Richard Matheson, Hunted Past Reason (Tor, 2002)
Bob is a successful short story writer, novelist, and screenwriter. His friend, Doug, is an unsuccessful actor. In fact, Doug has been unsuccessful at about everything his career is dying, his wife left him, his son committed suicide. But Doug knows the woods; he's a true outdoorsman. So, when Bob says he wants to do research for a new hiking novel, Doug suggests they go together. Bob's wife, Marian, will drive ahead and meet them at Doug's cabin in the woods in three days.
Thus begins Richard Matheson's Hunted Past Reason, a novel of wholly realistic, easily imaginable terror. The hike begins well enough, but along the way, Bob shows his lack of fitness, slowing their progress. This elicits sardonic putdowns from Doug and their relationship becomes strained. But Bob depends on Doug to get him to the cabin, because Bob doesn't know where it is located, or how to get there. Or how to survive by himself in the forest.
I think you can see where this is headed.
On the second day, after several heated discussions (including one where Doug blames Bob for his failings as an actor) and a fistfight, Doug proposes a game: Doug will give Bob a three-hour head start, and if Bob reaches the cabin first, he lives. Meanwhile, Doug will be chasing him through the unknown forest armed with a machete, a bow and arrow, and a comfortable first-hand knowledge of the local geography. Bears, mountain lions, and coyotes also appear in this tale, giving Bob other things to worry about in addition to the crazed madman lurking just behind.
This is Matheson's first novel in seven years and it was definitely worth the wait. Hunted Past Reason played havoc with my heart rate. Matheson has taken the classic story "The Most Dangerous Game," filled in the interesting details and inner thoughts of a man on the run through an unfamiliar wilderness, and sprinkled in a pinch of Deliverance just to catch us off guard. The chase encompasses the second half of the novel, with the first half consisting of details of the forest and Doug's lectures on what Bob doesn't know about camping. The two halves are very different in tone, which makes Matheson's transition from one to the other all the more remarkable. Matheson has been called "the Hemingway of horror" and he certainly wastes no words here, keeping the pace cranked so as to not allow his readers to catch a breath.
Hunted Past Reason is predictable but that simply makes the first half tense as well. The title let me know what was going to happen, so I was riveted, wondering when the tension was going to snap. From this novel, it is evident that Matheson's skill has not waned with the passing years. He's as good as he's ever been, maybe better.
An excellent article on Richard Matheson is located at Tabula Rasa.