When a celebrity, who is known for some achievements in the real world, let’s say a competitive sport or tourism development, and has gained considerable recognition in other media such as television, announces that he or she is writing a book, what do you expect? Either a how-to, based on the writer’s particular area of expertise, or, more often, a ghost-written “The Magnificent I”.
“Call me Hunter” by Jim Shockey is neither.
What is it, then?
To be honest, the best way to read “Call me Hunter” would be the way your reviewer read it – without any idea of even what genre it is. Sans presumptions, it felt a bit like tracking a hare in the snow: you think you’ve got a pretty good idea where it is going, but then the tracks abruptly stop – the hare double-tracked and made a mighty jump off the path. Soon you’ll pick up the track again, and then you’ll be following it a bit more carefully, so when the story, or the hare, as the case might be, decides to double again, you won’t miss the overlapping footprints. Then, after the “a-ha!” thrill wanes off, you realize the hare is not a hare but a man-eating leopard – metaphorically speaking.
But in this world no book can leave the printing house without a label that instructs the booksellers and librarians which shelf they ought to put the volume on. In case of Jim Shockey’s “Call me Hunter” the label is “thriller”. And nobody can say it isn’t one. You have a corpse on the first page, and whoever is responsible for the death felt obliged to share the news with the book’s main protagonist: Nyala, a young journalist of a small local newspaper. The tip comes with an anonymous manuscript, that opens with the description of a seemingly idyllic family scene, but the sender seems to know too much about Nyala, and she has no choice but to do what journalists do in thrillers: to embark on a journey of dangerous discoveries.
On that journey, she will encounter what heroines of thrillers typically encounter: sudden and unexpected plot twists, a chase across a continent, one coast to the other, dark secrets of the past, and the eternal battle between chaos and order. There are old-fashioned villains, so bad they couldn’t possibly get any worse if they tried. There are artifacts that sound like a lost script of the Indiana Jones franchise. There is a superpower, and one that’s way more plausible than spawning webs after being bitten by a mutant spider. And more.
Shockey seems to enjoy playing with the cliches of the genre and the expectations of the reader. Whenever you catch yourself making predictions – in a conventional triller, “x” would happen next – you’re likely to find out that something completely different takes place instead. This could ruin “Call me Hunter” if it was a conventional thriller, but the book is much more than that. Starting as a manhunt for an individual assassin who could be a psychopathic killer or a noble avenger with equal probability, it transforms itself into a journey of a spiritual discovery of one’s roots.
There’s more than one hero in this book, and there’s more than one voice. One tells us about events in the present, as experienced by Nyala – colloquial, somewhat insecure, and a little angry; it could be Nyala’s own voice, but this part is written in the third person. Then, there is the voice of the manuscript, that describes what happened in the past, to the second protagonist of the book – the man of many names – and other characters. That voice is literary, precise, and omniscient. The reader, along with Nyala, assumes that the manuscript was written by the mysterious sender, but when the man of many names gets to speak in the first person, his voice is totally unique – very emotional, sometimes incoherent, often poetic. “Call me Hunter” switches from one narrative to another before you can lose your concentration, and it makes for such a fast-paced reading that you’re likely to find yourself at least a third into the novel before you start noticing other things about it.
Jim Shockey, the author, is a lot of things: an athlete, a model, a hunter, an outfitter, a TV host, an antic collector, a museum curator, and he lets each part of his multi-dimensional personality reveal itself in the book; as a matter of fact, Jim’s friends are in for a number of insider jokes. There are plenty of non-insider jokes as well, although some of the supporting characters could use a bit more depth, rather than being cardboard stereotypes of the “woke crowd” concerned that a beer bottle may be offended if you call it “stubby”. After all, the character in question does all the work with little recognition from the heroine – but then again, if you find yourself arguing with protagonists, it only means they are life-sized and believable enough.
While the main characters and events are a fruit of the author’s imagination, there are enough items and people that actually existed that it feels solidly tied in reality; fantasy and actuality are so interwoven that it’s often hard to tell which is which. The first pages might sound a bit far-off and artificial, but as early as halfway through the story the strange bits get their explanation one by one, until all links are tied together, and no end is left hanging loose.
And then, there is the topic of hunting – something the readers of this blog will probably be interested in learning more about. Obviously, if you want to read a hunting story by Jim Shockey, you should buy his previous book, appropriately titled Ultimate Big-Game Hunting Adventures (in two parts: one about North America, and the other about hunting the rest of the world). As it were, there are no specific hunting scenes in “Call me Hunter”, only positive attitude and a few references to hunting exploits. But the theme of hunting is essential for the journey and the development of the heroes.
The focal point of “Call me Hunter” is beauty. Does it come from the objects that we define as art, or are these objects only transmitting something external, that a person who has an in-born ability or received special training can identify? Whatever the answer, in the world of “Call me Hunter” one can perceive the power of beauty in things as diverse as a Kandinsky painting and a duck decoy, and even in what you wouldn’t normally call a piece of art. The aptitude for this perception is the superpower mentioned above.
It appears, although it’s not said directly, that being a hunter might be connected to the gift of the hero. Perhaps the deep, animistic feeling of the interconnection of all life on the Earth that all true hunters experience could act as a key to inherent beauty. Shockey doesn’t dwell more on this topic; it’s almost like it just so happens that all bad guys are against hunting, and all good guys are hunters. This part of the plot deserves more development. But in the world full of Disney cartoons, where a hunting trophy of the wall invariably serves as a signal of the bad guy, a book that takes a positive attitude to hunting is already a relief.
The quest for beauty is what drives both heroes and villains in “Call me Hunter”, and here comes the one big question to the author. The fact that people may do ugly things to get hold of a beautiful object is a well-known paradox of human nature and believable as a motivation force for the villains. But totalitarian leaders are art-blind – the only thing to please their taste is a megalomaniac, pseudorealistic monument to their own “greatness”. How can an assembly of art lovers be a conspiracy that aims for a global, Stalinism-on-steroids style domination?
Perhaps the answers are forthcoming in the next novel(s) by Jim Shockey – the hints that “Call me Hunter” is only the first chapter in a long story are too obvious to miss. But then, who knows? It should be clear by now that Jim Shockey and “Call me Hunter” can surprise.
“CALL ME HUNTER” by Jim Shockey. Publisher: Atria/Emily Bestler Books (October 17, 2023). 400 pages. ISBN13: 9781668010358. Available for preorder from Simon & Schuster, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, BAM!, Bookshop.org.