NB: Linked in this week's Friday's Forgotten Books.
For this second post in the paperback segment of a larger series of posts on various Elmore Leonard novels, I had intended to take a critical look at Leonard's 1959 western Last Stand at Saber River, comparing it to his later, and in my opinion better, western, Valdez is Coming (1970). But then the news broke on Monday that Leonard had been hospitalized following a stroke – from which he's reportedly recovering, thankfully – and even though I wasn't planning on giving Last Stand at Saber River a good kicking or anything – it's not by any means a bad book – I figured I'd save that post for next week and instead, as a kind of tribute to the 87-year-old author, take a look at a paperback edition of a novel about which I'm much more enthusiastic:
The Hunted, originally published in the States as a paperback by Dell in 1977. This isn't that edition, however – and nor is it the 1978 British Secker & Warburg hardback, which is so scarce I've never even seen its cover. No, this is the 1980 Hamlyn edition – the first British paperback edition, in other words – which, while not quite as uncommon as the Secker edition, is still in relatively short supply. I bought this copy as a result of reading The Hunted as part of the Elmore Leonard omnibus Dutch Treat a few months back; I liked it so much I decided I needed an early edition of the novel by itself, this Hamlyn paperback, dodgy '80s glamour cover and all, being the best I could do (for now; I'll be keeping an eye out for a Dell or Secker edition).
As to why The Hunted made such an impression on me, I ventured a few reasons when I reviewed it as part of Dutch Treat, back at the beginning of this series of Leonard posts, calling it, if you'll indulge me quoting myself, "as lean and gripping a manhunt thriller as you could wish for". I continued in an erudite fashion:
While The Hunted is on the surface a straightforward
man-on-the-run tale, it's the story's locale which lends it its
additional edge: Israel, with its history of conflict (the scars visible
now and then in the narrative) and constricted geography. It's a tiny
country, almost impossible to hide in, which makes it perfect for a game
of cat and
mouse between a trio of hitmen [Rashad, Teddy and Valenzuela] and a Federal witness businessman [Al Rosen] and his
new Marine buddy [David Davis – no relation].
To which I'd add that you could, if you felt so inclined, make a useful comparison with the aforementioned Valdez is Coming, despite that novel being a western and The Hunted being contemporaneously set (as I mentioned in this post on the later Leonard novel Cuba Libre, Leonard started his career writing westerns, and an argument could be made that a number of his later crime novels and thrillers are westerns in all but name). To wit: both are wiry, linear thrillers, unencumbered by much in the way of plot (a good thing, in case you were wondering); both involve the pursuit of a pair of protagonists by a bunch of hired killers; and both climax with a tense standoff at a remote locale, although the standoff in The Hunted entails rather more bloodshed than the one in Valdez is Coming.
Mind you, it's not unusual for a Leonard novel to feature some kind of standoff towards the end. Take Last Stand at Saber River, for example...