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The Hunt Club: A Novel

The Hunt Club: A Novel

4.6 7
by Bret Lott

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It started with a body, the head of it pretty much gone, the hands skinned. We found it the Saturday after Thanksgiving, out to Hungry Neck Hunt Club. Uncle Leland owns the Hunt Club, which might make him sound important, or rich. But he's not.

Huger Dillard is no ordinary fifteen-year-old from the Lowcountry of South Carolina. He may not have a father to help


It started with a body, the head of it pretty much gone, the hands skinned. We found it the Saturday after Thanksgiving, out to Hungry Neck Hunt Club. Uncle Leland owns the Hunt Club, which might make him sound important, or rich. But he's not.

Huger Dillard is no ordinary fifteen-year-old from the Lowcountry of South Carolina. He may not have a father to help him grow up, but day-to-day guiding of his blind Uncle Leland--Unc, for short--and weekends spent at the Hunt Club have made him an expert on the habits of deer, the pompous attorneys and doctors of nearby Charleston, and the ways of the world. But with Unc's discovery of a mutilated body, Huger suddenly learns that he is expert at nothing--least of all his own life. Everything he knows and everyone he loves--Unc, his mother, his foundering teenage romance--is at risk, and Huger must use every ounce of resourcefulness and bravery to stay alive and protect what he believes in. Yet, when he finally discovers precisely what happened that Saturday morning, there is still one more secret to uncover, this one too dark, too deep, for him to even imagine.

