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John Lescroart
The Hunter
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2011

Dutton / Penguin Putnam
US Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-0-525-95256-5
Publication Date: 01-03-2012
400 Pages; $26.95
Date Reviewed: 12-28-2011

Index:  Mystery

Give readers clean prose and a simple situation, set up a plot that will pull them in; it all seems so easy to read that one might well conclude it's easy to write. The mystery genre is a good place to begin comfortably, and 'The Hunter' by John Lescroart offers a supple, smart set-up that reads so easily, it seems like the good times will never end. Things don't stay simple or easy, but for readers the good times don't end until the book itself does. If you're lucky, you'll not have read anything else by Lescroart and find yourself with a big back catalogue of great reading in store.

The opening is pitch perfect. We meet Wyatt Hunt and Devin Juhle having the lunch special at Lou The Greek's. Hunt runs "The Hunt Club," a collection of folks who form something pretty close to a detective agency, and he's trying to cajole Juhle to quit his job at the SFPD and join him. Lescroart's prose and scene-setting sensibility immediately immerse us in the lives of these likable men. A few pages later, Lescroart upends everything when Hunt receives a text on his cell phone: How did your mother die?

'The Hunter' is the third in a new series of novels by Lescroart featuring Wyatt Hunt, but it works perfectly as introduction to Lescroart's San Francisco milieu. Hunt is an adoptee who never knew his biological mother or father, so the question is pertinent, even though his adoptive parents were supportive, smart and loving. As more text messages arrive, Hunt delves deeper into his own past, and this well-adjusted, pretty good guy starts to come unraveled. Lescroart expertly cranks up the tension and depth of characterization as murders in the past reach into the present.

Lescroart's prose expertly and effortlessly carries the reader along. He has a great sense of scene, and explores Hunt's hometown of SF with contagious enthusiasm. When he strikes out on the road, whether Hunt's in the mid-west or another country, he knows how to create a landscape that is solid and vibrant. He's equally adept at investigating Hunt's inner battle with the same sense of clarity and wit. The transparency of Lescroart's prose is a primary pleasure in this novel.

The driver here, however, is the battle within Wyatt Hunt, and his reactions to his own past as he finds out what happened to his biological mother and father. A man who might otherwise be a bit on the shallow side is pulled apart by his own work. His success as an investigator is his undoing as a man who knows who he is and where he came from. Those around him are cautiously supportive, their reactions sympathetic but a bit wary. Juhle and his partners in the police department toe the line of unusual believability, actually paying attention to evidence that points away from Hunt's line of investigation, only paying attention when it makes sense. Cops — and murderers behaving sensibly are a strong point in this compelling mystery.

Lescroart backs all this up with a wonderfully-layered plot. As Hunt investigates his past, he finds ties to the Jonestown suicides that lead him to Indiana and Jim Jones' unpleasant beginnings as a pastor. 'The Hunt' offers readers a very satisfying plot that reaches from the past into the present and keeps the suspense high while turning Hunt into a complex and compelling character. Most enjoyably, it manages all this with a sense of ease. Lescroart balances his dark subjects and detailed backstory with a breezy style that's engaging and understated.

'The Hunter' is a fascinating novel in a variety of levels. First and foremost, it's just fun to read, period. You can tell Lescroart is having a ball. But he does more than comfort reading, he makes the novel pithy and interesting as he addresses adult adoptees coming to terms with their pasts, as well as the historical crime background. Great characters, transparent prose and smart, suspenseful plotting combine in 'The Hunter' to remind readers exactly what it that makes the mystery genre so darned comforting. It's not that crimes get solved, or even that characters find themselves in a complicated world. What makes 'The Hunter' and the mystery genre so comforting is the fact that here we see language and storytelling polished to a very human level of imperfection.

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