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 fiancée Heather.
Readers unfamiliar with earlier versions may well be carried away, mainly by the immense research Saul has put into his tunnels and underground societies, less so by the strained melodrama.