Alan Hunter was born at Hoveton, Norfolk and went to school across the River Bure in Wroxham. He left school at 14 and worked on his father's farm near Norwich. He enjoyed dinghy sailing on the Norfolk Broads, wrote natural history notes for the local newspaper, and wrote poetry, some of which was published while he was in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War.
He married, in 1944, Adelaide Cooper, who survives him with their daughter. After the war he managed the antiquarian books department of Charles Cubitt in Norwich. Four years later, in 1950, he established his own bookshop on Maddermarket in the city.
From 1955 until 1998 he published a Gently detective novel nearly every year.