold, calculating individual, if you catch my drift. This is how Parker ends up getting betrayed – his wife is his weakest link. Mal forces Lynn at gunpoint to choose: either kill her husband or be killed. When Parker finally confronts Lynn, being unaware of the back story, he never asks her what really happened. In Parker’s world, the fact of the matter is that his own wife shot him in the back, and even if he didn’t end up killing her for that, his wife was as good as dead to him. When Lynn ends up committing suicide, this brings little or no emotion in Parker. He just ends up watching too much bad TV and drinking a little too much that night. He just knows that he won’t make the same mistake again. Yup, this guy is bad ass.
A brutal yet entertaining read. And a refreshing change from the stuff I normally read.