The Manhattan Hunt Club

The Manhattan Hunt Club cover309 Pages.
Written by John Saul.


As with Stephen King or Michael Crichton or John Grisham, people can somewhat anticipate what they’re going to get before they start to read a John Saul book. His first novel, Suffer The Children, was published in 1977, and since then, he’s written twenty-two successive best-sellers.

As happens with many commercially successful authors, the critics often pan them and accuse them of writing potboilers with no literary merit. However, I happen to like a good potboiler now and then, and often I’m surprised to find excellent writing where I hadn’t expected to find it. But here, with Saul’s latest effort, I was only mildly entertained. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t that good. He’s written better.

The high concept for this novel could best be described as “The Star Chamber” (1983) meets “The Fugitive” (1993). It’s an interesting premise. However, it’s not an entirely original one. The earliest version of this type of human hunt story that I can remember would be Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game,” which has been adapted many times. I still like the 1932 film version best.

Saul’s location for his story within the maze of tunnels beneath Manhattan is compelling. However, the plot relies too heavily on coincidence. The characters are thinly drawn. And while he’s tried to wean himself away from horror, Saul wallows in the grotesque from time to time — stretching the boundaries of disbelief to their breaking point just so he can have the big gross-out.

Saul does have an excellent sense of pace and keeps the action flowing. It’s a fast read. However, with more time and patience he could have made it more realistic and a bit less comic-bookish.


Jeff Converse thinks everything is going great for him. He has a rich, beautiful girlfriend and a bright career ahead after he finishes his architectural degree. Then, one night, coming back on the subway, he scares off a brutal rapist from an unconscious female victim. Unfortunately, the woman gains consciousness seconds after her attacker flees and begins clawing and screaming at Jeff. She tells the police that Jeff is her attacker and he is hauled away.

The crime victim’s spine and jaw are shattered. She is confined to a wheelchair and reconstructive surgery has only partially repaired her damaged face. People cry out for justice and when the case goes to trial, the jury finds Jeff guilty of attempted murder and rape.

Luckily (or so it seems), Jeff is sentenced to only a year in prison minus time served. While going to prison is admittedly a hard fall for someone who is innocent, Jeff thanks his stars that his sentence wasn’t worse, and is determined to move on with his life the best that he can.

But he’s about to fall out of the frying pan and into the fire. On the way to Riker’s island to begin his sentence, the police van carrying Jeff is rammed and the cars explode. Jeff survives and while in shock from the crash is guided by a homeless man into the subway tunnels beneath New York.

The homeless man is not his friend, though. Jeff finds himself thrown into a locked room with another prisoner — a homicidal maniac named Francis Jagger “The Dragger”. Francis has a bad habit of falling in love with handsome young men like Jeff, then, unwilling to acknowledge his homosexual tendencies, ends up killing them. He’s called “The Dragger” because he dresses up his victims in drag, then uses a knife to remove the offending parts of their anatomy so he can have a proper heterosexual relationship with them. Poor Jeff!

As it turns out, both Jeff and Francis have been selected as human quarry to be hunted by a mysterious organization known as the Manhattan Hunt Club. The club is made up of wealthy, influential individuals who are disgusted at the tendency to coddle convicted criminals. So, in a sort of Star Chamber proceedings, they kidnap the most egregious offenders and throw them into a labyrinth of tunnels beneath Manhattan. Once released from their cell, the prisoners are hunted by a patrol of stalkers with laser sighted rifles and infrared goggles. Should the prisoners happen to make their way to daylight or survive longer than 72 hours, they can have their freedom.

However, nobody has ever won their freedom. Almost all exits are blocked by armed and paid homeless people who turn away the prisoners to wander hopelessly through the maze. Eventually, all prisoners are hunted down like dogs, then their heads are taxidermied and hung on the walls of the Hunt Club’s secret hunting lodge.

Meanwhile, Jeff’s father, Keith, views an unrecognizably burned body from the exploded police van. The body lacks a small tattoo, though, and Keith realizes the corpse has been planted and his son is alive. However, before he can prove it, the body is cremated.

Through some amateur sleuthing at the scene of the explosion, Keith bumps into a homeless girl who knows about Jeff and believes he is innocent. She offers to guide Keith through the tunnels in search of his son. At the last moment, Keith is accompanied by Heather, Jeff’s fiancé.


It turns out that Heather’s father is one of the principal members of the Manhattan Hunt Club. He personally picked Jeff to be a contestant. This makes “Meet the Parents” look like a walk in the park.

Keith and Francis form an uneasy alliance and make their way through many traps, but finally at the end, Francis goes nuts. Luckily, one of the hunt members takes Francis out with his rifle. Then, Keith and his son manage to kill the other well-equipped hunters through hitherto unknown combat skills and lucky coincidences.

The heroes emerge from a side passage into a construction site that Jeff remembered from his studies during a college architectural class.

Heather and Jeff marry and produce a grandchild for Keith.

The homeless girl who helped out is rewarded with Keith’s old student apartment that the rich newlyweds don’t need.

And last but not least, one of the hunt club members glares evilly from the subway, foreshadowing that things aren’t over quite yet…