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2001 – Pale Horse Coming

Published in 2001 by Simon & Schuster

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In Pale Horse Coming the unforgettable Earl Swagger returns in a searing follow-up to Hot Springs, Stephen Hunter’s New York Times bestselling novel. It once again demonstrates why Hunter has been called “the only modern writer who can lay claim to being Dashiell Hammett’s immediate successor.”

It’s 1951, and the last place in America any sane man wishes to visit is Thebes State Penal Farm (Colored) in Thebes, Mississippi. Up a dark river, surrounded by swamps and impenetrable piney woods, it’s the Old South at its most brutal – a place of violence, racial terror, and even more horrific rumors. Of the few who make the journey, black or white, even fewer return.

But in that year, two men will come to Thebes. The first is Sam Vincent, the former prosecuting attorney Polk County, Arkansas. With great misgivings, Sam accepts a job from a smooth-talking Chicago lawyer to investigate a disappearance. Sam has heard of Thebes and knows that in the Negro culture he only imperfectly understands, the place has a special resonance of horror.

Sam is a careful man. Before he leaves on this dangerous trip, he confesses his fears to his former investigator Earl Swagger, a Marine hero on Iwo Jima, veteran of the mob wars in Hot Springs, and now a sergeant of the Arkansas State Police. Earl pledges that if Sam is not back by a certain time, he will come looking for him. Sam will bring his knowledge of the law, his compassion, and his sense of the rational to Thebes, but Earl will bring only his guns.

What they encounter there is something beyond their wildest imaginations for evil. The dying black town is ruled by white deputies on horseback who are more like an occupying army that a police force. Each citizen of the town is in debt to the Store, the one remaining civic institution, and the only escape is over the wild currents of the dark river that drowns as many people as it liberates.

But nothing in the town can prepare Earl for the prison itself where he becomes the first white inmate. It is a site of fear: run by an aging madman with insane theories of racial purity, it is administered by a brutally efficient Stalin of a guard sergeant known as Bigboy. The convicts call him The Whip Man – he can take a man’s soul with his nine feet of braided cat gut.

Both Sam and Earl will be challenged to the limits of their strength by this place and will struggle not only for their own survival, but with deeper questions: What does a man do when confronted with such evil? Can it be remedied? Can it be rectified, redirected, reformed?

Or must it just be destroyed? And if so, where would you find the men to destroy it?

Drawing on the oldest myths, classical and modern literature, popular culture at its most vigorous, and the Golden Age gun writers of the ’50s, Pale Horse Coming is a stunning story of violence and retribution, written with the same high velocity of Hunter’s classic thrillers Point of Impact, Dirty White Boys, Black Light and Time to Hunt.


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28 Responses to “2001 – Pale Horse Coming”

  1. ditchdoc Says:

    Having read every novel Mr. Hunter has written, I have to say Pale Horse is one of the best–and NONE of them are weak. Earl and Bob Lee have to be two of the best characters I have ever found in this type of fiction. Their depth, developed through all the books, makes them real. I know there has to be an end–sometime. I’m not looking forward to it.

    For anyone interested in another good book about a shooter, try Unintended Consequences by John Ross. It is fiction but you will get a pretty good history lesson too.

  2. scottscrna Says:

    Just finished Pale Horse Coming. Absolutely fascinating! I have loved every book I have read by Stephen Hunter. I cannot wait for the next!!

  3. soohoora Says:

    I had fun trying to figure out who was who in the novel.
    The only one I had trouble with, was Charlie?
    It was a toss up between Charles Askin senior or junior?
    I also thought it might of been Skeeter Skelton!
    I am satisfied of the other five.
    Also is Ed’s grandaughter have any basis in reality?
    I like all of the novels Stephen Hunter has written so far.
    I would like to read more spinoffs of earlier novels.
    Point of impact was the ONE that made me start being a Stephan Hunter
    fan and collector!

  4. Wes Says:

    I just finished his latest “47th Samurai” and it was excellent but this is my all time favorite Stephen Hunter novel.

    It is just a novel that leaves you wondering if we are going to see the end of Earl Swagger.

  5. V M Barnett Says:

    Awesome book. Loved how he confused the blood hounds! Couldn’t put it down.

  6. snydertime Says:

    I too have rad most if not all of the Hunter books, and this one is the best story. I hope this becomes a movie to see who and how these parts will be played out. I too am wanting more of Earl.

  7. joe yeates Says:

    Point of Impact was prob. Stephen Hunters best book, but I was drawn to Pale Horse because he included many of my favorite writers from the 50s, Elmer Keith, Bill Jordan, Col Charles Askins and then threw in Audie Murphy for good measure

  8. Andy Lajeunesse Says:

    Could not put this down. Pale Horse was my first Stephen Hunter novel and I must recomend it to anyone looking for a good exciting read, I think I will start Dirty White Boys tonight.

