The Hunter (aka Point Blank) by Richard Stark (Shane's book 34, 2011)

This is considered a classic of hardboiled crime fiction. It's also the only book that I've continued to search for after I bought a copy. That's because it took me a long time to realise that The Hunter and Point Blank, two much-recommended crime novels, were in fact the same book. There are also three film versions: Point Blank, Full Contact and Payback. [amtap book:isbn=0749079614]

Published in 1962, the book is the first in a series of more than 20 novels about Parker, a professional crook. Its author, Donald Westlake wrote more than 100 novels under many pseudonyms. The Parker novels were all written as Richard Stark. In summary, both the novel and its author go by many different names.

In The Hunter, Parker is just out of prison and is determined to get revenge on his ex-wife and his former partners in crime, whose treachery put him in jail. Parker is a single-minded and ruthless hunter. When he discovers that one of his former partners is being protected by the mob, he decides to take on the mob too.

The writing is taut and simple. Westlake doesn't linger too much on descriptions or the inner life of his characters as he propels the action relentlessly forward. It's easy to see why the story has tempted so many filmmakers - at times it almost reads like a film script.

The story was probably not that original even when it was written but frequent imitation, by the likes of Quentin Tarantino and Elmore Leonard, does diminish its impact somewhat. At times it feels cosy and familiar rather than the thrilling journey into the underworld that it once might have been.

Parker is a classic example of the indomitable hero. That he will succeed in his revenge mission is not really in doubt at any stage, which robs the story of some tension. Westlake makes up for that with some memorable action scenes and a clever structure that begins in the midst of Parker's search for revenge and then occasionally flashes back to earlier events.

This is worth reading if you're a fan of classic crime fiction. It's enjoyable but probably lacks the impact that it had when it was first published.