Thursday, July 29, 2010

Hunter/Victim By Robert Sheckley

'His wife, an innocent victim, was slain in a senseless act of terrorism. And now, Frank Blackwell was a perfect recruit for the underground operation known to a select few as the Hunt. In a world on of exterminating itself, the men and women of the Hunt sought to create order out of deadly chaos, choosing Victims with care. Blackwell was chosen to exterminate one of the world's major gunrunners, a man who almost singlehandedly could supply the equipment to launch the Third World War. It was a once-in-a-lifetime assignment that could see Blackwell stalked by the top assassins of every undercover power around the globe- in a fast-paced game of blood and betrayal!' -The back cover

Copyright 1988, published by Signet. 269 pages. $3.50 cover price.

This is the third book in the Hunter series by Robert Sheckley, and is something of a prequel. The book begins with Frank Blackwell having a terrible time on a trip to Paris: arguing with his wife, having his travellers checks stolen and then finally witnessing his still upset wife blown in half during an attack by some Balkan terrorists seeking a 'free Montenegro.' Frank returned to the US vowing, “somebody's going to pay for this.” He repeats this mantra to everyone he knows until he gets the attention of Minska, a Polish tavern keeper in New Jersey whom Frank had seen photos of in Soldier of Fortune. Frank asks the man about how he can become a mercenary himself because, well, I want to kill somebody, Minska.” The ex-merc tavern keeper knows a better way: he takes down Franks number and has him contacted by the Hunters. Frank, a free-lance book editor with no combat experience or know-how, has just become an assassin for a shadowy organization.

This all sounds rather dark and grim (which it is), but the book lightens up quite a bit at this point. Peppered throughout all the vengeance and murder is a farce about spies and international intrigue, which has before and since been used as a vehicle for laughs in countless films and novels. Blackwell is educated by the Hunters much like a college student would be: he has an unarmed combat class, an explosives class, and finally the professional killing class--all with whimsical details and deadly results. Once he is deemed ready, Frank is handed a dossier for Alfonso Alberto Guzman Torres, the aforementioned gun runner that had been active politically and militarily in Guatemala and Nicaragua. Frank was informed that his anticipated success rate--and therefore chance of his survival--was very low. This didn't seem to bother Blackwell, who had fostered quite the death wish over the last year. 

After a period of planning, the book is crammed with mayhem and hijinks due to either a blunder caused by Blackwell, or some double cross by one of the many shadowy organizations that pop up in this book (the CIA, an Armenian cartel, etc). Minska accompanies our protagonist and pulls him out of the fire on numerous occasions, cracking jokes and making dry commentary all the while. Guzman is an extremely paranoid individual with a long list of enemies, which does not help our heros cause in the least. In the 269 quick pages of Hunter/Victim, there are a few torture scenes, plenty of shoot-outs, a sexy double agent or two, and pages worth of cheesy one liners to lighten up the non-stop violence. All in all, Hunter/Victim is a fun book, but it is pretty shallow outside of the action from the few notable characters it has. 

Labeling Hunter/Victim as 'Sci-Fi' (as the publisher did at the time) seems rather erroneous as there isn't anything scientific outside of the stock spy gadgets you would expect out of any James Bond vehicle, but I will let it slide and add it as a label. If you prefer your explosions in your imagination rather than on the big screen, you will definitely enjoy this paperback. 

'I couldn't let that fat slob shoot you' -Mercedes, sexy double agent.

Thank to my homegirl @lbnass for the edits

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