  9. mojojackson Says:

    My comment is more of a general Stephen Hunter comment, I just chose to post it here because I'm currently re-reading Pale Horse Coming. My comment is this: It seems to me that, what with Bob Lee's advancing age and Earl having met his fate in 1955, the Swagger novels about Bob and Earl may soon be coming to a close, and I think it's a damn shame. But if that's the case, maybe the end of the Earl/Bob saga needn't be the end of the Swagger novels. I personally would love to see Hunter write a western set in the late 1800s, starring an as yet unintroduced member of the Swagger family. I'd love to see a story about a Marshall or Sherrif Swagger in the old west, up against outlaw gangs or wicked cattle barons. Maybe we could see the genesis of the infamous Grumley clan! C'mon, Mr. Hunter! You gonna tell me you don't have a western in you?

  10. Stephen Says:

    Thank you Mr. Hunter. I've read Pale Horse Coming quite a few times and it's always a great time. Sadly, they don't make 'em like Earl anymore.

  11. Mike Says:

    When I read "Pale Horse", I pictured Tommy Lee Jones as Earl Swagger…he's the only guy I figured that met the description. Rough, tough and leathered. I agree, "Pale Horse" is the best fiction novel I've read. Stephen, that's one helluva cahracter! Lee Child's "Jack Reacher" character is also comparable, but Earl's the top gun.. Even though Dwayne "The Rock" John is black (Hollywood's special team effects could lighten him up a bit) I pictured him as Bigboy.

  12. Annoyed Grunt Says:

    This is a finely constructed novel. We all know Earl gets through this story just fine since he has to die later yet it still is incredibly gripping. Since we know he'll come out on top Hunter just throws him in to a Hell so deep that we can't even imagine how he'll overcome it. One might think that would also hurt the climax but the villains in the book are so vile that we can't want to see them get their comeuppance.

  13. Mary L. Hamilton Says:

    I just finished The 47th Samuraii and started to breathe again. Of course I have read the title of his other books but it's Sunday, 3 AM and the library is closed. I loved this character Swaggert. I've got to know more about his adopted Japanese daughter and his family . His writing is so spare and beautiful. I had to stop and read those passages
    aloud to my husband. Then I practiced writing some down for my daily writing warm-up. I am 87, a published writer
    and was enthralled with this story. My compliments to Mr. Hunter.

  14. Jim Rodgers Says:

    I have read most of the Swagger books, and Pale Horse Coming is the best book I’ve read so far, but they’re all fantastic books. I think most men wake up in the morning wishing they could be Earl Swagger. He and Bob Lee Swagger are two of the greatest fictional characters ever. I know their time may soon come to an end, but I pray that they don’t. To my way of thinking, these are some of the greatest books ever written, and Mr. Hunter is a masterful writer and a true genius.

  15. Kris Says:

    “Dirty White Boys” was my first Hunter book and is still my favorite, but, DAMN, is this one close. I blasted thru this novel during a day of jury duty (never got called) and just could not stop reading. The idea of getting some bad dudes together and set things right with lead is a hard scrabble fantasy and it works so well here. No one writes action and gunplay like Hunter!

  16. tim warner Says:

    I would really appreciate some advice on some books to read by someone as good as Stephen Hunter …fiction, relatively same genre

  17. Push McCann Says:

    Having read several of the series it was nice to see a novel set in my home stomping grounds. Granted its fiction, but the discriptions of the terrain and people were spot on. I well remember how things were back in the early sixties and other than the movieish drama of the costuming in the book the men acted much as most decent men would have in those days. Having been raised up with a trigger under my finger most of my life I could relate to the the shooters alot especially those that had to put food on the table and had limited ammo. The best part of all of Mr. Hunters books to me is the Louie Lamour grammer that though not in the same context creates a very vivid but easy to read novel that promotes a style of Americanism that is seldom seen anymore. There are still small pockets of people in America that hold to the sort of values and liberties that are representative in this and other novels by Mr. Hunter.

  18. Charlie Griffin Says:

    I have only read two of Mr. Hunter’s books so far, but will read them all. I loved “Dirty White Boys!” I really liked “Pale Horse Coming” almost as much until he decided that Earl was going to bring in old gunmen. I know a lot of people found that interesting, but I found it not at all believable. It’s still a good book, but he lost me during the period of the book, in which Earl was recruiting his team. I would have found the use of a team made up of men from Earl’s military background much more realistic. The book just took a turn for a lack of seriousness that frankly I found disappointing. It was similar to the way an action movie will sprinkle in comic relief for reasons that I again don’t understand. For me the story was just too serious and too intense to add in “comic relief.” Sorry Stephen! I’m still going to read every word you have written!

