The Hunt Club represents a point of departure for Charleston author Bret Lott. The writer of such heralded novels as Reed's Beach and Jewel now turns his talents to the mystery/thriller, and with remarkable success. Exquisitely imagined and skillfully told, this story packs one heck of a punch, and feels like the work of a master of the genre at the top of his form.

The book rips from the get-go, when we meet the narrator, 15 year-old Huger Dillard ("You say it YOU-gee, not like it's spelled. It's French, I heard."), a young man who has an enlightening, not to mention harrowing, three days in front of him. When you start with the defaced and partially skinned body of a hunter in the swamp, things are going to get real interesting, real fast.

And they do. The corpse which Huger discovers with his blind uncle, Leland, while setting up a deer hunt for the Charleston elite is but the first in a whole series of puzzles whose solutions, it turns out, only widen the broader mystery and provide young Huger a spitfire education in all the world's darkness and brutality. While he has never much cared for the wealthy, well-preened doctors and lawyers who lease his uncle's property and services for their sporting pursuits, he never imagined just how ruthless the supposed civilized class could be. The members of the Hungry Neck Hunt Club want much more from his family's land than trophy bucks, and they will stop at nothing not the pillaging of a 300 year-old slave cemetery, not extortion, and least of all cold-blooded murder to fatten their wallets and pump up their already over-inflated egos. The tale spins an intricate, multi-tiered web of corruption, deceit and betrayal that takes Huger on a breakneck ride which, even as it opens his eyes to secrets of history, land and family, may well cost him his hardly realized life.

Midnight smuggling runs, blackmail by e-mail, backwoods barbarism to make a reader lock the doors and turn on the nightlight it's all here, in a book that pits a trusting youth's loyalty against a hungry fallen world, and roars its way home.

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