ISBook Club: Hunt at the Well of Eternity

It probably won’t come as a surprise to anyone that I’m a fan of classic pulp novels, to the point where I even spent a summer when I was twelve writing an adventure novel of my own starring a character called–wait for it–Christopher Sims, a stage magician and escape artist who hired himself and a merry gang of sidekicks out as ill-defined “adventurers,” which mostly involved plots cribbed from Gen 13, of all places.

Embarrassing as it was, it was an attempt to capture the thrills and pacing that I recognized back then as being from Raiders of the Lost Ark, but that I’d eventually come to understand had its roots a little further back.

So when Dr. K told me that Charles Ardai, founder of the Hard Case Crime imprint, was starting up a series of pulp-style adventure novels, I was pretty excited. And then I found out that they starred a character named Gabriel Hunt and were therefore called Hunt For Adventure.

And that is rad.

Thus, Dr. K and I both picked up the first installment, Hunt at the Well of Eternity for the first installment of our cross-blog book club, and the totally awesome Glen Orbik cover gave us some pretty high hopes.



Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work out as well in practice.

There are at least six Hunt adventures planned with a rotating roster of writers, and the first one comes from the pen of James Reasoner, and while he turns in an effort that captures the zippy nature of the adventure serial–full of cliffhangers and set pieces that move the story from New York to the Everglades to Mexico City to the Guatemalan Rain Forest–it’s not great. To be fair, though, it’s often flawed in the same way that the original pulps are flawed.

The biggest problem is Gabriel Hunt himself, who is barely characterized beyond the standard Champ Goodguy action hero, complete with chiseled jaw and kung fu grip. He’s smart but not too smart, strong but not too strong, and good-hearted enough that he can bag the love interest with no trouble but not so altruistic that he feels bad about killing the one-dimensional bad guys he runs across. In fact, his most distinguishing quality is his affection for his pistol, a revolver dating back to the Old West that seems impractical enough that its use counts as characterization. Played right, it could show an attachment to the past or a romantic ideal of adventure on the frontier, but there’s none of that to be had here. Instead, Reasoner–who, to be fair, was probably trying to turn in a lean, stripped down adventure in tune with the pulps that inspired the series–goes to the generic:

The heaviest thing he put in the bag was his old Colt .45 double-action Peacemaker with wel-worn walnut grips. Legend had it that the gun had once belonged to a notorious Western shootist, although the owner changed from Billy the Kid to Bat Masterson to Wyatt Earp depending on which Old West expert you talked to.

Gabriel didn’t know if any of the stories were true. All he cared about was that the revolver was a fine old weapon in top-notch shape, and that it packed plenty of stopping power.

Or, to put it another way, “Here’s something kind of interesting that might have a cool story behind it, but we’re going to be pretty vague and we don’t really care about it anyway. Deal with it.”

Which brings us to something else that stuck out: Despite the fact that he’s listed as the author–presumably to make sure that the installments of the series are racked together at the bookstore–the books are done in third person. And it’s even stranger when you considering that when you sign up for the Hunt For Adventure mailing list–which you can do pretty painlessly at their website–you get a letter that is written in first person, with a bit of highly endearing tongue-in-cheek humor that’s missing from the book itself.

Considering that the books are already written to follow Hunt and his thoughts, one would think it would be a (relatively) simple matter to cast the hero as the narrator, but instead there’s just another layer that separates the reader from what’s already a pretty bland character.

Also, I was a little surprised to find that the books are set in the present day, rather than that nebulous era from ’33 to ’49 when Doc Savage ruled the shelves. It wasn’t really a disappointment, and if there was a slight letdown, it probably came more from my expectations going in than there being anything wrong with it. Still, I think there’s something to be said for the fact that globe-trotting adventure and exploration doesn’t quite have the same zing when you throw in GPS satellites and cell phones, but it’s something Reasoner sidesteps by setting most of the book in the jungle, where dude has like zero bars.

Which isn’t to say that the books are completely without merit; they’re perfectly fine for light reading and there’s a lot of potential, partly because Hunt is such a blank shorthand for hero that you could throw him into basically any situation at this point. Reasoner even makes a rare stab at self-awareness in what is unquestionably the best line of the book:

“I learned to use a bullwhip when I was a boy. A friend of my father’s taught me.”

“A friend of…? Wasn’t your father some sort of classics professor?”

“Trust me,” Gabriel said.

The idea of Gabriel Hunt getting bullwhip lessons from an aged Professor Henry Jones, Jr. not only casts him as the spiritual successor to the pulp hero, it also does more to make me like the guy than just about anything in the book other than the covers. It’s a fun nod, and that kind of humor is something the book could really use.

I’m not saying that I necessarily want Hunt to be constantly talking about smoking Goloka root with the Strongs or visiting his Uncle Clark’s house in the Arctic, because really, Jess Nevins has enough to do without me getting him to explain that stuff, too. But at the same time, casting him as the ultimate descendant of the pulp heroes–or the latest member of the Wold Newton family–would be more fun than the blank slate we’ve got now.

That said, this is just the first installment, and while I’m no fan of waiting for things to get good, the sample chapter for the second novel–Hunt Through the Cradle of Fear, by Ardai himself–is a damn hoot:

“Go,” he said again, shooting a glance over his shoulder toward the stone wall where Sheba crouched, clutching the shreds of her dress to her chest. “Now!”