  19. Jeremy Robertson Says:

    Just finished reading Pale Horse Coming and I must say that this has to be one of my favorite Stephen Hunter books of the seven or eight that I have read. This was the third Hunter book that I have read in the past three weeks, Hot Springs and Time To Hunt were the other two. I have to say that Earl Swagger is a hell of a character and even though the movies are never as good as the books, I would love to see Earl on the big screen. Another Bob Lee movie wouldn’t be to bad either.

  20. Kathy Malon Says:

    Finished Pale Horse last week and my husband is reading it right now. I go through a LOT of books and was delighted to discover Stephen Hunter last year. We read Hot Springs first. Bob Lee and Earl are my heroes. Another comment felt the old gunmen weren’t realistic but I love it! Those kind of guys….how could they pass it up. I also think Tommy Lee Jones would be an excellent Earl Swagger for a movie.

    To Mr. Hunter,keep writing sir. You’ve got a lot of fans out there.

  21. Count Stagger Says:

    This was just a gripping novel, that I raced through. Hunter obviously had a great time thinking up new indignities to put poor old Earl through – and the reader has a great time reading about it. No other writer can do action like Hunter and I think that this is one of his best examples of it. The prison was truly hellish yet believable in the context of where and when it was located. You just couldn’t wait for the bad guys to get their come-uppance.

    As regards casting, I always imagine a slightly older and beat-up Nathan Fillion (Firefly) as Earl, while I think Kevin Bacon or Chris Cooper could play Bob Lee.

  22. steembot Says:

    “Pale Horse Coming” was my favorite book about Earl Swagger; does a great job of showing how far this man will go for his friends. Would that we all had a buddy like that to have our back.

  23. Gord Horton Says:

    A classic! I kept counting pages down to the end, staving off the moment it would end- the sign of a great book. Unforgettable characters, amazing plot scheme, violence, humour, a moral that is driven home by the unlikeliest of sources, considering the times and talk.

  24. Ellis Glazier Says:

    I have just finished rereading ‘Pale Horse Coming’ for the second time and enjoyed it just as much as I did on the first read.
    I must enter one small criticism that bothered me during both readings. The story takes place during the early 1950s and he writes about Ft. Detrick (misspelling it as Dietrich. I was stationed there in 1952 and 1953 and it was CAMP Detrick. In about 1965 , while working at a Aerojet Ordnance in Downey, Ca, I had occasion to visit Camp Detrick on business, saw some of my old comrades and it was still CAMP Detrick. It was not named a fort till much later.
    When I was stationed there, the entrance led to a single main street about two blocks long. On the right was the parade grounds, a street leading to some officer and civilian quarters, the military administration building, the hospital, and them all the rest were restricted grounds where we worked.
    On the left was the Army admin offices, the officers club, the BOQ, where I lived, A couple of small quarters for civilian women, a small PX, a movie theater, the enlisted barracks and mess. That was the extend of the Army camp at that time. Thought the Army contingent was quite small, consisting of a relatively few troopers who ran the necessaries for the camp, the restricted area was large and populated by members of all the services and many civilians.I was USAF and when I went on temporary duty at Ft. McClellan, my NCOs were two Navy Chiefs.One might guess that except for the rigors of the work in the restricted area, the military was rather loosely run. In the winter I wore my brother’s Army field jacket over my Air Force uniform and no one thought it strange.

  25. John Beaucage Says:

    I think this is one of his best. It was my favourite out of all of Hunter’s books.

    It would be nice to have some more stories of Earl, I’m sure there are many.

  26. Curt Miller Says:

    I live in Pascagoula and was born and raised in Lucedale. All the places that Hunter describes (except Thebes) are real. How did he come to know of these places? Was it only research or did he live here at one time?

  27. mike talbot Says:

    Just read Third Bullet. Great story. I was 12y.o. at that time and remember those day’s well. Anything new with Daddy Earl ? Pale Horse Coming is my favorite. OLD SCHOOL.

  28. Jackie Morrow Says:

    This is the first of Stephen Hunter’s books that I have read. I was enthralled by it. I’m a white female,soon to be 74 years old. Have been a long-time reader,but had a dry-spell for several years,whereby I wasn’t reading.
    I recently made some changes in my life,cut back (at least temporarily)on being on the Computer,and discontinued TV entirely for the present time.
    So,I’m reading almost constantly.
    I could hardly put this book down,and came online to see what I could find about Stephen Hunter. I’m just kind of sad to hear that a lot of you consider THIS book to be the BEST of his. Now,I will have “nothing” to look forward to in the others??? (I know. That’s a little extreme.)

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