The Manhattan Hunt Club

The Manhattan Hunt Club

4.5 61
by John Saul

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The acknowledged master of psychological suspense and heart-stopping terror, New York Times bestselling author John Saul now invites you to descend to chilling new depths of darkness--and discover a secret, savage world that exists beneath our very feet.

The promising future of New York City college student Jeff Converse has suddenly been shattered by a… See more details below


The acknowledged master of psychological suspense and heart-stopping terror, New York Times bestselling author John Saul now invites you to descend to chilling new depths of darkness--and discover a secret, savage world that exists beneath our very feet.

The promising future of New York City college student Jeff Converse has suddenly been shattered by a nightmarish turn of events. Falsely convicted of a brutal crime, Jeff sees his life vanishing before his eyes. But someone has other plans for Jeff, in a far deadlier place than any penitentiary. He finds himself beneath the teeming streets of Manhattan, in a hidden landscape of twisting tunnels and forgotten subterranean chambers. Here, an invisible population of the homeless, the desperate, and the mad has carved out its own shadow society.

But they are not alone. The pitch-dark tunnels and abandoned subway stations are haunted by the unmistakable sounds of predators in search of game. Someone has made this forsaken civilization beneath the city a private killing ground . . . and the hunt is on.

Trapped in a treacherous underground maze, cut off at every turn by ragged gangs of sinister "gamekeepers," and stalked relentlessly by unseen hunters, Jeff faces overwhelming odds in the race to reach salvation and elude capture. With no weapon but his wits, and an unimaginable threat lurking around every dark corner, Jeff must somehow move heaven and earth to escape from a living hell.

The Manhattan Hunt Club is the most thrilling and suspenseful novel yet from the ingenious mind of John Saul.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
When Jeff Converse is convicted and sentenced to prison for an assault he didn't commit, he believes matters couldn't get any worse. Of course, he's wrong. While being transported to prison, he's kidnapped and thrown into the tunnels below the New York subway system, where he's the latest participant in a game in which humans are hunted for sport by a group of the city's business and civic leaders. The only way Jeff can win is to make it to the surface alive, which, not surprisingly, proves more difficult than it sounds. Complicating matters further is that the only people on the surface who believe Jeff is still alive are his father and his ex-girlfriend. The prose is often clunky and the characters lack real dimension, but nonstop action keeps the book moving at a brisk pace. Rather typical thriller fare, but since Saul's 22 suspense novels (including The Right Hand of Evil) have won him a huge fan base, this one will be popular in public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 4/1/01.]Craig L. Shufelt, Lane P.L., Fairfield, OH Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Saul's new suspense brainchild rips off Richard Connell's much admired 1924 short story, "The Most Dangerous Game," a work so boredom-proof that this takeoff is no dangerous gambit. Even so, Saul (Nightshade, 2000, etc.) is hard put to match Connell's tightly twisted suspense. Manhattan's subway system replaces the original's Amazon jungle. But where Connell's hero was a skilled hunter of jaguars who himself became the prey of a maniacal manhunter, Saul's hero has no such skills, though his father turns out to know his way around a rifle. Jeff Converse, a 21-year-old architecture student, is arrested and charged with brutally attacking a woman in an empty subway stop. Two transit cops catch him still huddled over the victim, her head bashed in, and since he is the man she saw immediately after the attack, she misidentifies him as her assailant. When the conviction comes down to one person's word against another's, the judge sentences Jeff to one year, including time served. But on his way to Rikers Island, the prison van is sideswiped, Jeff is pulled free before it goes up in a fireball, and another body is substituted for his own. A man leads him down into a subway stop and then into an underground community where he's seemingly safe. Little does he know that this is the Manhattan Hunt Club, a group of judges, lawyers, Wall Streeters, and other disaffected souls who regularly get prisoners free only to make them prey for Hunt Club shoots down in the subway. This barely believable premise won't sustain a whole novel, so Saul builds supportive subplots, including the efforts of Jeff's father Keith to trace his son, aided by Jeff's fiancee Heather. Readers unfamiliar with earlier versionsmay well be carried away, mainly by the immense research Saul has put into his tunnels and underground societies, less so by the strained melodrama.
From the Publisher

“Long after you’ve finished this suspenseful cliffhanger of a book, the underground world that Saul creates will linger in the mind. . . . Saul takes us deep into that dark night of the soul and the subways in his frighteningly realistic and scarifying tale.”
The Providence Sunday Journal

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Kill him, cindy allen silently prayed. kill him, and let me know that this is over.

