Dylan Hunter: The New Face of Justice
The concept for Dylan Hunter, the hero of the thriller series, arose from a question I posed to myself one day:
If you could reboot your whole life, from scratch — if you had the motive, means, and opportunity to completely re-create your personal identity — what kind of man would you become?
Dylan Hunter is the product of this personal fantasy. I transformed my private wishful thinking into a fictional character, one who stands in the timeless tradition of the tough, “lone wolf” hero who cannot, will not turn away when he encounters evil and injustice.
In some respects, Dylan is similar to other fictional characters in that tradition. But in other ways, I think he’s unique. And that makes Dylan Hunter the new face of justice.
Dylan Hunter, Knight Errant
We live in an era of rampant injustice. Millions feel powerless against the onslaught of forces beyond their control, of powerful interests that seem aligned against them and operate outside the reach of the law. People are furious and frustrated, but they don’t know what to do about it. They can’t fight back.
Dylan Hunter is their wish-fulfillment, their fantasy champion of justice. He fights back on their behalf. He is what millions would like to be, saying and doing what they would love to say and do.
In that respect, Dylan is not especially unique in literature. The “lone-wolf vigilante” is a fictional archetype that goes back to medieval “knight errant” tales, Samurai stories, and probably even before that. Examples in popular culture include Robin Hood, Zorro, the Scarlet Pimpernel, the Count of Monte Cristo, The Lone Ranger, Batman (in fact, all comic-book superheroes), Jack Schaefer’s “Shane,” Leslie Charteris’s “Simon (‘The Saint’) Templar,” John D. MacDonald’s “Travis McGee,” Lee Child’s “Jack Reacher,” Ayn Rand’s “Ragnar Danneskjold,” ad infinitum. Virtually all private detective stories and many thrillers feature heroes who defy authority, and who play fast and loose with legal rules and constraints, in the interest of justice.
But in other ways, Dylan Hunter is unusual.
Gilbert and Sullivan famously wrote that the punishment should fit the crime. Dylan imposes on the villains punishments that are not only in proportion to the harm they’ve done; the punishments also are related in kind, in some deliciously appropriate way. He employs guile and ingenuity to exact “poetic justice.” Yes, he will meet violence with violence — and lethal violence with lethal violence. But he never kills someone who has not himself committed or conspired to commit murder.
Dylan Hunter, Unapologetic Romantic
One HUNTER reviewer astutely observed that Dylan is a kind of hybrid of Jason Bourne and Batman. He has Bourne’s lethal talents and training, and Bruce Wayne’s wealth and high-tech gadgetry. In addition, though, I think there’s a bit of Robert B. Parker’s Spenser in him, at least in one respect: Dylan Hunter’s love for Annie Woods is similar to Spenser’s love for Susan Silverman.
Like Spenser, Dylan is an unapologetic romantic. He’s a one-woman man, not a cynical player. He’s head-over-heels in love with his Annie, and she with him. This, I think, explains why female readers have responded so strongly to him. Passionate romantic loyalties seem rare in a world of drive-by relationships and casual, meaningless hook-ups. Women love that Dylan’s idealism and integrity aren’t limited to his public crusading; they extend to his personal life, as well.
While not entirely unique in thrillers, that’s unusual. In many male-written adventures, women are either passing playmates, or — if the relationship gets serious — expendable. “Killing off the girl” has become a tired cliché of the thriller world: The hero falls in love; trying to get at him, the villains kill his lover or wife; and that rouses the hero to raging revenge. Readers of HUNTER and BAD DEEDS will notice how I have toyed deliberately with these clichés.
Dylan Hunter, Philosophical Tough Guy
One element does make Dylan unique among justice-seeking vigilante heroes, I think. Yes, he’s a tough guy; but he is an intellectual tough guy. Dylan is highly educated, a brilliant Princeton grad in political philosophy. Had he not joined the CIA, he may well have become an academic.
Specifically, Dylan Hunter is a philosophical avenger. He governs his life by a clear code — a well-defined set of values and virtues. Those principles often go against the grain of Conventional Wisdom. His unorthodox worldview truly sets him apart from other crime-fighting fictional vigilantes (e.g., Batman, Zorro, Showtime TV’s “Dexter,” the Charles Bronson “Death Wish” character, Lee Child’s “Jack Reacher,” etc.).
This aspect of his character arises from my own background and interests. I’ve been fascinated by philosophy, psychology, politics, and economics since I was fourteen years old. I’ve written and spoken about ideas ever since. It’s an indelible part of who I am. So it’s not surprising that such interests find their way into my fiction-writing.
But the way I go about it is unusual in the mystery/thriller genre.
Thrillers for Thinking People
Quite a few thriller writers set their stories in the midst of some hot contemporary controversy. But in my stories, controversial ideas are not only the settings for the stories; they are the themes of these stories, woven inextricably into the entire fabric of plot and character. The characters’ basic ideas, values, and worldviews generate the plot conflicts.
Dylan Hunter stories are thrillers for thinking people. Yes, above all, they are meant to entertain, as all good thrillers must. And I think most readers appreciate them simply on that level. But I hope these tales also stimulate thought, for those readers who seek and appreciate something more.
All of this explains why I refer to Dylan Hunter as the new face of justice.
(Note: I am sometimes asked if I advocate vigilantism in real life. The answer is no, for reasons I make clear in this post.)