First of all, Sheba. Awesome. And second…

Gabriel leveled the Colt at DeGroet as the man limped forward. “You might as well put that away, Hunt, unless you plan to throw it at me. I know it’s empty.”

“How do you know that?” Gabriel said.

“Because you haven’t shot me with it yet.”

Gabriel considered that for a moment, then returned the gun to his holster, snapped it shut. He kept the scimitar raised and ready to strike—but he didn’t swing it. He had some skill with a blade, could even wield an unfamiliar one like this one with some hope of success, but only a fool would try to attack Lajos DeGroet with a sword. A suicidal fool.

Now see? That’s what I’m talking about. He might have the most improbable name I’ve ever heard, but Lajos DeGroet is at least as exciting as the time Christopher Sims was imprisoned in the Amazon sex dungeon.

What? I was twelve!

18 thoughts on “ISBook Club: Hunt at the Well of Eternity

  1. I love the Hard Case Crime stuff, but I’m a little hesitant to jump on this. I’m sure they’ll end up in a cheap eBay lot evetually. Which reminds me, I need to go get those early Pendelton Executioner books soon.

  2. So since you brought it up – how does Solomon Stone fit in the Wold Newton Family?

  3. Christopher Sims, a stage magician and escape artist who hired himself and a merry gang of sidekicks out as ill-defined “adventurers,” which mostly involved plots cribbed from Gen 13, of all places.

    Hey, be nice to yourself. We all had to start somewhere. I may or may not have some Mary Sue-ish Generation X fanfic from my tween years moldering in my parent’s attic somewhere. Don’t judge me, it was the ’90s.

    Also, the plots of Gen13 under Adam Warren’s run were (and are) still more intelligent than 25% of the books currently on the stand. Plus, the Gail Simone relaunch was pretty nifty as well. Hell, for what it’s worth, I think that even the original issues were a lot of fun. So there, I said it. Take that, Gen13 haters!

  4. Diane the Vampire was the first victim of Clara Crofton (herself the victim of Varney the Vampire). Diane, horrified, ran away to America, leaving behind her loyal family retainer, Frances “Fanny” Flatbush, the illegitimate daughter of Col. Sebastian Moran and Estella Havisham.
    Fanny then went into service for Mycroft Holmes, trading housekeeping services for detective lessons so that she might someday find her beloved mistress again. Eventually, she settled down and her children rose in social prominance until one of her decendents became Mayor of England.
    Meanwhile, Diane, at an unspecified time and place, met a wizard named Zechariah Stone, the only son of Molly DeGrow and the Jersey Devil, and the two had a son named Solomon, who owing to a series of misadventures with a time machine, is simultaneously old enough to have apprenticed with both Tony Hawk AND Alan Pinkerton, yet young enough to capture the elusive tween demographic.

  5. Anything Charles Ardai writes, I’ll read. Songs of Innocence and Little Girl Lost are among the best crime novels I’ve ever read.

  6. Great review. I thought this would be a fun, quick read (like 1-2 hours) but it’s taking forever for me to slog through it. I eventually put it down and don’t feel like picking it up again. You’re right on — it’s so generic it’s boring, and you have no sense of who the lead character is. Plus, when it comes down to it, it’s just not as much fun to read about an airboat gunfight on the Everglades as it is to see it in a movie.

    Maybe I’ll try one of the later books by another author, but right now if I want pulp action I’m inclined to just read the real thing.

  7. As a huge Hard Case Crime fan, I’ve added the Hunt book to my to-read stack and will get to it eventually. Since new books will only come out quarterly, it won’t nearly be the commitment that HCC books are.

    I didn’t know the book isn’t set in the past, and I’ll be interested to see whether the writers can make use of modern tech without losing the charm of the genre.

    I knew that the book was in third-person, and that is weird given the fictional lead author, but I think Chris is right: the goal is to keep all the books together on the bookstore shelves. Borders tends to group HCC books together, and Barnes & Noble scatters them by author, and it makes a world of difference if you’re looking for the next title but can’t remember who wrote it.

  8. Thanks for the review.

    I guess it’s exciting to see new writers working in an old vein, but the pulp classics are pretty easy to get ahold of, so why make new ones unless you’re going to blow people’s minds?

  9. Wow. Review aside, now if Chris hasn’t already written his own back-story family origin for Solomon stone he’s gonna have to come up with a better one that Tim C’s or just use it, cause its awesome (question: slow clap doesn’t denote sarcasm does it? because that doesn’t make sense), and if he does use it then sometime in the future where Solomon stone becomes one of the worlds highest grossing properties Tim Cs gonna come hunting for his share of the royalties and we’ll all be embrangled in a huge complicated lengthily court battle that’ll make the marvel/miracle man stuff seem like a kids game and we’ll get to get quoted as witnesses to the events in a post on comicbookresources years after the fact.

  10. Solomon Stone is actually the result of a little historic meeting you might’ve heard of called Abbot & Costello Meet Dracula.

  11. I’m really glad someone else pointed out the gun-related nerdery besides me. There are plenty of double-action revolvers out there – many from the Doc Savage ’33-’49, but the Peacemaker ain’t no hardbitten PI’s snub-nose .38 and I’ve decided to register my THUNDERING DISAPPROVAL. Let the internet shake with my geeky rage.

    Because really, you NEED either characterization or nitpicky gun-porn.

  12. yay for gun related accuracy. not to be confused with bullet related accuracy, which is different… and slightly more painful to the target