Sensing her tension, Bill reached over and took her hand. “They’ll lock him up forever,” he said softly. “They’ll lock him up and you’ll never have to be afraid again.”

Though she squeezed Bill’s hand as if his words had comforted her, Cindy knew they weren’t true. She would be afraid for the rest of her life.

Afraid to walk by herself in the streets—if she could ever walk again.

Afraid to look at the faces of strangers, fearful of what she would see in their eyes: pity and revulsion and embarrassment.

Afraid even to look at Bill, of seeing shades of those emotions in his eyes.

And all because of the man whose face now filled the screen of the television set at the foot of her bed.

She tried to put aside her anger and her fear for a moment, tried to look dispassionately at the face of Jeff Converse. It was a handsome face—she had to admit that. Clean-cut, even features.

Not the kind of face you’d expect to see on a monster. Indeed, nothing about Jeff Converse’s pleasing appearance hinted at the cruelty that lay within. Not the dark, wavy hair, not the warm brown eyes, not the expression on his face. In the image on the television screen of the man she’d testified against in court, Jeff Converse looked as frightened as Cindy Allen felt. Except that she knew her fear was real.

His was just another lie, like all the lies he’d told in court.

“What if the judge believes him?” she whispered, not quite aware that she’d spoken aloud.

“He won’t believe him,” Bill replied. “The jury didn’t believe him, and neither will the judge. He’ll give Converse everything he’s got coming to him.”

But he won’t, Cindy thought. He might put Jeff Converse in jail, but he won’t do to him what he did to me.

As the image of Jeff Converse vanished from the television screen, replaced by the smiling visage of the pretty blonde who anchored the morning news, Cindy looked away, her gaze shifting to the mirror over the dresser that she’d made Bill hang low on the wall so she could see herself as others saw her.

“It will be all right,” Bill had said, trying to reassure her the first time she’d looked into the mirror after the bandages were removed. “I’ve talked to the doctor, and he says he can repair almost all the damage. It will just take time.”

Time, and five surgeries, and more money than she and Bill earned in a year.

And even then, even if they found the money and she went through all the procedures the plastic surgeon had explained to her, she wouldn’t be well. Her features might once again bear some resemblance to the face that had been hers until that horrible night six months ago. But even if they could repair the scars on the outside—rebuild her crushed cheekbone and shattered jaw, repair the lower lip that had been nearly torn away when he’d slammed her face into the concrete, breaking five teeth in her lower jaw and four in her upper—they’d never be able to repair the scars on the inside. Even if they could find a way to mend the damage to her spine that had made it impossible for her to walk, they’d never be able to make her feel safe on the streets again.

That was what Jeff Converse had taken from her. She had been on her way to meet Bill. It was late, but not that late. He’d had to work, and so had she, and they were going to meet for dinner at ten.

The subway was almost empty—only one seat was taken on the car she got on at Rector Street—and that passenger got off at Forty-second. Then she had the car to herself, which was just the way she liked it. Alone, she was able to concentrate on the IPO she was analyzing before making her final recommendation on Monday morning. By the time she got to 110th Street, she’d marked half a dozen sections to go over with Bill during dinner.

The station was nearly as deserted as Rector Street had been, and she barely noticed the solitary man standing on the platform, waiting for a downtown train.

She was just starting up the stairs when she felt the arm snake around her neck, felt the hand clamp over her mouth. She was yanked backward, then dragged down the deserted platform until they were at its northernmost end.

That’s when her face was smashed the first time, slammed so hard into the tile wall that her nose shattered and blood started streaming down. Stunned, she had no strength to resist as the man shoved her to the platform and began tearing at her clothes. Finally, she started fighting back. She struggled to roll over so she was facing him, but he was too strong for her. He slammed her face into the concrete platform as though trying to break the head of a doll, and for a second she blacked out. When she came to an instant later, she was lying on her back, and though her eyes were already swelling and swimming with her own blood, she could see his face clearly.

The brown eyes looking down at her.

The shock of dark hair.

She lashed out, her fingernails raking his cheek as she found her voice and screamed. She tried to twist away from him, but something was wrong with her body—she couldn’t move her legs.

She screamed again and again, and after what seemed an eternity, during which she was certain she was about to die, help appeared.

