Not Quite Parker review: The Hunted #1 by Dave Zeltserman

The Hunted #1 - The Hunted by Dave Zeltserman

One of the neater things about the e-book revolution is that it is somewhat reviving shorter-form fiction. I’ve read more short stories in the year I’ve owned my Kindle than I did in the previous five years combined, as well as more novellas.

It also seems to be reviving pulp fiction and one of its offshoots, the men’s adventure novel, of which Mack Bolan/The Executioner and a handful of others seem to be the only printed representatives left. The format is perfect for regularly published inexpensive series fiction shorter than today’s bookstore doorstops. I’ve been loving Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin’s monthly Dead Man series, and while The New Destroyer flopped at Tor (Warren Murphy and James Mullaney blame the marketing, and they may be right), Warren is back with a new Destroyer novella, Savage Song, which I eagerly downloaded the day it was available.

Which brings us to Dave Zeltserman’s new series, The Hunted. Here’s how he describes it:

The Hunted and The Dame are the first two ebooks in what I hope readers will find an exciting new novella series from me that mixes hardboiled crime with government conspiracy. Each of these are going to be between 85-110 pages long, which I think is the perfect length for Kindle reading.

The Richard Stark/Parker influence in these will be evident from the sparse prose, the crime heist in The Dame (and heists in future novellas), and the name of my anti-hero, Dan Willis (Parker’s cover identity in the early books was Chuck Willis), and while I think Parker fans are going to enjoy these they’re still very different. The government conspiracy running through these books will make them very different.

Intriguing. Let’s have a look, shall we?

The Hunted #1–The Hunted

Dan Willis served three tours with the US Army and afterward landed a great job as a salesman for a liquor distributor. Life was good until he was replaced by an online ordering system. Confident in his abilities, he didn’t think finding other work would be a problem, but it’s the 2012 economy and jobs are scarce. His money all gone, Willis finds himself increasingly desperate, even considering suicide or bank robbery. That’s when he gets a call from The Factory.

The Factory is a secret government agency. At the Factory, Dan Willis is asked if he wants to serve his country again. He is told that the country has been overrun by insurgents who look just like ordinary people but are brainwashed and dangerous. He is trained to kill them.

The Hunted is a strange book, not because of its plot, which is fairly standard men’s adventure or thriller fare, but because of its writing. Zeltserman does a lot of telling rather than showing, but that seems to be an intentional decision taken as a shortcut to get as much story crammed into the book’s 70 (really more like 60) Kindle pages as could be done rather than from a lack of ability on Zeltserman’s part. I got the impression that Zeltserman just wanted to get the origin story out of the way so that he could get on to the good stuff as quickly as possible, the good stuff being (as you could probably guess from the title and Zeltserman’s mention of government conspiracy), Willis constantly on the run from the government, having been forced off the grid, and having to live a life of crime in order to fund his own existence as he fights the conspiracy.

If it reads a little strange at times because of this, the choice ultimately pays off. The Hunted rockets along, never boring for a second. It may not be much of an accomplishment because the book is so short, but I finished it in one sitting. Stayed up at least an hour past my bedtime on a school night to do it, too.

It must be said, though, that the government conspiracy, at least as laid out in this first volume, is a little…farfetched (even by conspiracy standards) if I’m being generous, and since I enjoyed the book, I am being generous indeed. But, like decades of pulp fiction before it, The Hunted and its conspiracy do reflect the fears and paranoias of its time, and if people are reading it decades hence, they will have some idea of what life was like for many during the Great Recession. And, having been a victim of that recession myself and still in no way completely out of the woods as of this writing, I want those people to know.

“So enough about the book, Trent,” you are thinking right now. “This is The Violent World of Parker. Tell us about the Parker stuff!”

The Parker (and Westlake) stuff

Despite the Stark-referencing titles of the first two volumes and everything else mentioned in Zeltserman’s description, it would stretch the definition to call The Hunted a Parker pastiche. Dan Willis is not Parker, and Zeltserman doesn’t intend him to be Parker. Willis sometimes likes people. He acquires a dog.

But Willis does have a lot in common with Parker. Consider his physical description:

Six foot two inches, a hundred and ninety pounds, he had a rangy build with long and muscular arms corded with thick veins, his powerful hands even more so. His face was long, rough-hewn; his eyes slate gray and heavily lidded, his nose thick and revealing several bumps and bends as a lifelong reminder from his amateur boxing days when he was teenager. Willis’s hair was still mostly black, peppered only slightly with gray, and was kept short.

Not exactly the same, but similar. Note the powerful hands.

His sex drive is also not the same as Parker’s, but similar:

He wasn’t what anyone would consider handsome but he never had any trouble with the ladies, at least before he took this job with The Factory. Since then, he hadn’t had much interest. The last time he’d been with a woman was thirteen months ago.

Add to that that Willis is, much of the time, a consummate professional. Before he starts to think that some things about his job might not be right, he assassinates over twenty people cleanly and without thinking too much about it.

Above, Zeltserman mentions the sparse (I think he meant spare) prose as being influenced by Stark, but he doesn’t try to write like Donald Westlake (who could?), instead applying the Stark efficiency to his own style. The prose is actually more reminiscent of Donald Westlake’s 361, which I consider to be an essential precursor to the The Hunter and therefore the Parker series.

Westlake says:

[In] 361…[my goal was to] write a first-person novel in which the narrator has to go through a whole lot of highly emotionally charged experiences, and have him never once tell us what his feelings are. Only get it across by what his reactions are, how he moves, or what he says or does, but never say “I felt bad” or “I felt angry.” To do it with that one note of the piano removed.

The Hunted series is not first person, so that’s different. What’s almost the same is that nearly none of Dan Willis’ emotions are expressed. He might have a bad feeling about something, but there is no “Willis felt bad” or “Willis felt angry.”

And while it would be a stretch to believe it’s intentional, The Hunted bears a marked thematic resemblance to the classic Donald Westlake novel, The Ax. Who knows? Maybe it is intentional.

All of these nods (and I may not have caught them all) should make The Hunted series of interest to the Parker fan who is in the mood for an exciting, entertaining, and efficient read somewhat along the lines of the Grandmaster’s darker material.

Posts in this series:

Not Quite Parker review: The Hunted #1 by Dave Zeltserman (this post)

Not Quite Parker review: The Hunted–The Dame (#2) by Dave Zeltserman


Buy The Hunted (The Hunted Series #1)

Buy The Dame (The Hunted Series #2)