Thursday, July 15, 2021

The Hunters

Clark Howard (1932-2016) authored novels in genres like crime, military, action-adventure and spy. I really enjoyed working my way through his bibliography and have positive feedback for Siberia 10 (1973), Last Contract (1973) and The Last Great Death Stunt (1977). I've always loved thrillers in nature, so I was pleased to learn that Howard had written one. It is titled The Hunters and was published in 1978 by Jove. It is now available as an ebook via Mysterious Press. 

Situated in the San Fernando Valley, the hunters are four suburban neighbors with children, jobs and wives. However, each of them has their own peculiarities that make them unique. Here is how they shake up:

Wes is an architect who has had marital problems for several years. He knows that his wife is having an affair with a cop. Wes' wife knows that he's secretly wearing her silk panties all day. Obviously, Wes is having some sexual issues. 

Leo is an advertising executive who is battling a bleeding stomach ulcer. His marriage is average and he is stressed over a failed advertising campaign catered to police awareness.

Milt is a pharmaceutical sales rep who works with a crooked pharmacist to sell illegal drugs on the side. He remarried, but his new wife is not a good match for his daughter. 

Lamar is employed as an insurance underwriter and despises his wife. He is obsessed with television programs about law-enforcement. Lamar is also sleeping with Milt's wife. 

These four individuals participate in two hunting journeys to Nevada each year. Milt has obsessive-compulsive disorder, which means he orchestrates these journeys down to the last detail. The group normally uses .30 caliber guns and makes a stop at a whorehouse before hitting the forest for three days of booze and good times. However, these four men have truly begun to hate one another over the years. Each one has some motivation for murder. 

Just prior to the departure of these four men in Nevada, Clark Howard introduced two key characters - LAPD detectives Joe Clifford and his partner Harry Bowman. Clifford is a veteran of the force with an outstanding service record. Bowman is a new detective with a violent trend and a crack-addicted girlfriend. Together, they put many drug traffickers behind bars. In a shocking chapter, Clifford returns home from a lengthy shift. He hears someone say his name from the shadows before he is beheaded by a 30-calibre rifle. He's violently blown through his front door and lands in front of his wife and kids. Who murdered Clifford?

At nearly 300 pages, Howard's narrative explores the chemistry between these four hunters and their possible motivations for murdering Clifford or each other. As tension rises, suspicions and motives become shifting targets. There's a whole bunch of reasons for each of these people to kill a cop, but what's the connection? Like Ed McBain's 87th Precinct novels, The Hunters is a detailed police procedural handled by an LAPD captain and three of his officers. Believe me, there are a lot of character names, but this is not a struggle to follow. Howard's description and character development are strong and warrant an emotional investment. 

In terms of action, there's a few fisticuffs and a firefight near the end. This probably isn't enough to satisfy a reader that relies on a Mack Bolan body count. As a fascinating crime novel, the mystery is resolved through investigations of marriages, employers, neighbors, associates and even past convictions with drug dealers. I became deeply involved in this police procedure and the ride was a great experience.

Like prior novels, Howard injects plenty of graphic sex into the story. The four men visiting the whorehouse is vividly detailed. In addition, Lamar's affair with Milt's wife, Clifford's sex life with his wife and Bowman's relationship with the druggie are all explicit portions of the narrative. When sex isn't happening, the men and women are fantasizing about it. 

If you love a slowly developing plot and a dense mystery, The Hunters will certainly please you. I love the writing of Clark Howard and his representation of average suburbanites involved in secret affairs and scandalous activities is intriguing. While the suspenseful wilderness thriller never really came to fruition, I still really enjoyed the author's storyline and how the cohesiveness of the final act was. I recommend reading this or any of Howard's novels. He is grossly undervalued. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

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