Abruptly, the figure above her was pulled away, and a moment later she was surrounded by people. Two transit policemen asked her what had happened, but by then the agony was already overwhelming, and as she saw two more cops dragging the man away, she drifted into unconsciousness.

When she woke up again, she was in a hospital.

They brought her pictures of a dozen men when she was well enough.

She recognized him immediately.

She would never forget him.

“I want to be there,” she said now, as another image of Jeff Converse appeared on the television screen. “When the judge sentences him, I want to be there.”

“You don’t have to, Cindy,” Bill replied, but Cindy Allen was determined.

“I want to see him. I want to see the fear in his eyes.” Without waiting for Bill to help her, she began working her broken body out of the bed and into the wheelchair that stood next to it. “He deserves to die,” she said. “And the scariest part is, I wish I could watch them kill him.”

carolyn randall felt the tension in her expensively decorated breakfast room as the newscaster finished her story on the sentencing of Jeff Converse. When Jeff’s face first appeared on the screen, she’d instinctively reached for the remote control, but not quickly enough. The blond newscaster—who Carolyn was almost certain had been flirting with her husband at a Cancer Society benefit two weeks ago—had already spoken Jeff’s name, and both Carolyn’s husband and her stepdaughter had immediately turned to look.

“Why do you two insist on watching every report about this awful thing?” she demanded when the newscast cut to a commercial. “It’s over. You’ve got to let it go.”

“It’s not over,” Heather replied without hesitation, her voice tinged with anger. “It won’t be over until they let Jeff go.”

“ ‘They,’ as you put it, are not going to let him go unless he’s innocent,” Perry Randall said in a condescending tone, which Heather recognized as one he ordinarily reserved for dim witnesses who were ignorant of the facts. “And since he is not innocent, I don’t think that is going to happen.”

“You don’t know—” Heather began, but her father cut her off before she could finish.

“I know the facts of the case,” he reminded her. “I saw the police report after Converse was arrested, and though I recused myself from the case for obvious reasons, that does not mean I didn’t review it carefully.” He saw in the way his daughter’s jaw set that his arguments would be no more persuasive this morning than they had been on any other day since Jeff Converse had been apprehended at the scene of the assault on Cynthia Allen. His own stubborn streak now revealed itself. “I know how you feel, Heather, but if feelings were allowed to rule our courts, our prisons would be empty. There isn’t a man on Rikers Island—or anywhere else, I suspect—who doesn’t have a girlfriend who swears he’s innocent.”

“But Jeff is innocent!” Heather flared. “Daddy, you must know he’s not capable of what he’s accused of doing!”

Perry Randall’s left eyebrow arched. “No, Heather, I really don’t know him.”

Heather felt she was choking on the stream of furious words rising in her throat, but held them in. What was the point of arguing with her father now? His mind was made up—had been made up since the moment she’d called him after Jeff’s arrest.

She had called him in the hope—no, in the certainty—that he’d be able to talk to someone and straighten everything out. Now she realized she should have known better. Hadn’t it been her father’s cool, analytical responses to nearly every emotional issue that ever came up that had finally driven her mother away? Still, she hadn’t been prepared for his response to her request for help:

“I want you to come home immediately,” he’d told her. “The last thing I need right now—”

“You need?” she’d retorted. “Daddy, Jeff’s in jail!”

“Which in my experience means he’s undoubtedly done something to get himself there,” her father replied. Then, in the face of her anguish, he’d softened. “I’ll look into it in the morning. It’s going to take some time for the precinct to book him, but there should be something in the office by tomorrow morning. I’ll take a look—see what people are thinking. Then I’ll see what I can do.”

So Heather had come home.

Except the big apartment overlooking Central Park didn’t feel like home anymore—hadn’t felt like home since her mother had left a dozen years ago, when she was eleven.


There was a nice euphemism. Now that she was twenty-three, Heather knew that “taken away” would better describe what had happened. She hadn’t seen it herself, but over the years, she’d gotten a pretty good idea about what had happened. All she’d known at the time was that she’d come home from school as on any typical day and found her mother gone. “She just needs a good rest,” they told her.

It turned out her mother was “resting” in a hospital.

Not a regular hospital, like Lenox Hill, over near Lexington, or the Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital down on Sixty-fourth.

The one her mother was in looked more like a resort than a hospital and was out in the country. But it wasn’t a resort. It was where her father had sent Charlotte Randall to stop her from drinking and taking pills.