From Bret Lott, the critically acclaimed author the Los Angeles Times called "one of the most im-portant and imaginative writers in America today," The Hunt Club is a novel of deft pacing and remark-able detail, and a sultry evocation of a land and culture that has existed for generations but soon may be lost forever.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Chicago Tribune
An emotionally charged thriller that places the reader in the labyrinth of the human herat, where such qualities as devotion, greed, love and dishonesty stand out with near-terrifying clarity.
Hartford Courant
Resembles a John Grisham tale, what with an all-important boy witness (The Client) and a seemingly worthless tract that harbors a mystery (The Gingerbread Man). Yet Lott's writing is far superior to Grisham's. The Hunt Club unfolds like a movie, always in motion, always seeing its world with a camera eye.
Eclectica Book Reviews
A top-rate suspense novel.
Mens Journal
As a thriller, The Hunt Club is a hell of a novel. As a novel, it's downright scary. Either way, it's a triumph.
Atlanta Journal Constitution
The writing is splendid, a reminder of the kind of patience with detail and attention to the beauty of language that is often the first casualty in any suspense novel.
Charleston Post & Courier
At his best, Lott describes the natural world to create a strong sense of its power, beauty and indifference to humanity...The Hunt Club is both a mystery and a romance. It is a wonderful read as well.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The publisher calls Lott's fertile new novel both a mystery and a thriller. Whatever its genre, the book represents a departure in form for this author of four literary novels (Reed's Beach), two story collections and a memoir. There's no departure in theme or tone, however, as 15-year-old narrator Huger Dillard comes of age in a crucible of fear fired by the discovery of a headless, partially skinned corpse on his family's tract of wild South Carolina land. Lott skillfully explores the penumbra of family-centered despair that has shadowed his previous work, and does so in the loamy prose that has won him praise. Huger finds the body while acting as a guide, along with his "Unc," to a group of physicians from Charleston -- the Hunt Club of the title. Within hours, Huger's life is threatened and his mother kidnapped, apparently to force Unc to sell the family land to those doctors. Lott works a tight, complex plot, however, and reveals only incrementally the link between the corpse and that conspiracy, which masks further conspiracies involving illegal drugs, insurance fraud and buried treasure. Devastating family secrets are exposed, as well. Lott's characters are as vital as heartbeats, as is his sense of place, but he occasionally chafes against the genre form. The novel's central sequencea chase in the woodsgoes on too long, and too many questions are answered by villains who can't stop talking. Lott's motifs, particularly regarding human fallibility (Unc is blind, there's a deaf and dumb girl, etc.) are too visible. Suspense runs high, however, and as a portrayal of a boy's acceptance through suffering of a world riven by sin but grounded in love, the book is moving, memorable, even masterful.
Library Journal
Lott (Reed's Beach) unleashes his imagination and displays great versatility as a writer with this, his first thriller. In a dark tale of greed and violence, somewhat reminiscent of Davis Grubb's Night of the Hunter, Lott leads the reader through a harrowing weekend in November in which a blind man and his teenage nephew are targeted for death. Set in the Ashepoo River backwater of South Carolina, the story is told from the perspective of 15-year-old Huger Dillard, who serves as eyes for his uncle, proprietor of a hunt club for wealthy Charlestonians on the family's 2,200 acres of swamp and woodland. Wise beyond his years, Huger is nevertheless unprepared to cope with murder, suicide, kidnapping, and a night of being stalked by a pathological killer intent on gaining ownership of the Dillards' seemingly worthless land. A good read with action, suspense, and a hint of Southern folklore.-- Thomas L. Kilpatrick, Southern Illinois University Library, Carbondale
School Library Journal
This coming-of-age tale moves at a swift clip and has an intriguing plot. Huger Dillard, 15, and his blind Uncle Leland enjoy an almost father-son relationship as Huger helps the man run the Hungry Neck Hunt Club. Discovery of a decapitated body with skinned hands and a note pointing to the dead man's wife as the murderer cancels the annual Thanksgiving hunt and signals the beginning of what seems to be a land-development scheme. As the plot moves forward, Huger, his mother, and Leland are kidnapped and have to fight for their lives as they discover that there is more at stake than prime land. Layer after layer of secrets unfold that explain the disappearance of Huger's father as well as the real demands of the kidnappers. Huger and Leland's roles reverse until the teen is the stronger of the two and assumes the position of decision maker. The novel's action and excitement will be enjoyed by YAs who like John Grisham and John Gilstrap.-Pam Spencer, formerly at Fairfax County Public Schools, VA
Robert Polito
The Hunt Club [is] a traditional family melodrama crossed with a contemporary thriller. -- The New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
A gifted and expert storyteller (Reed's Beach) takes a slightly different—and not altogether successful—turn in his first thriller, set in the lowlands of South Carolina. Fifteen-year-old Huger Dillard narrates, with colloquial southern charm, the deadly adventure he and blind Uncle Leland stumble across at the opening of deer season. Leland, referred to as "Unc," owns the Hungry Neck Hunt Club, several thousand undesirable acres catering to city slickers eager to play weekend frontiersmen. The mystery begins when Huger and Unc stumble on the body of Dr. Charles Simons, head blown off, hands skinned, and a cardboard placard propped on his body—signed by his disgruntled wife. The story then, which takes place in three rapid days after the body's discovery, becomes a chase for the truth. Unc falls under suspicion, Huger is nearly killed by a couple of crazed rednecks, Mrs. Simons "commits suicide," and Huger's mother is kidnapped. Ultimately, the motivation is revealed as simply greed (what else?), with the goal either an ancient buried treasure or the Hunt Club's land, which Unc has always refused to sell and which apparently is earmarked for a resort. Brought into the intrigue is Miss Dinah, who cooks Saturday meals for the Club members while unnerving Huger with ancient tales of African kings haunting the marshes, and her teenage daughter Dorcas, deaf, dumb, and brilliant. The story stumbles just at the traditional payoff: the revelation of the conspiracy. As a group of shackled innocents, including Unc and Huger, wait for execution, the villain diligently explains all, detail by detail. A series of reversals follow before the killer is brought to justice.Ironically, Lott's characters seem too interesting for their conventional plot; the bits of family secrets, history, and lore scattered throughout here are far more compelling than the adventure these sympathetic folk are thrown into.

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Read an Excerpt

The Hunt Club

By Bret Lott

HarperCollins Publishers

Copyright ©1999 Bret Lott
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0061013900

Chapter One

My name is Huger Dillard. You say it YOU-gee, not like it's spelled. It's French, I heard.

I'm fifteen years old, and my mom and dad are divorced, and I have my driver's permit. I am telling you this because driving figures in to what happened, as does my mom. My dad, too, in a way, because it's his brother, my Uncle Leland, this all happened to. Him and me both.

It started with a body, the head of it pretty much gone, the hands skinned.

We found it the Saturday after Thanksgiving, out to Hungry Neck Hunt Club. Uncle Leland owns the hunt club, which might make him sound important, or rich. But he's not. The club is just what the family has had in its hands for the last seventy years or so, and is a tract of 2,200 acres, some of it trash land, good for nothing, some of it pretty, set on the Ashepoo. It's forty miles south of Charleston, just past Jacksonboro. Live oak and pine, dogwood and palmetto and poison ivy and wild grapes and all else. Marsh grass down to the Ashepoo. That's about it.

