The Hunter (1962)

Also published as Point Blank (or Point Blank!) and Payback.

The Hunter by Richard Stark (AKA Donald Westlake)

When a fresh faced guy in a Chevy offered him a lift, Parker told him to go to hell. The guy said, “Screw you, buddy,” yanked his Chevy back into the stream of traffic, and roared on down to the tollbooths. Parker spat in the right-hand lane, lit his last cigarette, and walked across the George Washington Bridge.

* * *

In The Hunter, Parker makes his debut, and a bloody debut it is. After escaping a prison farm by killing a guard, Parker makes his way to New York City. His target-Mal Resnick, who had betrayed him after a heist and left him for dead in a burning house, taking Parker’s share of the loot with him.

A path of violence and death through the New York underworld will eventually lead him not just to Mal, but to the top of the New York syndicate as Parker seeks both revenge and the $45,000 Parker believes he is owed.

* * *

The original Parker novel, the most frequently reprinted, twice filmed (officially), and perhaps the most brutal. Offensive on several levels, but primarily because we are introduced to a main character (hero is not the right word) with a total disregard for any human life that gets in his way. We’ve had thieves as protagonists before, but they were usually charming, witty, dapper fellows who never took from anyone who didn’t deserve it, and who amused us with complicated and marvelous schemes.

Not so with Parker. He is a thug who kills a prison guard to escape confinement, even though he’s only got one month left of his sentence. His heist schemes are not generally all that clever-he just finds a way to get his money and knocks off anyone that he can’t get rid of by a less risky and incriminating method.

Parker’s mind works logically, but most readers cannot imagine being so completely heartless and selfish (at least I hope not). But despite being repellent as a human being, Parker is fascinating, and his escapades, written in often-masterful dry-as-bone prose that frequently condenses what would have been dozens of pages by another writer into two or three, are extraordinarily compelling reading. If you read one (and The Hunter is the best place to start), chances are you will read many more.

The Hunter creates the template for most of the subsequent Parker novels-the heist, the betrayal, and the bloody path Parker takes to get his money back by whatever means necessary and live on until the next book.

(Among several innovations introduced in The Hunter is the trick Stark plays with the story’s chronology (a trick borrowed freely from by Stark fan Quentin Tarantino in Pulp Fiction to much praise for originality more than four decades later). Parker is on the hunt for his prey. His prey is making his escape. Suddenly, Parker comes out of nowhere to confront his prey. We then go back to when we last left Parker and retrace the path Parker took leading to this burst of action. It’s a dazzling literary device, and the many variations on it throughout the series are among its more fascinating facets.)

A detailed synopsis of The Hunter is here. Warning: Spoilers galore!

Known printings and cover gallery here.

The Hunter has been filmed as Point Blank and Payback.

Donald Westlake’s introduction to the Gregg Press edition.

Donald Westlake’s introduction to the Payback movie tie-in edition.

To The Man With the Getaway Face, the next book in the Parker series