The Hunt | T.J. Lebbon | 2015 | Avon | 400p | Review copy | Buy the book
Chris Sheen is in many ways a most ordinary yet fortunate man – a successful architect, happily married to Rose with two daughters, teenager Gemma and the younger Megs. A few years ago he transformed his life. He got rid of his middle-aged spread and began to run. Now he has marathons, triathlons, even an Ironman extreme race under his belt. Chris comes alive when he runs. Until the day comes when Chris must run, not only to save his own life but that of his family. Chris has been selected by the Trail, a wealthy organisation that plays an elaborate game – the rich pay to hunt a human being, to kill him or her and slice a trophy from the corpse.
When Chris returns home from an early morning run, he finds his family gone and a stranger in his kitchen, drinking his coffee. Chris is told that his wife and daughters are being held hostage. Chris must run. If he doesn’t, or if he escapes the hunt, then his family will be murdered. He is left with one hour to prepare. And that’s when Rose turns up. Rose, too, has tracked Chris down. She was once the prey of the Trail and her family paid the ultimate cost for her escape. Rose is not the same woman she was then. She is now ruthless, ready to kill, and Chris Sheen’s crisis presents her with the perfect opportunity to win the vengeance that has haunted her sleepless nights for three long years.
From the opening chapter, The Hunt takes off at a pace that has the reader gasping for oxygen. The hunt for Chris across the wilderness of Snowdonia is mixed with Rose’s story – her tragedy, its effect on her and her transformation from victim to ruthless killer. These glimpses into Rose’s past give us a rest from the fast fury of Chris’s race across hills, rivers and moors and his terror of expecting oblivion at any moment from a sniper’s headshot. The tension is stretched tight throughout the novel and the setting is wonderful.
I would argue, though, that the highlight of The Hunt is Rose. She has by far the strongest character of the novel, her story is the most fully explored and contains the most significant developments and surprises. There is a ferocity to Rose, a strength that has grown from vulnerability and extreme despair and, although she can never be described as likeable, no one could doubt her motives. Her relationship with Holt, the man who turns this woman into the killer she has become, is extremely intriguing.
Chris Sheen’s story never, for me, achieves the success of Rose’s story. While this is partly because we’re not given the same insight into Chris’s life and instead we focus on his minute-by-minute efforts to survive, his character is overshadowed by his obsession with running which is repetitively stressed. Without doubt, this is Chris’s favourite subject and there seems little else to him. His family have their own fight for life to contend with and we do have chapters which show us what they’re going through, mainly focusing on the teenage Gemma. But these sections are too infrequent and light to add much and I would have preferred the novel without them. The baddies are better served introduced on the hillside chasing Chris or in Rose’s story and narrative.
However, The Hunt is a fun, entertaining and fast read that contains several standout scenes and moments, exhibiting fine writing. The Hunt is Tim Lebbon’s first thriller and it bodes very well for the future.