The Hunter (Stark novel)
|Cover artist||Harry Bennett|
Parker is a professional criminal, specializing in armed robbery. The pattern of his life is to commit a lucrative heist, live well in luxury hotels for a period of months or years with his wife, Lynn, then commit another heist when necessary. This pattern is disrupted when he is convinced, against his better judgment, to join a "crew" in California, planning to heist a shipment of cash intended for an illegal arms deal. The heist goes perfectly, but one of the crew, Mal Resnick, double-crosses Parker and the others. Because he is too afraid to face Parker directly, he convinces Lynn to shoot Parker in bed rather than be killed herself. After killing the other robbers, Mal escapes with the heist proceeds and Lynn.
Parker survives the shooting and is imprisoned for vagrancy. Later he escapes prison and arrives in New York City. A quick identity theft allows him to acquire a false name, a change of clothes, and a small amount of money. He first tracks down Lynn, who tells him that Mal pays her rent, but moved out after becoming frustrated with his inability to rouse her passion the same way Parker did. After telling Parker all she knows, Lynn kills herself with an overdose of sleeping pills.
Staying in Lynn's apartment, Parker meets the courier who brings her rent, and extracts the name of his boss, a taxicab dispatcher named Arthur Stegmann. Stegmann says Mal deposits the money for Lynn in a bank account, but Stegmann does not know how to find him. However, after Parker leaves, Stegmann contacts Mal through an intermediary.
Mal is a regional manager for "The Outfit," a nationwide organized crime syndicate; he was "fired" from this position after a blunder in Chicago that cost The Outfit $80,000, and was told to earn it back if he wanted his job back. With the proceeds from the arms heist, Mal bought his way back in, but panics when he hears from Stegmann that Parker is alive, and seeking revenge.
Mal approaches Frederick Carter, The Outfit's manager for the New York area, who declines to assist Mal with his problem and orders him to take care of it himself. Mal takes refuge in a penthouse suite and tells his associates to spread the word of his whereabouts, planning to lay a trap for Parker. However, Parker has already tracked him down, and corners him in his suite before Mal's trap is ready.
Having Mal at his mercy, Parker is unsatisfied, finding it too easy to take his revenge. He decides that what he really wants back is the pattern of his old life, and for that he wants his share of the heist proceeds, that Mal stole from him. He interrogates Mal for every detail of The Outfit's hierarchy in the city, then strangles him.
Parker approaches Carter in his office, knocks out his bodyguards, and demands repayment of his share: $45,000. Carter refuses, not believing that Parker would risk The Outfit's wrath over such a trifling sum. After receiving a final "no" from Carter's immediate superior, Bronson, Parker shoots Carter, then informs Bronson that next he'll be targeting Justin Fairfax, the other regional manager.
Parker invades Fairfax's home and knocks out his bodyguards with little effort. To Fairfax, he delivers a different threat: that Parker has a network of freelance professional thieves all over the country, that these thieves have been "casing" The Outfit's operations for years, and are only waiting for an excuse to rob them. If Parker is not paid, then he will give the nod to these thieves, and The Outfit will suffer far greater losses than $45,000. Bronson agrees to pay Parker his money, but warns that he'll never live to enjoy it.
Shortly before going to the money drop, Parker returns to Stegmann's taxi lot, and kills him for informing Mal.
The money drop is set at a subway station in Brooklyn; Parker outmaneuvers a group of Outfit thugs sent to kill him, and gets his money—only to be questioned at his hotel by police detectives, who have come to the mistaken conclusion that he's involved in drug smuggling, and are going to take him in. He escapes them, but loses the suitcase full of money in the process. Undaunted, he plans and executes a robbery of an Outfit operation with some fellow heisters, telling the employees there to tell Bronson that Parker is collecting interest on the loan. He plans to have a change of appearance performed by a plastic surgeon and spend the next few months living well in Florida.
The novel was written as a stand-alone crime novel, but when Westlake turned it in, his editor told him that if he would rewrite the ending so that Parker escaped, he would be willing to publish up to three books a year about Parker. Though Westlake was not able to keep up that level of productivity, he did go on to write 23 more Parker novels over the next 46 years.
The Hunter was re-issued by the University of Chicago Press in August 2008.
In other media
It was the basis for four feature films:
- John Boorman's Point Blank (1967), starring Lee Marvin
- Ringo Lam's Full Contact (1992), starring Chow Yun-fat
- Brian Helgeland's Payback (1999), starring Mel Gibson
- Taylor Hackford's Parker (2013), starring Jason Statham
- Mystery Scene, #106, Fall 2008: http://newimprovedgorman.blogspot.com/2009/01/donald-e-westlake-interview.html