Book Review: ‘Hunted’ has the rush of a thriller without the unnecessary violence


Hunted, By Abir Mukherjee, Mulholland. 400 pp. $30.

“HUNTED” by Abir Mukherjee. (MUST CREDIT: Mulholland)

The setup may sound familiar, but “Hunted,” the new thriller from Abir Mukherjee, offers a welcome alternative to the typical cops-and-robbers thriller.

Days after a terrorist organization kills dozens of people in a Los Angeles shopping mall, law enforcement officials arrest Sajid Khan at his place of employment in London and ruthlessly interrogate and beat him, seeking information about his 18-year-old daughter. This is how Sajid discovers that his beloved daughter, Aliyah, is a key figure in a dangerous terrorist network. When, a few days later, an American woman named Carrie Flynn finds Sajid and explains that her son has a connection to Aliyah and may also be involved with the terrorists, Sajid and Carrie embark on a perilous journey to America to save their children.

This plotline – a terrorist attack on the United States sets off a hunt-and-chase that affects the lives of ordinary people and reveals cracks in the political and social structure of the country – has been written and rewritten endlessly by writers like Vince Flynn, Lee Child and Brad Thor. Mukherjee keeps readers in that well-worn (and beloved) territory while also elevating his tale beyond expectations. He dives deeply into the stories of the families of the assailants – the anguish and anxiety experienced by their horrified parents, and the rash decisions they are compelled to make. And he does this without abandoning the rush of a thriller or the complexities of law enforcement – particularly through the character of Shreya Mistry, an FBI agent who consistently defies her superiors in her hopes to stop the next attack on American soil. Mukherjee offers some keen observations, and his everyday heroes are a nice reprieve from the hypermasculine killing machines we typically come across in such books.

In his efforts to describe the uneasy political climate in contemporary America, Mukherjee does not shy away from the chaos of real-life politics or pertinent social issues. References are made to the 2016 election and the heartbreak brought on by the 2017 Muslim travel ban. More than simply observing these events, Mukherjee’s characters are particularly well-suited to offer commentary and insight into them, especially Sajid, a Muslim refugee of political violence in Bangladesh, and the most clear-eyed and compassionate of the protagonists. Upon learning about the attack in Los Angeles, Sajid notes with concern that, “It was taken as fact that the attackers would be Islamists, and suddenly a few hundred extremists with a death wish were taken as proxy for a billion people.”

America, in fact, is observed in almost Tocquevillian fashion as the protagonists race through the country. When passing poverty-struck towns in the Midwest, Sajid wonders, “There had been prosperity here … and yet it had gone. What did that do to people? To be masters of the world and then reduced to poverty? Would it engender anger? Fear?” When he later observes an American political rally, Sajid compares the event to its British counterpart and notes, “While there was certainly something to be said for the enthusiasm and engagement of the American model, without trust or an informed electorate, did it not lead to tribalism?”

These observations, along with forays into familial and romantic drama, never slow the book’s pace. Mukherjee has a knack for ending chapters on earned cliffhangers. Plot twists are largely presented without the strain of incredulity, the suspense is always weighted with emotion, surprising revelations are carefully constructed – and the ending is unexpected, daring and truly beautiful.

“Hunted” marks Mukherjee’s first stand-alone novel after the popular and critically acclaimed Wyndham & Banerjee Mysteries, and fans of those historical mysteries probably won’t be disappointed by the author’s turn to contemporary thrillers. Even if the book treads on familiar territory, Mukherjee proves he has more than enough talent, compassion and insight to tell a compelling, unique story.

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E.A. Aymar is author of the thrillers “They’re Gone,” “No Home for Killers” and “When She Left.”

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