If you are looking for an exciting beach read this summer, HUNT AMONG THE KILLERS OF MEN is the perfect choice. It has more action than a summer blockbuster movie but is written with almost poetic grace by David J. Schow, known for his work in the horror genre and for writing the screenplay The Crow. This story will stay with you long after the final page.
The Gabriel Hunt adventure series was created by Charles Ardai, founder and editor of Hard Case Crime Books, as a tribute to the paperback pulp fiction adventure serial novels and stories of a century ago. Ardai has not only succeeded in doing that, but has brought the adventure series into the 21st century with fresh ideas and stories. And here is the part I have not figured out: Ardai is also somehow managing to make each book almost stronger and more exciting that the one that preceded it. The secret must lie in the talented pool of writers Ardai is drawing upon to tell Hunt’s tales, such as himself, Christa Faust and now David J. Schow. Besides horror, Schow has worked in the subgenre known as “splatterpunk,” a term he is often credited with creating. And that means his work can sometimes dial up the gore.
But that does not happen in HUNT AMONG THE KILLERS OF MEN. Indeed, this book differs somewhat from the others because the supernatural element is largely missing. It’s not creatures from another dimension that should scare you, but the good old fashioned two-legged variety we interact with everyday. It’s more a noir crime novel than anything else, a tale about the lust for greed and power, cruelty, revenge, loyalty, and the moral boundaries beyond which people can’t be driven. And it’s filled with double crosses, betrayals, shifting alliances and, of course, copious amount of gun play, chases and explosions galore.
The memorable cast of characters includes a Russian-born mobster with a Chinese name, Cheung, who has altered his appearance to look Chinese and is a modern warlord-wannabe trying to get control of the new China; a beautiful and deadly female assassin; another more innocent woman driven by revenge; killers who turn out to have hearts of gold; and, of course, Mr. Gabriel Hunt, globetrotting explorer and part of the multi-million dollar Hunt Foundation.
Our story begins high above the city of Shanghai in the super-modernistic Oriental Pearl TV Tower and a meeting of a high-powered business organization called the Chinese Cooperative Confederation (CCC). Big financial players are meeting to dominate and divide up the world. The aforementioned beautiful female assassin crashes the party, only to make her breathtaking escape right out a bullet-riddled window hundreds of feet above the earth.
Hunt arrives in the city not long after in search of the close friend of his wayward sister. This young woman has come to China on a revenge mission of her own --- to kill the man who brutally murdered her own sister and then threw her body in a New York City dumpster. And that poor girl just happened to work for Cheung, the brains behind the CCC.
Modern-day China and its status as an emerging economic superpower emerge as a character in the book. But this China is far from “the people’s” revolutionary China of Chairman Mao. The book does not say it, but we have read the reports that next year China will surpass the United States and become the largest manufacturing economy in the world. And that means money, and money means corruption, and hence the possible creation of a new Chinese mafia. But this new China is linked to its past. Schow writes of Shanghai, “Coming in and out of central Shanghai could be like stepping into a time machine. Barely outside the city limits, the terrain and people seemed to come from far in the past…Driving through the streets of the city proper could feel a lot like that, antiquity and modernity rubbing shoulders block by crowded block.”
Hunt’s adventure this time will take him to a secret, long-hidden necropolis built by an earlier Chinese warlord and guarded by immense life-sized terra cotta warriors called the Killers of Men. If the faux Chinese mob leader can get his hands on the priceless figures, he thinks it will establish him as the legitimate heir to the previous warlord and help him solidify his hold on power. Hunt’s journey will also take him to a modern-day human trafficking slave auction. And then there are all those deadly assassins, both friends and foe, to deal with.
Through it all, Schow brings on the action non-stop with a graceful, almost understated touch at times. Consider this example: “Hornet swarms of lead exchanged position above Gabriel as he pulled himself into an opening in the wall…” Or this: “…from high places, the rich bid on the poor…”
Gabriel Hunt does what he does best here: he gets into tight spots and then manages somehow not only to survive but to triumph. However, the tone of this book is a little more serious for Hunt and many of these characters, both good and bad. Are we doomed to follow the road we are on to its inevitable and sometimes grim destination? And Hunt here has little time for romance with beautiful women. Schow writes of Hunt, “But his sense of justice was at stake here.” We don’t come to Hunt adventures for a lot of introspection and contemplations on matters of justice. But it works here. Schow and Ardai are not just reinventing the pulp adventure paperback; they’re pushing its boundaries at the same time.
HUNT AMONG THE KILLERS OF MEN will make you want to go out and read all the other books in the series if you have not done so already. And for those of us who have, we anxiously await the next installment.
Reviewed by Tom Callahan on January 22, 2011