At first her mother promised she’d come home soon. “It’ll only be a little while, sweetheart,” she said the first time Heather visited. But her mother never came home again. “I just can’t,” she explained. “When you’re older, you’ll understand.”

The divorce was quiet—her father had seen to that.

And her mother had left New York—her father had seen to that, too.

Charlotte was living in San Francisco now. When Heather turned eighteen, she’d flown out to see her, over her father’s objections. Her mother was sober when Heather arrived that morning, but she had a glass of white wine with lunch. “Don’t look at me that way, darling,” she said as she took the first sip, her voice brittle, her smile too bright. “It’s only one glass. It’s not as if I’m an alcoholic.” But it hadn’t been only one glass; that had been merely the first. By dinner her mother didn’t even try to deny it. “Why shouldn’t I drink? I may live in San Francisco, but your father still controls my life.”

“Why do you let him?” she’d asked.

Her mother only shook her head. “It’s not that easy—when you’re older, you’ll understand.” But all the trip to San Francisco accomplished was to destroy the illusions about her mother that Heather had nurtured during the years they’d been apart.

Now, at twenty-three, she did understand, as her mother had said she would. In some ways, her father controlled her just as much as he had controlled Charlotte. Heather was still living in the rambling apartment on Fifth Avenue, still going to school at Columbia.

Still being supported by her father, still living in his house. But she knew it would end when Jeff finished architecture school and they got married.

Then that terrible night had come when she’d waited for Jeff at his apartment but he hadn’t come home. Finally, certain something must have happened to him, she’d started calling.

First the hospitals. St. Luke’s, the clinic on Columbus, the Westside Medical Center.

And then the precinct station on West One hundredth Street.

“We got a Jeffrey Converse here,” the desk sergeant told her, but refused to give her any of the details over the phone.

Heather thought it must be some terrible mistake, until she went down to the precinct house. Jeff, his face scratched, his clothes covered with blood, had looked at her helplessly through the bars of the single cell in the detectives’ squad room. “I was trying to help a woman,” he said. “I was just trying to help her.”

And the nightmare had begun.

The nightmare that her father, the Assistant District Attorney, had done nothing to end. “There’s nothing I can do,” he told her the next day. “I’ve looked at the case, and the victim has made a positive identification. She’s sure it was Jeff.”

“There must be something—” Heather began, but was interrupted.

“My job is to prosecute people like Jeff Converse, not defend them. I’m sorry, but there’s nothing I can do.”

But Heather knew it was more than that. Her father didn’t want to do anything for Jeff.

He’d never wanted her to date Jeff.

He certainly didn’t want her to marry Jeff.

He did, however, want to be District Attorney, an ambition that might very well be satisfied in the next election. Unless, of course, something embarrassing happened—something like being on the wrong side of a much publicized case.

And because of the violence that had been committed against Cynthia Allen, Jeff’s case had become very high-profile indeed. To Perry Randall, it was bad enough that his daughter had been dating Jeffrey Converse. To appear to be defending him was unthinkable.

“But he didn’t do it,” Heather whispered now. “I know he didn’t do it.” She might as well have said nothing at all, for her father had already turned his attention back to the newspaper.

keith converse reached for the knob of his truck’s radio, but changed his mind before his fingers touched it. If he turned it on, he knew what would happen: his wife would pause in her prayers just long enough to give him a reproachful look, and even though she wouldn’t say anything, her message would be loud and clear.

Don’t you even care what happens to Jeff? the look would say as clearly as if she’d spoken aloud.

It wouldn’t do any good to try to tell her how much he cared about their son. She’d made up her mind, and he had given up trying to argue with her months ago.

“It’s God’s will,” she’d sighed when he first told her that Jeff had been arrested.

God’s will.

Keith no longer knew how many times he’d heard that phrase in the last few years. It had become Mary’s rationale for refusing to discuss every problem that came up between them.

He knew its origin, knew as well as she did where it had started. After all, they’d both gone to St. Mary’s School, both grown up dutifully going to mass every Sunday at St. Barnabas Church.

When they were young, Mary had seemed just as relaxed about the Church as he was. But that began to change after the first night they made love, when Jeff was conceived. A thick blanket of Catholic guilt had fallen over Mary the moment she found out she was pregnant.

Keith assumed it would ease off as soon as they got married, and he’d seen to it that they did so right away. Eight months later, when Jeff was born, they told everyone he was premature, and since he’d been a small baby anyway, everyone accepted the lie.

Except Mary.

