With The Hunter, Donald Westlake (under the prolific penname of Richard Stark) introduces his iconic Parker character and establishes the bleakest possible world of hardboiled crime. Parker is a master thief, utterly ruthless and amoral, who operates with animalistic cunning and violence. When one of his partners rips him off and leaves him for dead, he returns to New York City to methodically exact revenge. Westlake's conception of a protagonist completely without a conscience was riveting enough to sustain over twenty novels, and The Hunter remains just as fresh as it was in 1962. While the narrative is firmly grounded in the world of classic crime fiction, "Stark" writes with a leanness and precision of language that feels genuinely timeless.
At first glance, you might assume that The Lamplighters is a novel about stoic, lonely men smoking pipes and sharing tins of soup in the middle of the ocean. But it is just as much about the women and families these men leave behind when they depart for their lighthouse shifts. There are secrets untold, emotions hidden, and the unhappiness that festers when one feels trapped. The novel moves quickly in brief chapters that jump in time and create a haunting feeling—one both dreamlike and tragic.
Far removed from the world of George Smiley and British intelligence is The Little Drummer Girl, an ambitious and morally complex standalone novel from John le Carré. His protagonist is Charlie, a young actress whose talent and passionate political bent draws the attention of a cabal of Israeli spies. They coerce her into taking a role in “the theater of the real” in order to catch a bomber, and she’s quickly immersed in a world of danger and consummate paranoia. As she dives deeper into her role, Charlie’s sympathies and motivations begin to bleed together in thrilling, painful fashion. Le Carré tackles intensely political subject matter with nuance, and he boldly embraces the humanity and ugliness in each of his characters.