Al Rosen stuck his neck out to help the government put some goons in prison, only it didn't go according to plan. Now Rosen is in hiding for his life. Life was still good until Rosen helped some old timers get out of a burning hotel, and wound up getting his face in the papers. Now he's on the run in Israel with three killers on his tail and a U.S. Marine for company. The Marine wants to help. Maybe he should ask Rosen what happens to do-gooders.
Elmore Leonard in 1977 was still years away from being embraced for marrying suspense stories with witty dialogue, quirky characters, and off-center humor, but he was well on his way toward perfecting that approach when he wrote "The Hunted." In some ways echoing Leonard's past as a writer of westerns, with Mexican standoffs by dry wadis, "The Hunted" isn't exactly scintillating by Leonard's later standards, but it more than holds its own.
You can almost see Quentin Tarantino adapting it for the screen, with Rosen's way of wooing 40-something women to bed and characters who digress about God while waiting for the guns to start blazing. The bad guys are not without their enjoyable qualities, and there's Mel Bandy, a fat lawyer of no discernable morals whose idea of wooing an attractive assistant involves walking around her in a towel and inviting her to bed with him by telling her she can close her eyes and pretend it's someone else.
Leonard throws some nice philosophy here, too, though it doesn't get in the way of the terse narrative:
"Don't let people scare you; because nine times out of ten they don't know any more than you do," Rosen explains to the Marine. "Or even less. They got there pushing and shoving, acting, conning...If they had to get by on basic intelligence - most of the people I've done business with - they'd be on the street selling Good Humors and probably ------- up the change."
"The Hunted" didn't amuse me like great comic Leonard novels such as "Maximum Bob" and "Freaky Deaky." It didn't thrill like "Rum Punch" or "Bandits." The plot is actually kind of threadbare, and a little nonsensical, when you think about Rosen's unresolved financial situation and how it's supposed to be resolved by a visit from the untrustworthy Bandy.
But "The Hunted" manages to keep you reading, and surprises you more than a little at the end. You'll enjoy the amiable company of both the good guys and bad guys while appreciating Leonard's mastery of his craft. He hadn't entirely moved out of the Western idiom even as he left the American West, but considering that he was the author of westerns like "Hombre," why should he have been in any rush?