Book review: ‘Pursuit’

Every American movie buff knows Gene Hackman.

Featuring well over 100 roles, the actor’s impressive resume includes “Bonnie and Clyde,” “The French Connection,” “Hoosiers,” “Mississippi Burning,” “Superman II,” “Night Moves,” “Young Frankenstein,” “Under Fire,” “Scarecrow,” “Crimson Tide,” “Unforgiven,” “The Royal Tenenbaums” and “The Conversation” — he holds five Oscar nominations and two wins.

What many film fans do not know is that Hackman since has turned to writing.

Now 87, the budding author officially is retired from acting — his last film was 2004’s “Welcome to Mooseport.” In the meantime, Hackman’s name has appeared on five novels — initially as co-author with Daniel Lenihan, and currently on his own.

His latest, “Pursuit,” is part kidnapping thriller, part police procedural, part serial-killer tale — and all page-turner.

First published in 2013 and now available as a handsome paperback, “Pursuit” focuses on Missouri police officer Julie Worth, who is temporarily placed on cold-case duty after an ugly confrontation with a shopping-mall shooter.

As Sgt. Worth digs into several disappearances, Hackman alternates between her story and that of Charlie Clegg, whose long criminal career ties together many of the cases on Worth’s list.

As she gathers more and more evidence, the novel’s title becomes applicable not only to her but also to him –when he decides he’ll go after her next.

Style-wise, Hackman is not a great writer; his prose is stiff, his dialog sometimes unconvincing, his sentence fragments awkward. (Nothing wrong with an occasional fragment; but you can’t keep using ones that seem to start out as actual sentences.)

Despite all this, the former actor is a fine storyteller, and the book is hard to put down.

True, Clegg is clumsily handled; he is not menacing enough and seems to be an amalgam of serial killer cliches.

The other characters, however, are solid — not only Worth but also her plucky daughter, Cheryl, along with Worth’s police partner and her stalwart captain.

Because we care about these people, the story hurtles along with assured momentum — especially after yet another abduction takes place about a third of the way through.

Indeed, Hackman structures “Pursuit” in an unusual fashion, with the strongest action occurring just past the halfway point; despite his title, the book’s final section does not consist of some long drawn-out chase weaving together various plot strands. In fact, it’s somewhat downbeat. Yet it is both exciting and gratifying, and the nonstandard approach gives the climax a sense of authenticity. Iinstead of seeming artificially manufactured for suspense, this feels like the way it might actually happen.

The book also has an admirable penchant for avoiding unsavory graphic material. It’s clear what Clegg has done to some of his female victims, but the author isn’t going to describe this in any detail.

All of Hackman’s novels have strong reader reviews on Amazon, and this latest suggests that his career on the page soon may begin to resemble the one on screen.

Even as a writer, he’s worth watching.