Friday, November 25, 2011

Havana - Book Review

Havana, the last of Stephen Hunter's Earl Swagger novels, is set in, well, Havana, where this time Earl is recruited by CIA types to take out none other than, who else, Fidel Castro.

Need to know about Havana in the early 50s, before Castro came to power? (You know, around the time as it's depicted in Godfather 2?) Here's your book! Full of gangsters and government-types and revolutionaries, and mojitos and cigars all under a blazing tropical sun it's Hunter's fever dream of the era, mixed with real events and his fictional character, all wrapped up with a nice show down between our hero and the bad guys. No, it can't come near Hunter's masterpiece in the series, it'still a fine example of Hunter's writing powers.  Sadly, though, it's apparently the last we'll see of ol' Earl in a book of his own. In his next book, Hunter will then pick up where he left off with Earl's son, Bob Lee, but now we know as we read those books more about this larger-than-life hero that looms so large in Bob Lee's mind.

Stick around to the end:  Hunter includes two articles he wrote for The Washington Post that resulted from his research trips to Havana - one about Castro's raid on the  Moncada Barracks and another on the Shanghai Theater.  I hope the links work but if you click through you'll get a good sense of Hunter's writing style.    

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Pale Horse Coming - Book Review

Next in Stephen Hunter's Earl Swagger is Pale Horse Coming and it's a doozy.

The bare bones plot borrows from the real life events of the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male (per Wikipedia. Click through that link if you want a synopsis of the entire plot.)  See, there's this prison in the deepest, darkest reaches of, uh, Mississippi, and Earl's friend has been wrongfully taken prisoner.  There's a break out, a capture, much misery, another break out, a break in and then it's all Apocalypse now with the world ending in fire and flood and whole lot of shooting thrown in for good measure.

Long and thrilling, Hunter is clearly having fun with his series and when an artist is having fun great things happen and no doubt Hunter is an artist in this genre.  For shooting fans, there's the usual gun lore to be found and for movie fans Hunter borrows from his day job as a movie reviewer and pays homage to those movies where a group of guys (and a girl!) go up against impossible odds and prevail.   Sure, it's all preposterous.  So?  It's also epic and could very well be Hunter's masterpiece of his series.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Hot Springs - Book Review

Chewing through more of the Stephen Hunter list, I opted to change things up a bit and shift over to the Earl Swagger portion of his series. (Earl Swagger is the father of Bob Lee Swagger; Hunter runs two series where they intersect somewhere down the line in Black Light. Black Light is the third in the Bob Lee Swagger series and was written before the Earl Swagger series though it takes place years later. Got that?)

So Hot Springs is the first in the Earl Swagger series and introduces more in full to a character that Bob Lee Swagger fans already know about. Earl's a World War II hero, returned home to Arkansas after being recruited by law enforcement to help clear out that hotbed of sin known as Hot Springs. Hunter does his usual bang up (heh) job of getting the story underway and showing us why Earl's such a hero while keeping us interested in the gun lore about which Hunter is an expert. There are plot twists aplenty as well as cameos from real life gangsters, heckalacious gun fights, a portrait of post World War II Hot Springs, rural Arkansas and a very fine climax. An excellent start to this series as well as a primer on an offstage character that looms so large in the Bob Lee series.