When she was withdrawn after Jeff was born, Keith hadn’t been concerned. He thought it was because she was busy with the baby. But then Jeff was a toddler, and her withdrawn attitude only got worse. By the time Jeff was in school, they were making love no more than once a month, if you could even call it making love. Then it was more like once a year, and when Jeff was in high school, Keith had almost forgotten what sleeping with Mary was like. Still, in other ways she’d been a good wife to him. She’d kept their house immaculate, and taken good care of all of them. Yet every year, she seemed to withdraw even further into herself, spending more and more time praying.

And every time something bad happened, she said it was God’s will.

Said they were being punished for having sinned.

That had hurt—hurt a lot. It was like saying they shouldn’t have had Jeff.

Keith had wondered if he should have insisted they go to some kind of counseling. But the one time he suggested it, the only person Mary had been willing to talk to was their priest, and Keith hadn’t seen how that would help. So he’d kept silent, concentrated on building up his contracting business, and hoped things would get better. When Jeff went off to college, Mary announced that she was leaving him.

“It’s God’s will,” she’d told him. “We committed a terrible sin, but I’ve done my penance and God has forgiven me.”

As usual, there hadn’t been any discussion. Keith knew he might be able to argue with his suppliers, his subcontractors, and his customers, but he couldn’t argue with Mary.

He couldn’t argue with God’s will.

So she moved out, and he rattled around in the little house in Bridgehampton that suddenly seemed way too big and way too empty, and tried to get used to having both his son and his wife gone.

It wasn’t easy, but he got through it. Since Jeff had been arrested, though, it had gotten much worse.

When Jeff had first called him, Keith was certain it had to be a terrible mistake. Jeff had been a good kid—never even gotten into the kind of trouble most kids did. And then they’d arrested him, and charged him with things Keith knew his son couldn’t possibly have done.

All through the fall, Keith’s faith in Jeff had never wavered, even as he and Mary listened to the victim’s testimony. He would pick Mary up and they’d go to the trial together. Keith knew the woman had to be mistaken, even though she sounded absolutely certain about what had happened.

Even though the victim pointed to Jeff in the courtroom and said, “That’s the man who attacked me. I’ll never forget that face as long as I live.”

When the jury convicted Jeff, Keith had still been certain it was a mistake. He’d been sure it would be all right—the case would be appealed and Jeff would be released, and they would all go on with their lives.

But Jeff hadn’t been released.

And Keith, despite himself, had started blaming Mary for what had happened.

Now, as the traffic on the Long Island Expressway came to a complete halt, he glanced at her.

“We’re going to be late.”

Mary sighed. “I suppose that’s my fault, too.”

Keith’s fingers tightened on the steering wheel. “I didn’t say it was your fault. Why do you have to take everything so personal?”

“Personally,” Mary corrected.

Don’t say anything, Keith told himself. It won’t matter if we’re late anyway. It won’t change anything. But it would matter to Jeff. “I should’ve come in last night,” he muttered. “I should have been there all along.”

mary converse saw no point in responding to her husband’s words. Indeed, she was weary of trying to talk to Keith at all. If he only had the same strength that she had—

She cut her thought short, knowing that Keith didn’t share her faith, and never would. At first, like Keith, she assumed that her son was innocent, too. But since then, she’d come to grips with what had happened to Jeff. For a while she’d blamed herself, believing that if she and Keith hadn’t sinned all those years ago, none of this would have happened.

Jeff wouldn’t have gotten himself into trouble.

After he’d been convicted, she felt so guilty, she almost wished she could just die. But she’d talked it over with Father Noonan, who had explained that she wasn’t responsible for anything Jeff had done, and that her role now was to let Jeff know she forgave him.

Forgave him, and loved him, just as God forgave and loved him.

In her faith, she’d been able to find peace and acceptance.

Keith, however, kept right on denying Jeff’s guilt, insisting it had to be a mistake, utterly refusing to accept that all things are God’s will. Deep in her heart, Mary knew better: Jeff had been conceived in sin, his soul corrupted from the very moment she had been weak enough to give in to Keith Converse’s basest desires. The sins of the father were now being visited upon the son, and there was nothing she could do but accept it and pray—not only for her own soul, but for Jeff’s as well.

Now, as the traffic jam evaporated as suddenly as it had started and they headed south on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, Mary’s fingers began to move over the beads of her rosary as she once more began to pray.

God’s will be done, she silently prayed. God’s will be done . . .

From the Hardcover edition.

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