But it's where Uncle Leland lives, in a single-wide. Unc, I call him. For short.

And it's where we found this body.

The body was between stand 17 and 18, twenty yards back off the road and fifty yards or so up from the Ashepoo. Saturday afterThanksgiving is a big day for deer season, most all the members there. The members: doctors and lawyers and what have you from Charleston, the sorts of people you see on the news for whatever reason each night, or in the paper, all of them getting honored or interviewed for one matter or the other.

The body was there on the ground, not much of a head left on it for what I figured must have been a couple rounds off a shotgun. Its hands were skinned, too, from the wrists on down, the muscle dark red and glistening, the tendons all white. Two hands like skinned squirrels.

I wanted to throw up for looking at it. I've seen deer skinned and gutted before a million times, done it a million times myself. I've seen even the fetus taken out of a doe a time or two. I've seen dead things all my life, seen the blood involved. I've seen it.

But this. This.

Unc stood next to me, behind us and beside us a good dozen or so of these doctors and lawyers, all of them decked out in their clean crisp camo hunter outfits, all of them shaking their heads.

They had heads left.

The body, too, had on its own set of crisp camo hunter fatigues, had on a hunter-orange vest.

And in those hands was a shotgun, over-and-under twelve-gauge. Maybe the same one that did what it did to his head. It lay there in the weeds and grass just before the woods started up, where if he'd been one of the ones we'd dropped off, he would have been down on one knee, or maybe on a camp stool, waiting for Patrick and Reynold to let loose the dogs back on Cemetery Road, just this side of the levee. Then the howling'd start, and a buck might've skipped out from across the road, heading back into those woods and toward the deer trails down by the river.

He'd have watched and waited for that howling, that bust loose in the brush, that deer.

But this was a dead body.

And here's the thing. Here's the thing:

A piece of cardboard lay at its feet, one whole side of a toilet-paper box, like you can pick up out back of the Piggly Wiggly. And on the cardboard was written this:

Here lies the dead son of a bitch
Charles Middleton Simons, MD,
killed and manicured by his loving wife.
Busy hands can be the devil's workshop as well.
PS: Leland, can you blame me?

It was all written in a girly curlicue, a black marker. And here was my uncle's name, plain as day.

Nobody'd yet said a thing, none of the dozen or so of us standing at the edge of these woods. It wasn't even sunup yet, the sky still gray and yellow.

"Talk to me, Huger," Unc said, and I felt him put a hand on my shoulder. "What is it?" he said, though I knew he already knew. He'd been the one to tell me to stop the truck.

But he couldn't see it. He'd only smelled it, his head quick turning to my left, my window down. I'd been driving, like always him beside me in the cab, in the bed our load of men. There were three truckloads, us letting off a man at each stand. "Stop," he'd said, too loud. "Stop here," he'd said.

"We aren't even to eighteen yet," I'd said. "Seventeen's not but twenty yards--"

"Stop," he'd said again, his voice no different. Still too loud.

Now here we were. And I could smell it, too. Blood smell, something like the metal smell off the deer when we butcher them back to the clubhouse. But sharper. It smelled dark red, and sharp, like metal in your mouth. That sounds crazy, but that's the words that came to me: dark red, metal.

"Tell me," he said, almost a whisper in my ear now, his hand heavy on me. "What is it?"

He couldn't see it, because he's blind.

I opened my mouth. I wanted to say that the body had no head to speak of. I wanted to say the hands'd been skinned. I wanted to say it had on crisp camo fatigues, and those squirrel hands were holding all over-and-under twelve-gauge. I wanted to say it had on a hunter-orange vest, and that there was a cardboard sign at its feet, right there in the grass just below his newly oiled duck boots.

And I wanted to ask Unc why his name was on that sign.

My uncle is blind, and it's been left to me to be his eyes, my job here at the hunt club. Why I spent every weekend out here with him in his single-wide. Why my learner's permit figures in here.

I'd never seen a dead body before. That's what I wanted to tell him.

I turned to him, the sky above us, it felt, going a brighter yellow even in the second it took to turn.

He was looking at me, him a couple inches taller than me. He had on his sunglasses, that Braves cap he wears. He had on the same khaki shirt and pants as always, the same green suspenders.

And in his free hand was that walking stick he carries everywhere.

I found that stick when I was seven, not but a quarter mile from the trailer. Back when he'd just lost his sight. Back after the fire at his house in Mount Pleasant, in which his wife, my Aunt Sarah, died.

