This evening, reading The Hunter by Donald Westlake (masquerading as Richard Stark) I got all confused about the eye colour of Parker, the protagonist of the story.
Parker is an unattractive man, his hair "like a cheap toupee" (which I suppose is worse than his alter ego, Dortmunder, who just has hair-colored hair). His eyes are onyx, and I found myself dumbstruck with ignorance, unable to say what colour that could be.
Fortunately I was reading on a Kindle. I tapped the word onyx, discovered it was a form of agate. Not knowing what colour agate is, I tapped the word agate. Agate is a form of chalcedony. Chalcedony comes in several forms (agate, jasper and onyx) but there wasn’t a single clue to the hue of any of them. I was lost in a colour-blind maze of definitions.
Obviously I should have remembered Onyx, the early 90s hip hop group who did "Throw Your Guns In The Air", and concluded the colour probably wasn’t a delicate baby blue. Oh, for a more reliable memory.
I’m reading The Hunter to my wife and child. Because I have the beginnings of a sore throat, my voice is rougher than normal, probably appropriate for a story like this. In the first chapter Parker goes around Manhattan, defrauding his way to eight hundred dollars in a way that would be impossible in today’s world, with photographic ID and a lack of pawn shops. It’s fascinating to think that a book written less than half a century ago is now a relic of a disappeared age. Then again, I assume people in the 18th century didn’t decide Shakespeare was irrelevant because there were no hobby horses or Members of the British Parliament in his plays. Certainly The Hunter is dated because of this, but (on the strengths of the first chapter at least), it holds up well, better than, say, films like Hackers or Swordfish will in another fifty years.
Westlake does his best to make Parker devoid of glamour, but he still possesses an animal magnetism that draws women to him, knowing he’s the kind of man to fall on them in the night. "Like a tree." As I said yesterday, that’s a slightly distracting and odd simile, but perhaps there were more dandophiles in the early 60s, and anyway, everyone is allowed the odd misstep.
Not that anything else in that first chapter feels badly written. It’s a slightly thuggish, threatening start to the story; we know nothing about Parker beyond his appearance and, from his fluid crimes, his experience. What he’s up to in New York, because clearly it’s something, is the mystery that makes me want to pick the book up again and read on, but it’s almost midnight, and that would be foolish. I just hope the rest of the book is as good, and there’s no further mysterious forms of quartz I might need to one day explain to my daughter, using only gangsta rap groups as a reference point.