Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Third Bullet - Book Review

Goodness me, has it really been over four months since I last posted a book review?  I suppose it has, though I must admit to having re-read Stephen Hunter's Soft Target during that time.  Is that all?  I guess so.  But it's more a testament to my inability to find anything worth reading rather than being too busy to read anything.  And if I don't post about it, it didn't happen.  So I'll have to plead guilty and try to do a better job and read more books.

So since the last book I've read was by Stephen Hunter, it seems only appropriate that I've come roaring back with Stephen Hunter's latest, The Third Bullet.  A tale of the Kennedy assassination, Hunter isn't a conspiracy theorist and claims to be an believer in the Warren Commission Report and Bugliosi's and Posner's conspiracy debunking but he takes the set of known facts, looks at them through the eyes of a well-seasoned sniper, twists a motive here, adds a character there, and gives us an entirely plausible new theory to ponder.  Sure, it's fiction, but why couldn't things have happened the way Hunter describes?  (Hunter has some fun with the conspiracy theorists by detailing one theory of how a second shooter came from the future, a plot device right out of Terminator.  And, if you think about it, it's not too far-fetched.  If you believe in time travel.)

But forget all that.  You want to know if Hunter brings the shoot-em-ups and the best writing you're likely to find on guns and ammunition and sniper-ing.  Dang straight he does.  He takes great delight in killing off his first victim - a thriller-writer whose series' main character is a lot like Swagger.  Hmmm.  Who could this be?  (In interviews, Hunter denies any other purpose than to get the plot a'rollin'.  I think he's a bit too self-satisfied with that explanation.)  But most importantly, Hunter brings back Bob Lee Swagger and even for a few lines Swagger's father, Earl.  Fans, like me, of the Swagger mythos will rejoice and believe the ultimate reason why Swagger investigates the assassination:  no, not because of Kennedy but because of another government official who, like Swagger's daddy, was gunned down while doing his duty.

A slam-bang effort at taking another look at a popular myth.  (Okay, not myth - the assassination actually happened - but the events of that dreadful day have reached a near-myth level in this country.)


  1. I have read almost every book Hunter has written, including all of the Earl and Bob Lee novels. Hunter has been mailing it in for years now - while I enjoyed the 47th Samurai, others say that book was the beginning of the decline in the series.

    The one about stock car racing - ludicrous - Bob Lee figures out what distance a Barrett is zeroed into in no time at all and manages to shoot down a helicopter. And oh yeah, he's a champion pistol shot, a fact that somehow was never mentioned prior to this book.

    The one where Bob Lee shoots the land baron who was married to the communist actress - beyond stupid - did he really manage to guess the precise location the other sniper would choose to shoot at Mr. Swagger? Well, all righty then...

    I could go on - the story where we met his son - the son he never knew he had by a wife who was never mentioned before? Okayyyy...

    Thank goodness I have a huge pile of books in the queue - otherwise I might be tempted to waste a few precious hours on Hunter's latest work.

    What I meant was, thanks for the review.

  2. Hey, Sixty Grit, thanks for dropping by! I, too, have read all of Hunter's Bob Lee and Earl novels - I may take a chance on his early non-Swagger books but I'll avoid Dirty White Boys - too rough and tough for me. But it sounds like I may be a little more tolerant of Hunter's shortcomings than you. You may be glad to know that The Third Bullet sort of folds back on Point of Impact, where it all started, but I see I neglected to mention that though Swagger's sniper skills play a large part in the plot, he does precious littler sniper-ing. I'm afraid his gunplay is with his .38 Super pistol so if you didn't believe he was a pistol-whiz, you may have a hard time with the gunfights in this book.

    I might agree with you to some extent about The 47th Samarai and Night of Thunder. I'm on the record enjoying those, too - c'mon, didn't you think the destruction of the NASCAR village in Thunder was close to a masterpiece of prose? - but I guess I'm a little more forgiving. I enjoyed I, Sniper and Dead Zero but, yeah, Hunter did have some problems keeping things lively at the end of a successful series. Is The Third Bullet a return to form? Probably not. He can't re-capture the genie he summoned in those early novels. (Hunter did very well with the Earl books, too, with Pale Horse Coming my favorite.)

    Let me know if you come across something worth sharing in that pile of books. I'm always on the lookout for something good to read.

    1. What I liked about Dirty White Boys was the demonstration of how to kill someone with a bar of soap - that was fascinating.

      I liked the mantra "steel cuts flesh, steel cuts bone, but steel doesn't cut steel" in the 47th Samurai - having spent time in Japan I got a kick out of reading Hunter's perspective on that society. A friend who reads these books avidly was not impressed that Bob Lee could become a competent sword fighter in what, 3 weeks or whatever time he had. Didn't bother me so much - he has cat-like reflexes, am I right? Anyway, that mantra paid off in a big way in the big sword fight and I was not disappointed.

      It wasn't that Swagger was an excellent pistol shot that bothered me, it was the fact that that particular fact had never been mentioned prior to him popping the corrupt cop in Night of Thunder. Hunter himself has had to revise his stories as he goes - the battle in Ia Drang valley has changed over the years, I guess those things happen.

      Earl in Havana was good.

      I really liked Pale Rider - I used to live on the Mississippi Delta and think Hunter captured what life is like there. Also, having lived close enough to Fort Detrick to hear revile every day, it was nice to see the old home place mentioned in a book.

      I guess having spent so many years in the DC area makes it easy for me to relate to Hunter's writing - the street scenes in Washington and Baltimore, the suburbs, he does a good job of that. Trying to keep the franchise going by making up (yeah, I know, it's all fiction!) new children and whatnot does get a bit tedious, but I find the quality of his writing has declined as of late. I will get his new book from the library and give it a go - even with all his faults he is still one of my favorite contemporary authors, so I will hack my way through it.