Back when my dad and mom were together, and we three lived here at Hungry Neck in that single-wide, my dad the proprietor of the hunt club.

They brought Unc here from the medical university, where he'd been for two months, his house and wife gone.

He lay in bed for six months in what had been my room, me in a sleeping bag on the couch in the front room. But I didn't mind. I talked to him each day, too. I told him about where I'd been on Hungry Neck, about the turkey I'd seen back past Baldwin Road or about the dove up from the clear-cut on past Lannear Road. I talked to him. And I read to him: the Hardy Boys, The Chronicles of Narnia, Field & Stream.

And I brought him things: a jay's nest once; a single antler, three points; an eagle feather. He took each thing in his hands, felt it.

Sometimes he smiled, other times he didn't. His eyes were bandaged, and he said next to nothing.

But he was what I had: someone who'd listen, while my mom and dad howled at each other out to the kitchen.

Then came that stick, a stick so straight and perfect I knew it'd been dropped off that hickory only for him. And for me. I brought it to him, and I remember he'd smiled at it, and'd sat up, turned in my bed, and stood.

"Huger?" Unc said now, his hand still on my shoulder. "You okay?" he whispered.

"Unc," I said. I said, "It's a body."

I turned back to it. I tried again to line up words that would give Unc what he couldn't see.

This was my job. Nothing I could have figured on when I'd handed him that stick when I was seven.

I swallowed, looked away from the body, from those hands, but all I did was look at my own, there at the end of my pale, skinny arms.

I'm only a kid, was what I saw. Fifteen years old. Thin brown hair just like Unc's, ears too big to the point where I can remember my daddy, before he left us, calling me Wingnut for fun. But though I'm too skinny, have these ears, I can knock shit out of most anybody in the sophomore class. There's nothing much I'm scared of.

But now.

I took in a breath. "It's a body," I said again, "and it doesn't have hardly any head to speak of. And the hands've been skinned."

His hand was still on my shoulder, but he turned, faced where that smell he'd found came from. He whispered, "Son of a bitch."

"And your name's involved here, too, Unc," I said.

He was quiet a moment. Still nobody'd said a thing.

His hand went tight on my shoulder a second, then relaxed. He said, "It's Charlie Simons, ain't it." Not a question, but a fact.

I looked at him, saw he had his upper lip between his teeth, biting down hard: what he'll do.

He turned then, started off on his own toward the truck, that stick out in front of him, leading him on.

That was when the dogs started up, way off to the levee, their howling not unlike the sounds of my mom and dad. Just howling in the hopes of turning something up.


Excerpted from The Hunt Club by Bret Lott Copyright ©1999 by Bret Lott. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

Eugene M. McAvoy
The Hunt Club combines the best of suspense and "literary" writing. Deftly paced, remarkably detailed, and always faithful to the supreme justice of nature, it is a tour de force that requires no label.
Wally Lamb
I turned the pages of Bret Lott's The Hunt Club so insistently that, had there been pictures on the pages instead of print, it would have made a movie. It's that suspenseful. You care about the novel's 15-year-old protagonist that much. Lott, a writer you can always count on, adds another dimension with this, his first tango with mystery and murder. -- Author of I Know This Much Is True

Meet the Author

Bret Lott is the author of the novels Jewel, Reed's Beach, A Stranger's House, and The Man Who Owned Vermont; the story collections How to Get Home and A Dream of Old Leaves; and the memoir Fathers, Sons, and Brothers. His stories and essays have appeared in numerous literary journals and magazines, among them The Southern Review, The Yale Review, The Iowa Review, the Chicago Tribune, and Story, and have been widely anthologized. He lives with his wife, Melanie, and their two sons, Zebulun and Jacob, in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, and teaches at the College of Charleston and Vermont College.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Hunt Club 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I first started reading this book, not really thinking it was going to be good... but I was wrong. After the first 15 pages I was hooked. The novel does not waste any time and starts off with a fast pace, which carries through the whole time. Brett Lott's chracters are unpredictable at times and the problems that Huger and his uncle face are astonshing. All in all its a good read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A first class novel, great feel for local culture, a plot that keeps you guessing until the very end. Will be reading more of Bret Lott's work for sure!
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was an outstanding book filled with excitement. I was unable to put this book down(which wasnt always a good thing :/). Being from where the book was set was also an interesting twist. A must read for anyone.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
this book was good. i liked. it was very nice. buy it.