Gene Hackman is a household name as a result of his acting pursuits. The French Connection, The Conversation and No Way Out (watch that film again and you’ll be amazed at how he stole it right out from under Kevin Costner) are my favorites, and certainly you will have others. Hackman is retired from acting, but he definitely hasn’t retired, having co-written a number of historical novels and on his own penned a fine western, PAYBACK AT MORNING PEAK, in recent years. However, Hackman has not been getting his rightful due as an author. That may well change with his latest novel, which marks his first attempt at a modern thriller.
PURSUIT has some interesting echoes of the work of Elmore Leonard and Thomas Harris reverberating through it (not a bad echo to have, by any means), but Hackman most definitely has his own style. It passes my first and most important test when reading any book by a figure popular in another artistic medium: “Would this be a great book by Bob Smith?” Yes, indeed. I actually forgot that I was reading a book by that Gene Hackman by the time I had reached page 10.
"All there is to recommend are memorable characters, sharp plotting, and enough suspense for two books. What more could one possibly ask for?"
The Leonard echo is Sergeant Julie Worth of the Missouri State Patrol. She’s not afraid to mix it up, whether it be with a nutcase shooting up a shopping mall or an ex-husband she cannot stand the sight of, and she’s not afraid of getting injured either, and repeatedly so. She keeps coming back, like Buford Pusser, though she is much better looking by all accounts. As for the Thomas Harris echo, that would come in the form of Charles Clegg, the monster who lives and works ever so quietly among us. Clegg is introduced within a vignette indicating that he has been doing what he does --- abduct, terrorize and murder women --- for a long time. Worth begins to sniff out a very faint trail on Clegg while she is on medical/administrative leave.
Confined to an office basement, Worth starts going through cold cases. One dealing with a long-disappeared teenager catches her eye, and she is part of an investigation that unwittingly brings her within reach of Clegg, who in turn is irritated that his “fun” is in danger of being interrupted. He makes a brazen attempt to take Worth off the board entirely; when that fails, he goes after Cheryl, Worth’s teenage daughter, kidnapping her and holding her in a makeshift dungeon. Cheryl has a lot of her mother in her, and is not one to take her involuntary incarceration lying down.
Meanwhile, Worth is ready to move heaven and earth to get her daughter back. Unfortunately, she is unaware of how close Clegg really is to her. The result is a cat-and-mouse game in which Worth and Clegg are constantly switching roles, with Cheryl’s life and well-being hanging in the balance for a good portion of the book.
As one might expect given Hackman’s background, PURSUIT is a cinematic narrative; like the best books, it rolls out like a film within the theater of the mind. Interestingly enough, I didn’t picture any of the characters resembling Hackman in the slightest (well, maybe one), nor did I hear his voice while reading the narrative. All there is to recommend are memorable characters, sharp plotting, and enough suspense for two books. What more could one possibly ask for? Read PURSUIT, and you’ll think of Gene Hackman for reasons other than his superb acting.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on November 27, 2013